Time for a New Normal

Starting this month, there’s going to be an historic demolition of a building in Vancouver. Historic not only because it’s the tallest building to be demolished in the city but also because it’s going to take concrete-crushing robots over a year to turn the Empire Hotel, floor by floor, into a pile of dust and debris.

Since March is also when we celebrate Women’s History and acknowledge International Women’s Day, news of this revolutionary form of demolition got me wondering about how long it’s been taking to dismantle the edifice of patriarchy.

It’s been 226 years since the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, just over a 100 years since White women in Canada got the vote, 58 years since First Nations women could vote, two years since Canada saw the first gender-balanced cabinet and a week since the unveiling of a “gender conscious” federal budget.

It may be 2018 but patriarchy is not yet archaic.  

On the contrary, patriarchy is very much alive and kicking along with its conspirators, colonialism and misogyny.

Patriarchal structures continue to exist because they’ve been perfectly disguised as what passes for normal.

For many people here in North America, the perversion of patriarchy is not overtly visible. Stories of marriage by abduction, female genital mutilation (FGM)  and the abandonment of female babies are horrors that happen in other places.

Over here patriarchy is like that car you don’t notice until you buy one and then you see it everywhere.

Once you know what to look for, you’ll become aware of patriarchy everywhere.

The predominant face of power in corporations and in government is male.

Children still need to have their father’s last name to be considered legitimate.

Teen girls in high school who have sex are sluts but boys who do are players.

Working women, whether in minimum wage jobs or in Hollywood, are paid less for doing the same work, with many still making 87 cents for every dollar a man earns.

You will also notice that not even unions, those bastions of social justice, are immune from patriarchy’s persistence. The BCTF has had just 8 female presidents in 100 years, 5 of them since 1986. Progress yes, but … .

Although we should be encouraged by the recently-started systematic remodelling of structures within the BCTF to include spaces for equity-seeking groups, we need to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done to reveal how male privilege is interwoven into the way our union works.

Most often this male privilege goes unnoticed. For example, a colleague recently shared that, during an important meeting with a school board, he echoed a comment that a female colleague had just made but he didn’t notice that he was carefully listened to while she was ignored.  He only realized that this had happened after she pointed it out to him later.

That’s the thing about male privilege in a patriarchy. It’s so carefully disguised as normal that it’s not even noticed. For many people, living in a patriarchy is like what water is to a fish. It’s so normal it’s invisible.

Perhaps this is why pointing out male privilege invokes a visceral reaction in some people. It’s a shock to realize that you have not actually been seeing what is right there in front of you. Like an elephant in this Magic Eye image. Can you see it?

Exposing male privilege is not to say that men never experience prejudice. Male teachers are well aware of the need to take extra precautions around female students because they remember stories like that of teacher Sean Lanigan whose life was torn apart after being falsely accused of molestation. Others who are routinely called upon to do the heavy lifting and snow-shovelling may also bristle at the suggestion that males are privileged.  Male kindergarten teachers also have stories to share about how they are sometimes negatively received.

However,  these examples of bias cannot discount the entrenchment of the power of males in decision-making positions across all sectors of our society.  Discrimination among people may exist in a multitude of ways but the power to make decisions that affect entire populations within systems, whether political, financial, judicial or educational, is still largely controlled by males.

The 2017 BCTF AGM saw the passing of historic resolutions aimed at creating a space at the executive table for people of colour. It marked a time when many people agreed that the exclusion of people of colour from decision-making power could no longer be tolerated. This is commendable.   

On the other hand, motions limiting the role of males on the executive failed by a large margin of the vote. This was disheartening.  

Delegates at this month’s AGM, happening in the middle of Women’s History month, will once again be presented with resolutions aimed at limiting the roles of males on the executive committee of an organization whose membership is about 75% female.  

What are the chances that delegates, inspired by this Women’s History Month’s stories of the long struggle to demolish the edifice of the 10 000-year-old patriarchy, will vote for an executive that, instead of concentrating power around males, disperses that power in favour of members from equity-seeking groups?  

I hope delegates will see that, for male privilege, time is up.

It’s beyond time to build a new normal.

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