21 March 2012

Bennett’s telephone call “gendered violence” according to PACSW prez #nlpoli

Most of you likely missed it, but a sharp exchange in Twitter on Monday showed the way politics in this province rolls these days.

Dara Squires writes a blog called ReadilyAParent, She’s also syndicated in the Western Star and some of the TransCon weeklies.  Dara’s post on Sunday took up some recent local political events.  “False Feminists in Politics” is about feminism and women in politics. 

Here’s a taste of the broader argument:
And yet, in general, we swallow it hook, line and sinker when a woman rises to a position of power and declares herself a feminist. It's taken as both proof of the validity of the feminist promise and a victory of sorts when they do. But herein lies one of the largest dangers of false feminism, especially with regards to politics. For if some white, upper middle class women make their way into politics, or the heads of boardrooms, or CEOs of major companies, than we find ourselves facing the argument that the fight for equality is over. Wente is one of the white, upper-middle class elites who would have us believe this
Squires drew the whole thing down closer to home with a pretty sharp critique of Kathy Dunderdale. She made some particularly strong comments about the way government House leader Jerome Kennedy tied Jim Bennett’s telephone call and threat with violence against women:
Yeah, you read that right. Not only does he minimise the true extent of such violence by using it in comparison to a single, slightly threatening phonecall [call], he also shows an utter lack of awareness behind the real reasons for delayed reporting or not reporting sexual and domestic violence.

I can't believe that Dunderdale, who has been a member of women's status groups and worked as a social worker, would've not seen the significance of Kennedy's statements. The moment I read the transcript it was like a punch in the gut. But Dunderdale, leader of the party, Premier of the province, and supposed women's rights supporter, did nothing to halt Kennedy's ongoing attack against victims of violence.
Squires got some attention on Monday from some of the most powerful people in the province.  It’s hard to tell exactly how the Twitter discussion started and who got whom involved but before too long it involved not only Lana Payne – head of the federation of labour – but Glenda Power, the Premier’s communications director. 

You should go read the exchange;  just scroll back a couple of days or so and you can find the three contributions to the discussion.  It’s civilised, although tightly constrained by the 140 character limit. And you can expect that the Power didn’t accept for a moment that her boss might be anything but right.

What’s most interesting is that after Squires invited more substantive comment on her blog, she got it but not from Payne or Power but from Linda Ross.  The head of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women left not one but two comments with a title “Criticism without Merit.”  They are right at the bottom of the post linked above.

Now some of you will recognize that this is not the first time that Ross – a cabinet appointee – has entered a provincial political fray on behalf of her patron Kathy Dunderdale.  Last April she launched a pretty savage attack on then-opposition leader Yvonne Jones over what was entirely a fabrication on Ross’ part.

This time Ross has some much more interesting things to say.

For starters, there is nothing half-hearted in Ross’ support for the Premier:
“The record of Premier Dunderdale and her government in Newfoundland and Labrador on advancing the status of women and preventing violence against women and other vulnerable populations has been outstanding.”
Ross then lists a series of what Ross suggests are Dunderdale’s personal accomplishments.  In the classic fashion, they involve how much money government spends. Ross attributes things to Dunderdale that she didn’t do.  Well, certainly not as Premier, anyways, if she did them personally at all:
In addition to the above noted investments, under Premier's Dunderdale's leadership, we now have a 10% participation of women in trades in this Province, up from 3%. Such achievements are critical in advancing women's economic and social equality. Likewise, since 2003 approximately 50 percent of all new recruits to the RNC are now women and more women are appointed to Provincial boards, agencies and commissions.
The construction Ross employs isn’t accidental.  What Ross is employing is the traditional patron-centred politics that has come to epitomize the Williams and now Dunderdale Conservatives in power.  The patron gets personal credit from his or her clients for government policies and programs, as if they would not have occurred without the patron.

The overall discussion about Squires - even on Twitter - and the emphasis in the exchange on common successes runs directly contrary to Squires’ argument without actually refuting it.  But it does express the norm of provincial politics these days:  partisan differences are, in truth, superficial ones.  For the elites themselves, the connections among them are more important than ideological or partisan differences or ones based on different values. 

What the elites have in common is also more important – to them – than anything else.  You can see this is the similarity among the elections platforms last October.  But you can also see this in the way Ross unequivocally endorses the partisan attack on Jim Bennett:
“in reality this event was indeed a very real act of gendered violence.”

All acts of violence and abuse can be equally as damaging regardless of the type of violence and abuse and can have very serious long-term impacts on a woman’s life. Violence is violence, regardless of what form it takes. Minimizing a woman’s experience of violence because it does not fit into the old-school traditional definition of violence could, by many, be identified as a form of violence in and of itself. We as women and as feminists must never minimize or judge another woman’s lived reality. 
Violence and abuse are best understood as a pattern of behaviour intended to establish power and maintain control over colleagues, intimate partners, or groups. The roots of all forms of violence and abuse are founded in the many types of inequality which continue to exist and grow in our society.
Yes, friends, in Ross' world, Jim Bennett’s lone asinine phone call exists as part of a continuum of violence that is directed by men against women solely on the basis of the chromosomal structure of the two people involved. Bennett is scarcely better than a serial killer or rapists. serial killers and rapists. 

Of course, Ross’ argument is as patently absurd as it seems, on the face of it.  Ross has made equally absurd arguments before when both parties were female.  What is important to notice here is that Ross seldom makes public statements on anything.  When she does make them – as in Jones or Bennett - she is as prepared as any Tory backbencher to make a ridiculous argument in support of her patron.

Kennedy’s remarks are – according to Ross -  “totally within the Provincial Policy on this matter.”
But just so that you appreciate the extent to which Ross’ arguments  are not motivated by a general concern about violence in our society consistent with “Provincial Policy”  take note of her comments that criticise any of her patron’s associates that were as bad or worse than Bennett’s or Jones’ at any time since 2003.

Don’t waste your time.  You won’t find any.

Take a minute and let all that soak in.  There’s some pretty heavy ideas in there.

As for what this incident says about issues like equality and political power in the province, we’ll have to save that discussion for another day.

- srbp -