06 6 / 2013
Published St. John’s Telegram, June 4, 2013
I was not surprised a month ago to see reports of a new study showing rude behaviour is increasing, both online and in person, or as the youngsters say, in real life.
The online survey by Vitasmarts had almost 2,700 responses and found several interesting trends:
· 78 per cent said they believe online incivility is rising
· Two in five users have blocked, unsubscribed, or unfriended someone over an argument carried out in social networks
· 76 per cent say they have witnessed an argument
· 19 per cent have reduced their face to face contacts with a person because of an online interaction
· 88 per cent believe people are less polite when they connect via social media than when they see each other in person
· 81 per cent say they have had difficult conversations online in the past that still remain unresolved today.
I remember clearly in the early days of the internet, when arguments (beautifully described by the term flamewars) on news groups, chat rooms, and listservs were spectacular in their intensity. The swath of destruction and the extent of the wounding were unparalleled.
Back then, one could be a relatively anonymous bystander or participant known only by one’s handle, usually a nickname, one’s surname or a string of letters and numbers meaningful only to the computer that assigned it to you. If you posted inflammatory material known as flamebait, or attacked an individual or group in an act of flaming, you might be considered a troll, and would be treated with polite disdain.
On one hand, the relative anonymity of the internet created a variety of safe spaces where people could talk freely about issues that still faced a high degree of stigma – mental health, sexual abuse, infertility, grief – or brought together peers and experts who collected or supplied information and support on key topics – cancer, elder care, parenting, feminism, social justice, etc. As people developed relationships, they grew to trust one another, and often connections made online moved into real life.
On the other hand, there was an underbelly to this brave new world of relationships where anonymity provided a safe haven for people with ill intent. The New Yorker magazine famously prescient published a much-lauded cartoon, where a dog at a computer says to another dog: “On the internet, no one knows you are a dog.”
The rise of MySpace, followed by the launch of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Ning, and other networks has forced more transparency on some levels and less on others. “One of the great things about Facebook is how much I get to connect and know what’s happening with my friends,” commented a colleague, and in the next breath noted, “one of the bad things about Facebook is how much I get to connect and know what’s happening with my friends.”
In some instances, familiarity does breed contempt, and maybe that is what is lying at the root of the incivility we see. There are also the elements of envy with the onset of Facebragging (or as one friend said, “why is everyone’s children but mine an Einstein in the making?”) and disbelief (“They put what on their LinkedIn resume?”).
Is it really any surprise that there is a tendency for this to influence responses or spill over into real life conversations?
I have written before how the speed of email places unrealistic expectations on possible responses, and I know of people who have received an email, followed by a phone call to their desk, and concluding with a message on the cell phone voice-mail pleading or demanding an answer.
A couple of years ago, I read with disbelief an article on line that recommended dispensing with salutations, or acknowledgements in emails. It’s a waste of time, the author argued, for someone to write back and say thanks. Not long ago, I heard from a colleague who noted that their job application was not acknowledged, and sad to say, this is now standard practice.
If we are quickly devolving into a society where a simple thank you or when an automated response to a submission is simply too much to handle, should we wonder at everyday rudeness when we are face to face? I think it is time we revisited the rules of social intercourse as one quaint Victorian writer phrased it. The Marquis of Queensbury developed the rules for boxing and Emily Post the rules of etiquette; do we dare assume that the 21st century will have rules for engagement á la Zuckerberg?
22 5 / 2013
When I first saw the previews early last year for the Disney Pixar film Brave, I was captivated. When I actually saw it in the theatre last summer, I was enthralled.
When I began to think about it, I realized that Merida was probably only the second or third animated hero I had seen who was female, passionate, and independent. As I have long been a fan of children’s animated films, I have seen quite a few from all the major animation studios.
And Brave was one of many delightful trips to fantasy land that I have enjoyed since seeing Sleeping Beauty one hideously stormy night when I was but a wee girlie myself. Brave’s lead character Merida, though, was substantially different from previous animated heroes, especially those created by Disney.
You may remember Mulan who takes her father’s place in the army and who develops neat strategies to hide her sex and to manage the demands of a soldier’s life in medieval China. Or there was Tiana, the delightful waitress dreaming of being a chef in turn of the (last) century era New Orleans.
