Last week, a House of Commons vote turned into a nerdy spoof on a WWE show. Political Smackdown! Every Wednesday on CPAC! Yes, I'm talking about #elbowgate, featuring an impatient Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marching across the floor to drag a stalling Tory whip to his seat, elbowing NDP member of Parliament Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the process.
The incident has dominated the news in Canada and even attracted international attention, with headlines such as: "Canadians Are Outraged That Justin Trudeau Elbowed Someone And Hasn't Apologized Enough Yet."
Because this is politics, the NDP has blown the incident all out of proportion, labelling an elbow to the chest "physical violence" and suggesting the outside world would "call it assault." While it's insulting to real victims to compare an accident to actual violence against women, Trudeau's behaviour underlines a serious problem in politics: In 2016, Parliament is still an aggressive, alpha-male dominated environment unwelcoming to many women.
Too often the House of Commons feels more like a playground filled bad boy bullies than a place where intelligent adults make important decisions that shape this country. Trudeau, eager to pass a bill on medically-assisted death, essentially threw a temper tantrum on Wednesday. High on testosterone, he did what many high-powered men do when angry -- take physical control of a situation. According to some MPs, he said "get the f-- out of my way" as he stormed towards his target.
So much for sunny ways.
Trudeau's behaviour reinforces the idea that male anger trumps patience and deliberation.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair's reaction was just as macho: "What kind of man elbows a woman?" he shouted, eyeballs bulging, as other MPs stepped between the two men. "It's pathetic. You're pathetic!" Another question: What kind of man further escalates aggression in a misguided attempt to defend a woman's honour?
A drunk man outside of a bar at 2 a.m., Mr. Mulcair, that's who.
The sad fact is that this type of animalistic male aggression is commonplace in Parliament. Between this episode and the regular machismo behaviour, like yelling and chest-thumping, that characterizes parliamentary business, it's no wonder women make up just a quarter of Canadian MPs.
During a panel discussion, Green Party leader Elizabeth May described Parliament as a "boys club" and said, "I've never worked in a workplace as male-dominated and testosterone-flooded as the House of Commons." Even the decor is a reminder of male aggression. As Jane Taber points out in the Globe and Mail, a mace, an actual weapon, is used in the House to signify the Speaker's authority and the government and opposition benches are separated by two sword lengths, historically designed to prevent rival MPs from, you know, stabbing one another.
Trudeau's behaviour reinforces the idea that male anger trumps patience and deliberation. These seemingly isolated incidents of aggression have a cumulative effect. They create an environment where men feel entitled to act on their base instincts, which can lead to more serious misdemeanours than an elbow nudge.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel recently wrote an opinion piece about how male colleagues have called her a "bitch," told her to "look a bit more cheerful," and grabbed her ass to "shock" her "into submission." In 2014, Trudeau booted two Liberal MPs from caucus over allegations of sexual harassment made by NDP colleagues and in 2015, a Conservative senator was expelled from the Tory caucus after a teenage girl alleged they had an affair.
You don't need to look hard for examples of male aggression in American politics either; they are enough to dissuade any woman from running for office. The sexual scandals of Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton are political folklore. Donald Trump has created an entire campaign based on his alpha maleness, and regularly uses his bully pulpit to degrade women. Even Bernie Sanders often resorts to shouting to make his point.
Justin Trudeau's outburst was not assault, but it was a reminder that the political world is still rife with male aggression. Until the House of Commons becomes less like a wrestling ring, don't expect to see gender parity in politics.
This column previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen
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