I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by strong women, many of whom — for the time — had non-traditional roles. I remember it being a point of pride that my mother was the first woman hired to perform what was then defined as a “man’s job” (pot-washer) at our local hospital back in the late 1970s.
As for many Gen-Xers, the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique was a pivotal moment for my understanding of the links between systemic sexism and violence.
I was a university student council president at the time and was privileged to learn and grow from the strong women of all ages who were leading the demonstrations and helping me and all men make the links between that terrible tragedy and men’s violence against women. I attended protests when Dr. Morgentaler’s abortion clinic was bombed and tried, to the best of my ability, to learn from women leaders about misogyny and power structures.
But the fact is I’m a white, straight dude and some things just aren’t immediately obvious to me because they aren’t part of my lived experience. I try to understand sexism or racism, but I haven’t lived it.
Take for example the ongoing attack by the Ford government on our educational system. As a fierce supporter of public education I understand the importance of smaller classroom sizes and adequate support for students with special needs. As a numbers guy, I can see that the teachers’ demands have almost nothing to do with salaries.
What I didn’t immediately grasp was the intrinsic sexism in the Ford government’s approach to the teacher unions. A mediated settlement with the OPP — historically and still statistically a male-dominated employer — saw a 2.15 per cent increase for every year of the four-year contract.
While the government did cut funding to the force, you did not hear Ford or his ministers suggesting that the cops are only in it for the money. Like Conservative governments before them, the Ford government is going after teachers — historically and statistically a female-dominated profession. History suggests that the nurses will be next on Ford’s agenda.
Thankfully several smart woman commentators helped me see what I was missing: While I could immediately grasp the union-bashing, I was missing the hidden sexism of the government’s strategy.
This is just one small example where I, like most men so desperately need to listen to the knowledge and lived experience of women. And there is so much we have to do. And so many problems that we have to fix in regards to gender equality, violence against women and the gender pay gap, to name just a few.
We men are called to be feminist allies. Here’s hoping by honest introspection and most importantly by listening and learning to the strong women around us, we can get there.