Both of these were lovely, non-princessy types, and we thoroughly enjoyed seeing their triumphs. Brave’s Merida pushed the female hero envelope further than any other, and most every mother and child I knew who saw it loved it.
Brave presented realistic familial relationships, interesting conflicts, familiar challenges and a new twist on the rescue trope; in fact, there was a lot about Brave that neatly book-ended an earlier film How to Train Your Dragon.
For many of us, these new approaches to old themes signaled that things were changing.
Until a couple of weeks ago. Some friends shared a link to a change.org petition. Add your name to the list, they asked me, because we need Disney to change Merida back. Back to what, I wondered?
So I went looking and was horrified to discover that in launching its newest addition to its Princess line, they had updated Merida. The new Merida was older: her wild mane of curly red hair had been conditioned to flowing tresses, she wore a fancier dress and was noticeably slimmer, and her face was made up to look older complete with sidelong flirty glance.
Many critics zeroed in on the sexualized nature of the makeover, and rightly so. The new Merida had more to do with Disney Princesses of long ago versus the stunning and inspiring energy of the fiercely independent and self reliant Merida we connected with in the film
As the campaign gained traction, girls, young women, and older women spoke out. My favourite line came from Jessica Banks in a CBC story about the issue: “There’s no need to sexualize a strong, young, active role model. Instead of making Merida fit the princess model, maybe Disney should change the princess model to fit girls like Merida.”
Towards the end of last week, fans of the original Merida were delighted to learn that Disney was beginning to feel the heat. Indeed, it quietly removed the glammed up version from its Princess website.
The reality is that Disney had failed hugely to recognize what the author of Brave, Brenda Chapman, had created in Merida: a new model of princess, and in fact, a new image of girlhood, one that resonated deeply with females of all ages.
In critiquing Disney’s decision, Chapman said: “Merida was created to break that mold — to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model, something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance.”
What we need to remember is that in rewriting the script women had been schooled in – you will be rescued by a prince, fall in love, and live happily ever after — Chapman had offered a new ending to an old story.
You can read more about the petition here:
07 5 / 2013
I am not a numbers person. I often joke that I will get that T-shirt that says, “English major - You do the math.”
Words enchant me. When I have time, I like poring through dictionaries, looking at the roots of words we hold dear.
Others may dream about tectonic plates, but I ponder the implications for the English language had the Great Vowel Shift not begun in the late Middle Ages.
That said, I have tremendous respect for numbers. I like the symmetry of a balance sheet, where everything adds up vertically and horizontally, and if it doesn’t, scouring the receipts and bank books, until that blasted penny gets put back firmly in its place.
As a policy analyst often working in health and social welfare, I have found statistics to be my frenemy, that cross between a friend and enemy. All those little data points coalescing to form patterns and trends intrigue me, even though I fear my grasp on their coattails is tenuous at best.
Which is why the federal government’s continuing attack on science, evidence, data, and statistics causes me grave concern. Wednesday will see the first release of data from the Canada census in which the long form was considered optional, and already people across the country are worried.
Good data are hard to find. Good data that give insight into specific populations that make up the Canadian mosaic are even harder. Though StatsCanada scientists have been working hard to address non-response bias, the real harm will come in 2015.
But the issue with census data is only the beginning. We have lost incredibly important data with the federal government’s decision to shut down the long gun registry and to destroy the database. I am willing to bet that most people just thought the registry was closing its doors, but in fact the data, except for Quebec which is suing to keep its records, are gone.
Then there is the raft of environmental and economic research that has been buried with the end of the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy. The people behind the studies asked for the data and reports to remain available on a public website, but the federal government, specifically in the shape of former journalist Peter Kent, said no.
Or how about the scientists who cannot speak to their work, and those of the future who will not be able to find international partners given the hyper-restrictive nature of the contracts Canada is imposing on foreign scientists seeking to work with Canadian experts?
Just this past weekend, I read about the full-bore panic attack National Research Council staff experienced when faced with a request for information about a study on snowfall. It took them a day and more than 50 emails to decide they couldn’t respond. Curiously, the reporter was able to get the same information in 15 minutes after placing a call to NASA, the U.S. partner in the study.
