MLAs hope record-high number of women in house just the beginning

Click to play video: 'New Brunswickers elected more female reps than ever before in 2020 election'
New Brunswickers elected more female reps than ever before in 2020 election
New Brunswickers chose more female representatives than ever before, including nine women in the government. Premier Blaine Higgs says gender parity will be a priority as he chooses his cabinet. Travis Fortnum has more – Sep 16, 2020

Jill Green is excited to be the newly-elected PC MLA for Fredericton North.

She’s also new to Twitter – an experience she says has been less exciting.

“There is not-nice people that feel like they can [say] whatever they want on Twitter and can get away with it,” she says. “Things they would never say to your face.”

READ MORE: ‘He can do what he wants’: Higgs, New Brunswick Tories are in control after snap electio

Green is one of five new female faces joining the Progressive Conservative roster – there are nine in total.

Between the four parties set to make up the legislative assembly, 14 women won seats.

That’s less than one-third of the total house – but a record number in New Brunswick.

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Harassment common against politicians

Experts say online harassment, like what Green has experienced, is partly to blame for those low numbers.

“Men don’t face it the same way,” says Joanna Everitt, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick’s Saint John campus.

“It’s one of those real challenges that often make women think twice whether they want to put their name forward.”

Political Science Professor Joanna Everitt says some people think female politicians are “public property.”. Joy Cummings / UNB

A 2018 study found that women politicians are judged more harshly online than their male peers on what they look like and if they’re married or not.

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That results in female lawmakers being three times more likely than men to receive sexist comments, the study found.

It’s an issue that has been repeated by politicians across the political spectrum and around the globe.

In 2019, then-Environment Minister Catherine McKenna had her Ottawa office defaced with a vulgar and misogynistic slur.

A need to normalize women in politics

Returning New Brunswick MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason says her male colleagues are shocked when she shows them some of the messages she receives.

“I get messages that people are asking me if I’m married – if I’m happily married,” she says. “People will message me asking to meet up and connect.”

“I’m always shocked that someone would want to send the Attorney General of the Province of New Brunswick a message like that,” Anderson-Mason says.

Click to play video: 'Catherine McKenna on how we get more women to become political leaders'
Catherine McKenna on how we get more women to become political leaders

Anderson-Mason says, in her experience, politics have been a bit like NASCAR.

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“There’s this strong core group of followers that are very passionate,” she says. “But it does seem to attract more men than it does women.”

READ MORE: Elections New Brunswick refers complaint to Saint John police

She says she doesn’t think anyone is to blame for that.

“It’s just the way that it is,” says Anderson-Mason.

Recalling her experience running in the 2018 provincial election, she says a lot of women simply seemed uninterested.

“I was a little bit disappointed when I went door-to-door,” she says. “There were numerous occasions when I would go door-to-door and perhaps a woman would answer and I’d start talking about why I was there and they would say ‘well, I don’t really follow politics, maybe you want to talk to my husband’ or ‘I don’t really vote’ or ‘I just do what my husband votes.’”

New Brunswick Attorney General Andrea Anderson-Mason and Service New Brunswick Minister Sherry Wilson celebrate International Women’s Day. Megan Yamoah / Global News

However, Anderson-Mason says that antiquated stance is changing – and the conversation needs to reflect that.

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“I think we have to start normalizing it,” she says. “I’m always surprised about being asked about being a woman in politics.”

“If young women are watching and we’re saying ‘look at this woman in politics’ they’re going to start seeing it as an oddity,” Anderson-Mason says, “when in fact they should be seeing it as a normal thing.”

MLA-elect for Fredericton North Jill Green says she’s not going to let harassment push her off Twitter.
MLA-elect for Fredericton North Jill Green says she’s not going to let harassment push her off Twitter. Twitter

Rookie MLA Jill Green looks forward to joining Anderson-Mason in the legislature and to seeing what the newly elected female MLAs have to say.

“I think it’s going to make us stronger as a government,” she says, “we’re going to have some wonderful new voices at the table.”

Green also says she’ll keep her Twitter account active.

“I’m not letting these people suck me down,” she says. “I’m not giving them that much power.”


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