Tickled beige by the Liberal ’Pink Book’

Probing the merits of the third ’Action Plan for Canadian women’

I’m a little confused; I thought “pink for girls” and “blue for boys” went fringe a while ago. Isn’t it supposed to be Tonka Trucks for little girls and Barbies for little boys now?

Well, nevermind. The Liberal Women’s Caucus has released their third (poorly titled) volume of recommendations to improve the lives of Canadian women.  The 38-page document outlines a series of Liberal policy positions on women’s health and safety, social equality and role in the economic sphere.  The ongoing premise is that “The situation for women is rapidly deteriorating under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government,” and a new federal Liberal government should consider the Caucus’s policy recommendations.

Though I take issue with some of the Pink Book policies and look dubiously toward its latent irony (but more about that later), I don’t want to minimize or undermine its theoretical relevance. That is, though I’m uncertain of the real benefits to be reaped by a women’s Pink Book, I fully respect the organized and productive expression by self-perceived marginalized groups. Therefore, I’ll dissect it, criticize it, and question its objectives, but I won’t call it irrelevant.

My feelings on the Pink Book are mixed. Sure, the idea of an action plan for Canadian women sounds nice, but I’m having trouble swallowing some of the spin. (And I’m not just talking about gallant claims like, “Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, women are increasingly at risk for domestic abuse and violence.” I’ll leave that alone.) One tendency I find problematic is how many Canadian issues described in the pink pages are passed off as selectively women’s.

Finding a family doctor is “one of the major difficulties women face,” reads page 22. The need for a national care-giving strategy to provide relief for women is outlined on page 23. Page 25 recommends new programs to prevent and provide support for domestically abused women.

Here’s my question: how is a national doctor shortage a women’s issue? Perhaps women, more often than men, are the ones seeking out family doctors, but should we really put a gender focus on this problem? A national care-giving strategy—I’m totally for that. I’m sure husbands and fathers are too. What about male suffers of spousal abuse? Where’s the “Blue Book” on that? Many of the causes and recommendations in the Pink Book seem legitimate, but to label them all  “women’s issues” seems a little disingenuous. Why segregate, rather than unite, to tackle these issues?

Here’s my other issue with the Pink Book: it seems to dispute (albeit, inadvertently) my power as an autonomous female citizen. Take this example:

“Girls generally are not encouraged to enter hard sciences, technology or the trades,” reads page 21.

“The National Liberal Women’s Caucus therefore recommends that a new Liberal government develop a coordinated strategy and support mechanisms to encourage girls and women in science…”

Call my reasoning fallacious, but I can’t help but see the above “call for assistance” as a concession that girls and women can’t make it on their own. Think of it this way; fifty years ago, women were dropping out of universities to get married. Now, more women than men are applying to (and enrolling in) medical schools. If that change could happen without a “coordinated federal strategy,” why should the government be directly involved now? (Sorry, is my libertarianism showing?)

Personally, I don’t care much for an action plan written on my behalf with a flower printed on each page. Sure, women are disadvantaged, but so are men, children and seniors. Should women really be calling for special consideration? To be honest, I’m not really sure. But I do think that to be perceived as equals, women in government should present themselves as equals. And we “regular women” should continue to look critically at the ways we’re being represented. That means taking off the rose-coloured glasses.