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Do something: How sexism in politics inspired me to speak out

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

by Stephanie Mitton

This past summer I resigned my job as an Assistant Director with Universities Canada and put my name forward as a candidate in a nomination race to run in the by-election for the Member of Parliament seat in my home riding in rural, eastern Ontario.

During my campaign, one woman asked, “How would you describe yourself?” I responded, “tenacious.” She told me I should not describe myself that way because it wasn’t “feminine enough.”

That was hard to hear since I view myself as both tenacious and feminine. Tenacity makes me good at my job, and in my opinion a quality required to be an effective Member of Parliament.

In another instance a man told me that he was really looking for a candidate with “balls.” I think he meant ballsy; a poor choice of words either way that also implied I wasn’t “ballsy.” I guess he doesn’t know me very well…

Something else that struck me was how women don’t feel empowered for their own political involvement. This came as a shock. I met many women who were not comfortable engaging in politics and either didn’t want to be involved or simply wanted to follow their spouse’s lead. I had many women say they would have to ask their husbands if they could be involved or who to vote for. I found this so disappointing since women have so much to add to the conversation – any conversation – and I want to see them contributing. #addwomenchangepolitics But if only 26% of those currently elected are women, it’s clear and we have a long way to go!

Politics is tough, and even though I had expected some, I was saddened and surprised by how much sexism I felt and saw during the race. From how I spoke, and what I wore, to the negative things people said to me about women in politics. The more I reflected on my experience, it was evident that gender was a common theme throughout the campaign.

At the same time, many women of all ages thanked me for putting my name forward and remarked on how impactful it was for young women in particular. Countless women and young girls shared their appreciation with me directly. And this made the hard work, and the loss, worth it.

After the vote, my cousin Madison Healey sent me this text:

You really did a great job Steph. I started to tear up while you were giving your speech and I was standing with [your daughter] Rachelle. I wish you could have seen how proud she was of you. I know what it’s like to grow up with a strong fearless mother, and your daughters are blessed to have the same. You’re already inspiring them and letting them know they can do anything they set their mind to, all while keeping their integrity. I wish I could have had my (future?) daughter there to see you! You are so amazing! Love you!

After a long, exhilarating and draining race, I lost the vote on August 11, 2018. I was exhausted, and disappointed, but I believed good things would come from this experience. And so began my journey with “what next?”.

Upon reflecting on my experience as a woman in politics, what it meant to me, as well as to the other women in my life, I knew that regardless of what job I did next, I wanted to contribute to women’s empowerment.

WDDT has become my Do Something.

My hope is that WDDT is a community or forum for women to learn from and grow with each other. I hope the result is that through shared wisdom and stories we empower one another to define our own lives.

Thank you for being here, contributing to the conversation and growing alongside us. Thank you for giving us your valuable time and attention. We look forward to getting to know you.

Join the conversation. Have you ever had a “Do Something” moment? Please share your experience in the comments. We would love to hear about it.

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