I’m in Ottawa this week as both a teacher and a student, shaking the hands of parliamentarians and politicians of all suit jackets: Speakers of the Senate, democratic denizens, and pedagogical policymakers.
And so far, many of these powerful leaders, are women.
I’m shocked, to be honest. Civics in my classroom experience is branded with the enduring stamp of patriarchy, despite my best efforts to emphasize equal representation. I teach grade 9 social studies from a textbook which mentions a total of two women in the chapter on government. Two women, considered so fleetingly, I can’t actually recall if there may only be one of them—and I certainly can’t remember her name. In true student-fashion (embracing my role as a learner this week) I pass a note to the other teachers within whisper-distance. You know that textbook, the Canadian Issues one? What are the names of the women (woman?) in the government chapter?
No one knows.
Imagine attempting to answer the central question: without hearing from women in government. I suppose I assumed there weren’t women in government.
Yet here I am now, enraptured by the eloquent and direct voices of women who speak openly and authoritatively about citizen vs. state, constitutional law, and the history of the courts in Canada. Absorbing their insight and confidence with locked gazes, I’m like a water-starved sponge at the base of a waterfall. These women articulate with fluid empathy and open-mindedness about matters impacting Indigenous people, the need for provinces to learn about one another, and the ways social media affects government. I am stunned, repeatedly, by their poignancy and passion.
In the breaks between speakers I wander the limestone riverstone walls of Parliament, lined with paintings of former Prime Ministers. All men, except Kim Campbell (and she lasted,what?).
Back in the conference room, another woman takes the mic. Her soft pitch slices through the heavy air of the boy’s club. She stands out with pride, with full knowledge that camouflaging her femininity is itself a subtle complicity. She smiles broadly and offers her audience permission to be intelligent, and influential, and have a vagina. She actually says vagina.
As another presenter notes, “we have to start seeing politicians in a positive light” if we are going to start wanting anything to do with politics. I can feel it bubbling up inside me. That particular kind of wanting. The kind that spills over the edge of provincial exam prep, into authentic engagement with the process of being a people here. A people with voice, and knowledge of process. It’s an unfamiliar wanting, this political brand. Don’t get me wrong, I vote, and I lecture, and I’m here with the Teacher’s Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy. But the place that all comes from is transforming into something more true this week. And it’s because of the women.