Women in Politics in Peterborough

I was deeply disappointed to read Sylvia Sutherland’s opinion column of November 17, 2021, which referenced an earlier article by Taylor Clysdale about the growing storm of harassment facing women politicians in Peterborough.

Right out of the gate, Ms. Sutherland conflated two separate issues discussed in Mr. Clysdale’s article – first, the tactics that I have used to gain support for proposals around the Council table, and second, the vitriol women politicians receive.

In the very first line of Mr. Clysdale’s article, I clearly state the reason that I sometimes ask my male colleagues to bring forward motions is “to get better buy-in around the council table and from the community.” It is decidedly not, as Ms. Sutherland incorrectly states, because I want or need to “have the guys handle the vitriol.”

In one fell swoop, Ms. Sutherland not only missed the point of my comments, but reduced my experience to one of cowardice.

I want to be clear. I am not afraid of and will not be intimidated by the harassment facing women politicians in Peterborough, and I certainly do not use my male colleagues as a shield from criticism or vitriol.

Front lawn of Peterborough City Hall with the City Hall sign in the foregroundRather, like countless women before me and around me, I have adapted to a political and social system that still values and privileges men’s voices over women’s voices. Studies continue to show that women face more backlash as a result of talking more than others (backlash that comes from both men and women), are interrupted more than than men, are not truly heard by their male colleagues, and are depressingly familiar with ‘hepeating’, where a woman’s ideas or suggestions are only really heard when a man repeats them (and then gets the credit).

There are strategies to combat some of these challenges, including ‘amplification’, whereby women purposely repeat the ideas of other women to force the men in the room to recognize it, used effectively by women staffers in the Obama administration. Sometimes this does happen at the Council table, but sometimes it is far more effective to ask one of my male colleagues to take my policy suggestion or motion under their own wing.

I entered politics to do my part to introduce and pass good public policy for the benefit of our community. If that means not receiving credit for my initiatives, so be it. But I cannot let the falsehoods in Ms. Sutherland’s column stand without comment.

P. S.  In this related discussion about the vitriol facing women politicians in Peterborough, I want to recognize that I do not receive the same level of acrimony that my colleagues do – particularly Mayor Therrien, as the nature of her job means she is much more visible in the public’s eye, and Councillor Akapo, who is not only a woman politician, but is also the youngest member of Council and a Black woman at that. Those overlapping social identities often create compounding experiences of discrimination, which can be better understood using an intersectional approach – worth reviewing if you’ve not heard the term before.

2 thoughts on “Women in Politics in Peterborough”

  1. A very insightful and much-needed intervention, Councillor Zippel. Unfortunate that you need to say this, but I appreciate you taking the time to do so.

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