Widespread backlash to sexist tweet revives a cynic's hope

© London Free Press 2018

Less than a week left in the provincial election campaign and by all accounts, it looks like a tight race. Some people desperately want change, others are toeing the party line, but a large majority of my acquaintances and colleagues are undecided.

I’ve seen Londoners posting on social forums that they’re fed up with listening to candidates who talk incessantly about what the other parties have done, or could do, to “wrong” the province, but not offering a crumb of original thought on what they can deliver. It’s a pretty transparent game of scapegoat and it’s nauseating.

But I still hold out hope that the winds of change will bring in some honesty and decency.

Then, this week, something incredible happened, giving a glimmer of hope that we could be on the cusp of political reform.

The Liberal candidate for London North Centre, Kate Graham, was the victim of a sexist tweet on Twitter. It referred to a female body part with such a derogatory word that many people described it as “disgusting.” I can’t understand how someone can think it’s a good idea to hurl insults around on a public platform in the first place, but it made me shudder, too.

Graham called the insult out, sharing the comment by saying “In case anyone was wondering if #sexism is still alive and well, well here you go. This is what women candidates in 2018 experience. Absolutely repulsive.” She quoted the comment, made by Paul Pesach Gray, who has worked for local Progressive Conservative candidates in the past.

The reaction was swift. Many said they reported and blocked the man. Others offered apologies that this female candidate had to put up with that kind of abuse.

But what impressed me the most, and gave me hope for the future, is the way each of the other candidates in the riding stood up for Graham.

PC candidate Susan Truppe was one of the first to jump to Graham’s defence, and one by one the other candidates — the NDP’s Terrence Kernahan and the Green party’s Carol Dyck — stepped up, all rebuking the personal attack. Candidates of all stripes in other ridings also offered support and reinforced that London is not a place where this kind of abuse is acceptable.

This isn’t the first time a female candidate has been the victim of online derogatory comments and it may not be the last, but calling people out publicly can perhaps take the shroud off of an ongoing struggle for all.

The comment also shows one of the main reasons why women don’t put themselves on the ballot. It takes guts and grit to withstand that kind of abuse. Make no mistake, these kinds of attacks are personal. When you reduce someone to their gender, you make it utterly personal.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think we’re all going to play nice in the sandbox and this is just the beginning of a beautiful awakening in Canadian politics. Sadly, there are many that love the fight and enjoy and look forward to the name-calling and the attack ads. Heck, people make a living out of it!

But as someone who has been on the receiving end of my share of sexist, derogatory and insulting comments, online, on the phone and in person, I was impressed by the decency of others. I see a shift happening and it’s long overdue.

Can we choke the life out of sexism? I’d like to think that’s possible, but I think we know we still have a lot of work to do, not only on sexism, but also in other realms, like race, sexual orientation, and physical or mental ability.

But I’m hopeful, and I will remain so, because we live in a country, province and city where everyone gets a chance to change things.

Demonstrations of empathy and support like the one this week chip away at even my cynicism, and make me believe in a better future for everyone.

Thank you London, for showing me again and again, that this is a supportive, decent and progressive community.

Voting day is June 7. Be there.

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© 2019 Shauna M Rae