So far, federally supported or legislatively required initiatives addressing child care, social equality, public health, aboriginal needs, human rights, environment, justice, census data, access to information, social security, labour have been dumped, diminished, or decommissioned.
We should look carefully these next two years to see what’s next. While there are promises from other parties to reverse decisions, we may not be able to invest in the rebuilding, or in some cases, to support the complete construction from the ground up of new initiatives.
23 4 / 2013
Published in the St. John’s Telegram April 23, 2013
When I was a little girl, my parents taught me the value of savings. As I grew older, they and others also showed me the value of investing in friendships and fostering professional relationships.
In fact, long before there ever was a Facebook or Twitter, the value of maintaining your social network and growing your social capital was hugely apparent. Any school child then, and even more so any one today can tell you that the circles of influence continue to grow and evolve depending on internal and external values and interests.
Have a conversation with anyone you have just met, and it invariably begins with figuring out who your people are, where you came from, and whose aunt is best friends with your cousin’s husband’s grandmother.
The fact is, while Kevin Bacon may have made six degrees of separation a popular parlour game stateside, it is a way of life here in this province. Some might even argue that we have established it as an art form.
But it isn’t just who you know and how well connected you are to them. It is what you know about them that defines their value either to you, your connections, or your community. It is your reputation (or theirs) that will strengthen or weaken your position in your social network.
Back in the day, when the world was a lot smaller than it is now, your connections could vouch for you. And yes, that is still true today. Yet word of mouth can only go so far in promoting your bona fides, as it is your performance that will confirm, maintain, and increase your standing in the broader community.
I make a habit of collecting apologies that are publicized in the wake of missteps, breaches, and downright bad behaviour. I also look to see who survives and how or why such outcomes differ
Those who apologize unreservedly, without qualification, and with sincerity do better than those who do not. Those who recognize they did wrong, and take steps to ensure they can minimize negative effects now or prevent them in the future do better than those who do not.
But most importantly, those who have a proven track record, a sterling reputation if you will, are more likely to survive because people will afford them a pass, so long as they met the first two criteria and they don’t do it again.
Which is why I am astounded by last week’s revelations as raised in the House and the subsequent firestorm that resulted.
The fact is, conflating the two issues — violence and guilt — was ill-advised. And like other commentators, I will affirm that violence can never be condoned.
However, I am still trying to imagine what was supposed to be the result of suggesting that MHA Gerry Rogers was supporting a violent attack on the premier by being a member of a group that she had not chosen to join.
The government and its leadership were already in a weak position as a result of the budget they had just delivered. That they had flipped on their decision regarding the positions in justice further weakened them. If they had hopes of improving their position, they were far off the mark.
The sad thing is had the government raised the issues separately, and made use of the opportunity as a series of teachable moments as opposed to trying to score an easy point, they would have achieved more and gone even further towards rebuilding the confidence of the people.
As others have argued since the story broke, had they done their own research and carried out the due diligence required with respect to the standards they imposed on the whole of the House for Internet activity, the government leaders would not now be possession of a well run dry of community and political goodwill, here and across the country.
Instead they have added immeasurable value to Rogers’s own social assets and social capital at the expense of their own.
Updated April 24, 2013:
On April 23, 2013, the Speaker apologized to MHA Gerry Rogers for ejection from the House:
Original story about the controversy here:
CBCNL’s Investigative piece on Conservative Government members’ social media activity:
14 4 / 2013
Published Tuesday April 9, 2013
We see them so often now that they never seem unusual, or striking. “Help wanted,” a sign will typically say, sometimes with a lure of flexible hours or good pay or that pot of gold in the service economy, benefits.
I remember chuckling when I saw a sign that had a spelling mistake. That chuckle gave way later to a more sobering thought: that may have been just a typo (we’ve all made them), or it could be a symptom of a larger problem in that workplace. Or, to be frank, a symbol of a very real and undeniably tough-to-crack problem in the entire workforce.
