Indentity Politics

2017 we watched the NDP Leadership Race of four hopefuls; Jagmeet Singh, Guy Caron, Charlie Angus and Nikki Ashton. Although the winning title, “Leader of the New Democratic Party” was awarded to Jagmeet Singh, one cannot turn a blind eye to Nikki Ashton’s formidable performance not only for what she believed would be right for her Party but also for her nonverbal performance.

Her pregnancy.

With each leadership debate we watched her belly get bigger and bigger and bigger and finally on the last night of final selection, she glowed with that “expectation of motherhood” with her belly so outstretched it looked as if she was about to drop a basketball. Throughout the leadership race everyone had nothing but shining things to say about Nikki’s performance yet what I found amusing, to almost odd, was the fact that nobody and I mean absolutely nobody spoke about her pregnancy – it was treated as a non-issue.  Not one person asked, “Gee, Nikki, you’re an expectant mother [your first I suspect] how will you balance motherhood with being the leader of a Federal Party?” Are we to expect to see her breastfeeding in the middle of Question Period and heckling the Opposition yelling and waving a dirty diaper?! “Mr. Prime Minister! You’re policy stinks!” Imagine the challenges being the leader of a Federal Party would bring to her (and her baby) and yet just by doing so, she might serve as an inspiration to other women and girls. Or was this perhaps a “taboo” subject? A hot button issue that no one dared to approach?

As an observer of the NDP leadership race, one couldn’t help but notice that it was a race mostly governed by playing “identity politics”. Using identity politics in an election is a game of Catch 22 and if played well it just might work but more often than not it could backfire and cost you an election. That said I understand the attraction using identity politics in a campaign for the political Left, it sure does keep people engaged, it’s exciting to watch and makes for great dinner conversation but it is also a distraction from the real issues.

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Another way Nikki could have handled her situation would be to face it head-on. “Yes, I am an expectant mother and after serving the NDP for “x” amount of years I am still concerned for the society in which we live. Yes, we have made some incredible advances yet in other areas we still have much farther to go. I am now even more committed to taking action and making the necessary decisions that would bring about the change we need so I could bring my child up in an environment where [fill in the blanks]. As an expectant mother and Leader of the NDP I will no doubt be extra committed to bringing these issues to light because I want my child to grow up in a world that [fill in the blanks etc. etc.]”  Making her legislation a it bit more personal, and committed to families – now that would have made quite an impact because it shows she’s actually ‘walking her talk’.

What I am saying is, I am surprised that she did not use her pregnancy to her advantage. For a leadership race that was drenched in “identity politics”, she identified with so many other categories (a feminist, her cultural heritage, a supporter of LGBT, comes from a political family etc.) except for the most strikingly obvious identity – being a new mother. Yet, it was treated as a non-issue. Do we have feminism to thank in the sense that we’ve advanced to the point [said with sarcasm] that women today can do and be whatever we want to be and who’s to question us?” In any case, Nikki Ashton’s bravery, dedication to her campaign and self-determination was quite admirable and did very well for her campaign.  Yet  by not mentioning her pregnancy, I wonder, if it points to a never-ending issue that really hasn’t been solved. Perhaps opening the door for such a discourse about leading a Federal Party and how she expects to balance the early demands of motherhood  might have added a fresh new perspective to the question everybody asks;

“Can women really have it all?”

Or perhaps the real question might be “Are women allowed to; have it all?” And who is it that gives you the permission to have or not to have it all?  It can come from a variety of directions depending on your circumstance. It could come from (the obvious) men, the office, society, family, religious affiliation and (most likely) other women. But it should only come from one person; you.

To Be or Not to Be?”; now that IS the question.

b6140beba7b54d8cc680f4c2ee7f28b8Second-wave feminism in Canada relied successfully on pressuring multiple access points within the legislative, bureaucratic and judicial structures of the federal state. Today these boundaries of legitimized political discussion have since shifted to exclude many “equality-seeking” women and their policy priorities. The possibility of fully realizing a women’s “equality agenda” within the federal legislature is doubtful unless the numbers of feminists women, like Nikki Ashton, who are elected to the Canadian Parliament increases. With the increase in numbers, these women can be sanctioned to participate in public policy and debates on the basis of “feminist” principles, regardless of Party affiliation.  But what is holding these women back from fully participating in this process?

