McGill Students for UN Women hosted “Women, Media and Politics: A Panel Discussion” on Nov. 8 to examine how the changing media landscape has affected women’s roles in the public sphere. The panel, moderated by Political Science professor Elisabeth Gidengil, included Jennifer Maccarone, a Liberal Member of the National Assembly (MNA) in Quebec; Justine McIntyre, party leader of the municipal political party Vrai Changement pour Montreal; Vino Wijeyasuriyar, a McGill student and coordinator of McGill’s Women in House program; and Mira Ahmad, communications and operations manager of the leading Canadian political think-tank Canada 2020.
The panelists first discussed the general trend of having more women in government. Maccarone, who is the first female MNA to represent the riding of Westmount-St. Louis, elaborated on the benefits of having a diverse array of opinions when drafting legislation.
“It is specifically important in parliament […] because women bring a different perspective,” Maccarone said. “At the end of the day, we want equality, we want gender parity, but also what that means is that we need to have the diversity of opinions around the table.”
Maccarone regards the Oct. 1 provincial election as a historic moment for female representation in the Liberal Party of Quebec, with women comprising 16 of the 29 Liberal Party MNAs. In total, women now make up 41 per cent of the entire National Assembly.
“It is a challenge, and I know that we’ve seen a lot of changes right now [within the Liberal Party] in the National Assembly,” Maccarone said. “For the first time […], there are more women than there are men [among Liberal MNAs]. And, [because of this], you see a definite change in the [types of conversations that are being held…], who is taking on what roles, and the responsibilities that women are taking.”
Panelists also considered the ways in which women are commonly portrayed in the media. Justine McIntyre, who was a member of the Montreal City Council from 2013 to 2017, discussed the internal struggle that many women experience: The fear of appearing too lenient or too aggressive. She described her own experiences in trying to appear less intimidating in Council so as to be taken more seriously.
“I’ve often found myself thinking that I was presenting a really strong case for something, and thinking that I [had gotten across] this really powerful delivery of this argument, and then I’d watch it and be disappointed,” McIntyre said. “[I’d] think ‘that was kind of soft.’ And I’ve realized that I was sort of tempering what I was saying, I was reeling things in a little bit. I think channeling the kind of passion and energy and emotional response into a strong debate is really powerful.”
Visibly-passionate women are often dismissed as ‘emotional,’ which Mira Ahmed advised countering by effectively presenting oneself to the media.
“Speaking from the heart is very important, but you also want to be strategic,” Ahmed said. “Being able to communicate a message effectively to make sure that someone who is going to hear what is being said is going to get that message and not be distracted [is the most important thing].”
Finally, the panelists shared advice for women interested in getting involved with politics. Vino Wijeyasuriyar provided insight for those who are unsure where to begin.
“I always say that, if there’s something that frustrates you, that’s usually a good thing because that provides a space where you can do really good work,” Wijeyasuriyar said. “Even if it’s something small, like ‘public transit is too expensive,’ these all translate into public policy issues. So, take those little things, […] and channel that into political energy. And, once you get there, I think it’s really important to look at the people who are where you were before you started […] and offer the sort of help that you wish somebody had offered you.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Justine McIntyre was a member of the Montreal City Council since 2013. In fact, she left the position in 2017. The Tribune regrets this error.