I’ve come to know a good number of employers, managers and supervisors over the years, and there’s a common refrain I hear: we have a persistent problem with literacy in the workforce, and it goes well beyond one spelling mistake on a sign.
Trying to find good employees has always been a challenge, except that the tables have turned. Years ago, I’m told, employers had to spend time going through a wide variety of applications, especially for entry-level jobs. The problem: a long list of qualified candidates.
Nowadays, things are different. Employers have to look farther and wider to have a list of qualified candidates, and a “get” - to use a phrase - is increasingly rare. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of applications, and I guess that’s because electronic services make it very easy for jobseekers to apply for a job - any job - with just the click of a button. Those applications nonetheless still need to be read over.
“It’s heartbreaking,” one told me, reflecting on some of the cover letters (if that’s the right word) that have come. The sadder thing, he reflected, was that these were from people who were probably at the fore of the job-seekers.
Talking candidly about literacy can be a really touchy subject. I’m well aware of this in my own right, and not just because of the resumes I’ve perused over the years. Much of my career has included work as a professional writer and editor, and literacy issues resonate with me. And yes, that means dealing with some sticky situations where the quality of writing has been, well, poor.
Here’s the problem, and we all know it: we still have a massive problem with literacy in this province, and until we solve, the goals of a better society, of a higher standard of living and a more empowered workforce remain past the horizon.
I think that’s why I was so disappointed to see that the latest provincial budget decided to push Adult Basic Education (ABE) out of the provincial college system. I’m not necessarily opposed to private schools running ABE programming, but the fact the government sees no role for it at the College of the North Atlantic is quite troubling. It’s as if the government has instantly devalued the worth of the program, and what it represents for thousands of people.
Our job market is fractured. We’ve never had so many people in our workforce, even in service economy jobs, but our unemployment rate (12.3 per cent, in the latest release from Statistics Canada) remains stubbornly one of the highest in the country.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that many of the people in that statistic are pretty much unemployable. What’s remarkable is that so many make the move - and often it’s one of courage - to enroll in a CBE program.
The government points to a low completion rate, of 31 per cent, as a reason why ABE is not working within in the public system. To me, that indicates a number of problems, but ones that need to be addressed rather than tossing the thing out.
By saying that ABE does not belong in the public system, we are effectively saying that adult literacy is not a public priority.
We’ve turned a corner or two in our economy, but something has been missing. So many people have not been able to take advantage of what others have enjoyed, and the brick wall that’s in their way is the inability.
I have such a profound sadness to think that the brick wall will soon be even taller than it already is.
— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant. E-mail: email@example.com
26 3 / 2013
Published St. John’s Telegram, March 26, 2013
If ever I were to be abandoned on a deserted island, I would require a dictionary as one of my literary companions. It is a most useful tool. It helps you understand the meanings of words, it explains their history or origins, it shows their different uses, it presents their proper spellings and variants, and it offers pronunciation guides.
Sadly, it cannot change policy. If all it took was to show people a definition, many things would be different today. Take the word accessibility. According to my online dictionary, accessibility is derived from access and accessible. If something is accessible, then it is easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use. Accessible also means something that can be used, entered, reached, etc.: an accessible road; accessible ruins.
If we apply a disability perspective, then accessibility means those characteristics of facilities, programs, and services that allow them to be entered or used by individuals despite visual, hearing, mobility, or other impairments.
Over the years, I have had occasion to travel not just around our province and elsewhere in Canada, but also in the U.S and Europe. Sometimes I think we use a different definition of accessibility here than they do on the mainland.
Where else could you find a hotel describing itself as accessible when it has wheel chair accessible rooms from the ground floor, but has no elevator and the dining room is down a flight of stairs? Or meetings rooms down two flights of stairs?
I wish I could say this was an anomaly but sadly, it’s not. Even if such places weren’t patronized by people using wheelchairs for mobility, there are still quite a few people who use canes or crutches to help them. Thus it shocked me recently to encounter on a more than occasional basis instances of stairs that had unusually high risers or narrower than usual treads.
I have also begun to wonder if change rooms and bathrooms stalls are designed only for those smaller than a size 12. There certainly isn’t any room to maneouvre if you are a person larger than a size 20 or even if you fall into the average range of size 12 to 16 and have to manage children, canes, packages and other accoutrements of daily living.
