Tag Archives: feminism

Gender and provincial leadership, cautious optimism.

Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Liberal party leadership candidates Sandra Pupatello (left) and Kathleen Wynne attend a forum in Toronto on Dec. 6, 2012. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

I am very glad to see that many provincial parties are electing female leaders.

It is a proud thing for this young feminist to see our country welcome and accept women as party leaders, and as provincial leaders. Further, it is satisfying that these women are leading different parties, with differing values. That those who chose to do so, can (and will) point to this moment in time as an explicit example that politically driven  women are politically different just as they are personally different; that women are not politically driven by a single issue.

However, let us not forget that this hardly marks the end of sexism in Canada or elsewhere. Women are still valued less, economically, than men in almost every industry. Women are more likely the primary caregiver for children and the elderly but are not compensated for this work. “Women’s issues” are still deemed as such, and not person’s issues. I am indeed very proud to see strong women in power, and I very much hope these women inspire others to lead us towards a more equitable future.

Saying it even better than I:

“Symbolically it’s important for a time — what could be a very short time — that we have gender parity among the premiers,” said Jane Arscott, co-author of the upcoming book, “Stalled: The Representation of Women in Canadian Governments.”

“It would be more significant if the position could be consolidated with an electoral win.”

Women are still under-represented in the country’s legislatures, ranging from 10.5 per cent in the Northwest Territories to 30 per cent in Ontario — with Quebec having the highest representation at nearly 33 per cent.

The wave of female premiers is “marvellous,” but Canada saw this trend in the early 1990s before it dropped off, said Arscott.

Regardless of the outcome, women activists say the surge of female premiers in recent years is an “extremely auspicious moment” — the result of decades of work by other trailblazers.

“That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story — absolutely not,” said Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, an organization promoting the election of more women.

(Via CTV on the Ontario Liberal Leadership Convention)

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Please don’t call me “man”.

“I can deal with conservative ignorance and the dismissal of feminism by most conservatives…What I don’t understand is why sexism is allowed to thrive in the liberal community, which is supposedly so intolerant of sexism, and why it is that liberals are so determined to ignore very real criticisms of their sexism, ableism, classism, and racism.”

The above is an excerpt from a post on Liberal Sexism from the blog This ain’t livin’. I read it earlier this morning and it got me a’ thinking.

I live in a fairly conservative town – so conservative we recently elected a non-existent candidate to uphold our conservative values. I came to this city to attend the university, a Liberal Arts university, that I often saw as a sanctuary for progressive, liberal minded people such as myself. I was correct in many ways, but was continually astounded at the staunchly offensive and “ism’ed” behaviors I saw displayed on a regular basis. Racism to sexism to ageism seemed to bounce around those concrete walls, smacking down an innocent bystander when they would least expect it.

In most cases it is understated – an off-handed comment, or a quietly existing practice of exclusion. It can be elitist in its elitism. But, because those who practice it reside in the hallowed ivory walls of a university, many kept quiet when they felt uncomfortable or dismissed.

More often than not, it is the langauge of exclusion practised by many, perhaps unintentionally, that I find the most concerning. There are two examples I would like to use to illustrate this issue – an issue I still find prevalent amongst even my most progressive and liberal-minded peers.

The first is the use of “man” or “dude”. A term of endearment, or friendship in most cases falls on my ear as a challenge – that in order to be respected as an equal I must exhibit behaviours or patterns of thought that are classically found in males. While I do understand that those who use these terms of friendship are unlikely to consider me a “man” or a “bro” – it is the common lexicon of friendship I find difficult to accept.

If I were call to my male friends “lady” or “girlfriend”, they would find it offensive or off-putting. These gendered terms perpetuate the idea that men are constantly above women, and to be considered equal I must be considered manly, or at the very least man-like.

