If my reaction to Christy Clark leaving politics were a Facebook relationship status, it would be two simple words: “It’s complicated.”
On the one hand, I have heard – and can relate to – the outpouring of cheers and hurrahs from the people affected by her often controversial decisions and policies. For starters, if there’s a teacher in British Columbia who didn’t rejoice about Clark’s departure, I have yet to meet that person. And they’re just one group among many who are glad to see the back of a controversial premier.
But there’s a part of me that’s mourning Clark’s loss.
I confess, this sadness caught me by surprise. Because it’s a genuine sadness, even though it’s overlaid with a whole pile of other conflicting emotions. The feeling has just kind of been hovering there, under the surface, since I watched Clark’s press conference announcing her departure. It took a conversation with my recently-turned-five-year-old daughter to bring it to the surface and to make it make sense.
My small bundle of girl-power happened to be inquiring whether we have a “boy mayor” or a “girl mayor.” She was disappointed to learn we have a boy mayor and decided that, in future, she will only vote for girl mayors.
That. Right there. That’s why I’m going to miss Christy Clark.
Because little girls want to see women in positions of power. They deserve to see women in positions of power. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say they need to see women in positions of power.
As a mother, it sucks to be raising a girl in a world where “power” so often still looks male. (And, for that matter, white, middle-aged, middle-class, able-bodied and straight, but for the moment, I’ll just focus on gender.)
The sad fact of the matter is, our political systems – and by “our” I mean British Columbia’s, Canada’s and indeed the world’s at large – are not yet even close to being representative of the population they purport to serve.
Oh, that’s changing, for certain. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ground-breaking gender-balanced cabinet and his famous “because it’s 2015” was a big start. Right here in B.C., Premier John Horgan has followed suit with his own gender-balanced cabinet. (As an aside, both cabinets also include diversity on other fronts – age and race among them – that’s also much needed.)
But the top jobs are all still looking mighty male.
Across Canada, we have two female premiers: Rachel Notley in Alberta and Kathleen Wynne in Ontario. And 11 men. And a male prime minister.
It’s not just Canada’s problem. Seen a photo of the G8 leaders lately? Again, two women – Angela Merkel and Theresa May – surrounded by a bunch of dudes.
And let’s not even talk about that whole thing south of the border, where they came so close to a groundbreaking female president and ended up with the disaster that is Donald Trump.
It reminds me of the viral social media campaign created by Elle U.K. highlighting what the world’s power rooms would look like without men in them.
The striking visuals – Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, solitary figures in their respective meeting rooms; Emma Watson alone at the United Nations – were a visual reminder of just how few women occupy those still-elusive positions of power.
Clark’s departure, quite simply, makes one less woman in a visible position of power. In her place, we have a middle-aged white guy. Working in coalition with, you guessed it, another middle-aged white guy. (Yes, yes, I know; Clark is also middle-aged, and middle-class, and able-bodied and straight to boot. But she’s a woman. So while she scores high on all other points of privilege, she has that whole gender thing going for her.)
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about any of their politics or policies here. It’s probably no secret to most who know me that, as a lifelong left-leaner, I’m more likely to be inclined towards the policies of the aforementioned coalition of middle-aged white dudes.
What I’m talking about is the need to see those who belong to underrepresented groups holding positions of power.
It matters. It matters that women hold positions of power. That people of colour, and LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities, and young people, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and all other manner of people who don’t fall into the traditional mould of “political leader,” hold positions of power.
It matters for practical reasons – because people from those historically underrepresented groups have voices that haven’t been heard at the decision-making tables in the past, and because they have life experiences and points of view that are important in shaping policy for all people, not just for the privileged.
And it matters, on a bigger-picture level, for symbolic reasons.
It matters not just that those people have power, but that we see those people having power. That all of us – from the youngest generation on up – can see ourselves in the faces of our leaders. That we can look at the people leading us and say, at some level: “That could be me.”
If it’s never occurred to you to think of the enormous power of such symbolism, I’m going to hazard a guess that you fall into the above-mentioned category of middle-aged, middle-class, straight, able-bodied white dudes. You’ve probably never had to sit and reflect how representative or otherwise your political leaders are. You’ve probably never had to look at a room full of “powerful” people and realize that nowhere in that room is there a person who looks like you.
You’ve probably never had to face questions from your inquisitive daughter – your daughter who’s so full of world-beating potential that it makes your heart just burst thinking about it – about why we don’t have a girl mayor, or a girl premier, or a girl prime minister.
I’d love to say it doesn’t matter. I’d love to say we’ve moved into some post-feminist, equality-based world where the only determining factor is the quality of the leader; where their policies are the only thing that matters and where issues like gender, skin colour and sexual orientation don’t enter into the discussion.
I think we will, someday, live in that world. Hopefully that shift will happen in my daughter’s lifetime. But we aren’t there yet.
That’s why I’m mourning the loss of Christy Clark.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that “boy mayors” and “boy premiers” and “boy prime ministers” can’t do a fine job representing those of us who aren’t male. In fact, I think New West has a pretty fine mayor (as an aside, it probably doesn’t hurt that he’s raising a houseful of girl power), and I am optimistic about Horgan’s potential as premier. As for Trudeau? Well, he has his flaws, but I can’t help but appreciate our country being led by a man (privileged and all though he is) who considers himself a feminist.
And here in New West, while we may not have a “girl mayor” (although we certainly have had some high-profile ones in the past), we do indeed have some excellent female representation both at the civic level and at the provincial level.
But sometimes it seems that the fight for genuine equality and diversity in politics is one long, slow climb; one tentative step forward followed by two giant leaps back.
So cheer the departure of Clark if you wish. I’ll understand, and I won’t condemn.
But allow me this moment. This moment of being conflicted. Of wishing the world were different. Of wishing it didn’t have to matter. Of wishing I could let it go, more easily, this dream of a world where female leaders are as common as male leaders and where my little girl didn’t have to ask whether a girl can be prime minister.