I have also concluded that most designers of new bathroom stalls have no idea how to centre toilets or place hooks and paper holders for ease of reach. One must assume contortionist positions to access either regardless of ability and size.
Clearly we have a long way to go before we even reach a minimum standard for universal accessibility. Years ago I remember discussing this with a colleague who reminded me that our built heritage meant many buildings were built with a different view of the world. That may be, but I have seen many old buildings that were built with a more accessible worldview and others that have adapted and integrated accessible options to ensure all who want to can pass through their doors.
One place that has understood the value of universal design is Disney. Now I have a lot of issues with Disney, especially with respect to their representation of strong female characters in their films, but when it comes to their parks, Disney has understood very well the diverse needs of their audience. In sum, they have built to meet the needs of all, not just a few.
Where possible, Disney has integrated accessibility as a foundation principle. If older attractions cannot be adapted for mobility, vision, and hearing, the company offers alternatives. There are wide walkways suitable for strollers, wheelchairs, scooters and walkers. It uses low angled ramps to reduce stress and fatigue. There are elevators, wide doorways and ample stalls to fit. In most cases, the only back doors you go through are for emergency purposes, or to allow those who wimp out on rides (like me!) to meet their families at the exit in short order.
We really need to start thinking differently about access. Summer is coming and with it, tourists. But we need to think more broadly than just meeting the needs of those who come to see the province presented in those beautifully evocative advertisements. If we don’t start implementing a comprehensive and truly accessible approach to our infrastructure at all levels, the last cohort of baby boomers and the generations that come after it will not be seeking greener pastures, just more accessible ones.
14 3 / 2013
Published March 12, 2013
Last week saw a greater concentration of articles, features, and commentary on the status of women. This was hardly surprising as International Women’s Day fell on Friday and the timing of it fit in nicely with programming.
What was gratifying was the global approach to the coverage, and in fact, this year, quite a bit of the material crossing my various news feeds focused on the needs and issues affecting young women and girls around the world.
A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to listen to Sheryl WuDunn, a tremendous speaker and former New York Times journalist who founded the Half the Sky Foundation to advocate for girls and young women. In her presentation, WuDunn noted that the 19th century focused on the abolition of slavery and the 20th century on terrorism. Her goal for the 21st century was to address the status of women, and in particular, ensure education was available to any girl on the planet.
I was reminded of WuDunn’s work, for which she has won multiple awards, including a joint Pulitzer prize with her husband the journalist Nicholas Kristof, when the latest report from Canada’s Girls Action Foundation arrived in my inbox.
Beyond Appearances: Brief on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada is a comprehensive report that brings together a number of facts, statistics, and research examining life for girls in this country. Interestingly, while the report highlights gains in education and reproductive health, it also notes there are some serious challenges that paint a less rosy picture than we would imagine in a country like ours.
Sadly violence is an issue that continues to cut across all age groups. For girls though, the violence they experience in early life can derail them from succeeding and taking advantage of the gains made in the last 25 years. For example, while girls are doing better in school and pursuing post secondary studies in increasingly greater numbers, many succeed in spite of coping with school based violence such as harassment and bullying as well as managing greater declines in mental health. It makes me wonder how much more brilliance we would see if these barriers were not present.
One of things we need to focus on, and which this report highlights in great detail, is how unequal different groups of girls are in comparison to the dominant white middle class culture we live in. Girls who are Aboriginal or immigrants face greater challenges than white girls, due to their experiences of inter-generational violence, racism, and cross cultural conflicts.
Yet, there is room for optimism. Despite the challenges they face, Aboriginal and immigrant girls demonstrate resilience, strength and determination, and generally speaking, Canadian girls, on the whole, are smoking fewer cigarettes and getting pregnant less frequently, both which have a tremendous impact on overall health and well-being.
The future success of young women doesn’t happen in isolation nor overnight. The report identifies a number of factors that will help all girls succeed such as more social supports, stronger connections with their communities and cultures, and more opportunities for leadership and community involvement.
