R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - get it?

Lana
Lana Payne
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Sometimes an apology is not an apology.

Case in point: Doug Elniski, a Conservative member of the Alberta legislature who last month had this piece of advice on his blog for junior high-school girls: "Men are attracted to smiles, so smile don't give me that 'treated equal' stuff, if you want Equal it comes in little packages at Starbucks."

This was the same MLA who, according to The Globe and Mail and other news agencies, sent a sexist Twitter message directing those receiving his tweets to a bikini car wash "where girls look cold."

Sometimes an apology is not an apology.

Case in point: Doug Elniski, a Conservative member of the Alberta legislature who last month had this piece of advice on his blog for junior high-school girls: "Men are attracted to smiles, so smile don't give me that 'treated equal' stuff, if you want Equal it comes in little packages at Starbucks."

This was the same MLA who, according to The Globe and Mail and other news agencies, sent a sexist Twitter message directing those receiving his tweets to a bikini car wash "where girls look cold."

The premier of Alberta, Ed Stelmach, was satisfied that Mr. Elniski had apologized to anyone offended by his "inappropriate" and "over the line" comments.

It's the comments themselves

The real problem here is this Alberta politician does not seem to understand that his comments were like something out of an episode of "Mad Men," a television series based in the early 1960s.

Thing is, this is no longer the 1960s and his remarks were not merely inappropriate or over the line. They were sexist.

Mr. Elniski did not say he was sorry for his sexist remarks or for his sexism. He did not acknowledge that his comments were sexist. And therein lies the problem.

Instead, he apologized for offending anyone with his comments which he admitted were stupid and inappropriate. He also recognized, bright guy that he is, that he "screwed up" and should be more careful about what he writes in his tweets and blogs.

We expect more from our elected officials.

But sadly, 21st century politics is rife with sexism.

Even in presidential campaigns

Katie Couric, a high-profile television anchor in the United States, noted last year during the Democratic presidential nominee race between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama that sexism continues to be an accepted part of American life.

She was referring to how many in the media treated Clinton throughout the campaign.

And the very people - our elected leaders - who should be stamping out sexism, racism and homophobia are often part of the problem.

It's no wonder Canada's Governor General, Michaelle Jean, has made youth the focus of her work during her term of office. It's because with young people there is hope that we can change the world.

Ms. Jean's message to young girls is that she shares "in their dreams for a Canada where women and men are equal on all fronts."

Last March, Ms. Jean, while addressing young people participating in a youth dialogue on women shaping democracy, spoke of her desire to "break down solitudes ... For my part, I see the emancipation of women not as a battle between the sexes, but as a search for a better world for us all. Women's rights - which we take for granted far too often these days - are a relatively new development in the history of our country and are therefore quite fragile. Even in the heart of our democracies, there is still much to be done."

Yet despite the prevalence of sexism in our society, despite the continued and deplorable levels of violence against women, there is also much work being done to transform our world into a place of respect.

In our own province, there are two such recent examples.

The first was the provincial government's launch of a campaign targeting male violence against women. The campaign speaks to men and young boys. Its key messages are of respect, fairness and equality. The campaign features a father and his young son with the statement: "I will show him how to respect women."

It is important that governments do this kind of awareness and education. It is important because as Ms. Jean points out: "when women stand up to violence, it is so that our families and communities can be a safe refuge, where individual dignity can be respected."

But just as important is the backlash and censure Mr. Elniski felt as a result of his sexist comments. Perhaps there is hope after all.

Youth setting an example

The second example was the release of an anti-bullying DVD by the students of Laval High School in Placentia.

Powerful, inspirational and full of hope, "The Faces of Bullying," tackles the problem of bullying in our schools. We are left with one simple message not unlike the one Ms. Jean has committed so much of her term in office on: it's all about respect.

Last March she told young people that she would like them to "inherit a world where respect is valued above all else."

No doubt Ms. Jean would be impressed with and inspired by the efforts of the Laval students. Because it is actions taken by young people like these that make a difference to the kind of world we have and indeed to the kind of world we can have.

Because a world where respect is valued above all else is a world where violence is eradicated; where women's equality is no longer just a dream; where sexism, racism and homophobia are no longer tolerated; and where bullying is yesterday's problem. The students of Laval just brought us a little closer to that world.

Note: To learn more about these two campaigns please check out these sites: www.respectwomen.ca and www.laval.k12.nf.ca.

Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by e-mail at lanapayne@nl.rogers.com. Her column returns July 18.

Organizations: Starbucks, Globe and Mail, Laval High School Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Alberta, Canada, United States Placentia

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