Women – A Lack of Solidarity

I used to say; “We women would never become equal to men; and it’s not because of men -it’s women!   Women won’t let other women advance to be equal with men.”  As soon as we see an ambitious woman who is blazingly carving her way to the top – in a gangster style they shoot her up, drag her down, stomp all over her, and kick her back to what a woman’s place should be – in the home. Why do women have a problem with ambitious women trying to carve their own way to the top? I still think men have more problems with that than women but that should even be all the more reason to provide support for those women that can and do. To provide a bit of background, think about what Simone de Bevoir wrote about the female condition in her book The Second Sex, in where women stand in support of each other:

download (11)“Women have only won what men would concede to them; they have taken nothing; they have received. It is that they lack the concrete means to organize themselves into a unit that could posit itself in opposition. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and unlike the proletariat, they have no solidarity of labor or interest; they even lack their own space that makes communities of American blacks, the Jews in ghettos, or the workers in Saint-Denis or Renault factories. They live dispersed among men, tied by homes, work, economic interests, and social conditions to certain men- fathers or husbands – more closely than to other women. As bourgeois women, they are in solidarity with bourgeois men not with the women proletarians; as white women, they are in solidarity with white men and not with black women. The proletariat could plan to massacre the whole ruling class; a fanatic Jew or black could dream of seizing the secret of the atomic bomb and turning all of the humanity entirely Jewish or entirely back: but a woman could not even dream of exterminating males. The tie that binds her to her oppressors is unlike any other.”

images (7)The Honorable Kim Campbell, for example, our first female Prime Minister. One would think just in that point alone every woman in the country would throw at least their moral support behind her efforts. But for Ms. Campbell, it was not all peaches and roses.

Soon after her arrival, Campbell became a highly visible politician on Parliament Hill. In 1990, Brian Mulroney appointed her as Canada’s first female Minister of Justice and, three years later, as the first woman to hold a national defense portfolio. During her time in Cabinet, Campbell grappled with a number of issues that were not only controversial but also intensely gendered. It included abortion, the admissibility of a woman’s sexual history in rape trials, and gun control in the wake of the killings in 1989 of 14 young women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. The nature of the Bills she introduced meant Campbell remained a highly visible Cabinet Minister. For the most part, feminist critics argued she’d not gone far enough in defending women’s interests, while opponents on the political right portrayed her as a committed fellow who traveled with those same feminists.'She's a feminist, but not a very radical one.'

In a photo-shoot, Ms. Campbell posed for a photograph that drew an unexpected response once unveiled at the photography exhibition’s opening gala. Responses from the media ranged from admirable to right down the hostile. A few weeks later in a room full of mostly hostile female journalists about life as a woman in politics, Campbell took the opportunity to question her own media framing, and especially the use of the phrase “crushingly ambitious” in an earlier Toronto Star column by Rosemary Speirs. In Campbell’s words:

“What is “crushingly ambitious?” I find it extraordinary because in the course of my life in Ottawa my marriage has ended and I’m very far from home. I find life here often unspeakably lonely and very difficult…What is it about a woman’s success or a woman’s aspirations that triggers that term? It reminds me of the old definitions we used to circulate at law school about how a man is forceful, a woman is pushy. A man stands his ground, a woman is a complaining bitch…We cannot encourage women to participate and then punish them for their successes, for the effrontery of aspiring to do more.”

How about encouraging and supporting these “crushingly ambitious” women in politics who are actively pursuing (whether they know it or not) an “equality-seeking” agenda. Similar to Ms. Campbell these women work within the established structures, in government and in cabinet to pursue gender-neutral legislation that promotes equality between genders recognizing some policy items would require more of the attention from a feminist perspective.

