“Terrorism”, Scepticism and the Code of Emily

Do you know that in my life it has happened that some people have been really, really shitty?  I, personally, was raised by this superpower mother who is strong and confident and had mantras that, as a child I thought were funny, but later realized were actually just about strength.  She would say, over a lovely Sunday dinner, “girls, don’t have a husband until you can buy your own bra”.  WHAT?  What does that mean?  We just laughed at the time, but now I understand that it wasn’t really about buying new items from Le Boudoir.  Really, it was about becoming strong and capable before you start that part of your life where you’re in a co-dependent relationship.  It’s about not really needing someone else, but rather wanting to be with someone else.  My mom is deadly, that’s what it’s about.  That notion – no bra, no husband – has been a guiding force in a piece of self-governing legislation I like to (for the first time ever) call the Code of Emily (hereinafter referred to as the “Code”).

So, when some people in my life have been really, really shitty, I have tried to eventually get over and get passed their real, real shittiness and be strong like my mama taught me.  It’s been important (though not always practised) in getting over boys who are jerks and moving on from friends who were dishonest.  Retrospectively, it’s also been illuminating because it does not speak to  other people as being bad.  It speaks to me, and me alone, as having autonomy and strength.

I recently experienced a Hollywood movie style backstab from a friend, and man, may I just say – that tripped me up.  You don’t expect people to be so caught up in their own dark world that they are cruel and cold to a friend.  But it was just one person with a bad attitude and a lack of foresight, and it doesn’t actually speak to people as a whole.  I need not abstain from friends, generally.  I need not draft a new Code for which people not to befriend, as if that could have ever protected me from this person who I didn’t know would do such a series of bad behaviours.  They say hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t know if there ever was a lesson or maxim for this one.

Would more rigorous screening have stopped this ever happening?  What about a series of small, punitive measures (“get off my property!”) for small offences?  Maybe some greater retaliation (“No.  She is not invited to anymore pre-drinks.”) for grander red flags?  I mean, I guess it sounds good in theory but considering it really was just one person…seems to me a greater set of rules would just be overkill.  Also, spending time re-drafting the Code just seems like a waste of time.  Do you know how precious time is?  It’s actually really, really precious to me.  I don’t want to waste it making grandiose, sweeping statements for one person’s mishaps!

Now let’s leave the Code and take a seat in the House of Commons, where we are talking, instead, about drafting some new terrorism legislation.  In particular let’s get to “eyeing the thresholds established in Canadian law for the preventive arrests of people thought to be contemplating attacks that may be linked to terrorism. Officials are considering how to make it easier to press charges against so-called lone-wolf attackers”.  The genesis of this potential new legislation is, of course, last week’s attack on Parliament Hill, and one must admit it feels adequate in terms of tit-for-tat.  Something so terrible, horrendous, egregious shouldn’t be just left.  We must do more.  And in particular, we must do more than mourn as a country, pay great homage to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and nationally honour the brave Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers.

Tom Mulcair, for whom I have great admiration not simply because he is capable of growing such a tremendous beard, said this week that what happened in Ottawa was not an act of a terrorist, but was the act of a criminal.  People in the House had a big reaction to this apparent revelation – Peter Kent thinks it’s “ridiculous” and Justin Trudeau scratched his head and said “The RCMP were clear, these were acts of terrorism, (so) there were acts of terrorism”.  Well, with that logic…

But I have an issue with calling it terrorism.  Why do you want there to be terrorism here?  It was a crazy, criminal man.  And now you want to use up my tax dollars and your time in the House making new legislation?  I am aching to see the new draft of the legislation.  I imagine the flimsily drawn connective tissue between insanity, terrorism and preventive measures will go something like this:

Section 128(4)(a) Any and all mentally unwell people are to be rigorously examined and cross-examined before setting foot on government property.

Section 128(4)(b) In order to best actuate (a), members of society shall ensure they have their “Mental Health and Wellness Cards” upon their persons for inspection at all times.

It’s not that I am not moved beyond knowing appropriate sympathetic words for the insanity, cruelty, and hatred of the acts that took place last week, it’s just that I don’t see how spending time on this legislation is connected to a single, unwell man doing a single, insane thing.  And I’m not alone – look at Mulcair.  Look at Peter McKay who disagrees with “major overhaul” of our present anti-terrorism laws.

