Fe­male SSMU ex­ec­u­tives de­cry tone - polic­ing in stu­dent pol­i­tics

Women held to a “higher stan­dard of diplo­macy” than men

The McGill Daily - - News - Saima De­sai The Mcgill Daily

Out of the ten stu­dents who ran for elec­tion to the SSMU ex­ec­u­tive for the 2016-17 year, only one can­di­date, Elaine Pat­ter­son, is a wo­man. Pat­ter­son, who beat her op­po­nent Dushan Tripp by a mar­gin of 1,258 votes for the role of VP Stu­dent Life in March, will be the only wo­man on next year’s ex­ec­u­tive.

Ac­cord­ing to Fall 2015 en­rol­ment rates, women make up 56.8 per cent of the Mcgill stu­dent body. His­tor­i­cally, the num­ber of women on the SSMU ex­ec­u­tive has rarely re­flected the com­po­si­tion of the stu­dent body. In the cur­rent year’s ex­ec­u­tive, there is gen­der par­ity, but next year Pat­ter­son will be one wo­man among six men, five of whom are white.

“Bossy” and “bitchy” women in pol­i­tics

“When I found out that I was go­ing to be the only fe­male-iden­ti­fied per­son run­ning, I was kind of taken aback,” Pat­ter­son told The Daily. “It’s re­mark­able that there is only one wo­man on this ex­ec­u­tive team.”

“At the de­bates it was brought up [...] three times that I was the only wo­man who was run­ning for th­ese po­si­tions,” she said. “That’s kind of when it hit me more, that, wow, I’m really de­ter­mined to be suc­cess­ful in this elec­tion be­cause not only do I think that I do have the qual­i­fi­ca­tions to be in this po­si­tion, but I do think that it would be really hor­ri­ble to have an ex­ec­u­tive made up of en­tirely seven men.”

Asked why she thought so few women ran in elec­tions, Pat­ter­son cited the “harm­ful” per­sonal at­tacks launched against can­di­dates Céleste Pag­niello and Alexei Si­makov dur­ing the by-elec­tion for VP In­ter­nal in Novem­ber.

“It’s no se­cret that SSMU elec­tions have been tu­mul­tuous in the past,” Pat­ter­son ex­plained. “Putting your­self on a very pub­lic pedestal when you’re run­ning for th­ese elec­tions can be kind of scary.”

“I think that women who pur­sue lead­er­ship po­si­tions have been, and still are, la­belled as be­ing ‘bossy’ in the work­place, or hear things like ‘she’s such a bitch be­cause she told me to do this,’” con­tin­ued Pat­ter­son. “That kind of lan­guage and that kind of at­ti­tude might be a rea­son why women aren’t really in­ter­ested in putting them­selves out there to run for th­ese lead­er­ship po­si­tions.”

Emily Boyt­inck, the cur­rent VP Ex­ter­nal, said in an in­ter­view that she “can’t imag­ine what it’s go­ing to be like for [Elaine] next year.”

“She’s go­ing to be held to a higher stan­dard of diplo­macy than any­one else. If she re­sponds to an ag­gres­sive email in an ag­gres­sive way, then it’ll es­ca­late rather than the club be­ing like ‘Oh, she’s right,’” said Boyt­inck.

“Pol­i­tics do not bode well for women with opin­ions”

Boyt­inck ex­plained that one of the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges she faced as a SSMU ex­ec­u­tive was tone-polic­ing from oth­ers, as well as an in­ter­nal­ized form of “self- cen­sor­ing.”

Boyt­inck con­tin­ued, “I’ve felt a strong need to self-cen­sor a bit, to use ar­gu­ments that I think will make me sound cool and log­i­cal – ba­si­cally do­ing ev­ery­thing in my power to not be stereo­typed as a rad, pas­sion­ate wo­man, even though in many ways that’s who I am. [...] Some­times I do leave feel­ing like no mat­ter what I could have said, men in the room wouldn’t take me se­ri­ously,” Boyt­inck con­tin­ued. “Pol­i­tics do not bode well for women with opin­ions.”

She also said she has “no­ticed that over the years, women [on the ex­ec­u­tive] tend to leave the SSMU feel­ing just ex­as­per­ated, to­tally over­whelmed, shut down, or angry.”

She added that, as a white wo­man, the tone-polic­ing and self-cen­sor­ship that she ex­pe­ri­ences is less se­vere than that faced by women of colour, or other marginal­ized iden­ti­ties. “Maybe that’s why there are so few women of colour who run for SSMU,” she sug­gested.

Asked if she has ex­pe­ri­enced tone-polic­ing as a fe­male ex­ec­u­tive, VP Univer­sity Af­fairs Chloe Rourke said she “ab­so­lutely” had. How­ever, she added that she was very hes­i­tant to call out ob­served or ex­pe­ri­enced in­stances of sex­ism be­cause she felt that the bur­den of proof is placed im­pos­si­bly high. “My per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence is of­ten im­me­di­ately viewed as bi­ased and thus un­trust­wor­thy due to my iden­tity as a wo­man,” she con­tin­ued.

Rourke added that many spa­ces within stu­dent pol­i­tics, like meet­ings with the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Se­nate, and Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil, “re­ject fem­i­nine qual­i­ties.”

“Emo­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity are viewed as weak­ness, or that they some­how ren­der in­di­vid­u­als in­ca­pable of ra­tio­nal thought,” ex­plained Rourke.

Stu­dent me­dia has also been com­plicit in tone-polic­ing of stu­dent ex­ec­u­tives. For ex­am­ple, in 2010, the Mcgill Tri­bune ed­i­to­rial board en­dorsed Sarah Woolf for SSMU Pres­i­dent, but noted that they were “con­cerned, how­ever, about Woolf’s abil­ity to con­trol her emo­tions when she be­comes pas­sion­ate about an is­sue,” and called on Woolf to “em­ploy more diplo­macy and tact if she is elected.”

Pat­ter­son also ex­pressed ap­pre­hen­sion about be­ing heard and taken se­ri­ously in her work next year. “My voice is very light and airy some­times, and I feel like peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily hear me when I am try­ing to in­ter­ject,” she com­mented. “I think that next year I would have no prob­lem rais­ing my voice or, if nec­es­sary, tak­ing on a mas­cu­line tone in or­der to get a point across. But I say that and it makes me cringe; it kind of makes my heart break. If that’s the way I’ll need to be heard, then are we really pro­gress­ing?”

Fac­ing con­stant scrutiny and un­rea­son­ably high stan­dards can take a toll on the men­tal health of stu­dent politi­cians, as well as their abil­ity to per­form their du­ties. “I’m ex­hausted from feel­ing that I have to be ex­tra com­pe­tent, ex­tra care­ful in how I am pre­sent­ing my­self, and work ex­tra hard to be treated with the le­git­i­macy and re­spect of a man,” said Rourke.

The Daily reached out to 201415 VP Ex­ter­nal Amina Mous­taqimBar­rette and Pres­i­dent Court­ney Ayukawa in an attempt to in­clude per­spec­tives from women of colour. Both cited their dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ences within SSMU as rea­son for de­clin­ing to be in­ter­viewed.

In an email to The Daily, Ayukawa said, “My term as SSMU Pres­i­dent last year was in­cred­i­bly stress­ful and un­healthy ( both phys­i­cally and men­tally). No­tably, one of the rea­sons why I ini­tially ran for the po­si­tion in 2015 was the fact that all of the other 3 can­di­dates for Pres­i­dent were men and and only 1 of the 3 was a per­son of colour.”

Not enough women at the ta­ble

Boyt­inck also spoke about how the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women ex­tended be­yond SSMU into pro­vin­cial stu­dent pol­i­tics. “At the last UEQ [Union étu­di­ante du Québec] meet­ing I went to, there were 28 men and 8 women. Fur­ther­more, of the peo­ple who did speak, even in del­e­ga­tions where there was a wo­man, it was the man speak­ing – even if the wo­man was the VP Ex­ter­nal,” she said.

Since 2007, only six non-male can­di­dates have run for the role of SSMU VP Ex­ter­nal, within a pool of 18 can­di­dates.

“SSMU does give you a really big voice to speak to im­por­tant things that are hap­pen­ing on cam­pus and else­where, and if women aren’t step­ping up, then women’s voices just won’t be heard in those spa­ces, and that’s a really big is­sue,” said Boyt­inck.

Rourke, how­ever, said that she doesn’t be­lieve SSMU has a chronic un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women. “In gen­eral, I be­lieve that SSMU ex­ec­u­tives have his­tor­i­cally been quite di­verse, at least in com­par­i­son to other uni­ver­si­ties,” she ar­gued.

Since 2006, there have been 26 SSMU Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, only 6 of whom were non-male. Of the 11 Pres­i­dents elected, just 3 were not men. The first fe­male pres­i­dent was elected in 1965, and in 2011 The Daily re­ported that in over 100 years of the stu­dents’ so­ci­ety, only nine of our pres­i­dents have been women.

Pat­ter­son said that she was both “proud and dis­ap­pointed” to be the only wo­man on next year’s ex­ec­u­tive. “I’m proud be­cause I’m glad that there is at least some kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, but I’m dis­ap­pointed be­cause I will not be able to rep­re­sent var­i­ous dif­fer­ent in­ter­sec­tion­al­i­ties of women,” she elab­o­rated. “I am a straight, white, cis wo­man, and that comes with an in­cred­i­ble set of priv­i­leges that I am aware of.”

Pat­ter­son added that next year she hoped to “hire as di­verse a team of stu­dent staff to work for [ her] port­fo­lio as pos­si­ble” to rec­tify the ho­mo­gene­ity of the cur­rent ex­ec­u­tive.

Rourke sim­i­larly noted that “hav­ing fe­males in po­si­tions of power also does not guar­an­tee that is­sues of all women are heard or even that women’s is­sues are heard, par­tic­u­larly if the women who are elected are them­selves very priv­i­leged and ig­no­rant of prin­ci­ples of eq­uity and in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity.”

“No mat­ter what I could have said, men in the room wouldn’t take me se­ri­ously.” Emily Boyt­inck, VP Ex­ter­nal

“We are con­cerned, how­ever, about Woolf’s abil­ity to con­trol her emo­tions when she be­comes pas­sion­ate about an is­sue.” The Mcgill Tri­bune

“Emo­tion and sen­si­tiv­ity are viewed as a weak­ness.” Chloe Rourke, VP Univer­sity Af­fairs

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