Backlash on Women

Susan Faludi’s Backlash and Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, two impassioned feminists creeds uncovering and denouncing the schemes that have prevented women from enjoying the fruits of the women’s movement. For our purposes, what these books have in common is more interesting and important than what distinguishes them. Both reported a widespread conspiracy against women. In both, the putative conspiracy has the same goal: to prevent today’s women from making use of their hard-won freedoms – to punish them, in other words, for liberating themselves. As Ms. Wolf informs us: “After the success of the women’s movement’s second wave, the beauty myth was perfected to checkmate power at every level in individual women’s lives.

'Mom...You're not setting the feminist movement back 50 years just to make me happy, are you?'Faludi and Wolf argued that the conspiracy (is not men) against women is being carried out by malevolent but invisible backlash forces that act in purposeful ways. The forces in question are subtle, powerful, and insidiously efficient, and women are largely unconscious of them. What is more, the primary enforcers of the conspiracy are not a group of sequestered males plotting and planning their next backlash, who, unwittingly, do its bidding. In other words, the backlash is Us. Or, as Wolf puts it, “many women internalize Big Brother’s eye.”

Faludi’s scope is wider than Wolf’s; she argues that the media and the political system have been co-opted by the backlash, as well:

“The backlash is not a conspiracy, with a council dispatching agents from some central control room, nor are the people who serve its ends often are aware of their role; some even consider themselves feminists. For the most part, its workings are encoded and internalized, diffuse and chameleonic…generated by a culture machine that is always scrounging for a “fresh” angle. Taken as a whole, however, these codes and cajoling, these whispers and threats and myths, move overwhelmingly in one direction: they try to push women back into their “acceptable” roles.”

When the “Personal” becomes “Political”

Have you noticed a quietening down of the way politics is played these days, it seems more subdued, less glamorous and entertaining, it’s actually boring. There are no star personalities, everyone is encouraged to ‘tow the line’, there’s no provocative legislation, fiery debates. Everything seems just middle of the line, status-quo, subdued and safe instead of taking a few calculated risks here and there. Perhaps we have a lot of newbies as we are getting accustomed to new a bumper crop of political aspirants. However, its been said that quite simply, “formal politics has been devalued to the point that few talented people (that makes politics exciting and engaging), men or women, bother to vote, let alone join a political party, contest public office, or serve as an elected official. From the political right, conservatives insist that the private sector is where the action is. Conversely, they view the state as either largely moribund, except as a tool for advancing and, in hard times, rescuing business interests, or else as troublesome, interfering (in the affairs of the market) -a problem child that needs to be controlled.” [Women, Power, Politics, 2009]

It’s also been said many of times before, ask a man to go into politics and the answer is almost an immediate affirmative. Ask a woman to enter into politics she hems and haws, pauses for a bit ask for you to get back to her in about a month or two. Why do women stall when asked the question. Simply because they fear there is more at risk for her to enter into politics than it is for a man. They need to think about the implications and consequences for herself and her family. It’s expensive running a campaign, time-consuming and it could get ugly with media prying to personal and intimate details of your life.

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Sylvia Bashevkin, author of “Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy” observed the following about women in politics, “There is a visceral discomfort with women and power, which comes to the surface especially clearly in competitive political environments. In these contexts, the traditional equation of men with leadership asserts itself in such a way as to profoundly disadvantage female politicians….our discussion is grounded in a realization that electoral politics is a rough-and-tumble blood sport, one in which many talented, highly qualified individuals falter in the course of their careers in public service for reasons that have little to do with their ability to serve the public. We need to think longer and harder about how to attract more good people to democratic politics, and how to treat with a greater degree of fairness those who are willing to take the plunge.”

