Calling the Mayor's scandal "Peggygate" reveals a gender bias against women in politics

Calling the Mayor's scandal "Peggygate" reveals a gender bias against women in politics

It’s tough being a woman in politics. The standards are different. No one questions a male politician who is away from their family, but a young female politician faces these questions during campaigns.

[![]( "Hamilton City Hall by Tom Flemming via Flickr")]( City Hall by Tom Flemming via Flickr
While it is not the role of the media to promote one candidate over another due to gender, it is our role to not diminish a person because of their gender. Yet, we do it often and, despite overwhelming academic research, we seem to revel in attacking women in politics by using their first names.

The use of the first name for women in politics betrays a discomfort with strong women in power and trivializes those individuals.

One rarely observes a male public figure referred to solely by their first name. In cases this occurs, the male public figure brands themselves around their first name.

The use of last name, without prefix, for male leaders is a sign of respect for their power. The use of the first name during scandal is a sign of disrespect or provides a better play on words. Billy (Clinton) rhymed with Willy and the press couldn’t help but be a little silly.

I observe the latest scandal caused by Mayor Bob Bratina engulfing City Hall with concern about how my trade is branding the scandal “Peggygate”.

Not only is it inaccurate – the issue is not about Ms. Peggy Chapman. The issue is the misleading of the public and decisions made by Mayor Bob Bratina – its shows an unprofessional disrespect and disregard for a civil discussion of civic affairs. It’s also diminishes the authority of Ms. Chapman by referring to her in the first name when the last name is the half which carries authority in our society.

My trade has a responsibility and duty to raise the level of civic discourse, avoid personally diminishing individuals, and focus on the issues to the best of our ability.

Ms. Chapman is an abrasive person and often engages in needless battles with others at City Hall and in the media. This partly explains why she is often not referred to by her actual title of chief of staff to the mayor of Hamilton. Instead, she’s referred to as the Mayor’s “assistant” or “aide”. In the comment sections of websites, she is further diminished to “secretary”.

This is intentional – it diminishes her power. While the majority of this diminishing is the result of Ms. Chapman’s personality and actions, it does not excuse us in the media from diminishing her title, especially when academic research informs us of our tendency to refer to female leaders by their first name.

University of Toronto professor Sylvia Bashevkin researches the role of women in Canadian politics and writes extensively about  the challenges facing women in politics.

Here’s Ms. Bashevkin discussing her book Women, Power, Politics: the Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy

FAST FORWARD TO 7:00 to listen to Professor Bashevkin address the issue of first-name use against women in politics.

Every election cycle, we ask why there is a drought of woman candidates – “Peggygate” is a perfect example why.

The use of “Peggygate” doesn’t only diminish Ms. Chapman, it gravely damages our democracy by discouraging qualified, capable women and men from seeking public office.

I understand my trade’s wish to label everything a “-gate”, it makes us feel like were holding power to account and serves as a remembrance of when journalism took down a president.

If we must make this a “-gate”, why not name it after the person making the decision – the person responsible for the scandal?
Wait, that doesn’t sound right now does it?

We’d have to call it “Bratinagate” – and there lays the gender bias.

Photo of Hamilton City Hall by Tom Flemming, visit the Flickr page here.