It’s not my failure to adequately feel sympathy for those affected, it’s just that you can’t call an act “terrorism” just to make people feel good, to make them feel that a son and young man didn’t die just for no reason, that the response was big and loud enough.  It’s just that terrorism isn’t about feeling good.  It’s about systemic problems of hatred and violence and agenda – and we shouldn’t want to have it and we shouldn’t fear monger about it.  If calling it terrorism makes those affected people feel better, then maybe rather than spending money on drafting new overkill, wrought-with-problems-in-other-ways legislation, money should be poured into grief counselling where affected people could receive genuine consolation and help for their trauma.  This isn’t Shakespeare, and it isn’t just an issue of calling a rose by any other name.  The notion of terrorism is terrifying.  And it should  be terrifying!  Imputing terrorism on me and on my society to gas up one’s government and the adequacy of response is not what I want and it’s certainly not what I need.  Legislating things actually straight to death is not how you should strive to console a grieving nation, a grieving family.

I sometimes think Canada is like a child who has a friend or a sibling who gets pneumonia.  And the child sees this as something great – look at all the attention his sick sibling gets!  He gets to spend all day in bed and have banana medicine and he gets to eat whatever treats he wants.  And he doesn’t have to go to school and he just gets to watch movies and play games.  But the child doesn’t see that having pneumonia is actually really horrible.  Really, the sick sibling is getting lots of attention because he’s so sick that he cannot do anything.  Cannot play with his friends, cannot go to school, cannot eat a proper meal because he has no appetite.  This is bad attention!  Sometimes I think Canada is like a chronically healthy child, and Canada (read: Harper) gets jealous of all the attention his big bro Obama down in the US is getting, so he wants to be sick too.  So he pretends he’s sick so he can have banana medicine and stay in bed.  And what parent won’t tend to a child, real sick or fake sick, lest you risk being called negligent?

You can’t just have banana medicine when you don’t need it, I can’t just draft a new Code of Emily every time some cruel bittie screws me over, and Steve, honest to god Steve, you can’t just legislate to death every issue that comes across your doorstep.

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Extra, extra!: Manning, Misogyny and #nlpoli

When I was in music school there was something wrong with me.  I didn’t believe in feminism.  I held, as some still hold, that the discussion contributed to the problem of inequality and that it further and aggravated segregation between genders.  When I went to law school I like to think I grew the hell up and have realized the error of my ways.  This is very good news, at least for myself.  A friend told me over drinks after I had had my moment of clarity (of realizing I was a bit (okay a lot) closed-minded, misguided and misunderstood on the subject) that she had always thought I was a reasonably intelligent person except for that one thing that just made me look like an idiot.  Valid point.

Now I not only believe strongly in feminism (though I do like to say equalism), but have actively spent time endeavouring to learn about it, how it affects people in varying societies, and at varying income levels.  Some of my favourite parts of the discussion for my socio-economic demographic are about women in politics.  Questions abound in this area: why aren’t there more candidates?  Of the candidates that do exist, why aren’t more of them successful?  Why do women get treated so radically different during their campaigns, their tenures, their retirements?

A great way to highlight the kind of scenario I’m talking about is through a question regarding US politics.  Why do people refer to President Obama and Senator Clinton in the same sentence, using the pronouns “Obama” and “Hilary”?  Undoubtedly, the knee-jerk answer is that there has been a former Clinton in US politics who was a male, so using her first name lends clarity to the conversation.  But is anybody under a mistaken impression that Billy C. is somehow involved in a conversation about the President of the United Sates and current US politics?  If it’s appropriate to go on a first-name basis, arguably we ought to refer to “Barack and Hilary”, no?

Barack and Clinton

Barack and Clinton

This week, in a fascinating turn of affairs, new Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis announced a somewhat mind-boggling reorganization of the government, including killing the Department of Justice and in place announcing the creation of the Department of Public Safety, and appointing non-politician, but actual lawyer, Judy Manning as Minister of said new department as well as as Attorney General of the Province and as the minister responsible for the status of women.  When this happened, we ranted and roared like true Newfoundlanders, and for all the parts of the conversation that were legitimate there were at least three questions or comments posed by the media that were somewhat enraging.

