For years, female members of the federal Liberal caucus produced a special policy book on social and economic issues affecting Canadian women and their families. There were three volumes presented between 2006 and 2009, each of which outlined proposals on topics such as child care, parental leave and income inequality.
Despite sounding rather bland, these books were gauchely named The Pink Book, and stamped with a rose icon on every page, lest the reader forget whose Maybelline eyes should be scanning those pages.
Perhaps it's a bit unfair to judge a 2006 document with our 2017 sensibilities. A rose-adorned Pink Book is pretty grotesque by today's standards, but it was likely fairly unremarkable in the days before insufferable Twitter essays and social justice grandstanding.
But while we like to think we've come a long way from the pretty-in-pink policy books and newspaper women's pages of yore, we haven't totally abandoned the idea that women's issues merit special silos, unique packaging, extra primping.
The federal government, for example, practically fell over itself to remind Canadians that its latest budget was gender-sensitive and included the first-ever "gender statement" outlining and analyzing how the budget may affect men and women differently. Granted, the government stopped short of actually printing little red roses on every page of Chapter 5 — that is, the "Gender in Canada in 2017" chapter — but the sentiment was nevertheless there: "Don't worry, ladies, there's something in the budget for you this time."
The Washington Post, for women
That seems to be the idea behind a much-hyped new media venture produced by the Washington Post. Unveiled on Thursday, The Lily, named after the first U.S. newspaper produced by women back in the 19th century, will "boldly reimagine the Post's award-winning journalism" through a female lens. It will be online, on social media and distributed twice weekly through a digital newsletter.
The mission, according to its editor in chief, is to "empower with news and information and promote inclusivity by exposing diverse voices." Coverage will include everything from national news and politics to fashion and film, told in such a way as to appeal to millennial women.
Though it wasn't stated explicitly in the mission statement, the sentiment was essentially: "Don't worry, ladies, there's something in the news for you this time."
It's fascinating to think about whether we'll look back and cringe at these gender-sensitive gambits in a decade's time, the same way we recoil looking at the Liberals' flowery old policy books.
Then again, some of us are already cringing at the implication that regular budgets, regular policy decisions, regular news doesn't interest — or appeal to, or relate to — women. That ladies need special chapters or spinoff newspapers.
Some would argue these ventures are necessary because important issues concerning women would be ignored without dedicated spaces. The editor of The Lily makes that case, writing: "We need The Lily because female genital mutilation and child marriage happen every day. Because countless girls lack access to education and health care. Because sexual assault is a threat every day on college campuses. We need The Lily because so many women struggle silently against domestic abuse. We need The Lily because these stories must be told."
She's right. These stories should be told. In fact, many of them are told on mainstream news sites. That's because these aren't really women's issues — they're everyone's issues. And it's important they reach as wide an audience as possible.
Fixation with identity politics
The danger in creating silos around these stories is that they don't reach the eyes that arguably should be reading them — like those belonging to your septuagenarian uncle who thinks The Lily is a new line of feminine hygiene products. We should be amping up the pressure to tell more of these stories in mainstream news.
To be sure, media marketed to women has been around forever in the form of ladies' magazines, radio shows, newspapers and so forth. But you'd think the trend these days would be to move toward more gender-neutral media. Yet our fixation on identity politics seems to be promoting a return to the days of old.
Many would, and should, find something quite patronizing about the idea that now, in 2017, women need particular writing or packaging or framing to read a federal budget, a health care report or a story about special counsel investigating U.S. President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.
We don't need a pathetic little rose telling us which stories are supposed to be for "us." Then again, maybe that's just the hormones talking.