Herizons Commentary

Trump Trolls Invade Canada  by Penni Mitchell
Trump Trolls Invade Canada

I started out writing about the U.S. election, and how President--Donald Trump's misogyny factored in to Hillary Clinton’s loss.

But then I came to realize that the U.S. President is something of an easy target for Canadian feminists. Sure, no one oozes patriarchal right-wingdom quite like Trump. But in the days and weeks that followed the U.S. election, it became clear that, for all of Trump’s unbridled aggression and perversity, he isn’t the only guy grabbing women by the pussy. Not by a long shot.

In Canada, misogynistic attacks against female politicians are everywhere. The
same right-wing trolls who shouted “Lock her up” at Trump rallies—in reference to presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s supposed transgressions—recently turned up in Alberta, where protesters at a rally against NDP Premier Rachel Notley’s support of Canada’s carbon pricing plan shouted, “Lock her up!”

Talk about creepy. In fact, Notley has been the subject of countless online taunts and social media attacks that are sexual and violent in nature. This ugly and accelerated form of verbal abuse has a particularly gendered strain, like the troll who suggested Notley be put in a wood chipper—a not-so-subtle reference to the disposal method preferred by serial killer Robert Pickton.

Notley isn’t the only Alberta female politician to be targeted by misogynists who believe women should butt out of the public domain. Right after the U.S. election, Alberta legislature member Sandra Jansen dropped out
of the race for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

The reason?

She’d been relentlessly harassed on social media, on the phone and even at political gatherings by her male opponents. These bullies and harassers--let's call them haters-- lobbed sexually threatening slogans her way because she dared to throw her hat into the ring and take on leading Progressive Conservative Party contender Jason Kenny.

And let’s be clear, politicking fuelled by male rage is not an equal opportunity sport. Male politicians face attacks based on their policies or motives, but they are not routinely threatened with sexual violence, imprisonment and murder.

This isn’t banter to be withstood by women by developing a thicker skin, as was suggested to Hillary Clinton when she was routinely referred to as a castrating bitch. After she crossed the fl oor, Jansen was attacked with thinly veiled threats by opponents who referred to her as “dead meat,” a “traitorous bitch” and a “useless tit.”

Trolls are cowards who hide behind the anonymity of fake Twitter names. More polite sexists criticize what female politicians wear, or say they are too emotional or, in Clinton’s case, not emotional enough.

In crossing the floor, Jansen not only ditched the men who wanted her out of the leadership race but also the party she’d supported for 30 years. Joining Alberta’s woman-led NDP, where 47 percent of the caucus is female, was a better fit, says Jansen, who has liberal views on social policy.

Because Jansen spoke out these against misogynist threats, many more women in politics have done the same. Former Alberta Wild Rose MLA Kerry Towle went public about the hundreds of brutal, vulgar phone messages she got after she crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservative Party. Her daughter’s life was threatened. Sexually violent imagery defaced her posters.

“It was a  dangerous time,” she recalled.

Hate politics rely on intimidation, fear and hatred of the other, whether the other is female, brown-skinned or a member of a religious minority. Former Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari recently spoke about the racist and
sexist attacks she was subjected to in Manitoba’s April election. Bokhari, a woman of colour, was accustomed to patronizing comments and sexual come-ons in the course of her work. But then came the penis photo, aggressive sexual harassment and death threats—death threats because she had the audacity to claim public space as a minority woman.

Bokhari’s concerns weren’t for herself at first, but for her Liberal team. “I have to make sure the team’s OK,” she recalled thinking.

Now, with more women talking about sexual harassment and sexual bullying in politics, she wishes she would have spoken out earlier—and called police. Had she done so, you can bet those same trolls would have claimed that it proves women are too weak for politics.

Now, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has gone public with the violent threats that are part of a misogynistic and homophobic social media world where trolls try to pull her down at every tweet.

However, every female politician who has spoken out about the sexual harassment and threats they experience have bravely shown that women’s voices in denouncing these attacks can trump the sexist trolls.