Editorial: A bit of ‘mansplaining’

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne seems to have evoked an unexpected and unwanted response to his explanation of how his wife, Maria Bird-Browne, was able to secure the candidacy of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) for the Rural East constituency.   It appears that the women of this country were offended by the prime minister’s words and his generalisation of their persona.
They have pointed to his comments as a prime example of what is wrong with our society and why women are treated the way that they are when they express an interest in politics.  “What decade are we in?  The 1950s?!?!” was the reaction of one woman when she heard how the prime minister described women’s abilities to withstand the rigours of the political process.  
PM Browne started his comments by indicating that “we had actually reserved that seat, initially, for a female candidate” adding that the party was interested in having greater “gender parity” going into the next election. It was a good start but it went quickly downhill.  The PM revealed the thinking of the male-dominated ABLP when he stated: “We had already taken a decision that there would be no primary because it would be so divisive, and the last thing that you want is a female candidate, in particular, to go through a bruising primary. I mean, males have sufficient problems reconciling after a primary, much less the females.”
Those comments have put more than a few women on broil, and they have labelled the PM’s comments as “condescending” and “chauvinistic.”  The insinuation that women cannot handle a primary because of its “bruising” nature and would have a harder time than men in reconciling after the fact is particularly insulting.  
The story goes on with the PM saying that before the infamous poll was done, he got a call from “a male candidate who expressed an interest,” and “even though we wanted a female, we allowed that male to go into the constituency to do some work.”  Reason being, “the initial two we had earmarked were not doing well.”  The “two” being the two women who were being groomed for the position.
Although the PM does not call names, except for his wife’s, the players are obvious and the male candidate reference seems to point to Senator Michael Freeland.  In any case, the poll was conducted and it apparently indicated “who the most popular person was and the best option to win the seat.”  Based on that poll, the PM says, “We took a decision, initially, to select the male candidate.”  So, after all of those years of planning with two highly competent women, the executives’ minds were swayed because of a single, secretive poll.  
The entire process and the decision taken have given people, especially women, a reason to ask whether there was any real intention of going with a female candidate, outside of the PM’s wife. As the PM said, “We took a decision, at the time, to run with the male candidate, for various reasons – not that the male candidate had won the poll. But again, the intention was not for my wife to be involved in any politics.”
That has led to speculation that once his wife
had been persuaded to become involved in politics, the male candidate had to be eliminated and the rhetoric would have to swing back towards the ‘this spot reserved for females.’ It has not worked in the manner that was likely
Right now, the women of this nation are vexed by the liberal use of stereotypes in the PM’s comments and rightfully point out that they do not need any ‘mansplaining’ about what they can and cannot do.  If the political process demands a primary then let it occur, no matter how bruising it may be.  They do not need any hand-holding or coddling because the job of a representative requires infinitely more toughness than a primary.
The point being made is: if you cannot handle a primary, then you should not be in politics.  And even if the flawed logic is accepted, being gifted a candidacy does nothing to strengthen the character of a representative when the real fires start to burn.  In a primary, there may be some restraint from fellow party members but there will be no consideration given by the opposition on the campaign trail.
It is going to be difficult for the PM and the ABLP to explain away the language being used at the very top of the political spectrum.  The obvious inference that there is a superior gender when it comes to politics is not playing well to the women in our bit of paradise.  It will be interesting to see how the ABLP attempts to right this slur against the women in their party, and how this dated gender rhetoric will play out as the campaign continues.           

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