For The Media: How to Discuss Women in Politics

Name It. Change It. is a nonpartisan, joint project of the Women’s Media Center and She Should Run.  The organization strives to identify, prevent and end sexist media coverage in politics.    In 2012 they published the Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians.  Among other things, the Guide set out the Rule of Reversibility:

The most workable definition of equality for journalists is reversibility.  Don’t mention her young children unless you would also mention his, or debate her clothes unless you would describe his, or say she’s shrill or attractive unless the same adjectives would be applied to a man.  Don’t say she’s just out of graduate school but he’s a rising star.  Don’t say she has no professional training but he has worked his way up.

Sexism can also refer to the type of coverage, often about personality, appearance, or family, that is given to women politicians  but not male politicians.

Chart of Reversibility (Name It. Change It.)

Chart of Reversibility (Name It. Change It.)

In the case of Manning, the media has, of course, played a very active role in her appointment.  Arguably, the most important article that has or will be published about Manning was that of the CBC: “Judy Manning ‘surprised’ by questions about PC Party connections“, which was posted the day following the Premier’s announcement.

The article certainly doesn’t embark in direct sexist writing – and in fact, violations of the Chart of Reversibility are  rare!  But as Name It. Change It. tells us, it is not simply the exact language used but sometime the context and the topics.  The language used is, generally, aggressive and has the look of a cat with its back arched.

Adorable but arched and ready to hiss.

Adorable but arched and ready to hiss.

As the facts are relevant to this article, it is important for readers to understand that Manning’s long-term partner is Leo Power, an active supporter and volunteer for the PC Party.  Her uncle is Fabian Manning, former Newfoundland and Labrador MHA and current Senator in the Senate of Canada.

BristledWhen People are Imputed With Emotions They Didn’t Portray

The CBC wrote:

During an interview with CBC News, Judy Manning, the new minister of public safety and attorney-general, bristled when asked if her unconventional and surprising appointment was influenced by the fact she is the partner of longtime PC supporter Leo Power.

You know, I would hate to present a fact without knowing it to be true.  With that in mind, I watched O’Neill’s interview with Manning.  This first statement is interesting for me in light of the word “bristled”.  The Merriam-Webster online dictionary tells me that “bristle” means “to show signs of anger” or “to become angry”.

As I watched the interview, I simply did not see Manning become angry.  I saw a woman respond strongly and clearly to a question about whether or not she got appointed to AG of Newfoundland because she’s banging someone.  I thought she did a fine job, quite frankly.  I’ve seen anger, guys, because once when I was 17 I went drinking, and mother and father Stockley showed me what anger looks like.  It just doesn’t look like a smiling Manning saying “no”.

So, why then was the word “bristled” used?  Did the CBC hope I would assume she was bristled or angry?  And, if I did assume she was actually angry, what would that mean?  I associate being quick-to-anger as a negative, childish emotion.  In other words, her being bristled would lead me to forming a negative association with Manning.

VintageWhen Words are Embedded With Meaning They Didn’t Have

During the interview, Manning discusses the difference in pay she will receive as being evidence of her commitment to her new role.  Manning says it isn’t about the money, it’s about her desire to be of public service.  In her discussion of this, Manning uses the word “vintage” and “level” to describe well…her vintage or level…as a lawyer.  Having been called to the bar in 2005, she, and other lawyers of her vintage or level, would stand to make approximately $50,000 more than what she will earn as a public servant.  Commentary about issues of her remuneration aside, the CBC did a tricky thing with her quotes, when the article read:

Manning emphasized that she is also taking a “significant” pay cut by agreeing to take on the job, pointing out that she will receive a ministerial salary of just over $54,000. 

She said that is less than half of what a lawyer of “my vintage” could earn.

Now, certainly, this is what Manning said, but she also said a lawyer of “my level”.

It’s funny about that word, vintage.  When we think “vintage”, we think fine, aged wines and fancy, enviable clothing.  Ultimately, the word “vintage”, in general parlance, can come fully equipped with a host of automatic associations, including arrogance as it tends to mean things are better or more valuable.  By isolating that word in quotations, the CBC isolates the associations we are encouraged to make.  Because we have now made Manning arrogant, we have given her a negative quality.

Interestingly, I have this inclination Harvey Spector’s vintage brings in many of his clients.  So why are you trying to direct me to perceive it as a negative quality for Manning?

"Harvey Specter likes to win. So while he might be ruthless, manipulative, aggressive and staggeringly arrogant, he’s also the type of person you’d want to sit next to, rather than opposite, in a negotiation."  (See more at: http://www.bigpartnership.co.uk/blog/344-harvey-specter-reputation-protector-communication-tips-from-tv-s-most-arrogant-lawyer#sthash.pu7n0a3z.dpuf) Interesting...Harvey gets to be arrogant and it leads to a mancrush.

