Where do we go from here?
Much like "no means no" was the understated slogan for consent consciousness in the nineties, the simplicity of "me too" beguiles its complexity. These two words have simultaneously brought down careers while giving many women (& men) a little spike of oxygen in an otherwise suffocating environment, like a tank of air for scuba divers. Will the acknowledgment of systemic sexism in the workplace - and beyond - take us further than the well-intentioned but seemingly ineffectual 'no means no' movement? One might think that Quebec has already achieved too much gender enlightenment to be susceptible to such scandals. It's true that Quebec differentiates itself from the rest of Canada in gender relations. Being a woman here isn't quite like being a woman in other Canadian provinces; likely though, it is not as different as it might appear. For example: in marriage, women retain their own last name - which they inherit from their fathers, I believe.
Fewer couples choose to marry; according to Statistics Canada,Quebec is the Province with the highest proportion of common law couples as opposed to married ones. They say the Quiet Revolution, or the church shake down, is at the root of that. Maybe the reason is that this revolution didn't just affect church attendance (see Eli's Bloom's 'Devil May Care', and 'Come all Ye Faithful') but it also put into question the core justification for marriage, or something like that.
Funnily enough, while Quebec's loosey goosey attitude to marriage may hold true in the conceptual daily life, it does not at all for the life ruled by law. If you are a resident here you almost certainly already know that, legally speaking, 'common law' relationships are not protected as they are in other provinces. There shall be no sharing of property on such common law divisions, unless you have that certificate of communion. In Quebec, it's marriage or basically nothing. Traditional wisdom tells you that this legal approach will tend to have a negative effect mostly on women (classic i.e., she forsakes a career for childrearing and is left with no accumulated wealth or experience). But times, they - are - a - changing. Or they were.
Another funny thing about being a woman here is that the Québécoise are believed to be very forward daters. Forget 'The Rules', forget any rule. You just go for it girl, so they say. But you'd be remiss to chalk this up to problem free gender dynamics in the region. I could tell you about people I know, women who have written publicly or not about the kind of sexism they experienced in some of our most respected institutions. The stories are cringe worthy.
So where do we go from here? If Quebec can't get it right, will any one? And how?
Perhaps we need look no further than Montreal's gender neutral bathrooms for an attempted answer to these questions. I don't disagree with eliminating the tacky triangular (female) and stick (male) figures from bathroom signage; I have no problem with restaurant or bar owners opting for better designed, less categorical places to pee. But I'm not sure the answer to the sexual assault crisis is to put us all together, in one sticky mess.
The first time I was faced with a mixed gender bathroom at the mainline theatre I walked in and out, in a bit of a panic. First, I walked in; I saw urinals, and I walked immediately out. That's not what caused the panic though. Both male, female and anyone in between must have had the experience of accidentally walking into the wrong bathroom at least once, or even a few times. That's nothing really. What caused my panic was the realization that I would have to pucker up and reapply my lipstick in the mirror, with somebody using the urinal next to me.
Then again, such a scenario might just be the right opportunity to have an open, even genuine, conversation about what no really means, and maybe even about the complex underpinnings of me too.
Photo cred: Molly J.