I’m a female and a feminist. You would think I’d be feeling formidable right now.
#MeToo isn’t the first time patriarchy has been up-ended. Women surely felt bold and victorious when we first got the vote. And again as we pushed into the predominantly male workplace.
Now, we’re finally dealing with sexual harassment. It’s complicated. Gathering the courage to speak up is daunting. I mentor some young female lawyers who continue to believe it’s better for their careers to ignore the sexist jabs. And more.
They don’t describe themselves as formidable.
#MeToo is a movement these young women tell me they find increasingly hard to identify with. As it slides from a movement about supporting women who have been sexually exploited. As it shifts from the much needed conversation about consent and sexual responsibility. Into an uncomfortable territory that paints women as almost infantile. As victims, incapable of speaking up or saying no.
Painting a majority of men in our culture as toxically masculine. As potential abusers, harassers or serial predators.
You would think I’d feel formidable, watching the men.
The change that’s happening right now is not incremental. It makes me cringe to say this, but I accept that we risk going too far in responding to reports of sexual harassment. Already, there are times when we’ve averted our eyes from due process and fairness. Innocent men will be hurt.
And, we’ll see we’ve gone too far. Gather our wits. And ease back the change pendulum a little to restore justice. That is my hope.
What I cannot abide, though, as we move through this gender chaos, are three approaches to the current climate: The opportunists, the deniers and the self-righteous. Staring them down, I do feel formidable.
There will be opportunists who capitalize on this chaos. People who want to bring others down. Political opportunists who want to champion the cause to advance their own interests.
People mutter that our PM, Justin Trudeau, is this kind of opportunist. He’s riding this gender wave masterfully, capitalizing to get the female vote. To extend his tenure. We don’t share the same politics, but I don’t accept this accusation.
We can debate what’s been done, 2+ years into Trudeau’s mandate. But one promise he has kept, better than all others, is the promise to advance gender equality. The only leader to surpass Trudeau is the now-pregnant Prime Minister of New Zealand. A feat biologically impossible, even for this gender hero.
As a mother of three sons, and an unrelenting feminist, it intrigues me. Why has our Prime Minister, one of three sons himself, chosen to cultivate this deeply rooted value with such certitude?
It’s quite remarkable to raise a son who sees gender equality in this way. Kudos to Margaret. As for Trudeau the Elder, he didn’t strike me as someone who cared all that much about equality. Chivalry seemed to be more his thing.
Trudeau’s timing couldn’t have been better.
True to his word, the Prime Minister appointed women to half of his 31-person Cabinet. A couple, quite high profile. Most, well-qualified. A few, chosen for their parts. Except for the few, much the same could be said of their male counterparts.
Roughly this time last year, Trudeau got President Trump’s positive attention with the offer to co-host a meeting with female business leaders. Masterstroke! Ivanka Trump was the first woman invited to the table. In January, he talked gender budgeting with mucky-mucks at Davos. Whatever that means.
Trudeau is being resolute on zero-tolerance for harassment. It’s painful though, watching men I know get slammed for decade-old quips. I was an MLA with Kent Hehr in the Alberta Legislature. Now Calgary’s sole federal Cabinet Minister has been cast to the political sidelines.
There are women and men who deny the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. In particular, I’m watching the men. The men I love. The men I’ve worked with.
We’ve lived in a world where being a male, especially a white male, was the privileged ideal. The default standard against which all the rest of us were measured.
They have been able to walk away from gender inequality, from sexual harassment. They have been able to come in and out of these tough conversations without any real cost.
They can’t do that, anymore. There is no more denying.
Many men are disoriented. They are emotionally more fragile than I’d expected. Some feel shame.
The shame doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s immobilizing. We need men to persist through the disruption. To walk alongside those who have no choice but to move forward, the women.
One of the most painful things right now is the self-righteousness. I can’t bear it.
When Margaret Atwood is asking if she’s a bad feminist because she believes in due process for men accused of sexual harassment, we know we’ve gone too far. The judgement, disdain and scorn. Looking down on those who live contrary to the values of the in-group. Twisted pride in distancing yourself from those you see as unenlightened.
There is much work to be done. How can we afford to toss aside those willing to engage, for the sake of political correctness?
A lightning rod for this scorn is Dr. Jordan Peterson. A University of Toronto professor who opposed Canada’s Bill C-16 as limiting free speech. Peterson has a huge male following. A recent interview on Channel 4 News went viral.
Peterson is a science guy. Believing that patriarchy and dominance hierarchies have deep biological roots. And he’s sympathetic to young men:
”It’s worse, I think, for young men. As privileged beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned. As possible adherents of rape culture, they’re sexually suspect. Their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet. They’re not welcome.”
Truth explosions are Peterson’s signature style.
He grew up in and is tormented by the Cold War. Obsessed by it. He rails against the blind certainty offered by ideology. The hyper-judgement and the censoring. The over-simplifications.
Peterson and I wouldn’t agree on all things, but I’m impressed that he can engage young men in these critical gender discussions. We need that right now. And we share an aversion to political correctness.
Peterson is a fellow Prairie type, from a farm, worked with his hands, spent long periods of time outside in the elements and went to university against the odds. That’s my upbringing, too.
It’s not all that surprising his truth bombs didn’t explode in my face.
It’s tempting to ride this gender wave.
Maybe, maybe… I should ride this wave. Just enjoy it.
Gender equality has always been my bumper sticker. And it’s been such a long time coming.
Up-ending patriarchy should be fun. Trigger-ready outrage is in style. Driving political correctness like a steamroller could be exhilarating.
I’ve tried to ride this wave, a few times. I know what it felt like when I was made a first female VP in the oil company where I worked. A fortress of testosterone if there ever was one. I felt like a freak of nature. A token. I felt the same way the first time I walked through the front door of the Petroleum Club when men finally decided to invite women in.
I don’t recall feeling formidable, then.
And I really would like to feel formidable.
But I can’t bear to feel opportunistic. Or ruthless. Or self-righteous. Or right. Or politically-correct.
That’s my truth-bomb. What’s yours?
Donna Kennedy-Glans, February 1st 2018
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