Sexism cited in reaction to Stronach move

Political scientist cites sexism in some Conservatives' reaction to MP Belinda Stronach jumping ship to Liberals.

Liberal MPs denounced some of the Conservative reaction to the defection of Belinda Stronach, calling it offensive and sexist.

"The comments that have been made about our colleague – that are nothing more than simply sexist and misogynist. It is unbelievable and unacceptable, " said Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan.

"She was called a whore, she was called a prostitute, she was called a dipstick. I mean these are inappropriate. No man would be called that," said Manitoba MP Anita Neville.

After Prime Minister Paul Martin announced Tuesday that Stronach was switching parties and joining his cabinet, veteran Ontario Conservative Bob Runciman called her "a dipstick – an attractive one, but still a dipstick."

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott said "people prostitute themselves for different costs or different prices."

Alberta Conservative Tony Abbott jumped into the debate by saying Stronach had "whored herself out for power." On Wednesday, Abbott said he regretted his comments.

"You get home and think about your day and that's when I realized what I said was wrong. Then the reaction this morning just confirmed it was the wrong thing to say. I apologize."

Linda Trimble, a political scientist who has studied the media's treatment of Stronach said the comments are the latest in a series of political lows, starting when Stronach made her bid for the leadership of the Conservative party in early 2004.

"The overall suggestion was that she was this bikini-clad blonde fronting for these backroom boys seeking power," the political scientist said of how the national media covered the wealthy businesswoman-turned-politician.

Trimble said the candidate's aspirations were often ridiculed, her qualifications trivialized, and her youth and looks the subject of vulgar and excessive obsession.

She found it troubling but not surprising that some of the same themes were reflected in Conservative reaction to the 39-year-old MP jumping ship.

"When she's being called a whore and a dipstick – well, that's intensely personal, and it goes to her integrity. Those are not the kinds of comments made when male politicians cross the floor."

Trimble said the worst of the Conservative comments following Stronach's defection will do little to shore up support for the party as it seeks power on the national stage.