It was fascinating to see many in the media; pundits, reporters and politicos alike, declare that the ascension of Kathleen Wynne to the premiership of Ontario was a triumph for women and equality. On the surface it certainly looks like a win for feminism when you have six women sitting in the most powerful positions of government in Canada. It certainly makes men feel better when we see this and we as a society pat our backs and say to ourselves "We've come a long way, baby."
We then point to stage left and offer feminism a hurried exit. "Progress has been had now feminism. There's the salad bar. Take a break. You've earned it."
We have learned by and large to be proud of these achievements, and we can be. We often hear the calls for more women in positions of political power and there are efforts to assert a certain percentage of women on executive boards both in Germany and in other western countries. The claim is that once women are in the positions of the political and business elite, equality will be established.
Yes, we should be proud that women are taking these positions but these achievements belie a continuing sickness in our society that refuses to garner much, if any, attention.
Here lies the inherent problem with liberal feminism. It is only able to focus on the successes of well off, middle and upper class women to the exclusion of others. The focus of such a theory is to place women in the positions of typical male dominance, thus erring in assuming that these roles will reflect the equality of our society.
If we are to judge the success of feminism and hope to shape its future goals and aims, we need to turn our attention to those women on the fringes of our society. We need to turn attention towards those who are ignored by the political and governing class. Once one looks, they will see how much more work needs to be done.
It is in this relief that we have the continuing sorry and sad saga of public indifference when it comes to missing and murdered aboriginal women, the Conservative governments funding cuts to 11 women's groups and the continued attempts by Conservative members of Parliament to undermine our abortion laws.
Recently in Parliament numerous questions were asked, citing a recently published Human Rights Watch study, of the federal Conservative government on the possibility of a federal public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. The best that the Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews could come up with was, that if anybody had complaints, let the RCMP know.
This is a classic case of male privilege overtaking ones common sense. Harper and Toews cannot be so blind to ignore the difficulties aboriginal women face when it comes to coming forward to police to complain of violence and abuse. Government hasn't shown much interest in aiding these women so why would they believe the aid police will garner any fair result?
So why the hesitance to do anything to get to the root causes of abuse and violence via a public inquiry?
It has a lot to do with ideology. The Conservative government hasn't cared much for helping those they see as making "life choices." Conservatives have a "pull yourself up by your own bootstrap" mentality and claim government help shouldn't be given to people who have made a conscious choice to pursue a life of vice and underclass shame.
It's a true symptom of the Conservative mindset; they don't realize that not everybody chooses to take to the streets in order to survive. Many if not most do so because they must. Do all of them? No, but that serves as little excuse to continue with the hands off approach that government has continued to follow when it comes to these women.
The answer is not, in the Conservative mindset, a government funded inquiry. It's not the place of government, you see, to spend money in order to determine the causes of violence against murdered and missing aboriginal women. They should come forward as individuals and state their complaints themselves to an establishment that has proven, time and time again, to not care about them.
If we pan out and look at the bigger picture, how far have we really come?
Just the other day in an interview with a radio host, Ontario Premier Wynne was asked about wearing pantsuits. I couldn't help but ask myself if a man would be put in a similar situation? The Premier appeared to read the minds of many when she pondered the very same thing. A quick change of topic resulted.
In discussing the case of disgraced Senator Patrick Brazeau and his alleged physical abuse, a well-respected member of the media made a crass joke about Brazeau being a better boxer when his opponent was a woman?
We still have Members of Parliament doing their dogged best to limit a women's right to choose, even going so far as to put forward back door motions and bills and sending letters to the RCMP Police Commissioner.
Even yours truly made a well-intentioned but still careless and thoughtless remark during a committee hearing about the attire of Member of Parliament Peggy Nash. A simple slip but one that was typical of the society we live in where women are judged more by what they wear then how and what they think.
The fight for middle class women isn't over yet either and in praising the path blazed
by feminist activists we must not become complacent. Maternity leave still presents a
problem, for both working women and women trying to get hired (the business case being made that men don't get pregnant and pose less of a flight risk).
Pay equity to is a continuing issue, another piece of equality that the Harper Conservative government stripped from working women.
When it comes to how far women have come perhaps we better not pop open the champagne bottles and dig into the caviar just yet. Equality has not yet been found. In fact, we are much further away than many of us are willing to recognize.
Wynne at the CFC Gala.
Wynne with Paul Haggis.
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