“If you’re detecting a hint of a man-crush here, you might be right  And in truth, he’s not always a very nice person.  But nice guys finish last and Harvey Specter likes to win. So while he might be ruthless, manipulative, aggressive and staggeringly arrogant, he’s also the type of person you’d want to sit next to, rather than opposite, in a negotiation.” (See more at: http://www.bigpartnership.co.uk/blog/344-harvey-specter-reputation-protector-communication-tips-from-tv-s-most-arrogant-lawyer#sthash.pu7n0a3z.dpuf).
How interesting…Harvey gets to be arrogant and it leads to a man-crush.

As a final note on this point, the word “vintage” also forms a part of another quote in which arrogance is less apt to be imputed to Manning.  With that in mind, is it even more possible that the word is not one of arrogance with Manning but rather just some word she uses without thinking?  It’s difficult to see how Manning’s verbal habits are sufficient cause for me to view her negatively.

Connections: When Interviewers Ask Inappropriate Questions Posed as Fair

The actual best part of this article is its select discussion of the line of questioning regarding whether Manning owes her appointment to her “connections” (do note that the pluralization is found in the article).  The CBC writes:

During an interview with CBC News, Judy Manning, the new minister of public safety and attorney-general, bristled when asked if her unconventional and surprising appointment was influenced by the fact she is the partner of longtime PC supporter Leo Power.

“I’m a little surprised that has come up. Quite frankly, in terms of my predecessors, I don’t recall the media ever approaching any of our previous cabinet ministers or our previous premiers about with whom they were sleeping,” she stated in reply to a question from CBC reporter Chris O’Neill-Yates.

In the article, the subject matter next veers to a discussion of the Premier Davis defending his decision to appoint Manning.  In real life, what actually happened was different.  In real life, this was not the flow of the conversation nor the end of Manning and O’Neill-Yates’ conversation on the point.  In real life, Manning proceeded to convey that she believes the question – clearly not about her uncle but only about her partner – indicates there is work to be done in her role as minister responsible for the status of women.  If it can be believed – and I myself almost could not believe it – O’Neill-Yates replies: in what sense?

In full, O’Neill Yates’ question is: “What part of the question is unfair, if your long-term partner was part of getting Mr. Davis to where he is today as premier, in asking whether his relationship with you had any role in getting you the position that you occupy today?”

I hate to jump in where Manning should have when asked such a surprisingly misogynistic question by a fellow female, but here is why it’s unfair: because you would not ask a man if he slept his way to the top, and that is the actual substance of your question.  Your failure to see how that is an inappropriate and unfair question is enough to turn my stomach and make me stop reading all but BuzzFeed.com forever more.  I’m so scared I will stumble upon more of this anti-women line of questioning that I almost want to boycott the CBC for fear I will have to feel offended like this again – and there is nothing I hate more than feeling offended by an entity on a Sunday.

A Few Lies, a Few Manipulations

Interestingly, though the article comments on Manning being the niece of Senator Manning, O’Neill-Yates asked, at least in the video provided by the CBC, only about Power.  Interesting, that.  Curious, that.  Are you, the CBC, tampering with the actual content of the article and the responses you got in order to help formulate and direct the shape of my opinions?  Wait, didn’t you also do that with the strategic inclusion of the word “vintage”?

I have yet to decide how I feel about Judy Manning in a meaningful sense as to her being in the roles which she now occupies.  However, the obvious attempts of articles, like the one discussed above, to encourage me to develop a negative opinion about her before seeing her in action does tend to do the opposite for me.  In watching her interview, and the various others that have happened since, Manning is confident, collected, steady.  She’s a strong, obviously well-educated woman who isn’t scared to call out misogynist questions.  Maybe it’s my love of hood culture or my own immaturity, but the attack on her person makes me just want to tweet “U Jealous? #YUMad #NLPoli”.  Because, frankly, the trite direction this conversation has taken is no more mature, responsible or enlightening than such a tweet would be.

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If you have an interest in this subject, you can find more helpful resources and discourse at NameItChangeIt.org, where a rich discussion of how we can help women who are acting in, striving for and excelling in politics can be found.  Click here.