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You may know The Simpsons episode in which Homer becomes Mayor Quimby’s chauffeur and bodyguard. As the two men drive through Springfield the first day, Quimby says: “You represent the mayor now, so always comport yourself in a manner befitting … Quick! Honk at that broad!”
Funny when it’s a cartoon figure, but frightening once you see that a man like Quimby is trying to become the next U.S. president.
Part of me longs to have Donald Trump in the final race so that Democrats can create commercials saying things such as “Don’t comb over to Trump’s side. He honks at all broads.”
Trump is a relic from the days when men like my dad referred to their spouses as “the wife.” My dad never said this out of overt disrespect – he loved and admired my mom. But he did miss the fact that once he equated “the wife” with “the toolshed” or “the tractor,” his article/noun lexical set did nothing to further equality between men and women, just as Quimby failed to notice that the “broad” may well have been Marge Simpson (the family’s ballast), Malala Yousafzai, Megyn Kelly or my daughter.
The Donald’s antics, the refusal by Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair to participate in a women’s issues debate and my daughter’s departure for university all got me thinking about the rocky road to womanhood – and, more broad-ly, the spectre of the dismissive epithet.
One day in her residence room, my daughter had had enough of trying to study while someone on the floor above her bounced a basketball. She went up and knocked on the door of a suite containing 12 guys. A young man (holding a basketball) opened the door.
She said: “It’s hard for me to study with that thumping noise. Could you please stop it? Thanks.”
At my end of the phone I was thinking: “Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god!” Every tale of frat-boy orgies, belittlement of women on campus and sexist hazing rituals went ripping through my mind.
“What did he say?” I asked my daughter.
“He seemed genuinely unaware that anyone would be able to hear it,” she said. “He was really apologetic, ‘I’m so sorry,’ that kind of thing.”
I had already imagined how I would take her struggle to the Supreme Court and she was already over it.
She hadn’t gone to that door as a “woman,” a person who bleeds. She’d gone as a person whose view mattered. And, to his credit, the young basketball aficionado hadn’t brushed aside her request as indicative of something only a “girl” would make. Both young people took the high ground. Couldn’t one of them run for president?
My daughter doesn’t do the things she does “because she is a girl.” When she heard the thudding of the basketball, she set out to deal with it as a problem, not as a problem that pitted a woman against a man. I see the progress women have made through her.
As a young woman, I fell prey to the notion that I was only as good as my T and A, and I don’t mean Talents and Acumen. In junior high school I defined myself by my peaks and valleys. At gym class I obsessed over the undershirts I still wore on cold days versus the lifting and separating going on around me. Like Trump, I used too narrow a set of parameters to define womanhood. In my defence, I was 12.
In my life, I’ve tended to take three steps forward and two back as a feminist, what with my own failures and the Dads and the Donalds in the crowd. I remember being 8, waiting in the wings of the school auditorium to receive a trophy for public speaking. I was standing beside a school trustee who would be handing me my trophy after the principal introduced him. As we stood there, he reached down with the trophy I was about to receive and said to me, “See? It’s a girl,” as he rubbed the brass breasts. I remember thinking: “moron.” I would love that moment back. This time I would walk to the mike and say to the school, “Listen to this.”
When my daughter was 4 and asked me for a particular plastic doll, I remember thinking: “Oh God! I’ve created a girl who will only care about hair and clothes and these things, as conduits to catching the eye of Mr. Plastic Doll.” I was awash with failure.
Maybe this was punishment for that time I bought foam inserts to fill out a dress to wear to a wedding? While I was dancing, the pads made a break for it, working their way up and out of my dress. After a quick visit to the washroom to contain my rogue bosoms, I spent the rest of the evening with them stuffed in my pocket.
So Americans are getting set to vote, as are we. And Harper and Trump seem to me to be two peas in a pod. Their ultraconservative mindset leads them to categorize rather than individualize people: the broad, the bleeder, the upstart, the new-stock immigrant.
Neither my daughter nor the basketball player resorted to the bogeyman called type. When I saw myself as only my looks, I missed all the other qualities I could have used to define myself. Again, I was 12. How old is the prime minister you will elect?
Jennifer Hennekam lives in Toronto.