British Columbia·Analysis

Christy Clark's farewell wave means one woman fewer in politics

In Canada, despite our prime minister’s famous quip defending his choice of female ministers -- “Because it’s 2015” -- there’s only been one female prime minister and eight provincial premiers to date.

The B.C. premier faced sexism on the job, including comments on her cleavage

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark says she's leaving public life behind. She is pictured above the day she spoke to the media on July 31 after resigning as B.C. Liberal Leader. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)

In Canada, despite our prime minister's famous quip defending his choice of female ministers — "Because it's 2015" — there have only been eight female provincial premiers and one female prime minister to date.

Christy Clark's recent wave goodbye to politics after a six-year stint as premier of B.C. is a reminder that the political arena is still short female players.

Perhaps it's because of how women in charge are treated.

From the start, the path to power for females is often different than for males, advocates say.

The glass cliff and other pitfalls

Clark was voted in as leader when her party was struggling.

It's a phenomenon political scientists call "the glass cliff."

A woman is given the reins when an organization is a mess and expected to fail.

Christy Clark makes her way to the stage to announce her new cabinet during a ceremony in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Friday, June 7, 2013. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Clark was able to turn things around for the B.C. Liberals during the 2013 election and became the longest-serving female premier in Canadian history.

But even when women rise in political leadership roles, they often face sexism.

Those at the highest levels are not exempt.

Hillary Clinton was called a witch and everything that rhymes with it. During last year's U.S. presidential campaign, campaign buttons commented on the Democratic candidate's thighs, breasts and labelled her "nasty".

Clark was open about sexism she encountered at work.

In an interview on the CBC's The National in July 2016, Clark described how, during certain meetings, some men refused to speak to her, addressing only other males — despite her role as provincial leader.

"That still happens, Clark said. And it's easy for me to deal with because I'm premier. But if it's happening to me, it's happening to millions of women," Clark said.

Some political watchers say while gender bias is not unusual, Clark's admission of it is.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark waves to a sea of dark suits at her cabinet's introduction in Vancouver on Friday Jun 7, 2013. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"It's a little bit rare to hear a woman in politics, particularly in such a leadership position speak about these things so candidly and so publicly," said Grace Lore, a senior researcher with Equal Voice, an advocacy group for women in politics.

Lore lauded Clark for speaking publicly about the female experience in politics.

The anecdote Clark shared on The National last summer was just one of the gender hurdles she's faced while in politics.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark arrives with her son Hamish to speak to media on July 31. A big smile before she bids politics farewell. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)

In 2011, her cleavage sparked a Twitter storm and a teapot-sized tempest ensued about her whether her neckline was too plunging for the legislature.

A year later, a caller to an open line radio show asked if she minded being called a "MILF" — a crude acronym meaning a mother who is sexually attractive.

She took it in stride.

"Better a MILF than a cougar," Clark replied, using the informal word that refers to an older woman who seeks a relationship with a much younger man.

 How many male politicians face questions about their sexuality? Okay, maybe Justin Trudeau.

Female targets

But women in Canadian politics also get attacked and berated, even threatened online.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is gay, faces a barrage of mysogynistic, hateful attacks on social media.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley faced crowds chanting "lock her up" during an anti-carbon tax rally last year in Edmonton.

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read went into hiding for a period after online threats urged people to "slap dat ho."

"You don't expect to see this kind of hate," Read said. "Something is obviously seething under the surface for some people."

Some women who witness these display decide the political arena is not for them, said Lore.

"We do need to bring it to light because it can have the effect of deterring women from politics," she said.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark and her son Hamish leave her press conference Monday, July 31 after speaking to media about her decision to step down as B.C. Liberal leader and MLA. (Ben Nelms/Canadian Press)