Tag Archives: gender

Meritocracy and hegemony

Canada's new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie - RTX1URF7
Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (bottom row C) poses with his cabinet after their swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie – RTX1URF7

HUZZAH! We have achieved gender parity in both our provincial cabinet in Alberta, and our federal cabinet in Canada, and in both cases it was done by purposeful design. This is worth celebrating.

I’ve had this conversation with my boys, and they don’t all completely get it. The 20 year old seems to understand in principle, but he has had the benefit of two girlfriends – one of which was a brilliant, feisty feminist. The 18 year old just shrugs it all off. The 16 year old seems to resent the mention that anything needs to be done when it come to gender  parity. I probably don’t articulate my arguments well as I am rarely really clear when I speak. Speaking is not my thing, writing is.

So, here goes and attempt to articulate my thoughts on why we need gender quotas in all fields to make the world a better place.

Creating hiring policies that enforce equality isn’t about refusing to hire men, it is about the centuries of human history in which we refused to hire women. We refused to allow women the opportunity to build up the street cred that gets them a front row seat in business, in the arts, in STEM subjects, in religion, in politics … in pretty well everything but gestating and lactating.

Highlighting and outlining hiring policies to create parity between old, straight, white men and all the other groups traditionally not given access to power is important. Specifically for my gender, it’s about giving women a chance; about looking at them with a fair admission of this historical handicap, and recognition of their untapped potential.

We’ve tapped, and tapped, and tapped the potential of men. Of white men. Of straight, white men. Of straight, european and neo-european, white men. Done, done, and done.

I think there is consensus that the status quo is not living up to our requirements. We have climate problems, pollution problems, financial crises, ideologically fueled wars and global populations that no longer can afford take the borders we drew on the map seriously. We need to change.

I know you know the falsely attributed Einstein quote, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” Isn’t that we are doing when we don’t purposely begin to bring new minds into our politics?

It is time to look over the shoulder of that straight, white man in the front row, directly at a woman, an aboriginal, and LGBT person or other power minority. It’s time to take what they have to offer seriously enough to call them up to the front row – not because they’ve been there before and we know they are up to the job, but because they haven’t been there before and the job we’re faced with today begs for an infusion of hands and minds who don’t default to the staus quo.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. Saturday. Left to right are: James Richardson, minister without portfolio, D.C. Jamieson, (partly hidden), minister without portfolio, Trudeau, Justice Minister John Turner, Jean Marchand, Forestry Minister, and Gerard Pelletier, State Secretary. Ten years after his death, and more than four decades after it was taken, the photo of Pierre Trudeau striding up the drive at Rideau Hall - flanked by his dark-suited cabinet-to-be - still packs a blast of movie-star, hipster cool. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ball
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. Saturday. Left to right are: James Richardson, minister without portfolio, D.C. Jamieson, (partly hidden), minister without portfolio, Trudeau, Justice Minister John Turner, Jean Marchand, Forestry Minister, and Gerard Pelletier, State Secretary. Ten years after his death, and more than four decades after it was taken, the photo of Pierre Trudeau striding up the drive at Rideau Hall – flanked by his dark-suited cabinet-to-be – still packs a blast of movie-star, hipster cool. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Doug Ball

White men holding onto the balance of power is not a meritocracy, it’s hegemony. The problem with this idea of meritocracy in our status quo is inherent to how we have traditionally qualified merit. When all we know is the way that old, straight, white men operate, we can’t even begin to measure the merits of any other way of thinking. How can we say we hire on merit when we don’t consider every possiblity? Isn’t that leaving variables out of the merit equation? That’s like saying the fastest animal in the world is a horse, because we’ve never bothered to clock the speed of a cheetah. Or saying the largest mammal is an elephant because we think whales are not like us, so while we know they’re technically mammals we don’t really consider them in the same category.

New could be better. New could be vastly better for all of us. It may be what takes us in new and improved directions, but we’ll never know that because until we change the ranking system.

If change pisses off some old, straight white guys, then so be it. They aren’t losing their relevence, they’re just losing their preferential status. If they cannot contribute in a world where they have to consider points of view other than their own and look across the table at faces they never had to sit face-to-face with before, then they are within their rights to move to the back row in protest.

May their self demotion and our adept promotions give us all a better world.

 

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Gentler gendering

A few days ago a friend posted an article on Facebook which lamented the vanishing childhood tomboy. It got me thinking about my childhood and how I got to be the woman I am.

Anyone who has known me many years would know my life is an open book, so to speak. My childhood was spent reading, and my childhood books were littered with girls who were no more and no less than only exactly girls. I can’t say for sure that they were tomboys. They were gently gendered and not confined to any stereotype.

