We all have a responsibility to speak out and stand together
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On International Women’s Day, Mary Simon — the first Indigenous Governor General in Canada — shared a social media post, a video reel that starts with a black screen and a disclaimer: “This video contains coarse language that may be offensive to some viewers.”
The video shows social media comments directed at Simon. The comments pop on to the screen; slow at first, then in rapid succession.
The video shows actual comments sent to, or directed at, Simon on social medial before she disabled comments earlier this month. The senders’ names and photos are blanked out.
The words are mean, hateful, misogynistic and racist.
“Worthless piece of meat.”
“Fat useless squaw”
“Getting paid to sit there and do nothing but look like a f—ing idiot…”
The dinging sound of notifications goes off relentlessly in the 50-second video clip as more comments pop up, until it stops, and the black screen reappears with a statement from Simon: “I cannot and will not just brush off or ignore comments or offer a platform for the spreading of stereotypes and tropes that I have spent a lifetime opposing. I want to stand beside the younger generation and others who will no longer accept online abuse as routine, or as an obstacle to leadership. And who are actively working to ensure our conversations reflect the diversity of Canada.”
In the caption of the video, she calls for a commitment to greater respect, and encourages a digital safe space for women so they can lead and thrive everywhere in our country.
The montage of hateful comments, which cannot be brushed off as one-offs, are jarring.
What Simon is calling for is not too much. She’s not asking for people to like her or to agree with her in any professional capacity. She’s not even asking for people not to criticize her. She, like many women, not limited to, but including leaders from different political parties and affiliations, is standing up against a barrage of abuse and hateful comments.
So often we are told to ignore the haters, or just let it go when we are confronted with abuse online. We are told that we need a thick skin, and such behaviour is par for the course. But, if we don’t call it out, it’s never going to stop.
My Free Press colleague Danielle Da Silva recently wrote a story profiling three Manitoba female politicians —Conservative Rochelle Squires, New Democrat Nahanni Fontaine and Liberal Cindy Lamoureux — who spoke out about being bullied and harassed online.
What was evident in this piece (and I think Squires even said this) is that standing up against this type of behaviour is not a partisan issue. It’s not a gender issue.
We all have a part in standing together, speaking out, and not accepting this kind of behaviour as normal.
I applaud the Governor General for taking this stand, and for sharing some of the abhorrent things that have been directed at her to call out this problem.
In her statement, she asked for others to join her in speaking about this for others who cannot, stating “we must continue to speak about the repercussions of harmful discourse, and to push back against those who would denigrate women for their contributions. And we must promote respectful discourse, because engaging with each other is critical to creating a better world and addressing our planet’s most pressing issues.”
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 8:52 AM CDT: Corrects typo
Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 9:12 AM CDT: Updates preview text
Updated on Monday, March 13, 2023 9:31 AM CDT: Corrects spelling of Lamoureux