Two things leapt out at me in the list of actions we can support for improvement in the status of young women: meaningful participation and involvement in planning and policy affecting their lives and the availability of girl specific empowerment programs.
None of this is rocket science or even overly complicated and difficult to address. What is needed is a commitment to a group of individuals who have the potential to make a difference now and in the future. Given the challenges girls face globally, we would do well to start addressing their needs and issues here at home.
— Social Notes is published every second Tuesday in the St. John’s Telegram. You can find more information about the Girls Action Foundation here: http://girlsactionfoundation.ca/
14 3 / 2013
Published Tuesday February 26, 2013
Many of us still have a Wade figurine or two kicking around our houses from the Red Rose Tea company. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, collecting the little ceramic figures – animals, nursery rhyme characters, fish and so on – was hugely popular.
Some of my friends had huge collections of these figures stored in little velvet Crown Royal bags. The more tea your mom and dad drank, the more figures you collected and could trade.
I can’t remember when Red Rose switched to trading cards but they issued a whole bunch of them, and today specialists in ephemera – the flotsam and jetsam of daily life, as a librarian friend used to joke – do a brisk business with them on auction sites.
The two series I remember most clearly featured trees and birds of North America, mostly because they appeared most often in our boxes of tea, and mostly because they bored me.
However, back in 1970, Red Rose also issued a trading card series focusing on the Space Age. Spurred on, no doubt, by the world’s fascination with all things rocket like and fueled by the competition between the United States and the then-U.S.S.R., the cards looked at various space objects, natural and manufactured.
Whether they described satellites or comets, they were infinitely more interesting than trees or birds. As a child, almost reaching the magic age of double digits, I found that the space cards offered a tantalizing glimpse of the future, and one that seemed very far off.
The one on comets in particular intrigued me with its description of Halley’s Comet, and its three-quarter century intervals: last seen in 1910, then due to arrive in 1986, and then not seen again until 2061.
Perhaps Red Rose Tea thought they were capitalizing on a popular theme of the late ‘60s with its space age series, but it left me a little star struck.
I’ve thought about the effect of a little rectangle of cardboard on a generation of school kids and I wonder if today’s children will be inspired in the same way about space as we were back in the nascent days of moon landings and satellite launches.
I hope so. I think about the fact that friends on Facebook shared the news that the International Space Station would be seen on its night sky trajectory over the Avalon on the weekend. I see people sharing and talking about the pictures of Earth that Col. Chris Hadfield is posting on his Twitter and Facebook feeds, and while I haven’t checked lately, I imagine that the number of views and shares of Hadfield’s YouTube video of his song collaboration with the Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson is moving quickly into its own stratospheric orbit of virality.
The key difference between then and now is the level of engagement. While my friends and I shared and traded between ourselves, today’s kids, and more than a few adults, get to interact directly with the scientists and astronauts on the ISS.
They can ask questions, pose problems, and share jokes. They can see more on-line than we ever did with our Woolworth telescopes, and they will indeed, go further and more boldly than any person has gone before.
— Social Notes is published every second Tuesday in the St. John’s Telegram.
12 2 / 2013
Published Tuesday February 12, 2013 St. John’s Telegram
It was a dark and stormy night.
No, really, it was.
The storm Saturday that moved across the country and walloped the Eastern seaboard started promptly at noon in town as scheduled, and grew rapidly, thus confirming the decision of many to cancel a myriad of events, ranging from concerts to fundraisers, including one I had been working on since the New Year.
But not before I had already made a giant cherry cake, one of the many items on our extensive raffle list. It was a thing of beauty: a gorgeous, cherry filled, almond scented, butter-rich pound cake just waiting for its whipped frosting dress to highlight its many attributes.
The winds may have howled outside, but in my kitchen, the fragrant steam from the cooling cake wafted gently about, taunting us in the face of our disappointment that our hard work had to be deferred.
Freeze it, said my practical husband, until we know the new date.
Eat it, said my child, until he learned it was cherry cake.
But I couldn’t freeze it. At least, not for raffle purposes. Previous raffle winners like being able to freeze the cake themselves, I argued. Besides I could always make another.
