It will surely go down in history as a watershed moment for feminism in Newfoundland.
Yessiree — I mean, yespersonee — young girls 30 and 40 years from now will take note of the historic day Linda Ross struck a blow for all women in Newfoundland in such an earth-shattering and profound way.
I’m referring, of course, to the very public scolding by Ross, the head of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, of Yvonne Jones, the first female head of the Liberal party, on the latter’s supposedly sexist remarks made about Kathy Dunderdale, the first female premier of the province.
Unless you happened to have had your chauvinistic ears plugged, you couldn’t have missed what — in Ross’s misguided view — were terrible, insensitive comments. Jones described Dunderdale as being “all dressed up in her finest” to meet with Stephen Harper (the once-hated PM in Newfoundland who’s become the darling of local Tories, exemplifying once again the amazing elasticity of principle that politicians tend to exercise).
And not only did Jones — again, in the rather baffling belief of Ross — disgrace her gender with that reference to the premier’s attire, but she used the most deplorable of sexist language by equating Dunderdale to “Little Red Riding Hood,” who could be gobbled up by that big bad wolf from Ottawa because she had “no woodsmen” to come to her rescue.
A regular Gloria Steinem is our Ms. Ross.
First of all, I didn’t realize until reading an item in a blog called The Sir Robert Bond Papers, authored by Ed Hollett, a former flack for Clyde Wells, that the quote, as utilized by Ross, was missing crucial words.
Jones did, in fact, muse that Dunderdale would have “no woodsmen” to come to her aid, but Ross failed to note in her letter to the editor in The Telegram that the Liberal leader had said there would be “no woodsmen” to help the premier because — and this is a critical context — she had “closed down all the pulp and paper mills” in the province. And, according to Hansard, the official record of legislative proceedings, that’s exactly how Jones prefaced a question to the premier.
In other words, Jones was mocking Dunderdale the politician, not Dunderdale the woman. And that’s certainly fair game.
(A brief sidebar here: Hollett is a partisan animal, a Liberal stalwart through and through, growling constantly that the Tories are doing absolutely nothing right in his myopic world; but the Bond Papers is rarely dull, and if you can wade through his partisanship, Hollett can be an entertaining and often revealing read for those interested in Newfoundland public affairs).
Even before reading Hollett’s blog, however, I had already thought the reaction by Ross was over-the-top, and, more significantly, a trivialization of the fight for equality thousands of Newfoundland women have waged here forever and a day.
Ironically, Ross herself could be accused of sexism in her assertion that three female legislative leaders in Newfoundland would ensure that political debate would be, as she put it, “conducted differently because they are women.”
The implication is obvious: women would bring a gentler, nicer, more mannerly (perhaps even sweeter) tone to the political battles of Newfoundland. It’s sexual stereotyping at its very worst.
More than capable
Most women I know are quite capable of hard-core, vigorous debate, even the below-the-belt, nasty dialogue that sometimes accentuates political give-and-take.
And I still can’t figure out why Ross happened to choose this topic for a sermon from her Status of Women pulpit.
After all, there are plenty of issues in the public arena day in and day out that should provoke commentary from a person with Ross’s mandate.
Such as, if you ask me, an enlightened legal response to the horror of domestic abuse.
Or, on the local scene, there was the sexist way in which that woman trying to get some attention for
her pain-afflicted daughter (in an orchestrated stunt that caused my feet to shuffle) questioned Dunderdale’s qualities as a mother.
I can’t recall hearing all that much from Ross in her position as head of the Status of Women Council, and she certainly hasn’t become a household name like Joyce Hancock, a highly respected feminist and one of Ross’s predecessors. And maybe she works diligently behind the scenes, for all I know.
But it’s passing strange that she picked this issue — a rather innocuous reference to dress, and an out-of-context quote — to publicly strut her stuff.
Oh, by the way, it was Dunderdale who, as minister responsible for the status of women, appointed Ross to her position in 2009.
Who needs woodsmen for protection?
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.