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The Gerry Ritzing of Catherine McKenna: Mallick

The Conservative MP’s mockery of a Liberal cabinet minister shows once again the level of scrutiny that women endure and men do not.

Catherine McKenna, left, minister for environment and climate change, is a bilingual, internationalist human rights lawyer with degrees from the University of Toronto, McGill and the London School of Economics. Gerry Ritz, right, isn't.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Catherine McKenna, left, minister for environment and climate change, is a bilingual, internationalist human rights lawyer with degrees from the University of Toronto, McGill and the London School of Economics. Gerry Ritz, right, isn't.

Catherine McKenna, minister for environment and climate change and MP for Ottawa Centre, is a bilingual, internationalist human rights lawyer with degrees from the University of Toronto, McGill and the London School of Economics.

Gerry Ritz, Conservative MP for Battlefords-Lloydminster, isn’t.

I suspect this may be why he referred to her this week as “climate Barbie” and why his leader Andrew Scheer refused to denounce him in the House of Commons.

But there are more reasons than envy. Here’s the context. Female politicians are put through a gauntlet of misery and mockery, a level of scrutiny that men don’t endure partly because, let’s face it, men aren’t that interesting. They don’t have to be. They’re guys.

Throughout human history, men both good and vile have run the world so completely that they’re considered standard basic equipment. Actually, they’re not even “considered,” they’re just there. So every woman who manages to pop into public notice for being supremely qualified for her job is regarded as an anomaly.

She gets the Hillary Clinton treatment.

Minister of Status of Women Maryam Monsef was tormented by birthers, of all things. One of Canada’s most energetic intellectuals, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, was mocked for wearing a red dress and dismissed for her “charm,” a quality that in male politicians is known as being “affable.”

I know nothing about the current governor-general except that he is a white-haired gentleman who seems extraordinarily nice. He has a past; we don’t bother probing and mincing it. But the incoming governor-general, the stellar Julie Payette, an engineer and astronaut, has been hunted down for the details of her divorce and for having been found faultless in a deadly traffic accident.

This is the context for Ritz spitefully mocking McKenna, the sexist slur originating with the far-right Rebel hate site that Conservatives cannot seem to decisively reject. He is calling her a dumb blond, a meme from his era that means she’s too stupid to understand science and looks like a little girl’s plastic doll.

“Any individual who possesses certain social characteristics has a moral right to expect that others will value and treat him in an appropriate way,” the Canadian-born sociologist Erving Goffman wrote in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. We see ourselves as we think others might see us. We make our self-presentation, a general statement running anywhere from “I’m an astronaut” to “I never illegally downloaded that movie.”

But in Ritz’s view, women can’t do this unilaterally. How then does he see himself?

Utterly unobtrusive, Ritz, a grey-faced man dressed in grey with grey hair, was born near a prairie town, worked on the family farm and did some general contracting before running for MP. He was Stephen Harper’s agriculture minister.

What you do with a background like this is re-invent yourself for public life by adding, say, experience, education, international adventure, building a personality or adapting to a changing feminist world. Leading that change might be an option.

Not for Gerry. Why sneer at women when you haven’t met any? In 170 photos on www.gerryritz.ca, he poses with 335 men and only 70 women. (I counted, and a more tedious exercise you could not imagine. Everyone looked pretty grim.)

As for McKenna’s hair which so offends Ritz, blondness is more of an American than a Canadian fetish, perhaps due to that nation’s obsession with race and money. It has gradations.

American women go blond, men go grey. Old money is pale blond, Fox News goes hard yellow. “Blond is the colour of the right, for whom whiteness has become a hallmark,” writes New York Magazine’s Amy Larocca.

In lovely Canada, hair goes to hell its own way. One can be oneself. At least men can, as long as that self resembles Ritz, and in Conservative politics it generally does.

I am mystified by one Canadian politician I rather like, who appears to have dyed his hair blond — or is it sunlit? — but with puzzling gray patches. Is he growing out the grey or did he do a ham-fisted job at home to save the expense? Oh we’ve all been there.

Because I do like men so very much, I have always warned them to learn from female suffering. Facial cleanser, moisturizer, serum, hair dye, necklifts. It never ends.

But the mass industrialization of beauty will win. Soon, male politicians will be required to radiate beauty. Ritz mocks McKenna’s irrelevant photogeneity, but if he retires this fall as has been suggested, he will just miss the era of having to look better and smarter than a pile of sawdust. I name no names. Andrew Scheer.

If I may extrapolate, Monsef, Freeland, McKenna and Payette are all tall poppies. It’s a quality that older Canadians tend to dislike — millennials are never this petty — but find truly intolerable in women.

Indeed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the tallest poppy of all. Harper wasn’t, which is odd for a PM. This still maddens Conservative men and women.

When they blow fury about Trudeau’s intellect, charm, feminism and French sense of style, they’re really just Gerry Ritzing. It’s a square dance. No one dances that way any more, Gerry.

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