Many western governments are promising to “build back better” from Covid-19 through heavy spending on green energy, equality, and Third World relief. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a September address to the United Nations, echoed his friend Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, in calling Covid-19 “an opportunity for a reset” in the global effort to “reimagine economic systems.” Critics have warned that such re-imagining will require a grossly expanded state, onerous restrictions on freedom, and punitive taxation—but hey, it’s all in a virtuous cause.
To further demonstrate its good intentions, the Canadian government has added an emphasis on “feminist economic recovery,” promising to focus on women, and especially Indigenous, low-income, and immigrant women, for taxpayer funded programs, grants, and initiatives. That these are based on faulty premises and constitute an outrageous admission of sexist bias seems to have had little impact on their general popularity.
The Trudeau Liberals’ September 23 Throne Speech was carefully scripted to highlight women as uniquely hurt by Covid-19, uniquely deserving of reward for courageous service, and uniquely vulnerable to economic and social hardship in general. Governor-General Julie Payette used distinctly feminist rhetoric to describe the economic recession caused by Covid-related policies as a she-cession, and stated evidence-free that women “have been hit hardest by Covid-19.”
The stark fact is that with regard to death and serious illness, Covid has hit men harder than women, both in Canada and around the world. A scientific study in the journal Nature found that out of 3,111,714 reported global cases, male patients had almost three times the odds of requiring intensive care in hospital. Sadly, men have also died at a significantly higher rate than women.
Such inconvenient facts are conspicuously absent from Payette’s feminist-compliant throne speech, which instead pinpointed women’s allegedly greater sacrifice for the common good, celebrating the many women who have “bravely served on the frontlines of this crisis” or have “shoulder[ed] the burden of unpaid care work at home.” Nothing is said in the speech about men’s particular service or sacrifices.
The Speech from the Throne included the typical rallying cry of feminists, who have been warning since last March that the “hard-won” rights of women are under threat as never before. Undaunted by mixed metaphor, the speech pledges that “We must not let the legacy of the pandemic be one of rolling back the clock [sic] on women’s participation in the workforce, nor one of backtracking on the social and political gains women and allies have fought so hard to secure.” The government promises “an Action Plan for Women in the Economy to help more women get back into the workforce and to ensure a feminist, intersectional response to this pandemic and recovery.”
While it remains to be seen what precise forms a “feminist, intersectional” reset will take, the general idea is clear. Women must be the main focus. The Canadian Women’s Organization advises that “Recovery plans must centre women’s economic well-being and the experiences of diverse and marginalized communities of women” through increased spending on long-term care, childcare, and “gender-based” (i.e. for women only) violence services.
Moreover, according to the authors of A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada, government should mandate special training and funding for female businesses owners (as well as “racialized people, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, and immigrants”). It should “create minimum set-asides in public procurement spending (e.g., 15 percent) towards businesses led by women” and should “direct funding to businesses in women’s majority sectors.” White men suffering economic hardship may be shocked to realize that they are explicitly excluded from such reset initiatives.
Even if it were true that women as a group have shouldered the heaviest burden of Covid and have been most economically and socially harmed by lockdown and other measures, it would not stand to reason that baldly discriminatory measures should be taken to advantage women over (white) men. All Canadians who are experiencing economic hardship, regardless of sex or race, should be able to access stimulus monies and financial aid.
Moreover, it is not at all clear that women have been hardest hit (or have made the greatest contribution). More men than women are small business owners in Canada, and small-business owners have been cruelly harmed by onerous regulations and forced closures. The safest spheres of employment in the public sector tend to be female-dominated (at 71 percent female, according to StatsCan).
Indeed, the very figures and estimates selected by the government for its Fall Economic Statement 2020 give the lie to its ‘women are most deserving’ motif. Throughout the Economic Statement, one can find various “Gender Equality and Diversity” items, framed by a rectangular border to stand out from the rest of the document. Presumably these exist to highlight the government’s special concern for women and to foreground the work being done on their behalf. But what many of these statements highlight is the government’s studious disregard for the economic suffering of men, and the many women who have secured well-paid jobs in a public sector largely insulated from Covid. The first of these Gender observations tells us:
In February 2020, women accounted for 75 per cent of employment in elementary and secondary schools that were suddenly closed and have since re-opened during the pandemic. According to the 2016 Census, visible minorities were underrepresented in elementary and secondary schools relative to their share of all wage earners (12 per cent versus 21 per cent). Immigrants were also underrepresented (15 per cent) compared to their overall employment share (24 per cent).
