You can never have enough tulips around…
January 24th, 2014

You can never have enough tulips around. I know that it’s January and there’s something unnatural about tulips at this time of year. As with asparagus and mangoes, tulips are definitely not in their right season. I am still happy to have them brightening my office. Someone grew them somewhere and so here they are.

I imagine the former premier of this province received a few flowers this week as she prepared to step away, in her own words, from the top job. I think, to put it mildly, she blew a few opportunities to communicate better with her public, a set of power outages a few weeks ago being the last  straw she had to redeem her reputation, and she lacked some fundamental political intuition. But I still have sympathy for her as a person—the first female premier in the province, leading a massively male-dominated caucus.  It must have been really tough having to endure the complaining, not to mention the sheer hostility leveled at her over the last several months. There was a bit of a feeding frenzy going on, the media aiding and abetting the circling sharks. But you can’t blame the media for your own limitations and ultimately her own deficiencies caught up with her. There’s wide consensus on that point.

There definitely isn’t consensus about the gendered way this all went down. Earlier in the week I tweeted that there seemed to be a particular joy in taking down a woman. You could smell it. Okay, maybe only women could smell it. That tweet generated immediate feedback. People retweeted immediately or else wrote me directly to say they knew exactly what I was saying. These were women. But one guy, perhaps speaking for many, tweeted to dispute the gender argument, claiming this was 2014, not the 1960s, and gender had nothing to do with any of it.

I so do not agree with him. It’s 2014 and little has changed. One could say we’ve gone backwards. Fewer and fewer women are interested in running for the dirty game of politics and you can hardly blame them. At least in the 60s we were free to talk about gender without being accused of being out of touch or simply wrong. The field of elected officials is alarmingly unbalanced. It’s no place for anyone with thin skin at the best of times, let alone a woman. Not that women necessarily have thinner skins but we do know that the field isn’t level and never has been. Kathy Dunderdale generated an inordinate amount of hatred, at least as far as social media and radio open-line programming would indicate. Invective about her body, her capacity to govern, her intelligence, her shrillness, her schoolmistress manner – all of this was offered up in ways no male politician has ever had to endure. Women everywhere are hoping she is feeling a large measure of relief at never having to endure such insults again.

The female leader of the Newfoundland Labrador NDP was ingloriously betrayed by her caucus last fall—men and women alike. The top campaign fund-raising mayoral candidate in the St John’s municipal election last fall—a totally capable woman–did not manage to get elected. I honestly believe that when someone dismisses gender as being irrelevant to the question of the how or why women find it tough to succeed in politics they are just being defensive—they cannot yet confront the truth of the facts that it is harder for  women. For these people, admitting it would mean they were complicit in keeping women from succeeding and not even the most well intentioned among us wants to admit that.

We have tons of evidence demonstrating that women are excluded from certain fields of professional activity, politics being one of them, and, arguably, the most brutal one of all.  Why is it, then, that there is still so much denial about gender politics? Unless you subscribe to the prehistoric view that women are inferior and not fit for professional life then how do you explain the persistence of underrepresentation? How does one explain the unusually high level of bile and hatred projected onto a female premier? How does one justify the very personal attacks and the recurring slights hurled against her physicality? Her voice? Her body language?

Why, after all, is any of this socially or publically acceptable behaviour?

NG

Dr. Faye Murrin is Dean pro tempore of the School of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor in the Department of Biology. She completed her B.Sc. (Hons.) at Memorial University, her M.Sc. at Acadia University, and her Ph.D. at Queen's University. Her research interests have always been focused on fungi, in particular the cell biology of insect pathogenic fungi and, more recently, the ecology of mycorrhizal mushrooms in the boreal forest. Dr. Murrin has served in a number of positions on the Council of the Mycological Society of America and was awarded the title of MSA Fellow for her contributions. She was awarded the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Membership Award as founding co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Summer Program. Dr. Murrin participates in public lectures and workshops, and is a Director on the board of Newfoundland Foray, Inc.

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