Thursday, April 12, 2007

What if Belinda Had Been Bob?

I have always been fascinated with how much ire, and spite that mentions of Belinda Stronach occasion. I first became interested in her when she ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party. At the time, I was shocked by how badly she was treated and ridiculed by the media and the general public. Apparently, because she was blonde and good looking, she was also necessarily stupid. After her break up with Peter McKay and her subsequent move to the Liberals, we also found out that she was essentially what boiled down to being a useless prostitute. Excellent. Lovely. Wonderful. And here I thought we were in the 21rst century. My apologies, shall I get out my apron now and get back in my place?

Think what you like about Belinda, but I strongly believe that the way in which she was treated in public life is indicative of a problematic gender bias within politics that is simultaneously disavowed even as it is perpetuated. Whenever I hear people talk badly about Belinda they like to contend that it has nothing to do with her gender... even when they are attacking things that have everything to do with her gender. They then, of course, go on to attack other prominent women in Canadian politics like Kim Campbell, Rona Ambrose and Martha Hall Findley claiming its not 'women' per see that are the problem but just these women. Uh huh. Okay. Keep believing that.

In the recent Chatelaine, Kim Campbell mentions Belinda saying: "She would have had a better ride if she were not a woman." I think that's something very interesting to consider. What if Belinda wasn't a woman? What if Belinda had actually been born 'Bob' and Bob Stronach had suddenly appeared on the scene to run for leadership of the Conservative Party? Would the media or anyone else have been so concerned about calling him a 'Silly Heir'(And can someone please tell me why Heir is not nearly as derogatory as 'Heiress)? Would his experience at being CEO of one of Canada's largest companies have been discredited as Belinda's so often is? Would he have simply been called Daddy's Boy, a silly, stupid creature who has had everything given to him and who has no hope in politics?

Or would people have said that he had 'balls' for running for leadership in 2004? Instead of you know... those icky 'ovary' things that Belinda has... as if anyone possessing those could be gutsy or a good leader! Because having ovaries and, even more offensive, having blonde hair and being attractive means that you're an idiot. Life is, after all, the punchline of a dumb blonde joke.

In my interview with Kim Campbell, what I really appreciated was her comment on how women's successes just don't 'stick' to them in the same way men's do. Of the 18 men that preceded Kim Campbell as Prime Minister, only 8 had more cabinet experience than she did. But that didn't stop people, and the media, from characterizing her as someone who had never done anything before!

So, I want to take this moment to consider exactly what Belinda has done in her career in business and politics, so that maybe the next time someone immediately tries to characterize her as a good for nothing 'woman' (Ewww!), they perhaps think twice and actually look at her accomplishments and whether they think they are good or bad at least take them for what they are. Its time that women's accomplishments start to have staying power!

Belinda Timeline: (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

  • A member of the board of directors of Magna from 1988 until 2004.
  • Became a vice-president of the company in 1995 and executive vice-president in 1999, until her appointment as president and chief executive officer.
  • Has chaired the boards of Decoma International Inc., Tesma International Inc., and Intier Automotive Inc., all in the auto parts sector.
  • Was a founding member of the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council and served on the Ontario Task Force on Productivity, Competitiveness and Economic Progress.
  • Is a director of the Yves Landry Foundation, which furthers technological education and skills training in the manufacturing sector.
  • In February 2001, she was appointed chief executive officer of Magna. While CEO, the company added 3,000 jobs in Canada. Under her leadership Magna had record sales and profits each year.
  • In 2001, the National Post named Stronach as the most powerful businesswoman in Canada; and, in the same year, the World Economic Forum named her a "Global Leader of Tomorrow." Fortune Magazine ranked her #2 in its list of the world's most powerful women in business in 2002.
  • She was also named one of Canada's "Top 40 Under 40." In April 2004, Time Magazine ranked her as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
  • In 2004, she contested the leadership of the newly formed Conservative Party, finishing a strong second to Stephen Harper.
  • In the 2004 federal electionn, she was elected Conservative MP for the riding of Newmarket—Aurora in the Greater Toronto Area.
  • On May 17, 2005, she crossed the floor of the House from the Conservatives to the governing Liberals and entered cabinet as minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and minister responsible for Democratic Renewal.
  • During her time as MP Stronach chaired the Liberal’s Women’s Commission and was instrumental in launching the Liberal’s Pink Book, which contains policy suggestions for issues that affect women.
  • Stronach was targetted for defeat in the 2006 election as part of Conservatives' larger goal of a breakthrough in Ontario, especially in the Toronto suburbs (popularly known as the 905s). However, while the Conservatives won a minority government, Stronach defeated her Conservative challenger, Lois Brown, by an eight-point margin.
  • She was a strong voice for women in politics and for liberal renewal.
  • In 2006 She co-chaired the Millennium Promise Convention in Montreal with Canadian Television personality Rick Mercer. This event was a national campaign to enlist Canadians to help protect children in Africa from the ravages of malaria.