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Friday, June 10, 2011

My Convocation Address was Given by a Misogynist

So my convocation was this week. It was all very good and I have letters after my name now and all that jazz, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.

My convocation address was given by a known misogynist.

And I'm torn.

Because as I sat there listening to him speak, laughing at his jokes, agreeing with his message (because it was a convocation of history and politics students he skipped the boring "Oh the places you'll go" crap and went directly to national unity and the dangers of centralizing too much power in one prime minister), I had to keep on reminding myself that he was sexist. I repeated the sexist comments he'd made about a strong female politician over and over in my head, and tried to make myself dislike him.

It was difficult.

I wondered if the other young women around me were similarly struggling, if they even knew or cared. Nothing he had ever said was extraordinarily offensive, and all his public misogynistic comments were made against the same woman (the strong politician). He made them years ago. Maybe nobody cares anymore. Maybe we're supposed to forgive him because he's 80. Or because he's flipping hilarious. Or because now we're his fellow alumni.

The school doesn't care. While I will always cherish an affection for my school--my alma mater now, I suppose--there has always been an undercurrent of bigotry here. In the years I have been here it has usually manifested itself in racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, but sexism ran rampant and unchecked here only twenty years ago and homophobia still rears its ugly head far too frequently for a supposedly "enlightened" campus.

And really, how much should I care? At the start of his speech, I cared very much. I could barely restrain myself from muttering "...and he's a misogynist" after every sentence when the principal introduced him. I clapped slowly, raising one eyebrow, prepared to be contemptuous.

By the end of his speech, I was clapping whole-heartedly. I was justifying. Well, I agreed with everything he'd said in the speech he'd just made, hadn't I? And anyway, his misogynistic comments were fuelled by his bitter enmity with the female politician in question...

And then I shook myself. It is NEVER okay to use sexism to tear down an opposing politician. Had I really just thought that?

I'm still confused. I think by now I have made my peace with the fact that I can agree with some things he says and disagree with others. But it makes me uncomfortable and unhappy to know I live in a world where compromising my own values is something that happens so regularly, even on a day meant to celebrate my achievement.

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