You Can Keep Your Gendered Lenses – #elbowgate needs a clear-eyed review

I am not a political or social scientist. I have no formal education in feminist theory, or the history of gender and race disparities in western society. But I do have common sense.

Ottawa and company is still in a lather about an incident that occurred in the House of Commons on May 18, 2016. In summary, the PM took it upon himself to leave his seat, bust up a group of NDP turkeys who were in the midst of a stall tactic to hold up parliament, firmly steer a conservative whip to his seat, and accidentally/less-than-accidentally elbow a female NDP MP in the process.

There are theories as to why this stall tactic occurred in the first place. The passing of Bill C-14 is deadlined for June 6 and the opposition feels the Liberals, through certain motions, have turned over too much power to the ministers – who could call a vote at really anytime. According to the opposition, this limits debate. To you and me this means less shenanigans and foot-dragging antics like what we just saw – and I suspect the Liberals are taking a leaf out of the Harper government’s book for this reason. Less squabbling, more business, and a majority government that can actually do their job. Hence why the house is a little butthurt and the razor sharp tensions that morning. 

Keyboards were flying as the internet hashed #elbowgate to pieces. Reactions varied from sensational, to irritated, to laugh-out-loud funny, politically charged, thoughtful, hostile, to just plain weird. Nothing unexpected from the word vomit that is the comment section of every clickbait and news story that gets passed around social media.

And I certainly have my own thoughts. What do I care if a bunch of narcissistic politicians can’t get along on a hill 2500 km away from me?

I don’t care much for the players in this drama – but I am invested in the social commentary that runs through it. I am a woman, a voter, I have worked as a palliative care nurse, and I am paying for these goons to get something accomplished at the end of the day, namely, a bill that would outline more rights for terminally ill people. Perhaps in fleshing out C-14, the need for more government support in the areas for palliative, hospice, and home care would be realized. Now because of said immature shenanigans, all of this got totally off track and delayed.

One opinion that I was surprised received so much consensus was the view that Ruth Ellen Brosseau was certainly making a huge deal of getting elbowed -and in doing so – took the validation that feminists and advocates for victims of assault have worked so hard for, down a major peg.

Ruth Ellen has every right to be pissed off, but I wonder if some of her anger is misdirected. Her party pressured her into physically intimidating a colleague. Someone called this out and felt moved enough to physically intervene. She got elbowed and shoved, as far as we can guess, with about as much force as a typical passenger gets on a city tram going to work. Emotions are high, and she seriously can’t believe the PM’s elbow just knocked her breast; the camera is rolling, so she decides to head to the lobby. She’s embarrassed and probably by now realizing none of this would have happened if she just hadn’t been a part of the gang blocking Gord Brown – so she’s feeling a little set up by her party. Everyone including her own family has seen the footage and is making their own judgements of her. And when she goes for her last card – victim of gender-violence – nobody buys it. She feels like a victim, and she is, but certainly not of gender violence. At least she wasn’t – until the angry masses reached her Twitter account and unleashed an unprecedented amount of malice and shaming. 

Nonetheless, the internet seems to be overly preoccupied by the issue of how hard Ruth Ellen actually got hit, and if that correlated with the reaction that followed, both Ruth’s and that of the House.

I’m not here to debate whether Ruth Ellen was grazed or jabbed by the well-selfied elbow of the PM.  We can only guess, since someone’s body happens to be standing between the incident in question and the video capture. We can replay the tape as many times as we want, like reviewing a misdemeanor in a soccer game, but we still won’t know what really happened.

Concerning the video footage in particular, I have to admit I watched a slowed-down version first – posted by YouTube user Jaro Giesbrecht. After seeing this, my reaction was more like, “Ppppphhhtttt. There’s no harassment here. A bunch of politicians were impeding progress on a huge bill, and the PM wasn’t above getting up to help the whip get through them….”

But then I watched the original footage in real-time. And I changed my mind.

Because the video in slow-motion has a curious effect – it highlights to the viewer the amount of harassment NDP members are giving the whip, by slowing down the blatant side-stepping and blocking behaviour. The YouTube poster also provides a play-by-play so we can catch every smirk. But the video does one more thing – it minimizes the aggression shown by the PM.

Because Justin arrives on the scene hot – a little too hot. He is not nearly caffeinated enough for this bullshit, and could seriously use a Belvita because he is not about to make a ‘morning win’. He books it fast and angry into the centre of the brouhaha and removes the whip like a drunk blocking the door to the club. And just like at the club, someone is standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in tears. Now the other patrons are all amped up and want a fight. Chests are puffing. A few peacekeepers move in and out of the drama, asking “can’t we just get along?”

And then there’s Elizabeth May like….

 … who just happens to be the only non-partisan member of the House that day who could comment sensibly on what happened. Someone should motion to call it Elizabeth May Day. 

The whole thing is ridiculous. To be clear, workplace violence is not funny. But human behaviour in its predictability is hilarious.

Enter the now-infamous comment made by Niki Ashton that made women all over the country do a facepalm.

“…if we apply a gendered lens, it is very important that young women in this space feel safe to come here and work here,” she said.

First off, MP Niki Ashton is absolutely correct in that people should be free and feel safe from harassment while at work. Period.

Secondly, nobody should be applying a gendered lens, or in other words a bias, to anything here, so just stop. A gendered lens does not give you super powers for spotting misogyny, or enhancing your spidy senses for sexism.

Focusing more on the fact that a young, pretty, white woman standing behind someone’s back got elbowed, and not how conservative whip Gordon Brown didn’t just get totally steered to his seat by the arm like a three year-old, despite telling the PM (in his words) “Let go of me – now”, is doing nothing to further a discussion on gender equality or how to make the workplace free of harassment.

Because what if whip Gordon Brown was Gloria Brown and Ruth Ellen Brosseau was Ricky Allan Brosseau – their personal reactions being the same, but their genders different. It’s the gold standard exercise for spotting unfair gender issues, but everyone seems to be forgetting this.

I have a feeling Ricky Brosseau, as a dude, would be absolutely mocked and hung out to dry for not being a little tougher after an accidental elbow. Furthermore, the public would be beyond horrified that the PM just intentionally grabbed a woman by the arm and steered her. Faces would be melting. Actually, I’m pretty sure that would be JT’s last day as Prime Minister. It’s worth mentioning here that feminists’ main objective is to reduce toxic attitudes that pigeon-hole people in expected gender norms, and to achieve fairness for everyone. And there is certainly unfairness here. 

So to close, a gendered lens is already applied to this whole issue. We don’t need any more.

Here is a a gem from the comment section I particularly enjoyed.