For women it is no easy ride when seeking top posts in elective office, they are judged by a different standard than that of other men. There is a deep-seated psychological discomfort we have with accepting women and political authority together, in the same picture frame or equation. Whether it’s her leadership style, personal attributes such as clothing and age and of course her personal lives, dissected in full public view; no wonder you would get a long pause when asking a woman to enter into politics because for her there is a much greater risk that’s involved.

belindaRemember Belinda Stronach the daughter of Frank Stronach of Magna. She entered politics at the age of 39 with only one year of university under her belt two failed marriages and years of experiences sitting on the board of her father’s companies and managing his charity interests. Her style, her look, and way of life immediately caused a media frenzy. Beautiful long blond hair, slender figure, chic expensive suits, a self-made millionaire, jet-setting the world rubbing shoulders with famous people and held a special friendship with Bill Clinton all eyes were on Ms. Stronach as she entered the political game as an unmarried female MP. She ran for leader of Conservatives but was beat out by Harper yet won her seat in the House serving the Aurora district near Toronto.images (3)

She had a contentious relationship with Harper who pretty much well dismissed everything she brought forth and then one day she attends an event stuns everyone in attendance holding hands with Justice Minister Peter McKay as her new romantic interest. The media was all in a frenzy for anything that Ms. Stronach did – I bet you can’t remember not one policy she held dear and tried to push through with all the vanity fair pieces clouding her expression. The real clincher – she decided to cross the floor and join the Liberals thus saving a piece of legislation that Paul Martin was trying to push through.

images (5)Now everyone knew Stronach and Harper bumped heads and didn’t agree on many things, Stronach had fundamental differences in the direction of the Conservatives on some policies that served as the impetus for her to leave but the media barely focused on her reasons but focused solely on the heart-wrenching break-up of Peter McKay who was trying to avoid the media staying home in Nova Scotia nursing a broken heart cuddling and stroking his dog licking his face bringing him comfort. Oh, poor Peter McKay and Stronach how could she? The “vixen”!!!

Stronach stayed in politics for about four years and retired midst another controversy involving Tai Domie and his divorce. While in a television interview she was asked about her decision to leave politics she was quoted saying “When I entered public life I did realize how public my life would be.”

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Sylvia Bashevkin explains NDP’s Rosemary Brown an MP who was constantly under public scrutiny for she spoke well, eloquent, elegant, dressed well, well educated, lived in an affluent neighborhood just outside of Vancouver, had a financial portfolio of private stock and owned real estate. An immigrant from Jamaica she was outspoken “assertively feminist, explicitly socialist, and unabashedly anti-racist. People were constantly wondering, for the salary she received how could afford to look so good living the lifestyle she had on such a modest income. But after a quick investigation by reporters revealed she was married to an American-born psychiatrist where his salary underscored most of their living expenses.

images (2)Campbell reflected on her experiences with the Ottawa press corps: “I was called arrogant, aggressive and lacking compassion. I don’t have a typically female pattern of speech. I’m open and assertive. In men, those traits are perceived as leadership material. In a woman, they are denigrated. This shows a blatant double standard for confident women, in particular, meant there was no way to speak, be heard and at the same time avoid nasty put-downs.

Sheila Copps, her Tom-boy style was brash, loud, forthright and outspoken; she was often download (4)found heckling the opposition and frequently got under the skin specifically with three male politicians. McPhail the lonely spinster where politics was her life, “all work and no play persona” didn’t serve her well, especially having a few handlers shielding any aspect of her personal life for fear that media would wrongly interpret her lifestyle didn’t serve her well. Flora McDonald suffered the same fate as McPhail. Soft-spoken Audrey McLaughlin: nice woman, good intentions, but essentially passive, ineffectual and because of her less assertive nature she was often excluded in many of the debates which hurt her party’s chances of advancing. And the list goes on and on.

But on the flip side Pierre Trudeau who inherited his fortunes, wore stylish suits, flowers in his lapel, dashing hats and drove an antique Mercedes Benz; had indiscretions with a few notable women escaped public and media criticism of his personal life. Trudeau famously pronounced that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation and having said that the media pretty much left Trudeau alone in the boudoir enjoying a lively personal life while his politics and policies where taken seriously and in the vein in which they were given, while unfortunately, “political women’s bedrooms becomes the business of the nation.”

