Too vulgar for politics?

PNP party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, too vulgar for Jamaican politics?

That was the headline of a Women’s Views on the News article drawn exclusively from a Jamaica Gleaner report on an opinion poll about political leadership.

According to the Gleaner 51% of Jamaicans polled have a favourable opinion of Prime Minister Andrew Holness and 47%  of those polled a favourable opinion of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller.   So just how do these numbers translate to the “too vulgar for politics” headline when the story goes outernational?

About one in every four Jamaicans polled view PSM unfavourably.  13% say she is too loud and vulgar, 8%  say she is too hot-tempered and quarrelsome, and 5% say she is too aggressive. Loud, vulgar, hot-tempered, quarrelsome and aggressive are all adjectives which sit at the intersections of class, race and gender.  Have you ever heard a male politician in the Caribbean described in either of these ways?  Would aggressiveness be judged unfavourably in a male politician?

Vulgar, especially, is loaded with classist notions of  “good breeding”, (sexual) lewdness,  and behaviour thought to be crude and unbecoming.  It brings together the notions of political pedigree with gendered prescriptions of appropriate behaviour and the kinds of social and cultural capital which leaders are expected to possess.  The original meaning of vulgar, however, tells a different story. Vulgar comes from the latin vulgaris which means belonging to the multitude, of or pertaining to the common people. Isn’t that exactly the kind of leadership that should be expected in a democracy?

We are actually quite far from anything like a vulgar politics in the Caribbean, i.e. where the resources of the state are used to the benefit of the majority, where decision-making is more representative and geared toward ensuring everyone’s right to a good life.  There are many barriers to women’s participation in national and regional decision-making.  Women leaders face higher scrutiny as leaders just because they are women. This scrutiny extends to many areas of the personal and public lives in ways that it does not for men in the region.  Generally speaking most men and women express a preference for male leadership.   Well, not just any man. Men with enough funding to run to a political campaign.

Targets set by the UN for a 30% (eventually to grow into a 50%) women’s participation  have only been achieved in very few countries.  Guyana is the only Caribbean country to achieve 30% representation of women in national decision-making positions due to a change to their constitution.  Of course, achieving these targets does not result in miraculous  nor instantaneous gender equality and social justice.  Just how are women making an impact is another question to consider.  In fact, just how are all political leaders making an impact toward achieving gender, economic and social justice throughout the region often gets overlooked in discussions about political leadership.   Are they contributing to a truly vulgar politics?


2 thoughts on “Too vulgar for politics?

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