Dear Leah,
We’ve never met, but I read your open letter to Nazanin Afshin-Jam in the Globe and Mail.

As you may have heard, there is a very unfortunate trend in the media to go after the spouse of a politician for something that politician did or said.

This disturbing trend almost universally applies to wives only. Why is that? I recall from my university women’s studies classes that this is rooted in the archaic, patriarchal notion that wives are somehow an extension of their husbands. You see, Leah, how often is it that a husband gets publicly attacked for something his wife says or does?

So actually, this is not so much of a trend as it is a long-standing, sexist tradition.

A tradition which you, in 2014 made the choice to participate in.

A politician said some things you disagreed with. In response, did you pen a column to that politician? No.

Instead, you penned an 873-word column (873 words!) to his wife criticizing, lecturing and attempting to shame her.

Your column was condescending, patronizing and downright mean.

I wasn’t impressed. You are a smart, educated newspaper columnist and author.

Instead of penning an intelligent, thoughtful column about issues that you care about, you chose to sling mud.

You chose to participate in a sexist tradition that should be a distant memory of the past.

But don’t worry, your column wasn’t a complete waste of ink. It might serve as a wonderful learning tool in future women’s studies classes, where clever students can critique it and shake their heads that in 2014 it was actually published. Maybe one day my daughter will be one of those students.

So thank you Leah. Thank you for reminding feminists that, even in 2014, there is still much work to be done.

Yours sincerely,

Kathryn

Originally posted on Huffington Post Canada

Recently, Steve Paikin, author and host of TVO’s The Agenda, took to his blog to ask a question: “where, oh where, are all the female guests?”

According to Paikin, it’s awfully hard to get females to appear on his show.
He crafts two explanations for this that are so absurd and insulting to women, it’s no wonder he struggles to get them on his show.

Paikin says “the vast majority of “experts” in the subjects we cover are men.” That’s quite a sweeping statement. If you’ve ever watched The Agenda, you’ll know it covers an extremely wide range of current affairs and social issues. For example, the past few episodes alone have covered a huge spectrum of issues, such as access to water, breast cancer and the political participation of young Canadians. Peruse through their past episodes and you’ll be amazed at the variety of topics they cover.

There is definitely no lack of intelligent, insightful women out there with expertise in the multitude of issues The Agenda covers each week.

Paikin offers up another reason women guests are so hard to come by, and this one will floor you. He says “we’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book.” I think the last time I read something along those lines was in my undergraduate women’s studies critical theory course, but it was something written in the 1800′s.
According to Paikin: “No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.”

I’m sure these words will find their way in a women’s studies course someday too, to be picked apart by clever students who won’t believe for a second it was written in 2014.

Paikin then tops off his blog post with a plea, “is there something we’re not doing that we should be doing to increase our female presence on the program?”

Well, he could begin with not insulting and stereotyping us, or making inane assertions that for the most part went extinct in 1952.

Paikin has rightly been receiving a lot of heat over his blog post, but the silver lining is that at least he has opened an important debate: why aren’t there more women commentators and pundits?

Firstly, how often are women asked? You often see panels on current affairs and news talk programs that include only one woman. If programs are treating women guests as quota fillers, that’s a big problem. My question to Paikin and others is, how many women to you actually invite on your program versus men? Is it 50/50, or is it less? If so, why? It’s a cop out, and inaccurate, to say there are more men out there willing to opine on topics than women.

Secondly, how often are women only invited on programs to talk about so called “women’s issues” like child care? I’ll bet it happens a lot. Women get stereotyped and pigeon holed, and that’s not right.

Thirdly, how common is it for women pundits and commentators to face sexist backlash? Unfortunately, that’s all too common. I wrote a weekly column for two years and headed up a national advocacy organization, and I can say first hand at least half the negative criticism had something to do with my looks or gender. It’s completely wrong, but it’s a unique challenge women in the media face.

The network that does the best job of putting women on the air is also the newest, the Sun New Network. They have an impressive number of female guests, hosts and contributors – who talk about everything under the sun.

The only way women are going to appear on more news and commentary show is for them to be invited. The only way this will change is if TV hosts stop thinking like Paikin, and make a greater effort to include women on their panels and in their programming in a meaningful way.