The second example is an incident (making it sound so much more dramatic than it is) that occurred a couple of years ago. Dr. Barry Cooper, a faculty member of the University of Calgary came to speak at the U of L on the invitation of a colleague. I did an extensive interview with Dr. Cooper and in the article I made a reference to the professor sponsoring the talk:

“Dr. Cooper was Dr. von Heyking’s Graduate program supervisor, thus there was only slight surprise on behalf of myself at the boys club familiarity Dr. von Heyking bared in his introduction.”

In response to this, I received a rather pointed e-mail taking exception of the term “boys club”. Interestingly, in the same article Dr. Cooper had said this:

“The Vice President and a lawyer, the general council for the University – she was a very pretty woman – they were extremely upset about this…”

which received no notice in by the offended professor.

An academic who credentials are impressive, and his study of classical literature extensive slipped up in his protest of language. Once again, it was the negative “male” language that was noticed, by the clear objectification of a woman in a position of authority is hardly noticeable.

We, or at least I, often expect those hallowed walls of a postsecondary institution to be free of such errors. To be able to critically examine their own use of langauge as throughly as they examine students’ citations styles in papers. I realized in a short time that is not always the case, but I do not think that is cause for anyone to stop noticing it.

Those who are willing and wanting to critically think about the world around them should also take pause to examine their own reflections of their world through langauge. A common lexicon can be incredibly powerful. It can create inclusion as easily as exclusion and permit positive behaviour as well as negative. It is able to reinforce behaviors more effectively that most physical reinforcements.

While many will complain the “language” police have gotten out of hand, or everything is un-PC “these days” – there is a reason. If the choice for a person is to use gendered terms of endearment than they need to accept how it informs the relationships they are building.

Language is a tool, a tool that should be respected and understood. It is able to affect so very much, and all too often individuals forget the power their words have.

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Suffrage in the Kitchen

Feminism is no passing fad. I am sure that has been established, but just in case, do indulge me by letting it ring loud and clear. Fire up the ovens, bring out the saucepans, and bust out with the measuring cups. Feminism is raging again in the form of cupcakes, phyllo pastry and perfectly done steaks.

Over the past fifty years, appliance manufacturers have created new ways to make a woman’s work easier. I am sure we have all seen through the gender-biased guise by now. Washing machines, dryers, dishwashers and anything else Kenmore can make electric have been touted as time saving and labor reducing and marketed towards women as illustrious machines that will ensure they can “do it all.”

Now, instead of spending hours doing laundry and raising children, a woman can easily do laundry, raise children, have a full time job, and still put the required effort in for her husband when he gets home.

Sounds quite awful, doesn’t it? Truth is, some families do indeed still operate this way and many people see this as a way of life. Does this mean these women are not feminists? Does this mean these women are degrading the very ideal of equality amongst all? Some would say yes. Some would say that by donning a pencil skirt, a pair of heels, and an apron, a woman is giving in to subservient lifestyle expected of her after generations of patriarchy.

I just don’t know if I agree.

This twenty something generation, the “Z’ers” as we are called, have had the great fortune to be raised by women who fought hard for their right to be called equals, even so far as to be the bread winner in the family. Great strides have been made: there is now maternity leave for fathers, open acceptance of day cares for working families, universities ensuring that child services are available for student mothers and fathers, and a greater encouragement for the “man of the household” to take a larger role in the domestic duties.

This is still not enough, as we all know. Misogyny is still commonplace in our society and women are much more at risk for domestic violence, marginalization. They battle inequity daily in the workplace and the grocery store. Women are still not paid as much as men in many industries and despite projects to encourage women to participate in trades, the culture is not nearly as accepting as the government funding.

This constant struggle to assert independence from the hearth has created an unfortunate backlash; making women who enjoy cooking, baking, staying at home with their children and yes, even getting married, feel inferior or like bad feminists. A woman proud of her skills on a gas stove, or her ability to make a perfect piecrust is often scoffed at. Women just do not cook anymore.