Here is clear evidence of the curious tensions and omissions determined by the feminist intersectional approach. On the one hand, the first sentence appears to take up the ‘women are hardest hit’ narrative by focusing on the large number of female teachers who experienced the sudden closing of their schools. What a shock for them, the message seems to be; in fact, of course, the shock has been largely confined to the perceived (and in the main marginal) health threat. Teachers’ pay cheques never stopped rolling in, a fact that placed these female workers in a far more secure position than the workers whose suspended employment also included the cutting off of all pay, benefits, and future prospects.
On the other hand, the next sentence changes tack by suggesting that there is something wrong—likely a ‘systemic’ injustice—in Education hiring given that “visible minorities” and “immigrants” are under-represented in education in relation to their overall presence in the workforce. Racism must be the cause, denying visible minorities and immigrants the opportunity to be teachers.
Putting aside the fact that there might be good reasons why immigrants, in particular, might not be well represented in the profession of teaching—perhaps because they immigrated too late to attend university to acquire a teaching degree—the obvious omission in the analysis is the minority presence (at 25 percent) of men as a group. Teaching is a well-paid, secure profession with many benefits. If gender and racial equality are government goals, why is the paucity of male teachers not mentioned here? Men could be forgiven for concluding that gender inequality is only a problem worth mentioning by the Canadian government if it can be seen to disadvantage women. In the next box, we learn:
In October 2020, women represented 57 per cent of biologists and related scientists, which includes such occupations as virologist, microbiologist, and immunologist, among others. Women also represented 61 per cent of biological technologists and technicians, up from 51 per cent in February 2020, reflecting strong employment growth in this occupation, likely related to testing activity.
Presumably this fact of female over-representation in biology-related fields is presented as a “win” for women, something that government boasts about and that readers of the report are expected to applaud. It is difficult to see what it has to do with justice or “gender equality,” unless—as has long been suspected by non-feminists—feminism is actually about female supremacism rather than equality, and will applaud any evidence of female advantage. At the very least, the box fails to demonstrate women’s greater suffering under Covid-19.
Other highlighted statements push the ‘women most affected’ theme more vigorously, emphasizing that female workers are “overrepresented in many frontline settings, including hospitals and long-term care homes.” The clear implication is that such work deserves recognition and recompense. Men’s contributions “on the frontlines” are never likewise highlighted, though men have also been risking themselves and contributing to public safety in their (majority male) work as police officers, paramedics, long-haul truckers, janitors, and delivery drivers.
In general, men have always held down—and continue to do—the most dangerous jobs in our societies, making up more than 90 per cent of those who are seriously wounded or killed on the job. Perilous work in necessary occupations, including commercial fishing, logging, roofing, and construction—unglamorous, poorly paid, often insecure, and almost entirely unheralded—is still almost exclusively male despite 50 years of feminist activism around so-called employment equity. The implication in the government’s economic report that only women suffer and only women deserve public recognition for their work is egregiously dishonest and serves no good purpose.
In the end, most men don’t care about such things. They’re happy enough to see women’s caregiving work celebrated, and they don’t expect thanks for their own labor, whether dangerous or not. No matter. The inequality in emphasis of the government’s economic update, and the determination to channel men’s tax dollars into services and programs exclusively to benefit women and some racial minorities is a serious injustice, whether men perceive it as such or not. Moreover, it constitutes a profound threat to our future social order. Any society that consistently under-values, over-taxes, and under-employs its men will not be a prosperous society in the long term.
The Trudeau government’s emphasis on a feminist-style “reset” assumes that most government spending should focus on women (and ignore men) under the banner of “gender equality” even when the facts on the ground show many areas in which men are experiencing economic disadvantage. Such bias contributes to unnecessary polarization between men and women at a time of national crisis, and diverts funds that could be helping all Canadians to wasteful (and often vicious) feminist organizations. For how much longer will Canadians tolerate such shameful bigotry?
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