Calgary council candidate angered over pregnancy public shaming

Calgary council candidate angered over pregnancy public shaming

Jennifer Wyness has many thoughts and feelings about being personally attacked for being pregnant during her run for Calgary city council, but she admits the one that bubbles up principally right now is anger. 

Wyness ran as a challenger to incumbent Joe Magliocca in Ward 2. In Calgary's municipal election this past Monday, she lost the race but captured 36 per cent of the vote.

She said she hadn't been hiding being six months pregnant but also didn't feel comfortable talking about it a great deal because she had recently gone through a miscarriage. 

'Wants to be known for what's in my mind'

The first public mention of her pregnancy popped up on social media on election day, she said.

"Well-spoken candidate; if elected, what are your plans when your baby is born?" an anonymous Twitter user asked.

It seemed innocuous enough at the time, but on Tuesday, when the dust of the election settled, there were more comments, and ones which bothered Wyness far more. 

"WARD 2!! Jennifer Wyness was selfish & wanted your tax money for MATERNITY LEAVE! what was ur plan? Work for 3 months of a yr term? FOOLISH!" said one person on Twitter. 

"How can u raise a child that u are pregnant with now in good conscious. u deceived the residence of ward 2 & U should be ashamed," they added. 

Wyness is clear that there were not many people attacking her, but it was the sentiment of the few comments that she found disconcerting. 

"My first thought, too, about being personally attacked for being pregnant is: I want to be known for what's in my mind, not what's in my uterus," she told CBC News. 

'Didn't want to give it the light of day'

Wyness said she hesitated about saying anything, not wanting to sound like she was whining. It was the viral "Me too" trend — a global campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault and sexual harassment — which changed her mind.

While "Me too" has a different target socially, she said it pushed her to want to say something when she felt she was being attacked specifically because of her gender and her ability to bear a child. 

"I didn't want to give it the light of day. I didn't want to put a spotlight on unacceptable behaviour," she said Wednesday.

"I know for myself, I thought it would give me a better lens to look at what the constituents of Ward 2 are going through. There's so many young families. My family and I would be living how other Ward 2 residents are living." 

Symptom of a wider problem, says minister

Alberta Minister for the Status of Women Stephanie McLean is no stranger to this kind of negative flak.

In 2015, she became the first pregnant sitting MLA in the province. 

"​I had people saying, 'Oh well, you know, even if you're doing your job, that means you're not at home with your baby. And that's wrong,'" McLean said.

More than that, McLean said it is still an attitude she sees regularly. 

From Calgary's municipal election, McLean said she's heard "countless anecdotes" as well as other first-hand stories from women who ran — both successfully and unsuccessfully — and she has no doubt much of the negative attitudes they experienced were based on their gender. 

"Particularly in Calgary we saw some polarizing politics in this municipal election. We saw partisanship weigh into an election that is typically a nonpartisan experience. We saw dark money, we saw extremism, some right-wing extremist views that typically are where those views of 'women who are pregnant shouldn't work' fall … and that was really whipped up, certainly," McLean said. 

"All the more reason that we need to keep our eyes on the prize and not allow these viewpoints to tell us what women's spaces are and aren't."