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Bias what bias – A story of a complacent woke woman

in Op Ed by

I consider myself a feminist, and I have for quite some time. I protested the Snelgrove verdict, I regularly have difficult conversations with people about gender inequality, and I take notice of the “minor,” yet impactful, injustices that I (and women everywhere) experience every single day. I’m proud to say that I stand for something, and I’m proud to make a contribution to the cause in my own small way.

I think sometimes we let our strong moral compasses (and the fact that we’re already “woke”) cloud our judgement, and it’s important to reflect on our thoughts and actions and examine them for ingrained discriminatory beliefs/behaviour. This past week I was reminded of my own biases and internal misogyny and, surprise, surprise, they were brought to my attention by politics and the municipal election.

I was ecstatic when I discovered that so many women were running for City Council. I genuinely could not have been more pleased. As we know, representation is of the utmost importance, and the fact that so many strong, intelligent women were putting themselves into the political arena was thrilling. Naturally, because I was wearing my shiny “I’m a feminist” pin (both literally and figuratively), I was very pleased with myself and all of my forward thinking.

“Wow, I’m so woke and smart for being able to think abstractly about systemic sexism and gender inequality,” I thought to myself. “Yay women!”

It wasn’t until this past Monday, while perusing Facebook, that I was forced to eat a great big slice of humble pie.

Lynn Moore posted on September 25, 2017. It reads:

Dear people who think Renee Sharpe should not start with the mayor’s position because “she doesn’t have enough experience”: When people talked about Dean MacDonald becoming Liberal leader, did you have the same thought? How about when Danny Williams became leader of the PC’s? Annd (sic) now that people are suggesting that Andrew Furey should run for the Liberal leadership?

Seeing a theme here? Our learned biases tell us that men, with ZERO political experience, would be good leaders, while women, well, not so much.

Challenge the idea of what you think a “good leader” is.

After reading this post and many of the comments, I had a lump in my throat – I had said that exact same thing. I remember saying to my partner, “I really like Renee Sharpe but her lack of experience is concerning.” I didn’t even think twice about what I was saying, and I certainly didn’t consider the implications of my words. That statement was discriminatory because I never would have said that about a man, and even if I did, I would be much more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. I dismissed Renee’s capabilities because I inherently believe(d) that women are less capable than men.

It’s safe to say I was ashamed of myself; I couldn’t understand how I had let these feelings and beliefs pass through my internal sexism filter. Ms. Sharpe’s platform stood for everything I believe in, and I truly think that, had she been elected, we’d be all the better for it. I’m hopeful that Danny Breen will bring about the necessary change for our city, and though I am thankful for change and for all the of the wonderful, spunky, intelligent women who were elected to office, I’ll be wondering “what if” about Renee Sharpe for a long, long time.

I’d like to formally apologize to Ms. Sharpe for doubting her, and to all women in politics, because it’s attitudes and internal misogyny such as this that perpetuates the dangerous systems in which we presently find ourselves. It’s because of thoughts like mine that women are hesitant to enter the political arena in the first place. Ultimately, we deserve better and we need to do better.

We only solve these problems by opening difficult discussions. We need to have the hard conversations. I could have kept these thoughts and my shame to myself, since I felt that thinking and saying those things made me a “bad feminist,” but the fact is that we can’t change social inequality without talking about our transgressions and drawing awareness to them. Our biases run deep, and they’re derived from centuries of discrimination; we can’t expect to shed all of our inherently sexist behaviours overnight. We are always learning and there is always something to be learned.

We need representation to challenge sexist ideals and most importantly, we must not become complacent once we become aware. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know everything once we become aware of injustices, which makes it even easier to take our awareness for granted. We must never stop analyzing situations for discrimination; critical thinking is the cornerstone of systemic change.

To Maggie Burton, Sheilagh O’Leary, Debbie Hanlon, Hope Jamieson, and Deanne Stapleton: congratulations and thank-you for representing us. It means a great deal to women, feminists, and society to have such amazing female representation in municipal government.

To Renee Sharpe: thank-you for putting your name on the ballot. Having the option to vote for a strong female leader was a huge triumph in itself.

To the people of St. John’s: thank-you for using your right to vote in such a responsible and socially conscious way.

To everyone: never stop analyzing your learned biases. Are you doubting a woman because you think she doesn’t have what it takes, or are you unsure why you feel the way you do? If it’s the latter, there’s a good chance it’s your bias talking.

I am so proud of the people of this city for taking the steps to effect real change. Politics can be an ugly game but one thing that cannot be disputed is the necessity for varied perspectives and representative discourse. In a world plagued with negativity and discrimination, I have a renewed faith in the goodness of people and the ability of people to see reason. We are a beacon of hope in a politically disgruntled world. I believe we’ve elected an amazing council and I eager to see what the next four years has to offer.

1 Comment

  1. Great article! I chose not to vote for Renee because while I felt she had good ideas, she didn’t have a means of implementing them; or at least when I heard her speak, that is what I gathered. I heard buzzwords like “transparency”, “community” and “mental health” but no clear plans. One thing I really liked was that she would not commit to lowering taxes but to looking at better ways to spend money.

    Your examples of people like Danny Williams are really good ones but what about Trump? His supporters may have touted his being an “outsider” but his detractors certainly played up his inexperience.

    You also raise a good point though; what is considered experience? To me, voting for mayor I would hope that the candidate had some experience on council at least.

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