Yet, despite Campbell's assertions otherwise, she was not really a feminist. Sure, she said she was, claimed she was raised to be one. However she made the distinction that "all feminists do not necessarily walk in ideological lockstep." (The Politics of Kim Campbell).
Really? Because feminism is a concept, an ideal, a philosophy and a way of life. Merely believing that women should have equal opportunity or equal rights does not make you a feminist. I know it's confusing because every woman out there who has a bit of brain in her will declare herself a feminist and put her own spin on it, but feminism is not about individual freedoms, nor is it about equality - not solely. How can it be? All people are not equal, so creating equality for women, well what does that look like? Will we be equal to the white, upper class, post-doc educated men? Or to the black, immigrant, non-English speaking men?
So what is feminism, you might ask? It's too complicated to explain, right? Not really. Feminism is the fight to end sexist oppression. As a fight, it involves action. It's not something you can give mouth space to only. And in ending sexist oppression, it seeks to end ALL sexist oppression. Not just one or two areas that are easy to deal with - like rape laws - as Campbell did.
If we look at feminism according to bell hooks' definition and understand the true interconnectedness of feminism with all struggles against supremacist capitalism than it's damn near impossible for someone such as Campbell to be a feminist. Campbell would argue that one can be a feminist without being left-leaning. But I'm not sure it's even possible to be a politician and a feminist, by rights. And it is certainly impossible to be a Conservative politician, engaged in creating wealth gaps and slashing social programming and still consider oneself a feminist.
And yet, in general, we swallow it hook, line and sinker when a woman rises to a position of power and declares herself a feminist. It's taken as both proof of the validity of the feminist promise and a victory of sorts when they do. But herein lies one of the largest dangers of false feminism, especially with regards to politics. For if some white, upper middle class women make their way into politics, or the heads of boardrooms, or CEOs of major companies, than we find ourselves facing the argument that the fight for equality is over. Wente is one of the white, upper-middle class elites who would have us believe this. I responded to her arguments before.
Not only does this false promise lead to backlash against feminists for promoting a "movement" that is no longer necessary, but often those women in the positions of power simultaneously undermine feminist principles by declaring their more left-leaning female colleagues "radical" or "liberal" feminists. I don't believe there's such a thing as a conservative feminist, but that's an argument for another day. They also tend to misrepresent feminism in order to further their own political goals.
Campbell was the first female Prime Minister of Canada, just as Kathy Dunderdale is the first female Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their rise to the penultimate position was similar - a sort of default. Dunderdale was given the nod by outgoing premier Danny Williams. There was no chance the PC party would lose the following election, so she was pretty much guaranteed her spot. Not that I don't believe Campbell nor Dunderdale put in the work to get their positions - but it's unfortunate that it came about the way it did, because it does allow the patriarchy to question the validity of their advancement, thus questioning the validity of any woman's advancement. By painting themselves as feminists and claiming their victory as a female victory, they paint us all like them.
There's risk in that. For individual achievements are not truly achievements for your gender. Feminism is not about an Oprah Winfrey style life. It's about making life better for all - even your political opponent, believe it or not. And this is where Dunderdale, in particular, completely fails. She started out claiming that she was bring a different perspective to politics, as a woman. Well, others have shown how false a concept that is. Merely being a woman doesn't make her approach any different than those of the men in her party. If she truly were a feminist, yes, there would be a difference.
Under Dunderdale's leadership, we saw the promise of a huge investment in childcare. And yet, what did it amount to? Pouring more money into a system that has been acknowledged worldwide not to work. Meanwhile, one of her cabinet members made it clear that parents using childcare outside the province's licensing were responsible for any abuses in care. Two women, leading our province, who would rather protect their party's status quo than protect women and children. Does that sound like any kind of feminism to you?
She promised action on employment insurance for women and parents, but she hasn't done a thing about it since.
She threw her support behind a Prime Minister who is perhaps the very antithesis of feminist principles.
But most the most disgusting, the most revolting undermining of feminist power and principle that she has engaged in happened just recently, during the House, when the topic of a "threatening" phonecall to one of her cabinet members came up. Kathy Dunderdale, former social worker and self-declared feminist, sat by while members of her party used International Women's Day and the very real issue of gendered violence to attack an opposing member.
I've read the Hansard transcripts of that day, but the whole event is best summarised in Geoff Meeker's blog. Jerome Kennedy, Minister of Natural Resources, rose to "defend" Joan Burke, Minister of Advanced Education and skills, from a phonecall, that was indeed harsh and perhaps even threatening, though I doubt it was truly intimidating, that came from Jim Bennett, Member for St. Barbe (and a Liberal).
As if it weren't bad enough that Kennedy painted himself as a defender of poor, weak, female Burke, he then goes on to compare the phonecall Burke received to sexual and spousal abuse. He completely degrades real victims of gendered violence by using the social construct of it to defend his own actions in delaying the report of this phonecall. According to Kennedy,
One of the myths that were debunked many years ago, Mr. Speaker, in terms of violence against women and reporting of everything from sexual abuse to spousal abuse was that people act immediately. There are situations, Mr. Speaker, in which people do not know what to do.Yeah, you read that right. Not only does he minimise the true extent of such violence by using it in comparison to a single, slightly threatening phonecall, he also shows an utter lack of awareness behind the real reasons for delayed reporting or not reporting sexual and domestic violence. Perhaps someone ought to direct Kennedy to the #ididnotreport hashtag on Twitter. Fear, shame, accommodation, these are some real reasons for not reporting violence. It not being a convenient time to upset the opposing party's plans for debate is, unremarkably, not.
I can't believe that Dunderdale, who has been a member of women's status groups and worked as a social worker, would've not seen the significance of Kennedy's statements. The moment I read the transcript it was like a punch in the gut. But Dunderdale, leader of the party, Premier of the province, and supposed women's rights supporter, did nothing to halt Kennedy's ongoing attack against victims of violence.
He raises the comparison again, later in the transcripts. And again, nothing is said nor done, except by opposing members.
I'm not naive enough to think that Dunderdale would've stood up in the house and told Kennedy to shut his big gob. But I do know that she could've stopped him, at the very least stopped the comparisons he was trying to draw, quietly. And I suspect she knew exactly what he was going to say before the House opened that day.
False feminism is one thing; declaring your personal victories as feminist victories is one thing; but exploiting the real suffering of women in order to draw false conclusions for political gain? That's sexist oppression. The very thing feminism stands against.