Teri Towner | Community Builder | Inspirational Speaker | Coquitlam City Councillor

Reflections After International Women’s Day

This post isn’t inherently connected to my role as a city councillor.  I’m sharing it because of the resulting thoughts and discussion.  Thank you for reading!  
Sexism 1 : prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially: discrimination against women. 2 : behaviour, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
It’s the day after International Women’s Day. This Day means many different things to many people. I took time to acknowledge it because I am grateful to be a woman, to have been raised and loved by strong women, to be the mother to an empowered teen-aged daughter and to be surrounded by trailblazers and ripple-makers in my community every single day. There’s much to celebrate!
I am fortunate to have never felt disadvantaged because of my gender. I’ve experienced gender-blind acceptance of my skills and abilities and respect from the men and (almost all) women I have ever had the good fortune to work with. I know that many women who came before me paved the way resulting in females having more opportunities in today’s world – and for that I am truly grateful.
One element I have experienced – and I’ve written about it before – are ways in which society sometimes treats men and women differently in the same situations. I’ve written about the existence of some barriers that are inadvertently placed in front of women that aren’t there for men.
Some examples I’ve cited include the fact that a man can wear the same suit to every meeting, every event for over a year and no one notices, yet women get comments on their wardrobes when outfits are duplicated or worn too often. I’m not aware of men garnering comments on their fashion sense, their hair/make-up/nails but many find it completely acceptable to comment on a woman’s hair/make-up/nails. An experience I have faced more than once included comments about my attendance at an event. When I arrived at an event (before it had even started!) after driving my kids to their activities and orthodontist appointment, getting dinner into the oven, changing my outfit etc., I was asked, “Why didn’t you arrive earlier?” The context of the question, the insinuation was I wasn’t dedicated to the cause. I ended up spending 5.5 hours at the event! I’m not sure men field similar remarks. I could list many more examples but this post isn’t about that. Still, why is it deemed acceptable for some to even THINK about saying these types of things to women?
It’s sexism. See the above definition. It’s a double standard: a principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people.
I’d like to share one more example. It’s been churning around in my mind for a few weeks now and I think it’s important to spark discussions about this sort of thing. I think it’s relevant for us to be aware of all of the systemic barriers that get erected and how these barriers actually work to discourage other women from throwing their name in the hat for various leadership roles.
A near and dear friend of mine, Betul, a Syrian refugee who landed in Coquitlam in 2016, offered to do my hair for a gala back in January. She wanted to do my hair, I never get my hair done and looked forward to the pampering, so I said, “yes”. Betul was excited for the opportunity to help me out and I absolutely LOVED having my hair done and wearing curls for the night! Most people who follow me on social media and know Betul’s story and about our wonderful friendship, expressed delight in seeing the photo I posted of Betul putting the finishing touches on my hair.

Betul putting the finishing touches on my hair
Two years prior to me posting my “hair” photo, another Syrian refugee, a barber, who now calls Coquitlam his home, had the opportunity to perform his very first haircut in Canada, for Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart. The mayor took a selfie of this moment and also posted his heartwarming photo. His photo received an abundance of positive reaction, went viral, hit pretty much all the media outlets and was even featured internationally.

Mohammed cutting Mayor Stewart’s hair
Both photos were shared on personal Facebook accounts, both photos involved Syrian refugees in their new communities performing “hair grooming” tasks on elected officials (who are also friends with the newcomers). One photo is of two men, the other of two women. Guess which photo received some judgement, some questioning as to why it would even be posted because it’s “so ridiculous” and sarcasm because a photo of a woman getting her hair done is “so important”. Guess which photo attracted absolutely NO negative comments?
Both photos symbolize so much more than the grooming of hair. My throat fills with a lump when I reflect on the significance, the deep meaning behind the photo. I even used the photo as my final slide in a Toastmasters International “Inspirational” speech contest I entered this week – of which I ended up being awarded 1st place by the panel of judges. The meaningful experience of having Betul do my hair is something that will bring me heartfelt delight for the rest of my days.
Is it sexism that one photo received criticism and judgement? Is it another example of how women, their actions etc. are viewed through a different lens? Or is it something else?
Your thoughts?


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