Shree Paradkar: Why did Patrick Brown evoke his sisters in his defence?
Why do men need their daughters and sisters and wives to serve as moral compasses? Why do they view women as relationally earning the right to protection?
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Another powerful man. Another set of serious allegations.
Forced to resign after being accused by a woman of sexual misconduct when she was 18.
Who? Patrick Brown, you say? No. This was John Brownlee, the Alberta premier who was sued for seduction in 1934. He denied it, of course. The scandal was salacious, filled with lurid details. The woman eventually won the case in court. This is nothing to sneeze at. Yet, in the eyes of some, the question remained — was he really guilty? Or was he victim of a political scheme by the opposition Liberals?
Political scandals around sex are supposed to involve Mata Hari-esque espionage and subterfuge, with important men innocently putting important information at risk in the hands of seductive, manipulative women. That’s the mythologized version.
In reality, political sexual violence, too, can be safely assigned to the garden-variety power trip, sleazebag genre.
It wasn’t so long ago that slut-shaming became the national obsession in the United States when the country’s president, Bill Clinton, was outed as having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Whose career and prestige continued to prosper after the affair, and whose life went into a tailspin of humiliation and depression and trauma and contemplation of suicide? Who ended up being called virile, and about whom did the feminist writer Nancy Friday say, “She can rent out her mouth”?
That was 20 years ago, almost to this day.
Where the needle is moving a tad is in the framework of discussion around the allegations and about the women coming forward, Twitter trolls notwithstanding. On Thursday morning, political leaders from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne commended the women for their bravery.
#IBelieveHer is a morale boost to the countless women who still haven’t come forward. You don’t have to take it.
Allegations around sexual harassment and assault are being talked about, correctly, as having less to do with sex and more to do with power dynamics, both of gender and of workplace.
There is still much that is askew, though.
One of the two women who came forward with her allegations against Brown told CTV she met him on a flight in 2012, when returning from University. Afterwards he texted her, gave her his phone number, suggested meeting in bars. He was an MP, and 34, or in the eyes of an 18-year-old, a man from another era.
“I kinda laughed it off as an older man ... hitting on me,” she told the news organization.
Better to laugh it off and move on than to cry about it and be held back for no fault of your own. We’ve all done this and we’ve all warned women who come after us.
Shady older men hitting on young girls is such a normalized rite of passage that girls are still coming out of school expecting to endure it.
Such entitlement for one gender. Such a long rope given to exercise the right to be male. And such mythmaking excuses for this behaviour. This one, a political conspiracy. That one, an artistic genius. And that, just the done thing in this industry or that era.
Meanwhile, women who take a day off work to deal with their period pain or to look after sick children are dismissed as being demanding, not committed enough to their work.
Women also continue to be seen as relational to men, rather than their own beings.
On Wednesday evening, at a news conference where Brown denied the allegations, he briefly veered off what was in his written statement.
“A safe and respectful society is what we expect and deserve.”
That was in the script. Then:
“No one appreciates that more than I do. I’ve got two younger sisters who are my best friends. I’ve grown up in a family that has taught me good values.”
Sisters. Why did Brown go there? I get it. It’s a tad better than Kevin Spacey’s “I’m coming out of the closet,” defence but — why?
Did Brown think evoking his sisters would humanize him? Underline his capacity to empathize with women because he has sisters?
Does that mean … no sisters, no empathy?
If it’s not sisters, it’s daughters and wives. Soon after the Harvey Weinstein abuse stories came out, there was Matt Damon saying to Deadline, “Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behaviour. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.”
When Donald Trump’s statements about grabbing women by their genitalia were released during the 2016 presidential campaign in the “Access Hollywood” tape, his formal rival Mitt Romney tweeted: “Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”
Why do these men need their daughters and sisters and wives to serve as moral compasses? Why do they view women as relationally earning the right to protection?
How about realizing that these women who came forward are humans, multi-dimensional characters who have feelings and dreams and ambitions and lives that go beyond their relationships with the men and their families? Women with the right, without consequences, to accept and reject who touches their bodies?
It was just a matter of time before the still nascent #MeToo movement, which has ensnared others in this country, would roar in and snap up a big Canadian fish. The scale of outpouring around Brown — apparently anybody who was anybody in political circles has heard rumours forever — suggests this could be Canada’s Weinstein moment.
That then brings us to a moment of reckoning for those around political sexual abusers: Forget your sisters and daughters and wives. Want to do right by all women? Then which one are you: whistleblower or enabler? Choose now.
Shree Paradkar writes about discrimination and identity. You can follow her @shreeparadkar