Twenty-six years after she served as Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Kim Campbell is still the only woman to hold Canada’s highest office. And in an honest interview on The Big Story podcast Monday, she wasn’t shy about explaining why-and addressing the question of ‘likeability’ which she says has become something of a code word used to raise questions about women seeking office that aren’t ask of men.
“This notion of likability is a terrible kind of catch-22. Because what is used against women who take positions of power and authority, is that supposedly they have lost something,” Ms. Campbell said. “People say, ‘Well if women come into power, they lose their lovely feminine nature.’ And that’s what I think ‘likability’ is a code for-that they somehow have lost some aspect of feminine softness.”
“I think the idea is that men are the default category. Their entitlement to be there is unquestioned. So women have to leap over certain hurdles. They have to be feminine. They have to do as Ginger Rogers did-everything backwards in high heels.”
Listen to the full interview on The Big Story podcast right here:
You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.
During her time in public office, Ms. Campbell broke down many doors, becoming the first female justice minister and first female defence minister, before being named leader at a party convention in 1993 following the retirement of Brian Mulroney and becoming the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Canada.
Even during her time serving in high-profile positions, however, Ms. Campbell recalled her achievements being credited to her male colleagues.
“Sometimes the things that I accomplished were not attributed to me. I remember when my gun control legislation passed, and people couldn’t get over it-that this really remarkably big and comprehensive piece of legislation had got through the commons. And I remember someone saying, ‘Mulroney must have pulled her irons out of the fire.’ Brian Mulroney was great to work for, but one of the reasons he was great to work for was that he left you alone to do your thing and he didn’t pull anybody’s irons out of the fire. But it was like they couldn’t believe that somebody like me could have accomplished that.”
And that double standard applied to how her quest-and that of most women seeking high office-was portrayed, she said, recalling the aspersions cast on Hillary Clinton during her 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns that she’s been eyeing the job for more than a decade. Those accusations of naked ambition were familiar, she said.
“I remember someone had written and described me as ‘crushingly ambitious’. And I remember saying at (a) speech, ‘whom have I crushed? I’m not aware of having tried to crush or overpower anyone.’ And even in terms of being ambitious, that’s another word that has become a catch-22 for women…It’s frustrating that if you’re successful, then people assume that you must have been crushing, or there must be something unsavoury about how you got there. It’s just ridiculous. I think one of the reasons women are successful in politics is precisely because that’s not how they operate.”
Now that the United States has come so close to having a woman serve as president, and at least three women are already seeking the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2020 election, Ms. Campbell pointed to women who have lost, and how even their defeats-like hers in the 1993 federal election-do much to normalize the image of powerful women holding a country’s top position.
“Every time a woman takes on a role that has not been held by women before, she may be a human sacrifice. In other words, it may be hard to hang on, but you gradually redefine who gets to do that job.”