During the election, Justin Trudeau promised that his cabinet would be 50% women. He recently made good on that promise. Asked why this was a priority at a press conference, his response was…
“Because it’s 2015.”
Needless to say, the internet broke.
If my Facebook feed is to be believed, this was the most profound single phrase uttered in Canadian history. Trudeau is the prophesied messiah — a golden god fusing the wicked wit of Winston Churchill, the Apollonian good looks of Brad Pitt, and the emancipatory vision of Moses, Gandhi and Lincoln all rolled into one bilingual babe.
If you’ve been reading closely, you may have detected some sarcasm.
Look, I’m all behind gender parity in cabinet. But I have some nagging concerns.
First off, there is just something about the promise that bothered me. I’m glad he followed through with it, and yes, I know he wanted to commit the Liberals very publically to a progressive agenda. Still though, I’d feel better about it if it had just happened a little bit more organically. Don’t make a speech about it. Don’t set a hard quota and parade it around the country as a major plank of your platform. You know this will inevitably just subject us all to an endless cycle of manufactured concern articles worrying about whether the ministers will be qualified. Just pick a bunch of talented women, and when someone comments on it, then blow us away with your mic-drop moment.
But I’m being nitpicky.
It’s not really even Trudeau who is getting to me here. It’s our reaction as a country. A lot of people are applauding Trudeau and making a big freaking deal about this, but something about it makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s the way many people and news outlets are framing the move: he’s a benevolent man who is bringing more women into his cabinet, his generous gift to the females of Canada. How magnanimous of him.
This is a nice symbolic gesture, but we’re embarrassing ourselves in the way we’re tripping over each other to proclaim our exultation.
We need to stop acting like Trudeau making half of his cabinet women is revolutionary. To hear people talk (and post, and post, and post…) you’d think women just won the right to vote. Trudeau appointed three more women to his cabinet than Stephen Harper did. I’m not a fan of Harper by any means (I will miss making jokes about him though), but I do feel it necessary to point out that fact. Sure, the proportion of women is higher due to a downsizing of cabinet, but let’s not bullshit ourselves: this will have almost no practical impact on any of our lives.
It’s about more than just getting cringe-worthily worked up about something relatively insignificant though. I think there’s a danger of becoming complacent in our celebration and losing track of the big picture.
Parties prattle on about how important it is to them that women are involved in politics, but while Rona Ambrose was appointed (not elected) interim leader of the Conservatives this past week, the last time a woman was the permanent leader of a major political party (sorry Liz) was in 2003. If the Liberals gave that much of a shit about women in politics, perhaps they could have found a qualified woman to lead their party? I mean, you could throw a Timbit into the Liberal caucus and hit a woman with more relevant experience than the guy with the iconic last name and sweet head of hair that they went with.
Okay, okay. I’m being a bit too harsh. I don’t dislike Trudeau, and I’m perfectly fine with the Liberals forming the new government. Our new PM is likable enough, and I do think he is smarter than he is given credit for.
But women who have been very successful in Canada—and proven themselves a hell of a lot more than Trudeau ever has—aren’t always the most respected people either. Kim Campbell, Canada’s only female Prime Minister, was saddled with the job only after Mulroney retired. She inherited his abysmal polling numbers and was only in power for a few months. Now she is largely ignored and occasionally joked about due to the electoral massacre her party suffered in 1993.
I would love to say that Elizabeth May is the leader of the fourth major national political party in Canada, but I can’t, because she wasn’t even invited to most of the debates in this year’s election. Lots of respect there. Flora MacDonald, whom I wrote about earlier this year, was a major figure in the history of women in politics, but when she died was largely ignored by her own party. She didn’t receive a state funeral, when men like Jack Layton and Jim Flaherty did. Stephen Harper didn’t even spell her name right in the lazy, half-assed tweet he sent out.
Condolences to the family of Flora Macdonald, who served her country at home and abroad.
— Stephen Harper (@stephenharper) July 26, 2015
The three major parties love to talk about supporting women in politics, but rarely put this enthusiasm into action when it comes to choosing a leader. While recent events have slightly improved the position of women in Ottawa, I don’t suspect any girls woke up November 5th, read about the three additional female cabinet members, and had an epiphany about running for politics. Seeing more women in charge, at the top of the political food chain—that is the sort of #realchange that will make a #realdifference.
So maybe we should just step back and take a few deep breaths. Trudeau’s move was a minor step forward, but there is still a lot of work left to do before women achieve true political parity in Canada. We can be pleased, but we can’t let ourselves get complacent. And maybe let’s save the weeping, the gospel hymns, and the sharing of Will-Ferrell-in-Elf gifs for something a little more substantial, shall we?