On “jokes”

We are entering four years of a council with majority women so I feel it incumbent upon me to provide a primer of sorts for dealing with a council comprised mainly of women.

Here’s what you do: you treat them the same way as men. I know, weird, right. And normally as a progressive feminist, I don’t advocate for equality, I advocate for fairness. But here’s why it’s fair. As my very smart women friends pointed out, when you single out women with gendered remarks, especially women in positions of power, you’re implying that women don’t belong, that they’re weird or an Other or an otherwise disruptive presence to the “natural” ruling order.

The subtext of the Charlie’s Angel’s joke is that, well, the mayor is named Charlie, and he’s flanked by women councillors. Which on the surface, is ehh, whatever. It’s no Daily Show cutting repartee, let’s leave it at that. But here’s why your women friends are bristling: the TV show was predicated not on the intelligence or education or efforts of the Angels in particular; it was based on their attractiveness to the male gaze, and capitalized on that by placing the characters in improbable situations and skimpy outfits.

I know some people are purely making the reference based on Mayor Clark’s first name. But unfortunately that’s not what everyone hears. If it were possible to handwave centuries, or even just a decade or two of history, I would, but I can’t, and neither can you. It’s a sad truth that any successful or professional woman can tell you: we have all had at some point, our achievements reduced by saying it’s because we’re good “for a woman”, or we must have got in due to “diversity quotas”, or our appearance. Or the backhanded compliments that women are better at “communication” due to our mothering instincts or some such crap. (It’s also a disservice to men, because it implies men cannot parent as well, and their decision making skills are impaired by attractiveness.)

This is all very heavy-handed for me and I’m sorry to have to say it. But I’m also sorry to see this sort of thing from men I like, or men I feel are otherwise in our corner. There’s a couple of responses I’m anticipating to it so I will address them in order:

  • It’s just a joke. – Then it’s easy for you to stop. Or better yet, just make it away from me. I can guarantee I am not the only one in your peer circles who thinks this way, however.
  • You’re censoring me, unfunny women. – Nah, you can keep making this joke as often as you want. I’m just expressing my mild displeasure and explaining why it isn’t funny to me and a lot of other people. We’re both free to continue in this vein. Although I think it’s kind of a weird hill to die on. Doubling down and defensiveness tells me that contrary to what you profess, you do care what I think of you.

If this makes you uncomfortable, I strongly suggest you spend more time reading and/or hanging out with people who do not have the same lived experiences as you. It will make you better at articulating your position, in acknowledging when you have impacted others, and grant you grace in subsequent dealings. It will not blunt your sense of humour; in fact, it will make it sharper.

*****

Ahhh so serious! I apologize. Next time we’ll talk about whiteness in the city governance and how white women usually benefit disproportionately from diversity initiatives! Can’t wait!

On getting out.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting out, how people decide when it’s time to leave, whether it’s your house, your career, or your city. We like to pretend it’s rational. I don’t think that’s always the case.

Watching the residents of Fort McMurray  throwing random things into their trucks and inching through a cinder-flaked choking haze, I thought smugly: I would leave first, before the mandatory evacuation. Waiting around is for chumps. It’s better to be the first to leave, the first to be laid off, the first to move. Before the jobs dry up, the opportunity dries up, before the very air dries up and your house burns to the ground. It’s better to get out. And by how vociferous I am about this, I know deep down I am worried, because I would stay. This time it’s different, I would think. Maybe the fire won’t get this far. I just have to hold out a bit longer and it will be OK. Then things will go back to normal. I know this because I am still in Saskatchewan, and the budget drops tomorrow. I don’t know what the budget will be like, but I can guess that it will not be good. It may be very bad. I know that the first wave to get out has passed, the second wave is passing and may already be gone. I know this is also me being prone to dramatics. You get through this or you don’t. You move or you don’t. You make up a billion-dollar resource revenue shortfall, or you don’t. You diversify your economy, or you don’t. You plan for the future, or you don’t. I can’t be the only one wondering whether opportunity really lies in other provinces with increasing GDP, or whether it’s better to double down on my sunk costs and stay here. (There’s a KFC joke, if you like.)

I cannot point my finger at suffering communities and say, Why don’t you just leave? It would be hypocritical of me to do so. It is difficult, to leave all you know. I’ve done it once, partially, to move away to university here. That was jarring enough, even with relatives living here already and being somewhat familiar with the city from family visits. It was an exceptionally soft transition, which tells you how little I have had to leave a place, and how unprepared I am to do so again.

It’s easy to get caught up in the minute-to-minute life, looking ahead to the evening, to Friday, to a long weekend, to a glass of wine, and ignoring the mounting smoke plume in the distance. I don’t know what other opportunities are elsewhere, but I’ve scraped a bit together, and what’s more, I know how to live here. It’s not so bad, I guess, and every so often I have a long weekend or a glass of wine. Maybe it’s not that I don’t know when to leave, it’s that through a series of imperceptible decisions, I am choosing to stay.