Female, feminist & formidable

church
In less formidable times

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.

60E87617-6C49-40EE-8CEF-63B630394227.jpegDA1E90B1-AB9A-431A-ABBA-A89FFF03CAFB

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.

IMG_3502Painting 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.

The Opportunists

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.

FB6231C3-C6A4-4E8A-B498-819635F2F573

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?

78D46514-FB87-42A4-B722-DF8405EA25E2

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.

Perfect timing.

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.

The Deniers

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.

The Self-righteous

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?

E5C93036-228E-4A6A-90C8-79C6CA6C96AB

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 bombs

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

 

 

Interested in reading more?

Let’s make #MeToo a hashtag for ordinary women

Shoulders squared: Celebrating gender equality in Canada


6 thoughts on “Female, feminist & formidable

  1. Great blog Donna. I think you are right about the pendulum; it seems like most social change involves some over reactions and subsequent need to balance back. I have been watching the MeToo and TimesUp with a sense of hope. I have a young daughter and I want a better place for her. I am not naive; I know she will face at the very least sexism and perhaps worse. I think that we need to see more men talking, like Dr. Peterson, as it is still sounding too much like a ‘woman’s problem’ to me. It will be interesting to see where this goes over the next few months.

  2. Totally agree Donna. But you and I were fortunate to have a secret weapon in our perspective of this male vs. female conflict – Gramma Frew. She taught us to stand up for ourselves and do what was right – good life lessons for everyone.

    1. Absolutely. Grandma Frew was 13 years old when her Dad died and she had to go work as a seamstress making overalls at a factory. She hid in the washroom when the Labour Board came round. She must have been one very strong young woman.

  3. Thanks Donna. A very interesting and enlightning read. I’ve been at #metoo but have moved on to the #whatnow phase. And it is about all the stories of people who knew and never said or did anything.
    Or who had a very good idea about what was hapening, and didn’t say anything.
    I wan’t to ask the question, as i have been grappling with it for weeks. What dò one dó? Who do one report to? I am in the situation that i have a bit of firsthand information from this person himself and a lot of ‘i have a very good idea’ what is hapening to the many very young adult men who work in this company.
    I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to talk too.
    And i know i will be one of those who a finger will be pointed at and said, if you knew, or suspected, why didn’t you do something.

    1. What a critical question. Being Complicit. What do you do. The Michigan doctor-Nasser- is a horror story. What’s next is rooting out all those who stood by and didn’t stop the evil.

      Veronica, knowing you, I understand the dilemma. When there isn’t an HR department to go to, how do you find or even create a safe space? Are there others who may be asking the same question, who you can talk with? Some of the young lawyers I mentor have taken the risk of speaking to persons in authority. Sometimes that has gone well. Sometimes not. Going to the police, depending on the gravity of the claim, is also an option. Finding like minded people in your own company, people who want to advance the conversation safely, is a first step.
      Let’s keep this conversation going.
      Donna

Leave a Reply