Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Questionable Speaker for Women's Day

by Simran Lehal

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Studies Program hosted the first black Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, the Honourable Mayann Francis with her speech on “Strong Women, Strong World.”
Francis, who studied at New York and Cornell universities, has worked for a District Attorney’s office, Dalhousie University, and recently the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. Her drive, she claims, stems from growing up in the poor community of Whitney Pier on Cape Breton Island, where, with a tone strikingly similar to Oprah Winfrey, Francis claims the women of her community “knew how to get things done.”
Other women also knew how to get things done. In 1787, US President John Adams’ wife urged him to include women as equals under the law. Although Adams refused, it represented a start: women’s suffrage was taken up by others, especially after freedom was won by slaves of the south. Slow and steady gradualism predominated as women gained more political power, sometimes by choice, often by chance. Slowly did all women in Canada become eligible to vote.
The decline of male dominance, fought for by strong women, Francis claims, is what provided her the freedom to choose her own career. She admits that she has “made it in politics.” She acknowledges that most other women are still subordinate. Self-titling herself as a “strong woman,” Francis suggests that those unlike her cannot create reform. She argues that those unlike her (those “cautious or careful women”) cannot fight for continued emancipation.
However, this reasoning is flawed. Lt. Governor Francis cannot, under law, comment on politics. As well, the Lt. Governor position is one now frequently handed to minorities or women. The Lt. Governor is a figurehead.
Francis has come far – – but only personally. Not politically. Yes, she has come far from Whitney’s Pier. But, in the grand scheme of women’s liberation, she is but another figurehead, unable to comment on politics like the women of long, long (cough) ago. By taking the Lt. Governor position, she has become “careful and cautious,” a figurehead outside the sphere of continued emancipation. Thus, the title of her speech is flawed: she does not represent “Strong Women. Strong World.”
Thus, gradualism in women’s suffrage still reigns, but this time, the women who think they’ve “made it” are unaware of their own shortcomings.

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