Is there a double standard in the way we treat male and female politicians?

'Government should be small and unobtrusive...so women don't notice it in their uteruses.'

The Scapegoat is thrown under the Bus

In Canada, we have developed a peculiar but highly virulent strain of this women plus power equals discomfort syndrome – also referred to here as the discomfort equation. Our homegrown version directly associates female political elites with bad-news election results. How did this happen? Sylvia Bashevkin continues to explain to us that in a nutshell, the ability of women to win elite positions in parties that were not in a competitive position vis-a-vis government power was taken as a blueprint for failure once those women-led parties did what logic predicted – they remained in an uncompetitive position.

feminism_cartoonWomen who lead weak parties to weak results have frequently been grouped together on the basis of their gender. As a result, we have a general jitter about women in top public posts, but also we draw specific conclusions on the basis of a few women who rose to top positions and whose parties then fared poorly at the ballot box. The Canadian version of the discomfort equation thus carries with it a visceral unease about loss, defeat, and even humiliation.

This argument is explicitly not a male conspiracy theory…women have contributed to and can help to fix, the problems facing female politicians. After all, as citizens, we share a collective responsibility for improving the quality of our polity. Boldly stated, the prospects for Canadian women who seek careers in public life seem to be getting worse, not better. Rookie MP s have it particularly difficult as they strive to make their mark on the scene but are often caught in political conundrums where their (usually) male counterpart, boss and ally literally blind-sides them and serves them up for dinner. Women don’t deserve to be used as political cover-ups or as scapegoats, in politics or in the workplace, but unfortunately, this routinely happens with rookie Ministers. For example:

Rona Ambrose when she first entered the political scene as Harper’s Environment Minister everyone was awestruck by her beauty especially her beautiful long hair captured the attention of the media briefly that while for a short time shielded the fact that Harper didn’t have a plan to combat climate change, unfortunately when this came to light Ms. Ambrose took the hit and was used as the scapegoat, removed as Environment Minister and demoted to the back benches.

Our feminist Prime Minister’s recent-past behavior is far from being a model of allyship. For an example, one need not look no further than the electoral reform file. MP Elizabeth May was deeply saddened and ashamed that both female rookies Ministers Maryam Monsef and Karina Gould were thrown under the bus by our feminist Prime Minister’s Trudeau in not delivering on a key election promise and had them do the dirty work by letting the public know instead of taking responsibility himself for the file.

monsef-oath-02I have to say as a woman leader of a federal political party in this country, I am deeply ashamed that our feminist prime minister threw two young women cabinet ministers under the bus on a key election promise, that he left them twisting in the wind and not fulfilling,”  ~ Elizabeth May

Maryam Monsef was the Minister originally for Democratic Institution that managed the electoral reform file, she is now Minister of Status of Women after a cabinet shuffle. Katrina Gould was replaced and three weeks into her new position her first task, as per her Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister, was to break the news to Canadians that the Liberal government will not pursue the electoral reform as promised – an announcement the Prime Minister should have delivered himself. The promise was not to do the research, have a national consensus and then choose the system. The promise was to change the system – point blank.

And lest we not forget the events in 2014 when acting as Opposition Leader Justin cabinet-shuffle-20170110Trudeau exposed two incidences of sexual assault and misconduct case involving two NDP MPs who learned what he had done through reading and watching national news outlets – he never gave them a heads up about what he planned to do. Trudeau was more concerned about the optics of the incidents and couldn’t risk the story being leaked to the press so instead, he publicized the incident by holding a press conference to inform the public about the situation withholding the names of the Ministers involved. It lead the media to demand that the women involved coming forward. Something they did not want to do and mentioned it repeatedly in confidential meetings between the two parties so these women were shocked and felt betrayed for what Trudeau had done. When they finally came forth they were held under public scrutiny while Trudeau, who after voluntarily coming forth betrayed these women’s confidence, looked like the superstar.

