Leveraging women's bodies became a political sport in Toronto this week. It began with the blurted out defence Rob Ford offered to reports that he sexually harassed a former employee, and sadly continued with Rosie DiManno's Toronto Star article about domestic violence.
In the first instance, Ford's words quickly went international. It seemed everyone suddenly had permission to refer very explicitly to a women's genitals. And they did. Loudly. On what felt like a permanent loop.
A friend of mine asked, very seriously, "But isn't some of the outrage about people's prudishness? Isn't there an element here that feeds into shaming about sex?"
And she's most probably correct. There are definitely those whose shock is based in their objection to frank discussion of sex in any context and so automatically see this particular moment as the most heinous thing the mayor has done. But it's not just his choice of words that deeply sickens me and many others. It's the vile and intentional use of his wife's body to defend himself, first in his graphic words Thursday morning, and then quite literally, as she stood at his billionth public apology and followed him through a crush of reporters.
He chose to bring her into the spiraling disaster of revelations. And to prove what exactly? That he doesn't engage with sex workers? That he's a loyal family man? We have no idea what she thinks of any of this because she has not spoken publicly. Of course we can't assume anything he says about or in reference to her is at all true. Regardless, I think we can agree that her body has no relevance to any of the allegations at hand. So in the face of her silence what do we do?
The Toronto Star decided to release details of a police report involving Rob Ford's wife that they have held onto for many months. The justification for publishing it now is described by DiManno this way: "...it's Ford who has lassoed his family into the glare of publicity."
So our new bar for what is appropriate to discuss about women's private lives and bodies is what their infamous husbands have now brought into the public sphere? Because he lewdly invoked images of her body anything else we know about it is fair game? It appeared that her consent was neither asked for or given before Ford's comments on Thursday, so why publish this new information without her approval?
The appeal DiManno offers is for the safety of their children. There are mechanisms in place for such assessments. And while we can debate the efficacy and systemic flaws of the agencies that would be involved, here's what will never improve the health or safety of children: the blanket, public suggestion that their mother is unfit because of injuries she has sustained and insinuations about her mental health. But that's only if you care about those kids.
If what you really care about is disposing of Rob Ford then let's focus on the public issues that emerge from this scandal. The hypocrisy of his law-and-order agenda and now personal involvement in the face of mass arrests in Dixon. The fact that he walks free and uncharged while those he was involved with are dead or imprisoned. His rampant racism and sexism reported by his own staff to police. His outright derision of harm reduction and sexual health programs in the years leading up to all of this. These are things I think of when I consider his behaviour. Instead of taking his cues about who and what we can talk about, let's leverage the facts and hard truths about Ford's mayoralty.