What’s your favorite virtue? Who are your real life heroes? These are the questions that the Liberal Party of Canada is very curious to ask women.

So curious that they’re even holding an entire event dedicated to it! That’s right, on Thursday night in Toronto, “ladies” are invited for cocktails and candid conversation (for $250 a head) with Justin, unplugged! The Liberal Party has even been so kind as to craft an invitation specially for our gender. Complete with cute cursive writing and lots of splashy colours and of course, Mr. Trudeau’s mug plastered all over it Andy Warhol style. It is being promoted on twitter with the hashtag #AskJustin.

The only thing missing from this creepy, patronizing and unbelievably ridiculous picture are scented pages and locks of Trudeau’s hair as door prizes.

Yes “ladies”, it appears Mr. Trudeau is attempting to win our vote with cocktails, small talk and colorful invitations that look like invitations to the Junior Prom! Fortunately, Trudeau’s plan has totally backfired. The invitation to his “ladies night” invitation has spread like wildfire over social media, with many people, especially women, pointing out how absurd and sexist it is. The hashtag for the event #askjustin has been completely taken over by people turning the table on Trudeau and giving him a taste of his own patronizing sludge. It trended Wednesday night for all the wrong reasons. Some hilarious gems include:

@bendanjones: boxing or policy briefs
@RBBeche: Was Humpty Dumpty pushed?
@alixiswright37: Are you on Team Edward of Team Jacob?
@craddo: Does this mole look okay to you?

You might be shocked by the Liberal Party’s latest attempt to win over the “women vote”, but what do you expect from a party that has actually released, on several occasions, a “Pink Book” on so-called “women’s policy,” complete with a rose adorned cover. Apparently and rather unbelievably, the Liberal Party thinks dressing policy in pink makes it more palatable to women.

If this is what Trudeau and the Liberal Party think are appealing to female voters in this country, they’ve got a lot to learn about women.

So Justin, here’s a bit of advice from a lady who doesn’t feel like spending $250 to tell you what her favorite virtues are:

  • Ask women the same thing you ask men. Don’t treat us any different because of our gender. Ask us about policy, about your platform, and engage us in intelligent discussion of substance. Don’t patronize us.
  • Don’t treat women like we’re one homogenous voting block. We care about all issues, from child care to the economy.
  • There is no such thing as women’s issues, because women’s issues are society’s issues.
  • Retire the Pink Book. It’s just embarrassing. You wouldn’t have a Blue Book for men, so why do you have a Pink Book for women?

Last week’s controversy over Health Canada’s funding of a program to give heroin to select addicts is like déjà vu. It’s an awful lot like the conflicts the federal government has had with similar drug programs over the years. The Insite supervised injection clinic in Vancouver’s renowned Downtown Eastside is the most famous example, where addicts can go to inject heroin under the supervision of nurses. Centres likes these are sometimes called “safe injection” sites, which is truly an oxymoron considering that these harmful drugs are anything but safe.

There has long been a debate raging in Canada over how best to help people who are addicted to dangerous, illegal drugs. It’s been played out in the court rooms and among politicians and policy makers on repeat, yet we don’t seem to be getting closer to actually helping addicts in the Downtown Eastside recover.

All it takes is one trip over to the Downtown Eastside and you can see for yourself that centres like Insite are doing little to get the addicts off the street and into places where they can get off drugs and get their lives on track. Arguably, places like Insite are actually making addictions worse by enabling the drug use and sending the message that it’s “okay” to use drugs, so long as it’s done “safely.”

The Downtown Eastside is an extreme example that represents only a small part of the problem. Drug and alcohol addiction are serious problems in communities across the country that often exist in privacy behind closed doors, not in full view on street corners.

Marshall Smith is an addiction expert who knows first-hand what it’s like to be stuck in the depths of an addiction. Ten years ago he was a successful political staffer with a bright career ahead of him. Then someone offered him some cocaine, and he was instantly hooked. His life derailed and he spent years living as a homeless addict, including in the Downtown Eastside. Smith recovered, and is now the Manager of Corporate Development and Community Relations for Cedars at Cobble Hill, an addiction treatment center on Vancouver Island.

