If you really want a measure of how things are going for women, consider what happened last week in the Ontario Legislature.
It's question period, NDP leader Howard Hampton is on his feet querying Health Minister George Smitherman about service de-listings, and insults are being hurled. Everyone is wound up. Smitherman tells Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue that he should get a lethal injection in response to his heckle. I'm doing some heckling of my own.
Everything gets out of hand, so the Speaker calls for order. We're all settling down, but the member for Etobicoke North, Shafiq Qaadri, decides to get in the game. He yells out, "Her hot flash is over now."
I can't believe my ears and decide I can't let this go, so I rise on a point of order, tell the house and the Speaker what the member has just said and ask for an apology. Qaadri stands up and makes matters worse by trying to be funny. Instead of an "I'm sorry," he says he's simply following up on the Speaker's comments and was providing an explanation as to why I needed to vent. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose.
As for me, I am hot, hot, hot. I jump up out of my chair and more or less charge him. I hardly remember what I've said, but afterwards a Liberal member trapped in the crossfire tells me I was yelling, "You want to see flash, I'll show you flash." My own colleagues say I called him names I can't repeat here.
For apology number two, Qaadri sits beside me, leans over and gently puts his hand on my arm, looking wonderfully kind and sympathetic, and says, "Marilyn, I am sorry." I'm ready to accept his remorse, but then to my astonishment he ruins his chances by explaining that he is a doctor and his mother a gynecologist, and therefore he understands these things. Insufferably patronizing.
Apology three: he stands up and reads a well-crafted formal statement of contrition clearly written for him by very worried Liberals.
Seems if you are a woman, there's always another ordeal around the corner. A few years ago during daily question period, I was going after then premier Mike Harris for cancelling hot breakfast programs for school children in low-income areas. A male member of the Conservative backbench piped up loudly and angrily, "Oh, why don't you go home and feed your own kids?"
Guess I should have been at home making lunch. A few years go by and suddenly I'm a hormonally challenged middle-aged madwoman not to be taken seriously.
I can't believe how much this reminds me of the 50s, when men in the U.S. engaged in serious discussions about whether they could risk a female president because, my god, what if she had her finger on the button while she was PMSing.
Are we much further ahead? How many woman leaders of political parties do we have in Canada? Two. How many women in Parliament in Ottawa? Sixty-five out of 308 seats, 21.1 per cent. How many women in the Ontario Legislature? A disgraceful 22 out of 103.
As women's issues critic for the NDP, I find that everywhere I go women want to talk to me urgently about what is happening in their sector. This includes universities, the labour movement, political parties and health care. It's clear that the issue of sexism has been pushed underground and women are having a hard time naming it, finding advocates and being taken seriously.
The "hot flash" incident was sobering. We need to boost the efforts of the fine organizations out there. LEAF is still hanging in, fighting precedent-setting legal cases like the recent disastrous Supreme Court ruling that the Newfoundland and Labrador government does not have to give women pay-equity money because of financial constraints. That means any government can cut taxes for the wealthy like mad and then say it's in a fiscal crisis to get out of its financial obligations to women underpaid for decades.
There is, however, an interesting and gratifying outcome to this whole sorry incident. I did a lot of radio and TV talk shows and braced myself for right-wing hosts in particular to ask me if the symptoms of menopause would have an effect on middle-age women's political performance. It never happened. Men and women really got it!
One woman on CFRB said something like, "Marilyn, if some guy said that to me, I'd turn into a pit bull and rip his throat out." Way to go, sister!