Taking the lead

Pam Frampton
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“You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman.”

— Jane Galvin-Lewis, American feminist

Out walking on a city trail the other day, my husband and I apologized when our dog criss-crossed into the path of two women walking in the opposite direction.

“Is he a man?” one woman asked.

When I acknowledged that, yes, he is a male dog, they exchanged knowing glances and one of them shrugged.

“It figures,” she said.

Now, I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean — that men like to dominate the space they’re in, that they are wavering and can’t make a decision, or that they are nothing but nuisances, out tripping up sensible people — but there was enough context to know it wasn’t anything good.

It reflected some sort of stereotype and, Lord knows, men have to contend with their share — the immature goofy guy from the TV ads who doesn’t know how to choose his own clothing; the flatulent, beer-swilling, burger-flipping backyard jockey depicted in so many greeting cards; or the macho Neanderthal type who mostly grunts and doggedly tackles the tasks on his “honey do” list while leaving the finer points of running the household to “the little woman.”

All these stereotypes are ridiculous and depict men as two-dimensional, intellectually challenged and emotionally stunted.

I don’t subscribe to any of them — they don’t reflect the men I know.

Nor do I agree with dismissing women in the same facile way.

So, when Kathy Dunderdale became this province’s first elected female premier this week, I was glad — but not because we might finally have a leader who cares about lipstick and little black dresses and non-stick muffin tins.

I don’t think you’ll see Dunderdale and Susan Sullivan and Charlene Johnson getting together for slumber parties to paint each other’s nails, share nasty bits of gossip and lounge around in cute flannel pyjamas watching “Knots Landing” reruns.

And NDP Leader Lorraine Michael and new MHA Gerry Rogers probably won’t trade recipe cards or exchange catty remarks about younger women whose skirts are too short, either.

Rather, Dunderdale’s election — and the leadership positions of other women in politics — are signs that women are being acknowledged and sought out for their considerable skills.

It’s not that we are finally capable — we’ve always been capable. Like men, we can lead, as well as follow.

I can do math, pound in a nail and get my hands dirty. I can cry at sappy romantic movies, shriek at the sight of a mouse, be detached as an editor and assert myself when a waiter assumes that only my male dinner companion is capable of tasting a wine or picking up the bill or discussing politics.

We — men and women, straight and gay, multi-pierced and blue rinsed, townie guy and baygirl — are multifaceted.

And just because the premier is a woman does not mean she is kinder or gentler or weaker or less able to challenge or motivate or take a tough stand. The premiership may have been handed to her initially, and she had a solid cushion of support, but she earned this election win without Danny Williams’ endorsement.

Watching Dunderdale make her acceptance speech in front of a row of beaming young women Tuesday night was satisfying — not in a partisan way, but on principle. I’m glad I was around to see it.

Back during the suffragette movement of the late 19th century, as the Heritage Newfoundland website notes, “The Evening Telegram … published an article on 20 April 1893 announcing, ‘we have no word of sympathy or encouragement for those ladies who would voluntarily unsex themselves, and, for the sake of obtaining a little temporary notoriety, plunge into the troubled waters of party politics.’”

Thankfully, times have changed.

Today, there’s nothing gender-neutering about winning an election, about feeling you have something to contribute, about hard-fought success and a sense of achievement — whether the victor is a man or a woman.

Still, women fought tooth and nail to get the vote in 1925, so seeing one finally elected to the province’s highest office, 86 years later — her picture splashed across the front page of the 21st-century Telegram — was exhilarating and liberating.

But it wasn’t progress.

It’s about time.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s

story editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com.

Twitter: pam_frampton.

Organizations: Heritage Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Anon
    October 15, 2011 - 18:18

    were they feminists? It figures.

  • Ivy Anthony
    October 15, 2011 - 16:22

    It is great to see that women have been recognized as being equal to men in their intelligence and ability to be able to decipher a problem just as quickly as our male counterparts. However, I don't think that we can lead as well as men. For some reason when a woman is given power it turns her into a mean machine. We watched three women for months now, bicker over anything and everything and get nowhere because one always felt that the other was trying to get a one up on her. Dunderdale showed her contempt for the common person when addressing some plant workers in Burin and a few other protesters during her campaign. She treated them as being beneath her. You don't see men who come to power act in the same manner. We, as women have to become leaders and not a bunch of bickering, hormonal, better than everyone else women with an attitude.