Where RGM talks about the vision thing, part two
Yesterday I focused on Canada's role and capacity to do good in the world abroad, today I would like to focus on issues closer to home. Picking up on the "imagine" theme, try and imagine a world in which feminism has achieved but one or two of its larger objectives. I'll save the concept of a pornography-free world for another time, perhaps later in the week, and instead discuss a more modest, but no less important, goal: a world in which women and men are treated, and treat each other, as equals. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?
Sounds easy, may be easy to say that such a set of circumstances already exists, but the basic reality is far from that. In the past three months alone, there have been more tabloid-level stories of Belinda Stronach's life than we ever got to see from, say, Jean Chretien. Women in the political realm are treated differently from their male counterparts. A saying I often hear/read is that they have to work twice as hard to earn the same measure of respect. People are quick to write off a Belinda Stronach as "daddy's little rich girl" or a "blond bimbo," often completely ignoring their political acumen and/or notable achievements, which in Ms. Stronach's case are not insubstantial: #2 in Fortune's rankings of the most powerful women in business, leading the campaign within the Liberal Party to make the transition to a "one member, one vote" system of electing leaders, and working hard to promote female involvement in political life in Canada. All very laudable goals, and virtually all are forced to take a back seat to issues in her personal life.
The treatment Belinda receives is similar, if a little more harsh, to that of several of her female colleagues in Parliament. Rona Ambrose, Ruby Dhalla, and other female MPs receive more comments on their appearance than their political acumen, and are "rated" on that basis rather than their speeches or policy ideas, and subject to sexist remarks by the likes of Denis Coderre. Women in Parliament who don't fit a certain body image are treated derisively, such as the time Deborah Grey was referred to as "more than a slab of bacon" by a male MP.
The notion that politics is a "man's business" is far outdated, and indeed has been since long before Nellie McClung sparked a revolution in Canadian political thought. Hearing the elected leaders of our country behaving so inappropriately and negatively towards women does have a negative effect on women's involvement in politics. Further, it enhances many negative perceptions that both men and women have about politics, the "old boys club" that acts as a glass ceiling for young aspirants of both genders. This latest row in Parliament involving Stronach and Peter MacKay is contemptible, distracting from real debate and real issues in this country. It is to the benefit of nobody, especially not the vaunted national interest that both major parties seek to lay claim to upholding.
If women at the very peak of Canadian political life face problems, it is far worse for the average woman just trying to live her life. Subjected to ogling and other uninvited sexual advances, unequal pay, sexist jokes and comments, and a plethora of other things and pressures that men don't even have to consider in their daily lives, the ideal of gender equality is far from actual realization. Just consider: if a woman raises her voice, she's a nagging bitch; the perception that if a woman is raped or beaten, it's their fault or they provoked it or they shouldn't have dressed that way or they're making it up; if a woman doesn't shave her legs, she's "unfeminine;" that, despite 87% of reported* domestic abuse is husbands abusing their wives, people will rush to claim that men can be victims too; prostituted women in Canada are forty times more likely to be murdered than the average woman and 92% of prostituted women state that they want to get out, yet people claim that they willingly "choose" prostitution and readily claim that men can be prostitutes too; and, women earn only 70 cents on the dollar of what a man earns for similar work.
Much like yesterday's discussion, a world where none of these things exists is not pie-in-the-sky, wishful-it'll-never-happen thinking. But it won't change until there's a major attitude adjustment, by men who largely propagate these problems, and women who currently accept them as a "just the way it always has been" thing. It's harmful behaviour when a show like This Hour Has 22 Minutes insinuates that Lisa LaFlame maintains her position at CTV because she's sleeping with Lloyd Robinson.** Nobody would ever suggest that Kevin Newman is the #1 anchor at Global because he was in bed with the company boss, or said boss's wife. It's that type of sexism that is a barrier for all professional women to have to fight and work extra hard to overcome, and that is not even an issue for men in similar situations. I'm not asking for much here, and neither are the millions of women who consider themselves to be feminists (and even those who don't): just treat everybody equally, and accord the same measure of respect and dignity to people, regardless of gender (and race and sexual orientation and religion and any other method of "othering" that people undertake). It's amazing how easy it is to do, and how much better things can be run when that formula is applied.
* Recall also that only 10% of abused women actually report the crimes committed against them. Deterrents include a sense of shame, fear of recrimination, and of further violence.
** Yes I realize that This Hour is meant to be a satirical comedy show. So is Family Guy, which features this type of blatant misogyny that has caused a loss of many viewers, including myself. I don't need to "lighten up," as I'm sure some are thinking; rather, outright sexism and misogyny simply isn't funny.