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In selecting the leaders' debate moderators, it would have been a fine thing to wander outside the privileged community that is the media
A stellar cast of central Canadian journalists, all of them eminently female, has been selected to moderate the first federal election leaders’ debate. They are three news anchors — Lisa LaFlamme, Rosemary Barton and Dawna Friesen — and two columnists, Susan Delacourt and Althia Raj.
There is no way of precisely knowing this, but I am confident that choosing all five exclusively from the XX chromosome class was a matter of some exultation, perhaps reaching to self-congratulation. Somewhere, in whatever closet these mysterious deliberations were conducted, surely at their conclusion there was a whoop of “You go girls!,” and surely, too, much high-fiving over the shards of another broken “glass ceiling.”
In the higher regions of Canadian journalism, soft “L” liberalism predominates, and a progressive attitude toward upper-middle-class feminism, the feminism of professionals, is as much standard equipment (for both males and females) as a laptop, an iPhone, and an envious glare to aim at Robert Fife (a male) as he goes off to bury another politician.
So the declaration of a “No Males Zone” around the moderation of the first debate has to be a “good thing,” achieving heights of fashionable correctness that would stir a gulp of envy even in the puritan confessionals (sound booths) of the third-wave sisterhood down south at National Public Radio (home of the hushed voice, where even the news is organic and “shade-grown.”) A high standard indeed.
And so I mix my “huzzahs” with millions of other Canadians at this milestone, the passing of the journalistic patriarchy, wrenching the control of our public media out of the unmoisturized grip of the Craig Olivers, the Evan Solomons, the Don Martins, that whole cabal of the testosterone-soaked boys-on-the-hill gotcha brigade. Primates, the lot of ’em.
Canada has not had such a moment of civic uplift since the Raptors’ victory or the promise of a ban on single-use plastics.
It is also proper that all five moderators of this particular election spectacular are female. How else could be pooled the necessary discretion and tact — how should I put this — the requisite “empathy” to interrogate Canada’s self-declared first male-feminist prime minister?
I cannot imagine how some Neanderthal journalists of the male persuasion — I’m just picking names from a chapeau here — like Vaughn Palmer of the Vancouver Sun, or Lorrie Goldstein of Toronto’s counterpart journal, in all their disquieting malehood (I’m not saying they’re “toxic,” but I’d keep my eye on that Goldstein fellow) could ever achieve a mind-meld with a male-feminist PM. A bridge over the chromosome Y, is one too far.
Just as a by-note, since they went to five moderators, could they not have gone for … seven? Kim Campbell is certainly female and she is as free as a grasshopper. Her twitter bulletins clearly indicate idle hours. Sheila Copps, a feminist of unimpeachable Liberal pedigree, is also obviously yearning for a forum.
Could they not have incorporated these stalwarts as well, to supply top-grain feminist fibre to the occasion, to demonstrate beyond all question that the golden age of the journalistic matriarchy is upon us? And to add that one extra fillip of buzz, separate the segments with instructive scenes from The Handmaid’s Tale or readings from The Female Eunuch.
However, while congratulating the feminist sages who constitute this once-in-a-lifetime enlightenment, there are other ways that might have been considered to people (or person) a panel.
Feminism is one of the predominant ideologies of the already fairly well-off. It does not reach to the lower end of female experience. The sales clerks, the housekeepers at hotels, the immigrant women in corner stores and fast-food chains, nannies for the upper middle class supporting their own children back home by taking care of children in this First-World country — there’s a rich, ripe source for a panel.
Why not by occupation? Income level? Rural voices? Heresy, why not people who are not in the media at all? (We call them citizens.)
I have nothing derogatory to say about the individuals who have been picked, but three national anchors and two national columnists, all female, is a severely selective, almost exclusive, cohort. And, perhaps ironically, because of their status and their membership in the press gallery, they are more familiar with the people they will be questioning than the audience for whom, presumably, those questions are being asked. They’re inside the world they are interrogating.
The media is its own universe. It is not exactly homogeneous but it operates within a shared and actually quite narrow mentality. It resides in its own award-giving world and has an unhealthy appreciation of its own centrality to politics and to life. It would be a fine thing to wander outside that gated, privileged community.
There are all sorts of ways to constitute a panel that have nothing to do with the modish and now quite tiresome fascination of putting “women” as a qualifier. And to avoid as well this horrible detour into dead-end identity politics.
It would be fun to have a farmer of either sex (or even of the multiple gender options that are now available) to talk about canola. Someone from Prince George or Port aux Choix to speak of rural concerns, a logger, trucker, sales clerk, maybe even a hotel chambermaid to pass on to leadership candidates what life is like where real life is lived. Accountants, oil workers, women from the fish plants, immigrant taxi drivers, Aboriginals from the high north, a teacher, some people from an old age home. The press talks diversity but there are days its seems it really doesn’t know what it is.
In fact, to take hotel housekeepers as a modern example, here’s an “interest” that all the people — politicians — who stay in so many hotels, never seem to mention.
They are almost all women, almost all immigrants, and almost all some of the most pleasant and cheerful people one could hope to meet. It would be a wonderful thing to hear one of these workers tell the prime-ministers-to-be what their concerns are, what their lives are like on the lower ledges of society with no champions, even among the most overtly feminist and progressive. But like the sales clerks, the nannies, the women at the corner-store counters — these are all possibly a couple of glass ceilings too low.
I’ll end here. This is a great moment for feminism in journalism. And it is good to see it starts at the very top, where it is almost certainly least needed.