This is absurd. Do you truly think that while your grandmother was off bra burning she was also letting that pork roast go to pot? No. She was bra burning and then creating a meal with her own two hands because one can be as empowering as another. Cooking, baking, and cleaning, these are not things done because men need them to be done. Single women everywhere do these things, for themselves, because one has to eat, one has to eat delicious foods, and one should clean occasionally to ensure that the rustling noises are the cat and not the cat eating mice.

The Tyee’s writer, Vanessa Richards wrote, “In short, men come across as evolved, sexy and creative when they mix things up in the kitchen. But women seem stuck in Leave-it-to-Beaver-land when they step in front of the stove: domestic suckers who aren’t paying enough attention to their ambition or their libidos.” Yes, stepping away from the domestic duties and pushing for an equal responsibility in completing these tasks was necessary. Everyday I thank my foremothers for their actions. Attending a university, where men and women are treated equal – in an institutional sense – is not something I take lightly. I value the advances women before me made on my behalf and couldn’t imagine what my twenties would have been spent doing if I had been born seventy years earlier.

The strongest feminist I know, my grandmother, still cooks thanksgiving dinner every year. She taught me how to bake, and cook. She is no Julia Child, but she recognized the value of knowing how to make sourdough starter, and what a perfect cheese sauce can do in covering overcooked broccoli.

Michael Pollan, worldwide foodie superstar, said a brilliant thing when he came out with seven simple words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Cooking isn’t about women’s liberation, cooking is about feeding oneself. It is sexy when a man can cook, is it not the same for a woman?

I have recently conquered my own fear of the kitchen, and after years of defending my right to sit in the living room and talk politics while my aunts and cousins would make a lavish meal, I realize that I am missing out. Proving myself to be as argumentative as my male relatives was not nearly as satisfying as reclaiming the grill from my Uncle and serving up some vegetarian delights. Hosting dinners for my friends is as satisfying some days as defending neo-liberal institutionalism to a small “c” conservative realist.

There is great honour in being able to provide for oneself. There is nothing un-feminist about loving to cook or bake. Women’s liberation should not be threatened by a home cooked meal. Women’s rights are threatened by a lack of strong representation in our governments, by the continued battle for equal pay, and by the fight against the right for a woman to choose. Those are the battles we should still be fighting, but the battle of the kitchen should be an easy draw. Partnership’s work on respect and like any battleground, territory is hard fought for but once its won, it seems less important that it did before.

Yes, supermarkets have a bevy of pre-cooked, ready to heat and serve options at anyone’s disposal, but that is not how women were liberated. Those cheap and easy options are unhealthy and antisocial. Sharing and learning takes place through doing. How does a child learn how to cook if they only see pizza boxes and sushi take-out? My grandmother is as feminist as they come, the examples are many, but one thing she insisted on was family dinners: dinners that she cooked. We spent many hours in the kitchen helping, hindering, but most importantly learning. Stories were shared and wisdom was imparted to our young minds and I would say all four of her grandchildren are better off for it.

We can all create meals that are the envy of others. We all enjoy cooking and baking and feel no shame in coming home from our jobs, our classes, or our dates and rifling through the recipe box, looking for a way to relax and create something enjoyable.

Denying something so fundamental to life is not liberating, it is shackling. Who doesn’t enjoy eating? Why would a woman, or anyone, not acknowledge the simple goodness of home cooked food. It is healthier, is cheaper, most importantly, it is a simple way to regain an iota of control in this crazy, mixed-up world.

I would rather spend my time learning from, than fighting with a partner over who is going to cook that night’s dinner. I have no shame in bringing freshly baked muffins to a meeting, because it was done out of a desire for community, not a sense of expectancy.

Not everyone likes to cook, and thankfully the options to skate around that task are many, but for those who do, relish in your hobby. Women and men, if Nigella Lawson’s piecrust recipe is better than porn for you – and believe me, it is – then kick off those Birkenstocks, slip on an apron and make something fattening. It is more liberating than you think.

Originally published in The Meliorist. Volume 43, Issue 06, October 8th, 2009.

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