In the first party leaders’ debate Doug Ford said to Kathleen Wynne, “You’ve got a nice smile on your face.” In the second, he repeated the “compliment,” saying “I still like that smile.” In the first debate, Wynne replied, “So do you.” In the second, she turned away and after the debate said “I’m not sure what my smile has got to do with making good policy.”
This exchange reveals what Doug Ford is, and the difficulty women have in responding. Doug Ford’s remark was sexist, pure and simple. In a party leaders’ debate, would he have said that to another male? The false compliment is also a debate tactic: say something nice to an opponent before you attack her because the false compliment will throw her off her stride and make it harder for her to counter-punch.
This tactic is particularly difficult for a woman because giving an appropriate response will make her appear angry. I’m sure Kathleen Wynne was thinking “Doug, that remark is sexist and condescending,” but, not wanting to appear angry, she simply returned the “compliment” the first time, and turned away the second.
An analogous situation was the second presidential debate when Donald Trump was blatantly stalking Hillary Clinton. In her memoir, she reports that what was going through her mind was “back up, you creep, get away from me.” Instead, as she put it, “I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off.” She missed an opportunity to call Trump out for what he is, to make that an issue.
After the second Ontario debate, Ford’s spin-doctor Melissa Lantsman issued a written statement saying “It was a reminder to always keep things friendly. [The comment] was a way of saying they are rivals on stage, but he respects her.” Sexist comments are a strange way of showing respect.
If Doug Ford does that in the third debate – to either Wynne or Horvath – I hope they, rhetorically, kick him in the nuts. Sexism has no place in our society, least of all in a party leaders’ debate.