I was at a business luncheon, honouring the new Allard Chair at MacEwan University’s School of Business. It’s not usually my thing, but my mother was ill, and so on and so forth. We got through all the opening bits (by this time, we knew who the VIPs were in the room, they’d been mentioned, oh, 15 times) and then the President of the University commented that yesterday was International Women’s Day, and how pleased they were to have 6 young women business students from the Ukraine at the luncheon. These were exchange students, here to learn how we do business in Canada. .
You can imagine my horror, when at the end of his remarks, the President asked the women to stand up:
“So we could all see how beautiful they are.”
I was, and still am, aghast.
They worked hard to get here, were at the top of their class, they must be smart and ingenious and determined. It’s no mean feat to come half way across the world to learn about something new. That takes courage and daring.
I would have hoped there would be no need for International Women’s Day any more. I would hope that if we had to have this day, we could focus on efforts abroad. Perhaps we could stop women from dying in childbirth every single moment of every single day. Maybe we could stop death by stoning, maybe we could focus on female genital mutilation.
No, as the MacEwan’s President proved yesterday, we are still focusing, here at home, on making women equal to men. We are still focusing on the bare fact that women have brains, that they have worth outside of their beauty.
It is disheartening, this. It is sickening and maddening that 6 women saw business in Canada yesterday, and they saw that their looks were more important than their smarts. They saw they are worth their appearance and not their determination. It must be so, the President of their University said it.
It didn’t matter that there was shocked silence and then murmuring. It doesn’t matter that every woman there was ready to throw her dinner roll at the President, that there were men ready to help. He won’t be asked to apologize, to resign, to amend his remarks. As a woman, I should shrug it off as an uncouth comment. Those business students will be told to develop tougher skins.
There is little I can do. I can tell you that if I am ever asked to support McEwan University, I will refuse, as long as that man is still their President. I can tell you that I will write this blog, that I will write a note to the Board of Governors, expressing my displeasure. I will tell everyone I can about this man and his hideous remarks.
It still won’t be enough.
A man wearing a suit and tie, with an important title stood up, and said that it only mattered that these women were beautiful. With that single comment, he reduced them.
He reduced all of us.