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Political opportunism, not feminism, driving force behind 'Elbowgate' fallout

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A poll conducted earlier this week showed that most Canadians are ready to "move on" from an last week's incident in the House of Commons that became notoriously known as "elbow gate": Prime Minister Justin Trudeau elbowed New Democrat Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest while grabbing another MP by the arm.

In a commentary for the Globe that went viral, Gabrielle Gallant, a former press secretary for the Ontario Liberal government, wrote that the way certain MPs characterized the incident as "gendered violence" is downright insulting to survivors of sexual violence.

But that is not the only impact of this incident. As a survivor and activist I know very well that those of us on the front lines of an anti-sexual violence organizing have to deal with the repercussions of this incident for a long, long time.

Justin Trudeau has already become a target for Men's Rights Activists' (MRA) who represent men accused of sexual assault or harassment as victims. Every week there's a new article written that mocks trigger warnings, complains about "political correctness gone wild," and claims that universities "coddle" students.

There are many, many legitimate feminist issues that also seem irrelevant to naysayers. There are enough misrepresented issues that feminist activists fight for, and it certainly never helps when our movement is co-opted for political gains and gives further grounds to MRAs and misogynists to derail our arguments.

Last week, an acquaintance told me that NDP has lost his support after their response to "elbow gate." He rarely follows Canadian politics and doesn't know the NDP's position on assisted suicide, Palestine, subsidized childcare, climate change and a million other things. But, in his mind, accusing an "innocent" man of gendered violence was enough to dissuade him from supporting a party aligned with his mostly progressive views. Misogyny runs deep, always looking for reasons to discredit social justice issues.

Incidents like "elbow gate" give the illusion that women and feminist values actually have power in society. If they didn't, the argument goes, why was parliamentary business put on hold for Trudeau to apologize multiple times about his actions?

And look at how the prime minister has declared himself a feminist and urged others to do the same "anytime they want." In mainstream feminism, labeling oneself as feminist is the movement's holy grail without requiring any concrete action from the self-identifying feminist. Feminism is a political movement with clear sets of values and goals -- it is definitely not just whatever you can make of it. 

So let's face it: Trudeau has never been a feminist anywhere other than his own head. Still, "the furthest thing from a feminist act" is to make a mockery people's trauma. If anyone "made young women unsafe" in the House of Commons, it was the MPs' trivialization of those female MPs who have actually suffered intimate partner violence.

The hypocrisy becomes clearer when even the Conservatives characterize Trudeau's actions as showing a "complete lack of respect" for the Parliament. Since when a party that slashed funding for the Ministry for the Status of Women gives a damn about women? Politician feminism has never been about women. It has always been about political opportunism.

Even though she's now flooded with death threats, this outrage was never actually about Brosseau. In a male-dominated environment, the outcry of a young, female MP would never be taken seriously if bigger names in the House of Commons didn't want to manipulate the incident for their own political goals.

If actual gendered violence happens by MPs -- which I'm sure it does on a regular basis -- survivors' trauma will either be silenced or publicized depending on the political gains of their party.

Even in 2014, when Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti were accused of sexual harassment and assault by two female New Democrat MPs, Trudeau suspended his colleagues despite the wishes of NDP members, perhaps to boost his image as the young, progressive, feminist politician that he aims to be. He also neglected to put mechanisms in place to investigate and handle similar cases in the future. Again, Parliament used gendered violence for its own political gains.

Meanwhile, survivors all across the country are regularly disbelieved, mocked, silenced, shamed, ignored, violated, re-traumatized and betrayed and activists have to suffer the consequences of justifying and explaining the actions of all those involved in "elbow gate" for years.

Paniz Khosroshahy is a women's studies major at McGill University interested in exploring diaspora, homonationalism and orientalism. She also enjoys biking in a sundress, rolling her eyes at edgy white liberals and making Iranian food. Follow her on Twitter @panizkoochooloo.

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