Comedian Sandra Shamas said it best at the end of her latest one-woman show: “I don’t feel lucky to be a Canadian.”
“I just feel relieved to be a Canadian.”
And the audience, cheering, knew just what she meant. What was odd, though, was that the cleverest quote came from a woman, one of the gender that seemed to vanish during the recent months that happened to include the American election campaign. The absence of women’s faces, voices and writing was so extreme that at times I doubted our existence.
The day after Americans revealed their true nature to the world (one Web headline: “World asks Democrat voters to wear badges”), I did the things feminism has offered me: I weight-trained, did some heavy lifting and raking in the garden, which is quite something for an itty-bitty woman/ghost/blob of ectoplasm. I wrote some large cheques on income I had earned myself and paid tuition fees for my stepdaughters as part of the armour we’re giving them for the decades ahead.
I did this the day after Americans voted for what will be the inevitable banning of women’s control over their own bodies. They elected a senator who wants capital punishment for abortion, another who wants all gay teachers fired and another senator openly suffering from senile dementia whose campaign grew sad and embarrassing yet vicious, which is a remarkable combination. With a right-wing Supreme Court and a Republican president, Senate and Congress, American women are in for it.
But everywhere I turned there was evidence of women’s erasure from the landscape. The “10 greatest Canadians” in the CBC poll were all men. Weekly, I read my New Yorker magazine with gratitude and surprise that it was so fine, for a men’s magazine.
Literary journal Granta celebrated the 25th anniversary of its reincarnation with a cascade of male writing. The editor, Ian Jack, actually wrote these words: “The fact remains that women, though there are more of them than before, remain a minority among our writers. I also wish I could be articulate about why. . . . Our only plea in mitigation (it’s hardly a defence) is that the proportion is at least no worse than in many other publications: the London and the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker. In worried moments, I sometimes count the female names on their contents pages, to see if we are ahead.”
Doesn’t he think to simply commission more work from the world’s great women writers?
May I never work for an editor so thick.
I began reading a book I had hungered for, Well-Remembered Friends, British novelist Angela Huth’s collection of 110 eulogies for the good and the great. It was appalling. Even counting both the corpses and those preaching, we women made up only 10 per cent of the book’s population. A woman editor did this. Never underestimate a woman’s cruelty to her own sex, born of envy, male-taught neglect, laxity or that familiar shuddering lack of self-belief that makes one yearn for poshness, for currency within the establishment.
American election night was a wall of male faces on the U.S. channels. Well-fed faces too, above bow ties and jowls and an air of smugness so strong it was like a gas coming out of the TV. BBC World had a few women guests, some mad of course — no abortions ever, not for gang-raped 11-year-olds, no sir, said one tightly — but I was pleased to see them. The CBC chose wrong. Alison Smith should have anchored the whole thing.
Women were not mentioned on any channel, although women will suffer most greatly under the Bush regime, particularly poor women. I wanted the stats on the voting gender gap; none was offered. CNN’s desk of puffy male self-love looked like a poker game; I half-expected Tucker Carlson to be sent out for beef jerky. Every now and then, they would go back to a happy clap-clap woman on the news desk who, if she was not coked up, should have been. She was so wired, so chirpy, so Stepford, so Lynne-Cheney-on-methamphetamines that I feared she might blow her brains out on air out of sheer ebullience.
The Daily Show on Comedy Central and CTV, hosted by the great Jon Stewart, gave face time to the wonderful snarky Samantha Bee, a Canadian, and they even interviewed women. Salon.com, well-staffed with female writers and editors, reported on the grim Daily Show election party as the results came in, quoting “senior political analyst” Stephen Colbert. “I’ll go back to doing Carmen Electra jokes,” he said. “They don’t wound the heart as much.”
All this happened in the shadow of one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court of Canada has ever produced, a 7-0 ruling that agreed that the Charter rights of female Newfoundland government workers were violated (they are owed cash compensation, already agreed to by the province), but the province doesn’t have to pay because it claims it can’t afford it. This ruling came despite the government proffering no evidence of its inability to pay.
Equality is now for sale. Toss women out of the lifeboat; we can’t afford them; don’t need them. I don’t know what will happen when impoverished American women seeking abortions flee to Canada for help. Oh, send them back, the whiners. We shall close our eyes.
Or do we even need to blind ourselves? They don’t exist, except as wage slaves at Wal-Mart, which shall smite them for complaining that they never win promotions.
I don’t know what the modern equivalent is of throwing yourself under the king’s thundering racehorse at the 1913 Derby as did suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, but if there are any corporeal women out there, we must come up with something to strike a spark, to draw attention to our existence. We are persons under the law. Or did that law expire?