24 October 2006

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The notion that politics is a "man's business" is far outdated, and indeed has been since long before Nellie McClung sparked a revolution in Canadian political thought.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.


C. LaRoche said...

Richard, seems like you're painting all women and victims and all women as perpetrators. Real feminism would say that if male PMs can be made fun of on the basis of their looks, women can too -- and women should furthermore have the independence and ability to stand up to it, as men do.

Otherwise, you need to ban making non-political comments about any MP, regardless of sex. This is perhaps not a bad idea. But singling women out as the victim in Parliament isn't exactly an equitable solution -- the males in the house get plenty of shit thrown at them as well, we simply don't make it as much of an issue, especia1ly since it comes (mostly) from other males.

RGM said...

I'm doing nothing of the sort. The "real feminism" that you speak of deserves those quotation marks around it, because it would suggest that we should be able to handle our political affairs without resorting to the superficial to denigrate our opponents. You also go far beyond the pale in suggesting that there be a ban on non-political comments because it's a hollow idea that really wouldn't hold any water.

You did manage to hit on one key point that I am trying to make here. Men insulting men isn't done with sexist overtones, but when MacKay implies that Stronach is a dog, he really means that she's a bitch, which is sexist. It is entirely possible to heckle a woman in Parliament without doing it in a sexist way that lowers women to sub-human categories. It's hard to tell that that's possible, given the propensity to refer to Parliament's women as dogs (viz. the chow-chow incident) or other animals (Deb Gray as bacon incident), but it is possible.

Also, I'm not making victims out of them. Victim carries with it a lot of connotations, and many feminists reject the use of the word, as do I. They're targeted for sexism-based comments, sure, but it'd likely be a cold day in hell before we see women with the character of Stronach, Ambrose, Davies, Macdonough playing the victim card.

C. LaRoche said...

The "real feminism" I'm talking about is the academic strain that later broke into radicalism and so on (my knowledge of Feminism as an academic idiom is limited, though; I'm sure if Carla came around she'd set me straight).

In any case, the emphasis in the academic disciplines I've run into -- the non-radical ones -- emphasize gender analysis over overlty male vs. female "victimization" talk, or that all females are victimized by males, and therefore males are the problem. This is perhaps a more pragmatic view, but it hardly speaks to problems of sexual exploitation and modern "sex" popular discourses, which seem to be perpretated by both sexes (albeit more times by males than females. Women do work for Playboy, however, and they aren't always in front of the camera).

My big beef with a lot of online 'casual' feminists, though not necessarily with you, is that they cry blue murder when a female politican is denigrated in some subtly or not-so-subtly sexual manner. That's fine in and of itself. But they wouldn't batt an eye if, say, Peter MacKay were to be called "a player", "gigolo", or "man-slut", or what have you.

Hell, a number of people I know would say the latter is fitting. And the implication in all of this is that Belinda Stronach has been victimized by her male aquaintances -- that she is not a "slut" -- and that Peter MacKay has been the victimizer -- that he is a "slut" in reverse -- simply because one is male and the other is female. This double-standard seems a bit absurd. Both were consenting adults in an adult relationship. And while I'm sure most people with brains know this, I still have a hard time believing that any blogging feminists out there would leap to a male MP's defence if he were called something that denigrated him in a sexual manner.

RGM said...

Those pragmatic women, and the mindset behind them, who work for Playboy are excellently characterized as "female chauvinist pigs" in Ariel Levy's book of the same name. It's hip, it's cool, it's showing that women can be "in" on pornography, too, but ultimately it boils down to participating in their own exploitation, and the exploitation of other women, in order to "get ahead." They're exploited by being held up as false idols that, hey, women LOVE Playboy and how sexy it is. That's not feminism, it's surviving at the expense of feminism. There's a rather large divide within feminism's "third wave" over what calling yourself "sex-positive" and embracing Playboy and other forms of pornography actually does for the movement. I'm in pretty fully agreement with my girlfriend, who is a full-fledged real feminist, that embracing the symbols used to treat women solely as sexual objects instead of actual people sets the movement back significantly. Because, really, why are women embracing the bunny logo? To get male approval, which is sorta antithetical to what feminism is all about.

There is a double standard in existence, no doubt about it. Men who sleep with multiple women get high-fives from their buddies, and get some reverence for it. I've never been a fan of that type of thinking, for a variety of reasons that I don't need to explain or justify.

A final thought: when men aren't the dominant political class, don't face significant socio-economic barriers to enter politics, don't face a glass ceiling once they get into politics, aren't grossly over-represented in Parliament, and don't use sexist comments on a regular basis, maybe then, and ONLY then, will feminists feel an ounce of need to rush to their defence. Until that time, your concept that feminists have some obligation to defend the entrenched dominant political class will remain completely absurd.

Anna Lou said...

Real feminists are very much against sexism. dictionary.com lists the following under under "sexism":

discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp. [bold mine], such discrimination directed against women.

Even the dictionary knows and says that sexist discrimination is a problem for women more than it is for men.

Both men and women have their gender roles. There are only two genders, therefore in many cases they're seen as opposites - something that is a male trait is not a female trait (being agressive is male, being passive is female, being emotional/crying is female, and keeping a straight face or being "strong" emotionally is male).

A stud (or gigolo or whatever) is male, while a slut is female. They both mean the same thing, which is that a person gets around sexually. They are opposites in the case of gender, because for the former it's seen as a good thing, while for the latter it is degrading.

You're probably correct when you say that feminists won't "leap to a male MP's defence if he were called something that denigrated him in a sexual manner.", because that's not what FEMinists do. Feminists don't exist to protect men from sexist remarks, because men are the dominant class. Like I stated earlier, most male stereotypes about sex are seen as compliments. The name calling that women receive (let's go with the one that was actually used/implied, "bitch") ARE sexist and degrading, which is why feminists have a problem with them. Also keep in mind that the term "feminist" comes from "female", which is why it is about female equality, and not defending men from any kind of sexist remarks.

Let's ALSO keep in mind that in this situation we're talking about, no men actually WERE called anything sexist, a woman was.