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Why anti-women rhetoric in Alberta hurts us all

It doesn’t really where the threats are made from. What matters is we’ve come to accept this as normal

Metro file

This past year has been filled with the most vitriolic hate speech against women in Alberta politics I can remember. 

To name but a few examples: Graphic pictures of Rachel Notley and Alison Redford tied to train tracks, political cartoons depicting the premier with a pitchfork sticking out her back and endless death threats posted on Facebook threads. 

And of course, this past week, we then saw a man charged for threatening to shoot a female cabinet minister. He brushed it off as that he was having a bad day.

It amazes me Alberta still has so many strong women vying for political spotlight.

But is this misogyny? A backlash against progressivism? Or, have things always been this bad and I just didn’t notice?

According to Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen, these types of attacks on women aren’t new; social media is just helping them spread. In an interview, Jansen recalled enduring similar attacks. “I worked in communications for Alison Redford, and some of the things that were said to her were hard to read,” she said. 

For Jansen, many of these comments have become routine. Far-right media commenters have tweeted that people should drive by Jansen’s house to see what kind of election signs are on her lawn. “I’m a single mom, and when [someone] sends people driving by my house, that in itself feels threatening,” she said.  

Then, last week, a group calling themselves “Concerned Christians Canada” wrote a blog post about Jansen that was a hodgepoge of sexism and threatening language. 

The blog is in response to Jansen’s vocal objection to newly appointed Progressive Conservative board member Craig Chandler, who's been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage. 

Written by blogger and “husband of one wife” Jim Blake, the blog calls upon the male leadership to rebuke and instruct Jansen to apologize for her tweets criticizing Chandler, or else she will be exposed for so-called “anti-Christian bigotry.” 

One thing Jansen and I agree on is that this sort of targeted and ongoing harassment against female politicians discourage women from running. "I spend a lot of time talking to women and looking for strong women to run in our party," Jansen said. "They see what I go through online and the attacks.”

It's not uncommon for people to threaten or criticize men when they are politicians, but the overall tone of the messages always seems a little different. For one, attacks against male politicians rarely stray into the realm of sexual violence or sexual humiliation.

There are dog-whistle words used against women in politics by voices in the media and on social media. Women candidates are criticized for their voices, hairstyles and their pant-suit collection. 

It doesn’t really matter what side of the political spectrum the threats are made from. What matters is the disturbing fact we’ve come to accept this as a normal, expected barrier for women who want to be politically engaged. 

We need to do better than that.

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