Manitoba·Opinion

Daddy jobs, mommy jobs and gender inequity: Jody Wilson-Raybould's story shows we have a long way to go

Obvious gender discrimination exists, but most women now face something far more insidious, says Joanne Seiff. There are multiple moments in a woman’s career where she might be faced with a barrier or discrimination that might be hard to confront or change.

The discrimination most women now face in the workplace is more insidious than obvious, says Joanne Seiff

Now Independent members of Parliament Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould speak with the media before question period on April 3. Their removal from the Liberal caucus illustrates the type of discrimination that women still face in the workplace, says Joanne Seiff. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Our prime minister and the Liberal caucus have shown us just how far we still have to go toward true gender equality and building trust.

At our house, the gender inequity discussion began early one morning.

I was jolted awake when one of my twins, age seven, crawled into our bed next to the dog and asked, "Why do daddies have bigger jobs than mommies?"

Although it was dark out, he was dressed and ready to talk. My husband and I struggled to answer him. My husband said that someone needed to manage the household, make dinner, and take care of kids and dogs, and that this job was bigger than Daddy's job. That Mommy did all that and wrote articles and books, too.  

I explained that while women were just as smart as men, and often just as educated, we continued to earn less at our jobs. So, if one person has to work more hours at an outside job, it was often a daddy so the family could earn more money.

I agreed with my son when he said that just wasn't fair. I told him it bothered me too. We didn't use words like "gender pay gap."

We offered alternate models where moms we knew had bigger jobs — his aunt is an elected judge and a family friend is a professor — but these were the exception.

The conversation was over quickly. My kid put it out of his mind, but I couldn't forget it. It twisted in my gut like a knife.

Insidious discrimination

Obvious gender discrimination exists, but most women now face something far more insidious. There are multiple moments in a woman's career where she might be faced with a barrier or discrimination that might be hard to confront or change.

It's being asked to name your salary expectations and to bargain in a patently uneven playing field. It's being burdened with outsized expectations when it comes to shouldering household tasks and childcare. It's being put in compromising positions, ethical or otherwise, in order to keep afloat in your career.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould in Ottawa in 2015. 'In my mind, the person who comes out of this affair looking harder to trust is Justin Trudeau,' says Seiff. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

It's true that women have made great strides in the workforce. For that, we must thank our mothers for speaking out.

My mom tells of a teaching interview at a school about 50 years ago. The principal asked about her "family plans." This was a euphemism for asking when she would get pregnant and stop teaching. My mother responded with, "Would you ask a man that question?" She got the job.

However, even now, managing the burdens of work, children and housework require such careful time management skills that many women, myself included, sometimes let the moment pass and don't confront these daily biases. There are powerful women out there, though, like former Jusice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who proactively protect themselves.

While all women wrestle with these challenges and biases, I was pleased in 2015 to find an ally when Trudeau declared himself a feminist and appointed qualified, bright women to his cabinet.

Speaking truth to power

Not even four years later, I am disappointed. Jody Wilson-Raybould showed a sense of integrity and a willingness to speak truth to power. Yet, knowing she might not be believed about the pressure regarding SNC-Lavalin from the PMO, she recorded a critical phone conversation.

Some called this unethical, but it shows amazing foresight. Wilson-Raybould knew in advance that her word would be doubted by a flawed system that prides unity, an old-boys club and jobs over the law.

Recording a conversation, according to some, creates an "unfair advantage." As a woman and an Indigenous person, Wilson-Raybould was inherently disadvantaged by racism and the current employment climate toward women, but could even the playing field — by recording something to prove she told the truth. 

It's hard to trust someone who won't admit when he's done wrong. It's worse to see how quickly powerful women can become dispensable in his efforts to tidy up an unfortunate mistake.

Faced every day with juggling multiple roles at work and home, women feel obligated to be solution-oriented. Wilson-Raybould came up with conditions that could resolve the conflict — yet Trudeau said that they couldn't re-establish trust.

This showed a bigger failing — a caucus that cannot respect, address and reconcile differences when it comes to how to best govern according to Canada's laws.

Fellow former cabinet minister Jane Philpott spoke the truth to power (again) when she said that a quick apology would have gone a long way toward fixing the conflict. It would have enabled the Liberal party to go back to matters at hand, such as running the country effectively.

I struggle with how far society must go to get closer to gender equity. The prime minister was correct when he said his caucus was unable to "rebuild trust." It's hard to trust someone who won't admit when he's done wrong.  It's worse to see how quickly powerful women can become dispensable in his efforts to tidy up an unfortunate mistake.

Mommies may still earn less than daddies, but perhaps knowing that's the case makes it easier to speak truth to power and address injustice when opportunities arise. In my mind, the person who comes out of this affair looking harder to trust is Justin Trudeau.  

A feminist prime minister who kicks out capable cabinet members, who happen to be women, when the going gets tough?

Tell us another one, Justin.   


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.

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