The Glass Cliff – Power Equals Discomfort Syndrome

In Canada, we have developed a peculiar but highly virulent strain of this women plus power equals discomfort syndrome – also referred to here as the discomfort equation. Our homegrown version directly associates female political elites with bad-news election results. Women who lead weak parties to weak results have frequently been grouped together on the basis of their gender. As a result, we have a general jitter about women in top public posts, but also we draw specific conclusions on the basis of a few women who rose to top positions and whose parties then fared poorly at the ballot box. The Canadian version of the discomfort equation thus carries with it a visceral unease about loss, defeat, and even humiliation.

The War on Women: Secular and Holy

How comfortable are we with seeing women in authoritative roles, where they lead other people? Are we prepared to be one of the cabinet ministers, civil servants, or citizens who are directed by a female political executive? It’s the discomfort equation.

At its heart, the discomfort equation creates confusion over precisely what we want in the way of leadership styles. Should political women be caring, nurturing, and motherly? In other words, can women get ahead in politics if they come across as non-threatening, deferential, and ready to consult widely on every issue? This approach is guaranteed not to offend anyone, except people who’ve read the basic dictionary definition and wonder, “What kind of leader is that?” Can we realistically expect leaders with “soft” styles of guidance and team building to make the tough decisions?

From my observations, the woman who probably could have excelled where most haveimages (8) not would be Rona Ambrose. I’m not talking about her politics, I’m talking about her politicking. Her stellar performance as the interim leader of the Conservative party, her debate style refreshingly forthright, strong, confident, assertive, feminine, female but not overbearing. She’s elegant, eloquent, excellent wardrobe, great states-workmanship; I remember at one point I commented on a Facebook post when the leadership race began for the Conservatives call on her to be the next female Prime Minister. In my mind, there’s no doubt that Ms. Ambrose performance raised the bar for all women in politics and I look forward to seeing more of the likes of her character, nature and good grace occupying the floors of the House.

What’s next for Women in Politics

For decades now women have been making the move coming out from behind the curtains, out of the home and into the public sphere. ‘The personal become political’ as each woman in her own right and in her own way emancipates herself from her current position and past conditioning. There is no doubt that a great deal is being done so that women may participate meaningfully in politics.

Even Plato considered that women should be involved in all professional fields, including the army, in order to build a just society. This idea now is a truism….the place of women seems crucial to the future of modern societies. Plato was enshrined in Fourier’s idea that social progress and epochal changes depended on the rate of women’s progress in society, progress towards being free. The politicians’ emphasis on the integration and promotion of women in all fields is basically consistent with the issue of universality, to which democratic systems and, indirectly, human rights give pride of place. The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women speaks volumes.

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Yet there’s still a certain level or type of toxicity in politics that you don’t readily receive in high doses elsewhere. As more women enter into politics and the more we try to encourage more women there becomes an even more pressing need to analyze why this toxicity exists. Accepting the status-quo is no longer acceptable if we are to affect and establish the type of change that is needed to improve our worlds. Unfortunately, this patriarchal scrutiny and way of conducting business upon the Hill is nothing new but yet another added layer to the old myths about women being incapable of holding political office. Violence and virility go hand and hand. “On this basis, the millennia-old domestication of women and all forms of phallocratization of political power are obviously evidence of the violation of women’s rights.”

Military virtue is a group quality, but the group in question is a group of warriors, who, on growing older, govern, and are governed by, one another. The same quality of distinction on the battlefield is stretched to become the distinction in the political arena.

 Politics is all about war. That’s all plain and simple. Military terminology abounds. “To campaign” is a military expression, meaning to take “to the field”. The physical headquarters of the campaign is called the “war room”. Advertising and news coverage – “air war”, while individual contact with voters is “groundward” [Journal of Political Law, p.166]  If you don’t understand the rules of engagement then just don’t engage. If you look back to ancient societies, especially Athens, most if not all of the politicians were of military background retired and placed themselves to the affairs of the state. If you excelled in your ability to command then you would no doubt excel in the ability to govern. ‘In ancient Greece, democracy emerged as self-government by a group of warriors/citizens endowed with a character and physique that could only be male – there was no room for women, nor room for femininity for that would weaken the whole setup; “femininity had meant pusillanimity.”

