Critics decry 'double standard' in former Liberal candidate's departure
Decision to force Robyn Ingraham to step down was sexist, say observers
The alleged turfing of a young female Liberal candidate in Dartmouth South due to boudoir photos she had posted online is a double standard rooted in sexism and puritanism, says a professor at Mount Saint Vincent University.
Meredith Ralston is a professor of women's studies who researches women in politics and has written a book called Slut-Shaming, Whorephobia, and the Unfinished Sexual Revolution.
"When I first heard about the whole situation it was part incredulity and, you know, what year are we in? Have we been transported back to the 1950s?" Ralston said in an interview with CBC Radio's Maritime Noon.
On Saturday, the same day the election was called, Liberal candidate Robyn Ingraham announced she was stepping out of the race in Dartmouth South. At the time, she cited the intensity of the campaign, the time commitment and the impact the campaign would have on her mental health.
But on Wednesday evening, Ingraham posted an open letter explaining that the Liberal Party told her to step down and to blame her mental illness. She said a party official told her that her boudoir photos, which have been posted online, were making the "higher-ups" nervous.
"This screams gender inequality from all angles," she wrote in her open letter. "Why should I be ashamed of my body and what I decide to do with it?"
Ralston said the Liberal Party's treatment of Ingraham "shows the extent of the slut-shaming that we still have in society, particularly with those in power or those who are gatekeeping for potential politicians."
While political parties say they want diversity in candidates, the Ingraham case shows that there are limits to what types of diversity are accepted, Ralston said. She added that posting intimate photos online is not uncommon among younger people.
"This is a generational issue," Ralston said. "And if you want young people to put themselves forward, but then they're going to get slut-shamed for things they've done in their past, that's a huge deterrent for women to put themselves forward."
Ralston said there seems to be a double standard at play, since the leader of the Liberal Party in Nova Scotia, Iain Rankin, recently announced — after a reporter inquired about it — that he had previously been charged with two drunk driving offences.
"Rankin did something that was illegal, he took responsibility for it, he put it out there and it seems to be going away," Ralston said. "The fact that she did something that is not illegal — that actually is legal — but is still seen to be somehow inappropriate for a politician just tells us how far we still have to go to normalize differences."
Rankin says he wants more information
Asked whether Ingraham was told to step down, Rankin told reporters Thursday, "I certainly wasn't part of any conversation with her." He said he wants to "know more about her story" and has tried to contact her three times and has not heard back.
"It's unfortunate that she feels the way she does and nobody should feel that way," he said. "All I can say is that the Liberal Party embraces people from all backgrounds.... I'm going to continue to advocate for equity and diversity and I'll continue to try to find candidates from different backgrounds and different life experiences."
Rankin said he's disappointed by some of the things in her open letter.
Asked whether she could be welcomed back as a candidate, he said: "Potentially, yes."
Claudia Chender, the NDP candidate in Dartmouth South who has also served as her party's critic for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said she takes no delight in her would-be rival's departure, and that Ingraham's statement on Wednesday evening resonated with her.
"There are just double standards in what is expected of you as a woman. I've experienced that, I would say my colleagues have experienced that.… It's not surprising," she said.
Chender said Ingraham has the right to choose what she does with images of her own body, and that shouldn't be a disqualifying factor for her political life.
"We've heard lots of stories of impropriety, but when they attach to men they seem to somehow be more forgivable than when they attach to women or female-identifying people, and I would say the definitions of impropriety are very different," she said.
Nicole Mosher, the PC candidate for Fairview-Clayton Park and president of the PC women's caucus, said in a statement she stands in solidarity with Ingraham as a woman in politics "when it comes to blatant acts of sexism."
"The Rankin double standard is now on full display," the statement said. "Nobody should forget that Iain Rankin himself was originally given the green light to run as a Liberal candidate despite a history of behaviour far worse than anything Ms. Ingraham is alleged to have done."
Mosher called on Rankin to apologize to Ingraham.
With files from Maritime Noon and Jean Laroche