Canadian Politics

Bernier and the bleeders

The People’s Party leader has probably never thought twice about using the free toilet paper or soap in Parliament Hill’s bathrooms
Photo: Parti conservateur du Québec
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A common journalism maxim is “If it bleeds, it leads.” Unless, of course, Canadians are attempting to talk periods and menstrual products, then how dare the government discuss measures meant to alleviate the financial burden of a monthly reality most women and many trans or non-binary individuals contend with for most of their adult lives? Maxime Bernier isn’t having it and will protect us at all costs!

When the MP for Beauce and leader of the People’s Party of Canada isn’t busy spouting conspiracy theories, mocking social movements I deeply believe in, carelessly leaving important government documents lying around, or working hard to attract xenophobic anti-immigrant participants in the Yellow Vest movement to his fan base, he’s busy being outraged over tampons. Free tampons, to be precise.

His recent tirade about the Liberals’ plans to provide free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces has garnered not one … not two … not three but six tweets from him. Eight, actually, if you include two tweets he translated into French. And to think that women have traditionally been called hysterical.

Free tampons are ‘freebies’

To Bernier, free tampons in government workplaces are a cheap electoral ploy, and voters keen on the idea display “a lack of common sense and personal responsibility.” An essential item, one the Canadian government finally agreed is not a luxury and shouldn’t be taxed after women’s groups lobbied for years and a bipartisan motion was supported in 2015, is, for Bernier, nothing more than a “freebie” that makes people comfortable with having the government “hold their hands throughout their lives.”

Periods are still treated as taboo in our society.

Bernier, who, I suspect, has never thought twice about using the free toilet paper or soap in Parliament Hill’s bathrooms, has an issue with free tampons. It’s easy to be nonchalant or derisive about problems that don’t concern you and expenses that don’t affect you. As a woman voter, however, I’m tired of having issues that impact me brushed aside as inconsequential or seen as obscure by male politicians who’ve never had to deal with them.

Periods are still treated as taboo in our society. And while our Western world may not send menstruators to isolated huts overnight, or prevent them from touching cooked food or produce for fear of spoiling it, it still treats periods as something that individuals should quietly and discreetly handle all on their own.

Women comprise 52 per cent of the Canadian population and made up 68 per cent of voter turnout in the 2015 elections. Women voted at higher rates than men in all age groups up to age 64. The average woman will likely first get her period somewhere around 12 to 14 years of age and will continue to have it every single month (barring pregnancy or illness) for the next 40 or so years until she hits menopause. You do the math. It’s not cheap to bleed.

Up until recently, men comprised an overwhelming majority of elected officials who made decisions and laws that affect us all. That often meant that issues largely affecting women went unaddressed because they didn't even register on men’s radars. No more.

Equally important issues

Aside from the financial burden of purchasing tampons, sanitary pads, Midol by the gallon for some, and the Diva Cup, those of us who menstruate know the special terror of a period that shows up unexpectedly — or one that shows up late. We know about excessive bleeding, bloating, PMS pain, clotting, cramping, migraines, additional loads of laundry because of stained underwear, sheets, pants. We know what it’s like to frantically ask for a tampon from a colleague or a friend because we were caught off guard by a sudden period.

Even at their most unproblematic, and even when we can afford to pay for menstrual products, periods are a burden that fall mainly on women — physically, emotionally, and, yes, financially. And yet, even though we comprise most of the population and most voters, we continue to have our issues ignored or treated as non-important.

We still live in a world where maleness is the default setting — in our language, in literature, history, health, and sports. Anything female is still considered secondary and inferior.

And when a political party finally chooses to address some of them, even in a rudimentary way and even if it’s solely for government employees during an election year, the party is treated as opportunistic and we as the hapless and gullible voters easily bought by empty “feminist” promises.

I am aware we’re only a few months away from an election. I am aware that the Liberal Party is trying to bounce back from a scandal-ridden year that has placed its feminist credentials under some serious scrutiny. I am aware there’s an argument to be made for menstrual products to be free and easily available in all workplaces, not just government establishments where employees are better equipped to afford them. But I’m not about to slam any government initiative that acknowledges reality and moves towards normalizing the availability of free menstrual products in a workplace, which hopefully shames all workplaces into soon doing the same.

A world still built for men

Bernier, and his over-the-top online attack on the Liberals’ plan, personifies male privilege at its finest and men who are unable to comprehend the value in tackling an issue because it’s never affected them. His ignorance stems from living in a world where the medical and pharmaceutical industries continue to test most products on men. A world that continues to be more dangerous for women because it’s designed for men, where NASA had to cancel its first-ever all-women space walk because it didn’t have suits that fit, where it’s okay for the military to pay millions for Viagra for soldiers because erections are deemed a necessity but free tampons in federal bathrooms are a shocking handout. A world where male politicians routinely get to make decisions about women’s reproductive rights, despite not being able to locate the clitoris or understand what an ectopic pregnancy is.

We still live in a world where maleness is the default setting — in our language, in literature, history, health, and sports. Anything female is still considered secondary and inferior. When Bernier says, “Gender equality bla bla bla” in his tweet, he’s communicating his indifference and the feeling that what doesn’t affect him, or he can’t directly relate to as a problem, should be no one’s concern.

To him, and men like him, gender equality is a politically correct buzzword, a term uttered by social justice warriors on the warpath and angry, irrational feminists out for blood. It’s not equal opportunities, equal treatment and equal value for both genders, but some generic term that buys votes for savvy political parties that know how to milk the system and gullible voters. His obnoxiousness makes me think of a poem by Pulitzer Prize–nominated poet Lucille Clifton, “wishes for sons”:

i wish them cramps. / i wish them a strange town / and the last tampon. / i wish them no 7-11. i wish them one week early / and wearing a white skirt. / i wish them one week late.

I know that, polling at 3 per cent, Bernier is still a fringe candidate, but he also racked up a whopping 49.05 per cent of the vote during the 2017 Conservative Party leadership race. His derogatory views represent the views of many in that party and the views of so many men who refuse to acknowledge that issues that disproportionately affect women, trans, and non-binary people deserve as much attention as those that mainly affect men.

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