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The Globe and Mail

Let's not play the gender politics card when it comes to Christy Clark's leadership

The champagne had barely been uncorked on Christy Clark's victory as B.C. Liberal Party leader, when the premier-designate's sex became a talking point.

"The elephant in the room," suggested Vancouver Sun columnist Shelley Fralic. That we view women in politics differently than men, hold them to a different standard, was the "dirty little secret we don't like to admit or talk about," she suggested.

Ms. Fralic's colleague, Barbara Yaffe, wasn't far behind in suggesting that the new B.C. premier would be judged more unkindly than a man holding the same position. Beyond that, she said, the new Liberal leader would face nitpicking a male premier wouldn't - about her fashion sense, hair, even the way she performs her parental duties.

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And the best example of how women get treated more harshly than men in politics was provided by deposed B.C. NDP leader Carole James, said Ms. Yaffe. Even though it was women who played the most visible roles in the coup that felled Ms. James.

Personally, I don't think either writer gives British Columbians enough credit.

Ms. Clark will be judged solely on the job she does as premier, and be evaluated no more or no less severely because she is female. There might be a few Neanderthals left out there who feel that the premiership of a province isn't a job for a woman, but they will die off soon enough. And their numbers are not of any consequence anyway. Certainly, anyone under the age of 50 in Canada doesn't blink at the thought of a woman assuming a leadership role, in business, politics, whatever.

From the moment Ms. Clark entered the Liberal leadership race, she was by far the most popular choice among British Columbians to get the job. If her sex was "the elephant in the room," I doubt the polls would have reflected so favourably upon her - against a field of mostly men. Before the race got under way in earnest, the two most popular choices among British Columbians for the job, by gaping margins, were former finance minister Carole Taylor and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

The most popular politician in "red neck" Alberta is Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance.

The times changed a long time ago. People aren't afraid of women in leadership roles in politics. The problem is there are too few women in politics to begin with. They can think of better things to do with their time than climb into an ornate octagon every day and try and hurt other people with insults.

During her brief time as an MLA, Carole Taylor found much of what politics is today incredibly distasteful. Those women who are enticed to serve rarely go for their party's top job for any number of reasons - the least of them being that they don't feel capable.

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In some ways, Christy Clark is an anomaly. It was the vicious cut and thrust of politics that she was particularly good at while in government, that got her blood rushing, produced the intoxicating aroma that lured her back into the political arena. She was far better at what can only be called the nasty side of politics than most men.

Will Ms. Clark be talked about in the context of her appearance? Her latest hairstyle, a new proclivity for pant suits? Perhaps, for a piece in a lifestyle or fashion magazine. But I doubt that kind of material will form the basis of any of the serious political reporting in the province. But if it does seep into the general conversation occasionally, we should be careful about leaping to any conclusions about what it represents.

The mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, is often talked about in terms of his good looks. By some female commentators, too. He is routinely referred to as His Handsomeness. Few, if any, have made an issue of it. Can you imagine the uproar had a columnist referred to Carole Taylor as Her Gorgeousness during her time as B.C. finance minister?

And if Mr. Robertson showed up at City Hall one day in an Afro, and a Lululemon track suit, I'm sure it would be noted. And I doubt there would be any complaints lodged by women or men because of it.

We need to be careful about playing the gender politics card when it comes to Ms. Clark's leadership. There have been few premiers in B.C. history who were criticized as regularly and intensely as Gordon Campbell - who is not a woman by the way.

Ms. Clark will be judged solely on the job she does as premier. Her sex will have nothing to do with it.

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