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Instead, she’s taking a page from the state representative who seemed to think it best to make light about the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotyping in the Oklahoma legislature.
In 2013, Oklahoma State Rep. Dennis Johnson got into hot water when, during a floor debate about price controls and the challenges facing small businesses, he used the expression, “Jew me down on the price.”
When someone slipped him a note explaining that this kind of ethnic slur was offensive and unacceptable, he made light of the issue in a half-apology: “I apologize to the Jews. They’re good small businessmen as well.”
Do we need to explain – to a legislator particularly – why characterizing Jewish people as grasping misers with shrewd, ruthless business sense is unfair, offensive and unacceptable?
Or what’s the right context to say all Indigenous peoples are drunks?
Or does one need to explain why the term ‘gyp,’ which has origins in the word Gypsies, is ethnically offensive to all Roma people? The Roma have had to deal with the stereotype that they’re all thieves and swindlers for centuries.
While we’re at it, “pardon my French” should finally go out of use, since it too is an ethnic slur. We should also stop using the expression “Take a French leave,” which means to leave impolitely. It’s offensive to stereotype all French people as rude and insensitive.
Enough is enough.
But back to Notley. She used the term “mansplaining” in the legislature last week and then was unrepentant when challenged. She even continued to gender stereotype males by reading the offensive term “hepeat” into the record. She said it referred to “when a person who might be a man repeats what you say and takes credit for it.”
Mansplaining labels the stereotype that men explain things to a women in condescending or patronizing fashions.
What’s interesting is how the sexist term mansplaining is being treated. Rather than condemn it, women and some men are trying to contextualize it and argue that it was appropriately used in this context.
Horrifically, that explanation is being accepted in some circles as if it were true. And women are dignifying it by actually trying to prove that it’s happening.
Now if someone in the Alberta legislature accused an opposing member of “Jewing me down,” no one would dare try to find out if that was the proper context to use the phrase or dare to try to prove it’s true about Jewish people.
Or if I say you “gypped me,” we don’t engage in a comprehensive study comparing the theft rate of Roma versus the general population. Why? Because it’s offensive to even consider such a spurious debate.
Why do we not dignify these slurs?
Because they’re generalizations and stereotypes that belong on the ash heap of history. They add nothing good to our discourse. They do nothing to promote understanding and solidarity between groups.
Even if well-intentioned, mansplaining does nothing but punish innocent men and alienate the sexes.
But when it comes to the sexist term mansplaining, Notley’s defenders are engaging in all sorts of double standards and intellectual gymnastics to contextualize and express sympathy for her views. Some are even saying on social media that she’s a role model for young girls.
So stooping to sexist stereotyping of male counterparts is how young girls should behave?
That’s exactly what they should not be doing.
How Orwellian can you get? Are we in the Upside Down dimension of the Netflix show Stranger Things?
There are certainly men who show condescension towards women. And they should be dealt with individually, with a right to due process.
But by labelling someone who has shown such condescension with a term that includes the word ‘man,’ you engage in a collective tarring of all men for the sins of the few.
If Notley believed she was targeted, she should have called it out as condescension. But making it a gender issue was wrong.
One must prove sexism. It’s not sufficient to simply assert it’s true. It’s not enough to say you felt you were victimized by sexist behaviour.
Notley needs to publicly apologize for engaging in sexism at the highest levels. And she needs to encourage everyone to consign the term ‘mansplaining’ to the trash heap of history, like so many other offensive and counterproductive terms.
Joseph Quesnel is a Nova Scotia-based policy analyst and commentator.
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