As most of my readers know, I am a leftist and I sympathize with left-wing groups and individuals, however, I try not to define myself by organizations or political parties. When I do vote in elections, however, I tend to vote for the New Democratic Party of Canada or the NDP. While I do not agree with all of their policies and perspectives, several MPs in that party are truly inspiring, honest and caring individuals. However, last night one MP from the NDP, Pat Martin, expressed his anger at the cuts to vital program funding for Aboriginal Canadian youth by sending out an angry message containing a sexist slur on twitter. Mr. Martin tweeted that the Conservative party of Canada was a bunch of “rat-faced whores.” In fact, his full tweet looked like this:
According to the Toronto Star,
“Martin’s night began by expressing anger over the role of Vic Toews’ involvement in Winnipeg’s Youth for Risk project for at-risk youth that has received $3 million in federal funding. He said the First Nations in the community were concerned that the “building was empty” and that the money for the “inner city youth went to ‘Youth For Christ’, who are Vic Toews’ donors and buddies.”
It is clear that Toew’s behaviour warrants outrage and dissent, however using blatant misogyny is neither an effective nor appropriate tool for opposing the Conservative Party. There many other words that come to mind that could effectively oppose the Conservatives, so why did Pat Martin choose “rat-faced whores?” Furthermore, why are NDP supporters and other members backing Martin and defending his words? Yes, we can despise the Conservatives but is it really constructive to use highly dehumanizing and patriarchal language that has and continues to be used against women and girls in order to make a point or oppose unjust policies?
Nevertheless, numerous NDP supporters and other leftists – mostly men, but some women – have been angrily messaging me on twitter, outraged with my outrage. People seem bewildered that I would “focus on something so stupid” instead of looking at why Mr. Martin was so upset with the Conservatives' Vic Toews. A man tweeted me with the Merrian-Webster definition of “whore” to inform me that, in fact, the term means “a person considered as having compromised principles for personal gain.” I informed this man on twitter that the term “whore,” despite its formal definition has been and continues to be used to degrade, abuse, shame, vilify, and pathologize women and girls. Several other mansplanations were given to me, but a personal favourite was sent out by a charming young chap. After rejecting the dominant definition of ‘whore,’ this man informed me that I was “semantically singular” and “preposterous.” Well! let me tell you something – that had me set in my ways, I tell ya! What was I even thinking, trying to explain why I felt a man saying “rat-faced whore” in any context was absolutely fucked up? Another young fellow even reflected the awe-inspiring words of the lead “singer” of the faux-punk band NOFX, “blaming men will never change anything.” Yes, because of course, calling men out on their use of vile misogyny to express political opposition is “blaming men.” While various men and several women were excusing Mr. Martin’s 8th grade boy’s locker-room patois, there was one male tweeter who seemed to get it. "David D." truthfully tweeted: It's entirely possible to tweet without regrettable or inappropriate language--or without bringing gendered insults into it.
Then there were others on Twitter expressing their belief that Pat Martin’s remark was “anti-sex work,” more than anything else. However, I would argue that women and girls are called “whores” for many, many reasons that do not depend at all on sexual activity or sex trade activity. The fact that several men and some women said that the term “whore” is and I quote, “an equal opportunity” term rather than a gendered term, is extremely troublesome to say the least. The attempt of those on the left and right to try and neutralize the political and gendered use of the term “whore” (as it is used today and historically) is incredibly irresponsible and harmful. If we pretend these terms have no meaning or are somehow apolitical, we trivialize the very realities of women and girls all over the world who are called "whores" and know how the word feels. “Whore” is often used in mainstream porn to degrade women and titillate misogynists, it is often used against women who have sex and women who don’t have sex. Women and girls are also called "whores" when they are being abused, bullied, and raped.
The importance of language must be emphasized. The use of oppressive language is particularly important when it is employed by those in a place of power, specifically white, middle to upper class men in Canada’s House of Commons.
If the NDP wants to continue supporting women’s rights in Canada they must stand up and reject the normative patriarchal sociocultural perception of women as less-than-human. They must do this by calling out other members when necessary. Blindly following everything that every member does in order to maintain a façade of party unity is irresponsible and reflects the Conservative’s approach to party politics.
Today Mr. Martin deleted his Twitter account after sending out this apology.
However, this is not enough because Pat Martin did not directly address why his tweet was so problematic. I truly hope that he decides to offer an apology that is directed to women and girls.
Also, to Pat Martin I’d like to suggest that maybe it is time to wonder why the first thing that came to your mind whilst enraged was “rat-faced whores.” Are those the words of a progressive? How do such words reflect the Canadians that voted for you?
Finally, and this applies to all people of all political ideologies, in the words of Toni Morrison:
"Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge."