When she made the decision to run for mayor of Maple Ridge, Nicole Read just wanted to serve her community, but ended up getting a lot more than she bargained for.
Since being elected in 2014, Read has faced harassment and threats, both online and in real life, severe enough to force her into semi-hiding for a brief period — harassment she says stems from a deep-seated hatred of women.
"It's a very real thing," Read said. "This follows me into the real world, and I have to always be mindful of my surroundings and my spaces, because I'm never really sure what's going to happen."
"Trying to explain to my children that we live in a world that is sometimes unsafe, and trying not to make them afraid of that world, is very difficult."
Rooted in misogyny
Read is one of several Lower Mainland politicians who will be speaking at a panel discussion in Port Coquitlam tonight entitled Nasty Women: Gender in Politics — named for an infamous remark made by American president Donald Trump during a televised debate with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
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Read says the harassment she's faced during her term isn't just about policy. She says the language her detractors use shows an underlying misogyny in their views on her.
"I think there's a special kind of rage that comes for some people with women leading, especially if you're a strongly spoken, opinionated, bold person," she said.
"If you don't like what I do or you don't like what I stand for, you don't like my politics, that's OK," she continued. "But I don't think that you [use gendered profanity] because you don't like what I do."
Taking a toll
Bonita Zarillo, a councilor in Coquitlam, agrees.
"It's certain traits [that inspire harassment of women]," she said. "It's that confidence, it's that assertiveness, that just doesn't fit the the stereotype."
Zarillo says social media has emboldened people to speak up who might otherwise not, and to say things they might not say directly to someone's face.
But as the online threats cross over into Read's real life, she's found it hard to keep going, and recently announced she won't be seeking re-election next year.
Zarillo says that sort of discouragement is a major problem, as women are already underrepresented in Lower Mainland municipal politics. Only three of the region's 21 mayors are women.
- 111 women ran in B.C.'s 2017 election, just 34 were elected
- Mothers still face barriers getting into politics
Still, Zarillo said that it's a positive development that these issues are being talked about at all.
"I'm really interested to see these conversations happen, because they've needed to happen for a very long time," she said.
"It's unfortunate the way it's come about, but the conversation is so important."
With files from CBC Radio One's The Early Edition