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Op-ed: Because it's 2015

by Rebecca Rose

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By now you have likely seen the video.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing at a podium in front of his newly minted Cabinet, which is for the first time, made up of over 50% women. A woman journalist asks our new Prime Minster why it was important to have a cabinet that is “more gender balanced”.

He pauses, smirks and delivers a supposed mic-drop of an answer “Because it’s 2015”.

His cabinet cheers. The Internet fawns.

I am left feeling angry.

As a young feminist, and woman working in journalism, I didn’t find Trudeau’s answer particularly funny, or clever. It had a “well, duh lady” tone. As if a woman reporter, who covers politics and is likely outnumbered by men on the daily, needs Justin Trudeau to mansplain why gender parity should be the norm in 2015. She is a journalist, and it is her job to ask these types of questions; especially given how much the Liberals have hyped up this particular campaign promise. Instead of giving her a serious answer he made her the butt of the joke, and (yet again) came off looking like the hero. (I actually saw a mock-up of a shirt featuring Trudeau riding in on a horse on my newsfeed yesterday.)

These are the type of questions that women politicians get all, of, the, time. Women politicians are constantly answering some variation of “why is it important for women to get involved in politics?” But when a woman asks a man (in this case the newly sworn in Prime Minister) a similar question, it’s a joke.

Yes, it’s 2015. It was also 2015 when then Liberal Leader Trudeau, and his party ran only one woman in Nova Scotia, out of a possible 11. To make it worse, they didn’t seem to notice and/or care: I saw several billboards featuring Trudeau with Fillmore and Dartmouth candidate (now MP) Darren Fisher emblazoned with the slogan “Real Change”.

It was 2015 as well when, during that same election, Trudeau and his Liberals ran Andy Filmore against Megan Leslie, one our the country’s most prominent women MPs.

As I wrote on my Facebook on election day “I think it’s audacious (as in “showing an impudent lack of respect“) to even run a dude against one of our most outspoken women/feminist MPs. It’s hypocritical to wax poetic about wanting women in politics while attempting to replace a Megan Leslie with another (white) man.” Then Liberal Leader Trudeau even flew to Halifax during the end days of the campaign in an effort to make sure that Leslie didn’t win. It wasn’t just any riding either, until Filmore’s election in October Halifax had been a federal feminist strong hold (starting with Alexa McDonough’s election in 1997) for nearly 20 years.

I know that Trudeau’s smug answer was only one aspect of an otherwise historic day for (some) women in Canadian politics. (As many pointed out, there were no black women, or black people at all, included in Cabinet). As a feminist, I am excited to see how this might translate into better and more pro-women policies (and how these women are supported in their new roles, ahem, Trudeau).

The Internet was quick to dub Trudeau’s response the “perfect answer.” I guess I just wish that our bar was a little bit higher for our new, supposedly feminist, Prime Minister.

 

 

 


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Comments

Completely missing the point

If ever there was an illustration of how to willfully construct a negative spin on a story this article illustrates it in spades.

It sidesteps the fact that Trudeau's response, whether rehearsed or not (who cares?) conveys an important truth: it is long overdue that Canadian political culture embraced and reflected the equal contribution of women to the fabric of Canadian society.

A far more perceptive understanding is conveyed by Elizabeth May, who wrote (in an article originally written for Island Tides, republished in part by the Huffington Post) entitled, Why a gender-balanced cabinet matters:

"I write this on the eve of the unveiling of the new Cabinet, so cannot offer any opinion on the individual choices of ministers, but I believe this move to be one of the most significant actions for equality of women since we got the vote.

"My enthusiasm largely stems from knowing how much a gender-balanced cabinet changed – for decades – the political role of women in Norway. ... Today in Norway, the government still reflects gender parity. And the move to equal rights did not stop there. Norwegian women are by law 40% of corporate board rooms both in government-run enterprises and in the private sector.

"Women in positions of power change a society. Gender roles and expectations shift in profound ways."

This happened in Norway in 1986. In Canada it has taken until 2015. This is a salient point to emphasize and convey.

There is a single worthwhile sentence in Ms. Rose's article: "As a feminist, I am excited to see how this might translate into better and more pro-women policies (and how these women are supported in their new roles …." The author should have stayed with this and binned the rest.

This is an issue

I too consider myself a young feminist, just like the writer of this article. I however, did not find the need to look for an issue to be offended personally by, which seems to be the whole point of this article.

I watched Mr.Trudeau become prime minister Trudeau and I watched him dismissively answer the report when "they" asked why it as so important to have a gender balanced cabinet. Until this article, I never even recognized the reporter was female.

Why was it dismissive? Because the fact that journalists feels they have to ask ANY politician this question in 2015, regardless of if they are a male or female politician, regardless of if they are a male or female journalist, is shameful. No matter who asked the question, his response would have had the same tone. This should be the NORM. This should NOT be news. This question is DUMB and does not deserve a well thought out articulated answer. It is something so basic, it does NOT deserve that level of thought or attention.

If you want to start finding issues for the sake of finding them, state the fact that journalists who feel the need to continue portraying the belief that female representation is not the norm is more shameful than the response.

And as a personal response to the author, stop halting progressive by giving truly sexist individuals fire power to fight with. This type of article fuels the belief that human genders can never be equal? It fuels the belief that "feminists" will find fault in everything. Shame on you.

I don't really find Trudeau's

I don't really find Trudeau's comments here offensive.  I think they could have been better - he could have done a better job of explaining why his commitment to gender parity doesn't mean that merit was cast aside - but I don't find his tone or style to have been offensive.

First of all, I his answer wasn't directed at that journalist in particular. He knew he would get that question from *a* journalist (it's in Peter Mansbridge's behind the scenes documentary), and that was his ready answer.  If he didn't use it then, he wouldn't have been asked the same question again at that press conference. And the answer was for the people at home, for the world at large. I don't think it would be fair to interpret it as a subtle way of attacking the journalist who asked the question.

Secondly, I really don't understand the cause of Rose's anger at running Andy Filmore in the riding.  It seems to come from a combination of these three:

 - How dare the Liberals run a strong candidate against a feminist! And even have Trudeau come and support him! Which strikes me as really condescending. Strong feminist candidates like Leslie can hold their own in the democratic process. 
- How dare the Liberals fail to run a strong woman candidate in Leslie's riding! Why do we need to have women run against women in every riding though? And I'd hasten to point out that the NDP did the same thing in my riding, running a star candidate (Noah Richler) against my established, progressive-minded, Liberal candidate (which is fine, she can hold her own).
- How dare the Liberals run a man in a traditionally feminist riding! Which suggests that knowing nothing about Filmore except that he's a man, we can't expect him to continue the riding's feminist tradition. 

I can't say which interpretation I find to be the worst one, but they're all pretty bad. I think Leslie was a fantastic MP, and I'm sad that she wouldn't be a presence in the House of Commons anymore, but saying that the fact that Liberals ran a strong candidate against her makes Trudeau unfeminist is just wrong. Nationally, the Liberals ran a lot of women in a lot of ridings.  It's too bad that more of them weren't in Nova Scotia, but I don't think it would be fair to say they didn't try hard to recruit lots of great female candidates.

every riding is up for grabs

Throughout the election I was astounded to hear the concept that strong candidates should not run in certain ridings, the thinking being that those ridings belonged to the exceptional incumbent.  Which is nothing less than ludicrous. We have a winner-take-all electoral system that requires each party to fight for each riding; no one but the voters owns any riding.  (Of course voters will be be heard much better when we adopt Proportional Representation.)  

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