People who know me only recently may not realise I myself was a tomboy. I spent my childhood in t-shirts and cords. I was carefree. I had messy  hair and loved catching salamanders and digging snow tunnels. I didn’t have tea parties with friends, I built forts where I could hide and read. The girls in my books played On the Banks of Plum Creek and solved mysteries.

pippi 2Maybe I was a tomboy because it’s hard to build tree forts in a dress and pretty tights, and it’s hard to hide with bows in your hair. Maybe I was a tomboy because I was inspired by my books. I can’t say for sure. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t girlie.

nancy 6This didn’t change as I grew up either. I spent high school in jeans and a rolling stones t-shirt. I wasn’t building tree forts anymore, but I still liked the anonymity of  less feminine clothes.

I never chose to dress like a boy. I never chose to dress like a girl. I chose to dress like myself. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a girl. I never saw a contradiction between my clothes and being a girl, but there was definately a contradiction between dressing overtly girlie and my favourite passtimes.

judy blumeI wasn’t raised with a contradiction between being a girl and dressing in pants. In retrospect, I now realise it is because I have really good parents. There was no different set of rules for my brother. My parents never acted like puberty or sexuality were a big deal for my either brother, or myself and my sister. In fact as a testament to my mother’s determination to thwart any gender bias, she chose the name Darcy for me so that people wouldn’t know my gender when they saw my resume. She didn’t give me a boy’s name, she didn’t give me a girl’s name. My parents gave me a name, and a childhood, with no strings attached. I was allowed to reach young adulthood pretty oblivious to the fact that being a girl was ‘a thing’. I didn’t know that I was a tomboy. I just was.

After I left  university I started feeling a little pressure to be gendered, but I kept the tomboy uniform to keep my identity clear. I knew I was a girl, and I knew I was pretty. I didn’t like what that meant I had to deal with. I recall being told I should wear skirts all the time because my legs were nice. I had a boss who thought it was OK to pat me on the backside. A boyfriend’s creepy cousin actually put his hands on my hips to show me how to dance sexier. All three of those things were offensive to me for reasons I couldn’t, at the time, articulate. I wasn’t uncomfortable being a woman, but I really angry at being sexualized. I also remember being asked why I dressed like a lesbian. With this sort of talk directed at me, being a tomboy suddenly became a conscious choice.

I dressed to downplay my womanhood and play up my personhood. I went through university in jeans, Doc Martins and baggy sweaters. I didn’t like being pigeonholed as a ‘girl’. I’m not sure which came first, my attitude or my influences, but both changed as I completed my degree and started my adult life. The little girl who loved Pippy Longstockings became the woman who read Kate Chopin.

scarlet letterDifferent literary heroines filled my reading hours. I got married, I became a mother and I was faced with reconciling expectations and sexual stereotypes with my self image. The middle years were all about that conflict, and my books were filled with women who chafed at being caged.

anna kareninaI hated being told to be virtuous yet sexy, and to be content as a devoted wife and a matyr to motherbood…all of those things, by the way, were defined external to my sense of self.  I wanted to be independent, and I wanted to be let alone.

I am told 40 is a common turning point in women’s lives. It was in mine. At 40 I was done with marriage because it had tried to define me against my better judgement. I also rebelled against all the influences that had led me to get married in the first place. I wanted to be defined by my education, intelligence and humour and ability to stand alone. Thank goodness I made a better break than Anna Karenina or Edna Pontellier did. I abandoned the tomboy and became a strong woman on my own terms.

Scarlett_7_poor_dressI now wear dresses and high heels but I didn’t do that until after I turned 40, when I finally began writing my own story instead of living one written by someone else. I had learned enough from my heroines to know how to apply their lessons to my choices.

The childhood tomboy had been free to choose how she faced the world, and now the woman was free to do the same.

I don’t lament the lost tomboy, but I don’t hold the woman with 20-some pinterest boards dedicated to fashion as an evolution either. Both are me, both will always be me. That is the beauty of choice. The great thing is, where I am now I can actually choose every morning whether to be a tomboy or a fashionista. The great thing about my childhood is I was never forced to choose, because I was allowed to experience life on my own terms.

hermionie I don’t know where the tomboys have gone or if they are even really gone. Maybe they are still around, but they are just refusing the labels and changing things up a bit. Maybe they feel comfortable being girlie. Maybe they have merged both versions of womanhood. Maybe the ofDisney-Princess-Meridaprincesses today are not so unlike the tomboys of yesterday. Maybe growing up is inverted for girls now, and all the little princesses will one day grown up to be tomboys. Or maybe they won’t. They have their own heroines. Those heroines wear dresses and are princess, and maybe that’s OK.

My life’s arc has taught me that tomboy and princess can both be powerful and confident, so long as it’s who I am choosing to be.

I hope all the little girls in pretty pink dresses, all the young women in overalls, and all the over-40s in a chic blouse and pearls are dressed exactly the way they should be. I hope  it is their own choice as much as it was (and is) my own choice. I also we stop reading so much into their choices.  Frozen_Princess_Anna_and_Queen_Elsa_Poster