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Patriarchy and the election

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in mid air between Vancouver and Toronto.

God help me I’ve been visiting the Conservative Party web site. Now being an atheist you know when I invoke god I’m truly in trouble, but the web site can generate a Women’s Studies course all on its own. It is a study in patriarchy. First, at the top of the web page there is an image of Stephen Harper, his wife and their two children, read wholesome family with good patriarch, meaning patriarch of good wholesome family makes good political patriarch, eh, I mean, leader. 

Next under the tab “leader” are the names Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper, meaning we have a good father and a good mother and they are the mother and father of two children and this party and ultimately the nation; meaning the nation is a patriarchy and Stephen Harper is the father of this patriarchy and his helpmeet is Laureen Harper who, while she does not hold any political position in this party per se, by dint of this party and this nation being a patriarchy she is attached to the patriarch as mothering symbol of the patriarchy and therefore whatever… In case you want to know the web site says Laureen volunteers at an elementary school and ‘offers her home to the Ottawa SPCA as a foster home for kittens.’ My god, why do we need to know this, I ask. Because that is what good mothers do.

We have already seen Harper’s comforting patriarchal sweater, his Mr. Rogers imitation (Veronica Strong-Boag at UBC pointed this similarity out to me); the Mr.Rogers reassurance in his commercials where he sends ‘ordinary’ supporters out to say how reassuring he is. Harper’s replacement of the customary corporate suit with the sweater must be remarked on.  In these shaky economic times perhaps it would have been a terrible reminder of the corporate CEO patriarchy, which is experiencing a crisis in confidence at the moment. He had to pull us back to the hearth, the origin, and the father-knows-best paternalism. And in Harper’s commercial he has even graciously extended the patriarchal ambit to include one or two subjects who are not white – notably, at the conclusion of the commercial, a young woman of Asian descent enthusiastically says how much she is looking forward to voting for the patriarch in her first election. She sites no other political imperative, except her coming of age, so we are certain that it is his paternalism that is attractive.

I am now, it seems, besieged by Mr. Harper and his sweater. Here sitting in the Vancouver airport waiting for a flight to Toronto today, he appears on the front page of the British Columbia section of the Globe and Mail. He is seated at the kitchen table of a young  couple with their two children. In his grey sweater he is feeding the youngest, the baby. He has effectively replaced the father at the table in this family scene. The young father watches on at the left of the picture while Mr. Harper and his sweater occupy the patriarchal center of this tableau.

The words ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’ occur with bludgeon-like regularity on the Conservative Party web site. You cannot come away with any impression other than he is a leader and he stands for leadership. He is definitely a leader, with leadership. Which means he is a patriarch and a man and will lead. And if you are unconvinced, at the bottom of the home page is a picture of Stephane Dion, an obviously thinner man, caught in a gesture made to seem like uncertainty, emblazoned over this image are the words ‘notaleader.ca’. Because leaders are never uncertain, it is un-masculine to be uncertain, un-patriarchal to be caught in a rhetorical shrug. And Canadians need a leader, a man, and a patriarch. And Mr. Dion standing there at the bottom of the page, cutting his slight, studious figure is not a patriarch, the page says.

Elizabeth May notwithstanding, one cannot fail to see the positioning and arranging of masculinity in the efforts to take power in this election. Mr. Layton of the NDP has cut a commercial too, in which shirt sleeved and virile he invokes the ‘new strong’. In an obvious contestation of, I suppose, the ‘old strong’. Now I am far more partial to Mr. Layton ideologically but this bit of patriarchal ideology is bemusing. What on earth?

So I was really charmed during the english debate when prompted by a question about what was the first thing each was going to do when they became prime minister, leader of the country, Gilles Duceppe said, I don’t want to be leader, I don’t want to be prime minister – or words to that effect. Now I did not see his whole performance, riveted by scenes from the southern election, and I know of course that the Bloc only runs in Quebec, but it was refreshing to have someone say they did not want power. It made the others look craven somehow, set back. For about two seconds there was an interesting silence, the leaders round table felt deflated. Solely on the basis of that intervention I too, (like Margaret Atwood whom I also learned, this morning, waiting in the Vancouver airport, is of the same mind,) I too, would like to vote for Monsieur Duceppe. I want people in power who don’t want power; who find it a burden, who are nervous about it, who are scared of making a mistake and who are not offering me leadership.

How many times have I mentioned some variation of the word patriarchy here? Not enough.

And not as many times as it is being invoked in the election.

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