An otherwise peaceful and productive weekend was ruined for me when, during a perfectly civil disagreement with an associate, he told me that "women's personalities are not suited for federal level political leadership."
I was positively stunned but quickly regrouped and asked a few questions.
"Don't you think you're making a gross generalization? Are you saying that if equally qualified male and female candidates ran for the position, you'd vote in favour of the man because women aren't suited for this kind of work? And don't you think you have only one concept of political leadership because the vast majority of world leaders have been male since the positions were
"Don't you think that there may be more than one way to skin a cat? Just because a woman is 'not suited' to do a job the way a man does it, doesn't mean she can't do it equally well and in a way that maximizes her particular personality strengths?"
I'd love to be able to tell you my associate's answers. However, he did not wish to provide any. He simply declined to discuss it, asking if we could just agree to disagree. He didn't come out and say "Shut up woman, I don't want to listen to you," but it wasn't far off.
I was deeply disturbed by the assertion that women can't do something simply because they're women. I am grossly wearied by the possibility that in the 21st century, a fully qualified woman can declare her candidacy for a national level political leadership position and be defeated by a misinformed public voting with the preconceived notion that women just aren't right for these jobs. I am incredibly disheartened to hear what should be an open, progressive and tolerant mind declaring flatly that the lack of a Y chromosome precludes a woman from effectively doing a job. I'm even more disturbed, if that's possible, by my associate's refusal to enter into dialogue, account for his beliefs and be open to the possibility that his perspective is skewed. I wonder what he'll say to his daughter who might one day tell him that she wants to be Prime Minister? I'm afraid the dialogue will go like this:
"Daddy, I want to be Prime
"Aww, honey, you don't want to do that. Those jobs aren't for women."
"They just aren't. That's what I think."
And so his daughter will grow up limited in her vision and self-esteem because her father won't consider the possibility that his world was structured on male dominance patterns and defined by male leaders. He won't consider that his daughter could do a fantastic job as Prime Minister using strategies that are different but just as effective and competent as those of the men who preceded her. He will undermine those he cares about before he'll even consider the flaws in his own reasoning.
Modern-day gender discrimination doesn't target women the way the Japanese were targeted in World War II Canada. There are no signs posted outside restaurants, clubs or businesses saying "women not welcome here." There will never be internment camps for women. Today, the discrimination is much more insidious and harder to fight because people won't talk about it. They'll bear prejudices and refuse to question the source or to consider the validity.
And so women are left shadow-boxing stereotypes, trying to prove themselves to those who do nothing more than respectfully disdain to acknowledge women's efforts.
Ruth Davenport can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org