It was the early 20 th century, when men were manly and women not so much. Both genders teetered on the formative decades of war, prosperity and depression that would propel a national character. During and after the Great War, the New Woman began to emerge, demanding, among other things, suffrage. Late Canadian journalist Kathleen Coleman, editor of an early 20 th century women’s page in The Toronto Mail , put it like this: “The man who stands in the path of the New Woman can be compared to an idiot trying to force back a tidal wave with a cricket bat.”
In the many decades between then and now, there have been innumerable idiots, each one wielding his cricket bat with such bravado that merely swinging it has become a cultural practice often divorced from deliberation. Consider how entrenched gender roles are, how unshakable electoral structures have become and how constant the adversarial nature of Parliamentary discourse is, and it becomes difficult not just to follow the bat from paddle to handle, but harder still to find the hands that swing it.
And yet, the wave persists.
It rolled right through Squamish earlier this month, soaking the Adventure Centre with almost 100 women from all age groups, enough to take up every seat in the theatre and spill over onto the floor. They had come to hear businesswoman Barbara Stegemann expound on women in leadership, and there was wine and cheese to get things going.
“The whole goal is to get women to participate in politics and policy and different aspects of the community,” says Squamish Councillor and co-organizer Patricia Heintzman, “whether its non-profit or whatever — just to tap into that resource of smart, energetic women out there and also to do something fun.”
With municipal elections just around the corner, the timing seemed telling, but Heintzman says that was just a coincidence. At the same time, she would love to see more women on the hustings, as would co-organizer Councillor Corinne Lonsdale.
“Technically speaking, women have so much more opportunity then they used to,” says Heintzman, adding that problem is more an issue of getting women to run, to overcome whatever hurdles lie between them and their nomination papers.
According to numbers crunched in 2002 by the Women’s Campaign School, local politics are run by men in numbers that in no way reflect the actual composition of the Canadian public, which, then was about 30 million, over half of which were women. British Columbia had 72 female mayors, compared to 281 male. As for councillors, there were 326 women to 850 men. Nationally, there were 535 female mayors; men donned the sash to the tune of 3,881. The jurisdiction closest to equal gender representation was P.E.I., which had 14 female mayors, which accounted for 21.2 per cent. The Yukon faired worst, with 4.3 per cent of its mayors being female. However, The Yukon had the largest percentage of female councillors — 35.9 — while Manitoba, with 11.4, had the least.