Nelson-Creston MLA Brittny Anderson says she’s weary of public criticisms directed at her body, clothing and a pose she favours in photographs.
In a Facebook video released Sept. 27, Anderson said her staff had briefed her on complaints from constituents that she appeared to be “having too much fun” in photos.
That prompted a response to what she characterized in an interview with the Nelson Star as “micro aggressions” that have become too common since she entered politics.
“I love my job. I think I am also very effective at my job. I love my team. I love my community, and I really want to continue to do the work. But it definitely has a toll on my mental health.”
At 37, Anderson is among the younger MLAs in Victoria. Since she was first elected to Nelson city council in 2018 and as an NDP MLA in 2020, Anderson says she’s had multiple death threats and spotted people filming her while grocery shopping. In a 2021 incident she was verbally assaulted about COVID-19 vaccine policies that led to an RCMP investigation.
Despite it being a routine part of a politician’s job, Anderson isn’t comfortable having her picture taken. To adjust, she typically stands at an angle with a hand on her hip, which she prefers because it makes her waistline look smaller than it would if she stood directly at the camera. And, of course, she smiles.
That isn’t good enough for some critics, who Anderson says think she should be more serious in photos.
“Someone posting, like, wow, the MLA really likes to have her photo taken with a bunch of people all over the place. I’m trying to show you what I’m doing and showcasing businesses or community groups.”
Janice Morrison said she was disappointed to see the feedback Anderson receives.
Morrison was elected Nelson’s mayor last October, and is only the second woman to hold the office. Prior to that she served three terms on council dating back to 1999.
Sexism toward women in politics, Morrison said, is nothing new. But it is something she wishes wasn’t as prevalent in 2023.
“I would have hoped by now that these kinds of comments about dress and look and style we would no longer be seeing in politics. My thing is, let’s look at the record of the person who you’re talking about. And in the case of Brittny, she has been one of the most active and involved MLAs that I’ve seen in this region.”
Last week, Morrison was in Victoria for meetings with local government officials and the topic of Anderson’s video came up. Men told Morrison they had never experienced critiques of their looks. The women disagreed.
“I’m just surprised that we continually have to deal with this, because it’s not a reflection of the quality of our work. And that’s what I want to be judged by. I want to be judged by the quality of my work.”
Anna Purcell is among the women who reached out to Anderson after her video was released.
Purcell was a Nelson city councillor for one term, and said during her time in office she dressed to show she took the job seriously. But she came to feel as though she had to put on a professional face 24-7.
“As a public person, you are hyper scrutinized for everything you do, and feel a pressure to continually demonstrate [and] embody the best of what your community has to offer, even on your off time.”
Purcell left politics in 2018, but five years later still feels self conscious while she’s out in the community. The criticism of Anderson’s appearance, Purcell said, is a double standard that women in politics have to live with.
“In what world does that preclude competence? It’s hard for me to imagine that, maybe I’m wrong about this, but I just wonder if a man in politics who looked like he was enjoying himself would be called out for looking like he was enjoying himself.
“I hope [Anderson’s] having fun because otherwise it’s not worth it.”
Lately it hasn’t been fun for Anderson.
She is comfortable hearing criticism of her party’s policies, but said she’s now had enough negative interactions with the public that she tries to bring a friend along even when she’s doing mundane tasks.
It’s a situation Anderson is trying to live with, although she worries it could deter other qualified women from entering politics.
“It makes them not want to step up because they see how other people are treated, whether it’s on their appearance or harassment or bullying.”
Last month, Anderson attended the Union of British Columbia Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Vancouver. The event features thousands of delegates from local governments across the province, and one session focused on how to support women in politics.
During that workshop, Anderson said she was moved by the stories other women told of how they’ve been poorly treated in office.
“I think, still, the public is getting used to seeing a different type of politician, and sometimes I think that’s hard for some people to grasp,” she said.
“I think some people really appreciate it and celebrate it. But for others, it’s hard for them to see women in leadership positions, especially young women.”