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PAM FRAMPTON: Rex Murphy’s rant more bite than bark

Rex Murphy. — Postmedia photo
Rex Murphy. — Postmedia photo

No doubt Postmedia columnist Rex Murphy was pleased when he kicked the hornets’ nest last week with his column on the fact that five women have been selected to moderate a leaders’ debate prior to the federal election.

He was gunning for reaction and got one, with some people strongly supporting his view and others vociferously and heartily opposed.

If Murphy thinks five high-profile journalists who happen to be female aren’t the best people to moderate a debate, that’s his prerogative, though I warrant women have had far more occasion to bristle about gender imbalance in positions of power and influence than he has.

But his argument that these women are privileged and not representative of “the lower end of female experience” — as lived by the “sales clerks, the housekeepers at hotels, the immigrant women in corner stores…” is patronization at its finest.

I’ve known plenty of strong and more than capable women who have worked in fish plants, home care, housekeeping and retail who would be insulted by any notion that somehow they were at the “lower end” of anything.

And I’m not sure how the journalists chosen to be moderators are any more entitled than Murphy himself is after having worked for many years in the national media, nor should they have to defend their professional achievements any more than he would.

If Murphy is affronted by all-female moderating panel, that’s one thing. But what was most striking about his column was not how indignant he was on that point, but how his words dripped with vitriol far more bitter than was warranted.

“The media is its own universe,” he writes. “It is not exactly homogeneous but it operates within a shared and actually quite narrow mentality. …It would be a fine thing to wander outside that gated, privileged community.”

Has Murphy stepped outside lately himself?

The chosen journalists — news anchors Lisa LaFlamme (CTV National News), Rosemary Barton (CBC News), Dawna Friesen (Global National), and columnists Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star) and Althia Raj (HuffPost Canada) are eminently qualified to moderate a debate, though Murphy does his best to suggest they are too simpatico with our “feminist PM” to be able to do their work professionally and objectively.

“And, perhaps ironically,” he writes, “because of their status and their membership in the press gallery, they are more familiar with the people they will be questioning than the audience for whom, presumably, those questions are being asked. They’re inside the world they are interrogating.”

The old boys’ club would be aghast.

Murphy seems to be suggesting bias, but to my mind, if you’re reporting or commenting on politics, having a good grounding in the political sphere is considered “expertise.”

And, lest he forget, while it’s true that “female” and “feminist” are both f-words, they aren’t four-letter words.

If Murphy is affronted by all-female moderating panel, that’s one thing. But what was most striking about his column was not how indignant he was on that point, but how his words dripped with vitriol far more bitter than was warranted.

Murphy is known for his facility and finesse with the English language, but there’s precious little subtlety here:

“There is no way of precisely knowing this, but I am confident that choosing all five exclusively from the XX chromosome class was a matter of some exultation, perhaps reaching to self-congratulation. Somewhere, in whatever closet these mysterious deliberations were conducted, surely at their conclusion there was a whoop of ‘You go girls!,’ and surely, too, much high-fiving over the shards of another broken ‘glass ceiling.’”

If Murphy had ever had to break a glass ceiling — as many women I know have — he would be aware that sometimes you are too busy in the immediate aftermath tending to the cuts you’ve received on the way through to high-five anyone. And the women I know who have risen to the height of their profession — often paid substantially less than their male predecessors — did so based on competence, not “girl power.”

Murphy calls the choice of debate moderators “the declaration of a ‘No Males Zone,’” and the “heights of fashionable correctness.”

Or just maybe they were chosen on their merits.

At any rate, Murphy’s dripping condescension and thinly veiled misogyny in this context reveal far more about messenger than message.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton


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