James O’Connor’s Editor’s Notebook column of Jan. 24 is disappointing as a he is both a leader and influential person in Brandon. Referring to NDP Health Minister Erin Selby as a “former TV news cutie” and saying that health care to her is “getting that darned cuticle trimmed during a great manicure” undermines her position in government as an elected official. Whether Selby is competent in her position is not addressed, rather O’Connor focuses on her physical attractiveness and attention to her appearance.
Selby, like many other women, finds herself in a difficult double bind. On one hand, her attractiveness leads people to believe she is incompetent in her position. Society believes you can either be attractive or intelligent, but that the two are mutually exclusive. Appearance has no place in politics. After all, having great hair does not make you any more likely to be a good politician.
I like to have faith that, as an intelligent society, we can look past appearances. But when we have leaders in our community who cannot mention a woman without describing the level at which he or she feels attracted to them, it undermines their credibility. Most of us would be less likely to vote for a politician who is described as a “cute girl” than a “competent woman.” When we are able to stop looking at women as objects and look at them as whole people, we will no longer do ourselves the disservice of choosing leaders from a select group of middle-aged white men and instead choose from a wider pool, statistically leading to more strong leaders.
This kind of political commentary is exactly the reason that women are discouraged from entering the public sphere in the first place. Our mayor faced similar criticism for wearing pink during the election campaign as Selby faces now given her choice to have well-manicured nails. I believe that women are quite capable of having both great nails and a strong mind. It is frustrating that the female role models we analyze for our youth are either attractive and unintelligent or unattractive and “butch.”
Instead of undermining women in political positions by commenting on their appearance as if it is the only thing they have to offer, or discussing their place in politics as being a token female who isn’t in her position due to her skills, maybe we could evaluate the systems that are in place within our society that prevent women from entering the public sphere.
Look at Hillary Clinton — she is whip-smart but her hair is talked about just as much as her politics. Instead of discussing her position in relation to the threat of emasculating the men around her, our society should focus on the individual who brings the most to the table and will best be able to lead.
Is this a feminist rant? Absolutely. Does the f-word discredit my arguments? I sure hope not. Women in positions of leadership are shown to add tremendous value to the organizations to which they belong.
By treating both men and women as human beings, recognizing the value of each and treating them as equals, we can create a stronger political environment. We look to community leaders to act as examples for the rest of us.
O’Connor is lucky to have a public platform to share his message. He should be cognizant of the power that he holds when making arguments, and not repeatedly alienate those who do not share the privilege that he holds given his position, gender and race.