Sexism, stood on its head

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The Article

‘Blonde Bombshell”! “Whore”! “Dipstick”! “Barbie!” The media Belindatron has whirled for days with outrage over sexism against poor Ms. Stronach. Never mind Belinda’s opportunistic betrayal of her party (and her man) at a critical juncture in parliamentary history, cry Liberal critics and feminists. The real crime here is her detractors’ use of—the horror!—gender-specific language in denouncing her perfidy.

Well, bring on the gender-specific stereotypes is what I say. It serves to balance a scale wildly skewed by the preferments Belinda has long enjoyed specifically because of her gender. Reverse sexism—call it gender equity or affirmative action if you like—got her where she is today, so it is poetic justice that she is now being hoisted by that particular petard. These sexist epithets are chickens coming home to roost, payback for Belinda having been beamed up from her Aurora dressage ring to a Cabinet seat in three zero-achievement years.

As Anne Kingston pointed out in a May 18 column, Belinda’s history is a series of male-guided accessions to jobs and titles at the summit of whatever domain suited her current enthusiasm—Daddy’s business, a self-financed designer clothes company, Magna-linked appointments to prestigious committees, and finally federal politics—without having paid her dues in any of them.

Railway magnate heir Averell Harriman’s biographer attributed Harriman’s success to the fact that “his sense of responsibility overwhelmed his sense of entitlement.” In heiress Belinda Stronach, we have the opposite syndrome. Having bypassed the uphill slog and tedium of ordinary political life, Belinda believes she deserves whatever power she wants just for being Belinda.

Belinda’s solipsism was nurtured by her father Frank’s old-fashioned, benign sexism. His is not the intimidating sexism of the patriarch whose need for control requires submissiveness and seclusion of his daughter. Stronach’s is rather the doting paternalism of the powerful father who remains the invisible hand behind everything she says and does. Meanwhile sycophants (most of them paid) indulge her in her illusion that she is functioning independently.

Had Belinda been Frank Stronach’s son, she would have been appropriately groomed for the succession. Instead, she received a symbolic pass of the curry comb. A son would have acquired a degree in engineering or automotive design and an MBA, not a year at business school. His father would have treated him as a peer—a real heir, not a paper one.

How many men would have been made CEO, as Belinda was in 2001 to position her for a political future, without scrutiny of his actual business acumen and past management skills? How many would have submitted to being publicly packaged, like Belinda, as a figurehead, with a father making it clear he was still in command in order to reassure investors that the new title was purely symbolic?

Would any man never before active in politics be taken seriously as a Conservative leadership candidate? Would any man with genuine leadership ambitions have shrunk from public debates? Would any man of mediocre intellect, however wealthy, have been considered a worthy leadership contender with no French, no rhetorical skills, and no history of consequential leadership or meaningful civic service? No, no and no.

Metaphorically, Belinda Stronach wants to scale—no, wants to stand atop—Mount Everest. She’s hired every sherpa in Nepal to get her there, but in her imagination she’s an authentic mountain climber. Or, less metaphorically, because she’s female, blonde and ambitious, and Bill Clinton took her to dinner, in her imagination she’s a Canadian Hillary. As if.

You can see how she’d gravitate to Bill Clinton—he’s an ageing politico, like the other male mentors provided by her father—Bill Davis, Brian Mulroney, David Peterson—and she seems to bring out strong mentoring instincts in graying, still-powerful men. Father figures who protect, reassure and counsel. Stephen Harper, never one to cosset anybody, wasn’t Belinda’s type. The ageing Paul Martin, on the other hand, fits her mentor template to a T.

Only one thing still puzzles me. On the evening of her double-dinner defection, the famous night of the (multiple forks and) short (butter) knives, when she wronged Peter to play Paul, which meal did Belinda actually eat? Perhaps both and, in that way she has, she simply chewed one of them up and spit him—I mean it—out before moving on to the next.

Barbara Kay
Latest posts by Barbara Kay (see all)

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