Two days into the presidential campaign, The Silhouette is ready to make a bold prediction: the next MSU president will be a man.
After a year with two female and three male candidates, this race feels like a setback for a student union that has had only four female presidents in its 125-year history.
Given that women make up more than half of our student body, the consistently higher number of male candidates and presidents is not just a coincidence.
Related: Presidential profiles
The MSU Elections Committee launched the “MSU Wants You” initiative, aimed at encouraging underrepresented groups at McMaster to get involved in student politics. Yet, it has not encouraged any female candidates for this year’s election.
So the question remains: Why aren’t women running? And what can we do to encourage them, if anything?
The MSU does not have a problem with recruiting women to work for its services. Large portions of its service managers have been and continue to be women. Women are engaged as volunteers, executives, advocacy leaders, and commissioners.
Mary Koziol, president in 2010-2011, believes there isn’t a simple solution.
“It’s challenging to say what the MSU could be doing differently… The ultimate answer is we need a culture shift; one in which people who are traditionally under-represented feel supported and safe in pursuing positions of influence,” said Koziol.
Koziol was told that she was “too quiet and not sufficiently assertive” for the job, but also encountered many people who were happy to see someone that did not fit the traditional mould.
She thinks that the scrutiny faced by women isn’t only gendered. It is more broadly normative where people who aren’t white, male, straight, and cisgender face additional barriers to running.
Jyssika Russell, a female candidate in last year’s election, thinks that the problems don’t start at McMaster.
“The attack on teenage girls’ self-confidence is so significant, and it’s just not enough time to recover from it. But at the same time, I think it’s a Mac specific issue. I’d say it’s because McMaster doesn’t care about having people with different experiences in office, and how that can affect their priorities.”
Women don’t feel entitled to these positions the same way men, who see themselves represented in every facet of the university, do. We see this clearly in the qualification of presidential candidates: all female candidates who have run in the last five years have had at least one year of MSU experience, whereas we have seen many male candidates without it.
Women need to be encouraged more than their male peers to run for office. Koziol says that since leaving the MSU she has reached out and encouraged other women, who “often choose to support a male colleague instead.”
The burden to encourage potential female candidates doesn’t just lie with women. Men in the MSU need to make it a priority to encourage the women around them who are qualified, hardworking and passionate about student issues.
The MSU already has the women it wants. There is no shortage of female leaders. The challenge we face is encouraging them to comfortably put their name and face out there for the whole school to scrutinize.
This is one of the reasons why campaigns like #MSUWantsYou will be ultimately unsuccessful. They focus on reaching out to those outside the MSU, when the problem often lies within.
This election period we have to ask ourselves why female leaders in the MSU aren’t running themselves, when so many of them are organizing their male peers’ campaigns and running some of the MSU’s largest services and events.
Perhaps it’s time for the MSU to stray from the generalized “we want you” rhetoric. There is nothing wrong with publicly telling women they matter, that they are wanted and they are needed in every single level of student governance.