Hi everyone – I’m Kathleen, your local opinionated women’s rights activist, or as some people call us, man-haters. Just kidding. #notallmen
I’m writing this because I noticed that, as a community, perhaps as a society, our standards for those governing us have become absolutely battered. We no longer expect, for example, leadership from our leaders. And I’m not just talking about Doug Ford, even though it seems like I’m always talking about Doug Ford.
When I read about Tony Clement’s ‘indiscretion’ (as it was diminished to at the time), I read with my mouth agape. Not out of surprise for his actions – I am not longer surprised when men in power abuse it. Heartbreakingly, I am no longer surprised when men in power abuse women. But I was blown away by the preemptive permission granted to Clement by a large portion of his constituency. It seemed that he had already been let off the hook before the metaphorical ink on the papers had dried. Certainly before the gory details really started to surface. And as is our wont as humans, most seemed to stick to that forgiveness line even as the dirt really started to fly.
I’m referring to, of course, the comments sections of our local new outlets. Some say, never venture there – but I need to know what we’re up against in the battle for women’s liberation, for justice, for leaders with good sense, respect for women and all people, and foresight.
I have been asked, within the depths of the comments sections, whether I have ever made mistakes. Aren’t I human?
Yes. I have messed up. I’ve made some pretty nasty, hilarious, awkward, and even hurtful mistakes. But I’ll tell you something my elders have told me since I was little: try not to make the same mistake twice. So that’s how I live my life. But that’s not what happened with Tony Clement. He made the same ugly, selfish, short-sighted error twice. And you know what? The only reason it was different the second time was because he got caught.
National security, access to top secret materials, extortion, scammers, dick pics… Not a good scene. I’m no prude, lest I be accused of pearl-clutching here. This isn’t about ‘going outside the marriage’ or judging prurience. It’s about power dynamics. Clement got fooled, but that’s only one part of the story. The context of power dynamics affects the nature of consent. That isn’t to say that a young woman cannot consent to an intimate relationship with an older man who is in a well-established position of power and privilege and who could sway her career in whatever direction he pleased based on how pleased he was… But I think it should be exposed to scrutiny. I believe that if we had the Monica Lewinsky conversation (22-year old intern and the President of the US) today, I think we’d be giving a lot more space to the word ‘consent’, and to the reality of power dynamics. Like we eventually did with Jian Ghomeshi.
I’d like to listen to some young women for a moment (since I believe they’re going to save the world). You don’t have to overextend your googling finger to find the screenshots of Clement’s online proclivities. Late night Tweets to accounts run by young women, DMs sent to very young women after sprees of liking all their selfies on Instagram…
If you didn’t grow up on the internet like me, maybe that’s another language. How’s this word: creep. One of my favourite words. No libel here, no indictment. This is the language of young women trying to describe someone who hasn’t done anything legally or even socially wrong. Many praised Clement for his social media prowess. But when young women use this word to describe older men in positions of power, my ears perk up and I listen hard. They use this word to say, “I don’t know why, but I don’t like this. It makes me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I question this person’s ability to respect me or my boundaries.” All that in one little word.
So forgive me if I don’t care how Clement behaves at dinner parties in the company of his (long-suffering) wife and the people who can further his political agenda. I don’t even care about his track record. For two reasons:
- I don’t believe that good work negates or balances inappropriate behaviour
- I believe that, in Muskoka, a leader who is capable of good work and ethical responsibility is waiting for the opportunity to lead.
Let’s raise the standards here. Let’s expect – and demand – more from our leaders. Good judgement, respect for women and marginalized people, the ability to foresee consequences especially of repeated behaviours, uncompromisable intentions to serve the people, and well, maybe an intern running the social media accounts.
What do you think? Have we decided that’s too much to ask?
Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.