According to Smith, in order to craft a successful strategy to deal with addiction, government policy makers need to be talking to people who have actually beat their addictions and are living in long-term recovery. “If they want to help individuals and communities recover, they need to listen to people in recovery from this disease. They need to ask people in recovery how they got well and what is required to successfully support yourself in recovery” says Smith.

The problem that Marshall sees with current drug policies and programs is that they are focused on the maintenance of people’s addictions and disease prevention, not on the recovery. The questions policy makers seem to be asking is “how can we make it safer for addicts to do drugs?”, not “how can we get addicts off of drugs and help them get their lives together?”

So instead of developing more recovery programs, more programs are developed that give addicts access to drugs and tools that keep them stuck in the depths of their addictions.

Neal Berger, the Executive Director of the Cedars Cobble Hills Treatment Center, is calling on the government to fund and execute a national research study on people who are living in long-term recovery from their addiction. He sees real value in studying people who are successfully managing their illness. It’s this valuable insight that can lead to effective policy to help addicts achieve recovery.

Berger is encouraging the government to sit down and talk to people who have overcome their addictions. “Like many other diseases, addiction is a chronic illness that needs to be rigorously managed through participation in recovery focused programs” says Berger.

Smith likens this approach to any other strategy one would employ to beat a disease, asking “can you imagine building a cancer strategy without engaging cancer survivors?”

Getting addicts into recovery is easier said than done. Smith knows all too well the challenging road it takes to get there, and a system that enables addictions certainly doesn’t make it any easier. A system that actively pushes addicts towards recovery and draws on the real experiences of those who have recovered could make all the difference.

This article was originally posted on Huffington Post Canada.

I reviewed this book for the C2C Journal.

Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men is not a book you’ll find on a women’s studies course reading list. That’s a shame, because it offers a strikingly different take to gender issues than what we’re used to.

Rosin’s general thesis is that a once male-dominated world has, in only a few generations, become a place where women are leading the way in the classroom, boardroom and family room, and this trend will continue into the future because women are better equipped to be flexible with the times.

When I completed my degree in women’s studies and feminist research in 2008, the glass ceiling and “patriarchal systems” of oppression were the dominant themes. We read more than our fair share of gender-themed books, most of them from the 70s and 80s. This was appropriate since that was the era many women’s studies departments seem to be stuck in.

In my lectures I was often told my gender was oppressed by a male-dominated world. This seemed out of step with reality. I certainly didn’t feel that way. Like many of my friends, I was busy making career plans and exploring exciting options for the future, not bemoaning patriarchy or the heavy weight of a double-paned glass ceiling over my head.

Rosin’s book would have been a welcome change in class because it describes society as it is now, not the way it was forty years ago. Rosin’s book is geared for a new generation of women making waves in the female-empowered society our mothers fought hard for us to have.

Compare today’s world to a scene out of the popular drama “Mad Men” set in the 1960’s. The old rules have been turned upside down and it’s a whole new world. It’s this new world that Rosin describes.

According to Rosin, we now live in a world where women aren’t just on par with men, but are far exceeding them in many areas of life. Using statistics to back up her thesis, Rosin shows that women now earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees, earn more PhDs than men, hold the majority of America’s jobs, and are dominating in professions like health and law. Women are entering traditionally male dominated fields like engineering, business and science in increasing numbers too.

And men? According to Rosin, they aren’t excelling in our rapidly changing world quite as well as the women. She argues that while the role of women has evolved dramatically, the role of men in society has remained largely static.

Rosin goes into detail explaining how there are plenty of examples of jobs that have seen a switch from all-male to female, but very few all-female to male. Think about it – female lawyers are now commonplace, but a male nurse is still often still the punch-line on TV.

According to Rosin, economic changes are more likely to impact men as a gender than women. She refers to it as the “mancession” – where the recent economic downturn in the US threw many more men out of work than women.

Contrary to what this book’s needlessly provocative title suggests this is not an apocalyptic tale about the end of men. Rather, The End of Men is really about evolving gender roles and how these changes have impacted practically every aspect of life, and will continue to do so.