At the same time, I couldn’t really face the prospect of eating my way through five pounds of cherry cake, yummy as it is. Even at Christmas, I divide the recipe into three loaves so I can give it away.
What to do? What to do? I pondered my dilemma on Facebook, and despite the post holiday period of caloric denial, or perhaps because of Lent’s swiftly approaching arrival, I received an overwhelming response.
Give it to us, said the friendly masses. We’ll eat it.
So I did.
While the snow fell, I carved up the cake into eight-ounce and 12-ounce portions. Of course, I did keep a little chunk for myself so I could sample the final product, to ensure quality control, of course.
When the snow turned to rain, I wrapped and labeled cake, and then plotted out my route for the next day. And unlike delivering surplus zucchini, I did not have to go out in the dead of night to deliver my goodie packages.
Because, really, finding some delicious sweetness in your mailbox is always a welcome surprise, and as everyone knows, life is always better with a little cake.
At least, I think that’s what my friends meant. I couldn’t tell for sure because they were too busy eating cake.
— You can find the recipe for the cake at my other blog, Salty, Sticky, Sweet and Crunchy: http://marthacooks.tumblr.com/post/33979530830/cherry-pound-cake
29 1 / 2013
Published Tuesday January 29, 2013 St. John’s Telegram
Saturday past marked a historic moment with the election of Kathleen Wynne as leader of the Ontario Liberals and assumed the position of premier of that province.
I call it historic given that women make up 52 per cent of the population, and now with Wynne’s victory, 50 per cent of the premiers in Canada are women.
The fact that they may or may not share my beliefs is immaterial. The same could be said of the men who are or have been premiers. Right now, I am just happy that on the political stage, the gender balance is shifting.
Let me be clear: just because women are in power doesn’t necessarily mean a feminist or social justice viewpoint prevails. However, there is a definite shift in what gets put on the agenda simply because there are more women at the table.
Some of these changes are quite subtle. I remember speaking years ago to a woman who was one of the first female engineers to work on a Norwegian oil rig. She told me it was reported that sales of deodorant soared 300 per cent in the first few week that women were on the rigs. Other studies showed that anecdotally at least, there were also fewer swear words.
Other changes are much more obvious. When I think back to the first early days of the Progressive Conservative government with Premier Williams, there were a significant number of women who departed from the government ranks, including board appointments. In the last year, based on the notices coming from the government’s news service, the appointments of women in leadership positions has increased quite a bit.
Now I have to say that as a policy analyst focused on social issues, I tend to disagree with most political standpoints, including some feminist ideologies. Though I identify as a feminist, you can’t assume with me that I subscribe to all feminist opinions automatically, although it is fair to say, I like quite a number of them.
Nor do I see any political ideology as inherently bad or good depending on the perspective they take. My focus is on the application of that political philosophy and its influence on the development and implementation of policy. The harm, regardless of the sex of the policy developer or even the leader, comes from ignoring evidence in making decisions.
So you can say I am happy that the picture is changing at both levels, especially in policy development. And if there are more women able to influence policy development on the inside, as well as the outside, I think, like the other Martha, that is a good thing.
Quite a while ago, I read an observation on how image can change perspective. A little boy was talking to his parents about what he wanted to be when he grew up and his father suggested he might like to be prime minister. “Don’t be silly,” he replied. “Only girls can do that.”
Now there was a lot I disagreed with about Margaret Thatcher’s politics, and still do; however, the fact that she, along with Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi were among the first women to be prime ministers did change the portraits that had been painted of leadership and led many people to rethink the equation that leaders meant men only.
I still believe very much in the principle that if we build it, they will come. I’m not that old that I don’t remember how classmates and teachers told me not to be so foolish about my plan to go to university and be a doctor. That I changed my career path to journalism, research, and communications is besides the point.
What matters was that in almost four decades, we have significant numbers of women going to schools, working in fields where there used to be none, and many, many more of them have a socially conscious attitude that is quite different from ones we grew up with. If you need a recent example, consider the roots of the Idle No More movement, which is fueled by the tremendous numbers of young Aboriginal women coming into, and graduating from, post secondary education.
Is it perfect? No. Do we need more change? Absolutely. What I do know for sure is that the next few years are going to be very interesting.