Focus on the women, not the family

a/Opinion by

Why do we conceptualize women as needing a strong husband to succeed in politics?

On Monday Oct. 28, Women in House McGill and the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA) hosted a panel discussion on women in leadership.

Towards the end of the evening, Janine Krieber, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, noted the importance of having a solid partner when engaging in politics, especially in the case of women. The three remaining panelists concurred.

Women, the panelists agreed, thought twice about their kids, their parents, and even their pets. One panelist noted that men are expected to be more willing to run for office on short notice, while women have to consider practical issues, such as who would look after the children or parents, if they are in old age. Men, however, don’t have to think about these issues because they simply expect the wife to handle them.

I found the anecdote irritating. Why couldn’t a woman run for office just as easily? Why are we expected to think twice? The panelists concluded that if a woman didn’t have enough time to prepare alternative care for all the people she has to tend to, or someone in her life who could take over her responsibilities, then she wouldn’t engage with politics.

This is inherently problematic to me. Even though the panel was meant to discuss women in politics, the underlying issue that came up throughout the evening was the gendered sphere of the political game. Krieber pointed out that women have a hard time engaging in federal politics because the closest daycare to Parliament is over 10 kilometers away. Government is no place for babies, it seems, but not all women come with children in tow, or for that matter, husbands. Why should women be expected to think of the home first? Are we afraid as individuals to leave the kitchen and come home to a mess? Are we even leaving the kitchen in the first place?

The claim that women needing to take care of domestic responsiblities stems from the notion that politics is a man’s game. While the panel trumpeted gains for women in politics, it was apparent that Canada lags behind more progressive states. It was easy to see why. For all the progressive rhetoric, discussions circled around the obligations of women to the family. While there was some discussion of engaging women directy in campaigns, no one was talking about breaking with the gendered notion of where a woman belongs in society. No matter how we spin or try to look past it, society still believes a woman’s role is in the home, especially if she’s engaging in politics.

The notion that a woman needs a man to run for office is incredibly flawed. Anyone engaging in a campaign needs support, regardless of gender. Perhaps the underlying push for people with families, is what leads women to think they need husbands. Yet even then, does it really have to be a man? No person needs be defined by their children, or their spouse.

Furthermore, when it comes to the realm of politics, anyone running for election needs to engage in the critical questions of what they will leave behind when they run.  Someone needs to teach men to look before they leap, and to consider the same domestic issues that women are prodded to consider today. For greater political engagement in Canada and elsewhere, this double standard needs to change.