Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Preparing a 20th anniversary edition of my first book helped me realize that environmentalism and feminism both began as reasonable social movements. But then they turned intolerant and extremist.
It starts with a fairy tale about a princess tethered to a particular window in the castle. Her mind is small and narrow. She considers her own perspective to be the one true reality. Adamant that everyone else is mistaken, she learns nothing.
I’ve spent the past few months resurrecting The Princess at the Window. Out of print for 15 years, and published before e-books existed, it was a big job that included scanning-in a physical copy and inserting hyperlinks into 500 footnotes. While re-visiting this material, I was struck by how much the women’s movement and the green movement have in common.
Both helped educate our communities about serious issues. Both began by urging us to question authority. And then both turned extremist and dogmatic. As I observe in a new foreword:
I have an undergraduate degree in women’s studies from Canada’s premier university, but thinking for myself was forbidden. As a journalist, I acknowledged that females are sometimes violent. I discussed how schools are failing boys. I championed free speech rather than censorship. I argued that unjust laws could not be supported, even if their intent was to help women. I took feminism to the next level by participating in grownup, nuanced conversations about the real world.
For this, I was dismissed as a ‘backlash babe,’ a ‘feminist basher,’ and an ‘anti-woman writer.’ Feminist icon Michele Landsberg compared me to a stripper in the pages of Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, The Toronto Star.
The first occasion in which I was equated with a Holocaust denier wasn’t in the context of the climate debate. It happened after I pointed out that investigators on two continents had found no evidence that Satanic cults were systematically abusing children. But Ms. magazine had run a lurid cover story two years earlier urging us to believe in such abuse, so skepticism wasn’t tolerated.
Like the environmental movement, feminism began with reasonable people making reasonable arguments. Then it morphed into something monstrous. Sensible members of the movement were attacked, alienated, and driven off. Intolerant, narrow thinkers took control and began demanding measures that would, if implemented, make the world more miserable rather than more just.
The tricky part is that most members of the public – and most politicians – aren’t aware of this transformation. By default, we continue to view feminist demands, as well as green demands, as 100% legitimate rather than 90% suspect.
Many journalists behave like PR agents for movements with which they are personally sympathetic. Rather than reporting on the good, the bad, and the ugly, they present feminism and environmentalism in the best possible light. They also punish colleagues who choose a different path.
I’ll never forget being advised by an editor at the Globe and Mail, then Canada’s sole national newspaper, that although I was being published by them regularly as a freelancer, I didn’t have a hope of being hired for a staff job because the editor-in-chief considered me “too right-wing.” In his universe, there were only two options: either you were politically correct or you were right-wing. Narrow minded princesses are everywhere.
If you think journalists should be watchdogs rather than lapdogs, please buy the 20th anniversary edition of The Princess at the Window – or make a donation to this blog. It’s lonely out here, and the financial rewards are meagre.
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