Rosin weaves together a somewhat disjointed narrative of statistics, history, anecdotes and interviews and presents a persuasive case that changes in the political, social and economic landscape have catapulted women ahead.

We’ve read headlines and heard talks of this trend for years, but Rosin manages to capture a comprehensive snapshot of what the “rise of women” looks like right now – culturally, economically and socially – across different cultures and socio-economic classes. That said, one major criticism is that the book is too heavily centered on the middle and upper-middle classes. This is a particular weak point as it is the lowest income groups that have been hit the hardest in the last few years.

Rosin conducted interviews with men and women from a variety of backgrounds, exploring three main themes: sex, family and career.

The sex lives of young single female Ivy-League students features prominently in Rosin’s book. She argues women have a newfound power and control in their sexual liberation where they are free to date and “hook up” without the pressure of being saddled down in a committed, time-consuming relationship. This is a neither new nor original observation, and is better dealt with in fiction rather than the awkwardly voyeuristic exercise of an academic discussing undergraduate sex in a salaciously clinical manner.

What’s really changing society is not so-called transient sex lives, but that women are staying single longer, focussing more on building their careers and getting educations, thus delaying marriage and starting families.

The hero in Rosin’s book seems to be a woman in her late twenties or early thirties with no kids. Sixty years ago, a woman fitting that description would have already been married for ten years and would probably be viewed by society with sympathy for her childless status. Today, with her MBA or law degree in hand, tailored suit, and lack of social pressure to wed and immediately have kids, her possibilities are endless.

The norm used to be that a woman worked until she was married, or then maybe worked part-time or went back to work once the kids were grown. Today women are focussed on their careers and excelling in school and in their jobs.

Rosin also explores in detail the shifting roles in family life that are happening. Today, there are more stay-at-home dads than ever before and more females who are the primary income earner. Rosin describes how gender roles are becoming more fluid and interchangeable, and households have more equality in the sharing of domestic duties.

Ultimately, the point of the book is that the goal of equality championed by the feminist movement hasn’t just been achieved, it’s been greatly surpassed.

It’s no wonder that with a message like this some of Rosins biggest critics have been feminists. If they accepted her conclusions, many of those women’s studies departments would be out of business.

But is Rosin overstating the case that women’s equality has come so far that women have now pulled ahead of men?

Rosin deals with the fact that women still have not achieved full equality in the upper echelons of power. Try to tally the number of female CEO’s, law partners and political leaders out there and the final number does not remotely reflect the stunning numbers of female university undergraduates.

Better yet, read some of the coverage that came out of Yahoo CEO Marrisa Mayer’s announcement that she was pregnant. A male CEO announcing he was about to become a father would not have generated even a splash of ink.

What about family and gender roles and how much have these evolved? While she did many interviews, Rosin states “I did not talk to a single breadwinner wife who has entirely ceded the domestic space.”

Interesting questions that could have been explored more in this book are why are there so many women graduating from law school, but still so few female partners in law firms, and why are stay at home dads still a relatively rare occurrence?

Ultimately, Rosin’s title is simply too presumptuous, and her thesis too premature. She has written about one of the biggest shifts in human society since the discovery of agriculture, but has assumed it has been completed in only 40 years. There is a lot more of this ride yet.

~

Kathryn Marshall is a columnist, political commentator and an articling student at a litigation firm in Vancouver. Her column “The Duel” appears weekly in 24 Hours Vancouver where she debates the issues of the day.

Kathryn’s columns and op-eds on law, politics and public policy have appeared in print and online in more than a dozen newspapers and magazines across Canada. She blogs at the Huffington Post Canada, internationally at Reuter’s TrustLaw and at kathrynmarshall.ca. She is a frequent guest on talk radio and television, including regular appearances on CTV’s Political Express panel. Her advocacy work have received extensive coverage in the media, including Maclean’s Magazine, The Economist and Global National news.

Originally from London Ontario, Kathryn holds an Honours B.A. in Women’s Studies and Political Science from Western University and a J.D. from the University of Calgary, where she served as an Editor of the Faculty of Law student newspaper.
Kathryn volunteers her time with several community organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation of British Columbia and Yukon.

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