I follow many different types of people on social media. About 20% of those I follow are people I actually know; friends, family, acquaintances. The next 20% would be work-related contacts from when I was a professional educator; other teachers, Union representatives, parents and so on. Of the next 30%, there is a healthy mix of people whose lives I simply find interesting, such as athletes, musicians, artists, writers, historians, etc. Approximately 10% are people who followed me first and then, upon checking out their profiles and finding them to be nice people, I gave them a follow back. The final 20% of the people I follow are politicians from Canada and around the world, as well as, leaders of organizations that affect our daily lives.
Catherine McKenna is a Canadian politician. She is the Minister of the Environment for the Liberal Government, serving under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I follow Mrs. McKenna because I have an interest in environmental issues. These are crucial times in our world when it comes to things like global warming, climate change, the burning of the Amazon Rainforest and so on. Many scientists, who know much more about these things than I do, say that the planet is at a tipping point when it come to being able to sustain itself. So, needless to say, Mrs. McKenna and the work she and her team do, is of interest to me so, I follow her on Twitter.
Now, I am not writing this post to pump Mrs. McKenna’s tires. She is a politician to me, not a family member or friend. Sometimes she makes announcements or tweets about things I agree with. When she does that, I click the heart icon or the LIKE button. On occasion, I have made a motherhood-calibre comment on things I agree with, too. Something like, “Green energy is important. I am happy to see Canada moving in that direction. Well done.” Although my politics lean to the left, I have not completely consumed the Kool-aid being served. Sometimes, I disagree with her posts, such as when the government invested so much money on pipelines in Alberta. When I do disagree with a social media post of hers, I usually just say nothing. Just like the old saw of “If you have nothing good to say then, better to say nothing at all.”
Recently, Mrs. McKenna made news for reasons that had nothing to do with the environment. Last week, after being verbally harassed in downtown Ottawa when out with her children, Mrs. McKenna formally requested…and was given….a personal security detail. On the eve of a national election, cynics were quick to say that Mrs. McKenna was playing the sympathy card and that the nature of her attention is nothing more than any ordinary public figure receives and, as well, because she is a public figure, she should expect attention both, pro and con.
Well, as someone who has followed Mrs. McKenna for several years now, I can attest to her claims of needing protection. Whenever Mrs. McKenna posts on social media, regardless of the topic, she is inundated with scores of hateful, vitriolic comments in reply. I have seen her called every profane name imaginable. I have read multiple comments wishing her harm or illness or, even, death. I have heard her integrity questioned, her honesty impugned and her intelligence doubted. For an American comparable, think of what Hillary Clinton went through during that election and what New Green Deal advocate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deals with on a daily basis now. I encourage anyone reading this who thinks I am simply playing politics to check out Mrs. McKenna on Twitter, especially. Read any post at all and the comments that go with it. The bile sent her way is not in the form of intelligent debate. It is just hatred, pure hatred, one keyboard stroke at a time.
On occasion, I check out her comments. A lot of those who post are, without question, programmable troll bots. For those not familiar with trolls and bots, a troll is someone who harasses someone else by constantly criticizing what they post, filling their comment boxes with negativity and so on. A bot is an automated, fake account that is programmed to respond to certain people when they post and/or to certain phrases or terminology being used. A troll bot is an automated stalker or harasser. Mrs. McKenna has certainly been targeted by those.
However, there is a second group of people who post on her site. They are people who routinely called her ” a stupid C*nt”, “a lying B*tch” and things even worse than that. These people are almost exclusively, white men. Being a white man, it pains me to say that but, it is true. That these men need to calm down and develop some social skills is not even a question. Misogyny is not a virtue, although these men wave it like a battle flag. Men; especially, white men, need to do a better job of interacting with the world around them.
I know that such antagonistic behaviour is not the exclusive domain of people in the public eye like Catherine McKenna or A.O.C., in the States. I know that many of you, my regular readers, experience such behaviour, too. You don’t have to tell me. I see it happening to you when you post an opinion on FB. I see male family members challenging your assertions and refusing to concede, even the slightest validity to your thoughts and experiences. I have seen more than a few of you become exasperated and eventually submit to the onslaught by abandoning your position so the fight can end. What I have witnessed borders on abusive behaviour at times. It shouldn’t be that way for women. You should all be safe to have a public profile, to think your thoughts out loud, to make your own choices and to like what you like, without fear of being attacked. Men…..white men, especially, have to do better.
I consider myself lucky. I was raised by a strong, compassionate woman. She came from a family of thirteen! Her sisters/my aunts were all strong, smart, compassionate women, too. I spent my professional career at schools populated mostly by women. I can say for a fact that I learned so much about having a strong work ethic, a fiery passion for children and education, and a sense of tolerance and patience and respect for others from the wonderful colleagues that I taught with at school. I am a better person for the example that they set. I married a strong, smart, intensely loyal woman. Together, we have helped raise two independent, creative and inspiring daughters. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers or social media “friends”, I do not fear strong women. In fact, I am drawn toward them. I admire and respect women and how much of a difference they make in the lives of others. I am an ally, as allies go. If this makes me a feminist then, it is a badge of honour that I proudly wear.
I am not sure what it is that makes such big men act in ways that make them so small. My mantra of manhood, if you like, has always been to lift up those who have fallen, to protect those in times of trouble or weakness, to build up not tear down, to be a dependable friend/ally/mentor/student, to be the best, most supportive husband I can be and the best role-model and father for my children. As a man, I will stand along side the women in my life in normal times, I will lead when the time calls for that and I will be a staunch support when it comes time for them to lead the way and shine their light on the world. I believe that we are all in this together….as equal partners….so, let’s be helpful and supportive of each other. That’s how we grow as humans and make our world better. Men….especially white men, need to learn this lesson.
I suspect that what I have just said will not come as much of a surprise to those who know me, in person or on-line. But, I think it is important for men…especially, white men….to publicly state their support for equality of the sexes and to advocate for more decorum and restraint in how men treat women; in person or on-line. At present, the on-line world is as dangerous a place for women as real life can be. I am sorry that this is the case. I long for better, safer, saner times for everyone.
I know these are no easy answers to the problem of “haters gonna hate”. That phrase brings no comfort when the blows are raining down. Many men are jerks and worse. That is the simple truth. One of the reasons I wanted to teach small children during my career was the sense of responsibility and opportunity that I was presented with to be that positive male role-model; for both, boys and girls. Boys need to know how a gentleman treats women and girls need to know that being treated with courtesy and respect is possible for each of them. My promise to all of you, dear readers, is to keep being that gentle man, that supportive ally, even though I no longer have my classroom platform to act upon. I now have my online presence, for what that is worth. I, also, have my day-to-day conduct to hold up to scrutiny. I promise to never let you down as a man.
The bottom line is that no woman should be less than she can be or wants to be because of the smallness of white men in this world. Women deserve better and men need to evolve from the low station they presently occupy. I pledge to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.