Today we see remnants of the hyper-masculinity of yesterday; whether you’re being thrown under the bus, the fall guy taking the hit, being heckled, the subject of heightened criticism or caught in a game of cock-knocking; male supremacy is still constant. Despite all this, there is no doubt that a great deal is being done so that women may participate meaningfully in politics.

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For example, we can explore anti-feminism it would certainly prove to be beneficial to develop a Women’s National Policy Agenda that focus strictly on women’s issues such as concerns about child care, reproductive rights and violence against women, ending child poverty, are tennets that would be its primary focus. The equality-seeking” agenda will have women of all facets work with and within the established structures, in government and cabinet to pursue gender-neutral legislation that promotes equality between genders recognizing some policy items would require more of the attention from a feminist perspective.

Author Sylvia Bashevkin, suggests that we need to imagine larger vehicles that will advance the mainstream parliamentary equality agenda of diverse women across Canada. The focus of new organizations whether they are provincial umbrellas group would be improving the institutions of Canadian government at all levels ensuring women are well-represented in them and pressing women-friendly public policies in such areas as employment reproductive health the environment family law, violence and pensions. I suspect the goal would be to develop a pro-equality movement that is energetic broadly based, and parliamentary-focused to take the lead.

The National Action Committee on Status of Women has been largely invisible even to politically attentive citizens since roughly 1993 when the group came out in opposition to the Charlottetown when Brian Mulroney, then Jean Chretien made deep funding cuts. However, it is in its revival stages relying on donations and is largely membership driven. NAC once had the visibility, high profile and clout in its early days yet no single organization, acting alone can foster the climate of opinion that will ensure women to take their rightful places as public participants in Canada. Nor can any one of them alone be expected to shape the policy thinking of politicians bureaucrats and back-room decision makers.

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But our courageous women as discussed earlier not only have to deflect spears of failures from men but from women as well. Author Sylvia Bashevkin concludes her book suggesting that we probe anti-feminism:

Who is REAL the people involved in dissecting Kim Campbell’s image and more recently Belinda Stronach leadership style? And wardrobe. This energy could have been better directed at probing the underpinnings of organized anti-feminism in Canada. It doesn’t matter whether the cause of this oversight is sloppiness or laziness what are the goals for REAL Women’s leaders. The point is that journalists need to step up to the plate and start interrogating their interlocutors. We know so little of REAL Women because the group has blocked scholarly access for close to 20 years. No unaffiliated university has gained entrance to a meeting or conference sponsored by REAL Women during the decades that research access has been sought.

NAC held general meetings that were full of reporters and academics which opened group archives to public study. REAL Women has been very much a closed shop since it burst onto the scene in the 1980s. Like other far-right organizations, REAL Women prefers to keep its entrails well hidden because they would frighten most Canadians. The group operates in the same realm as other hard-right interests, including many evangelical and fundamentalists religious sects, radical anti-abortion campaigners, pro-gun activists and Charter critics. These interests oppose core views that remain popular among the general public.

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REAL Women and other groups like them have a right to try to change public opinion but we need to draw them out from the shadows so we know who they represent, where they get their funding and what qualifies their leaders to turn public policies in directions that are inconsistent with what most Canadians want.

Who could help create an umbrella group? Equal Voice, LEAF, and the Canadian Women’s Foundation, each of which emerged since Charter rights came into effect in 1985. If we had a strong, parliamentary-focus pro-equality movement in Canada, and if that movement inspired women as well as men to press the media to do their jobs then we’d all know a lot more about each of the questions. As well a great deal more analytic light would shine on the entire Canadian social right not just organized anti-feminism.”