“Basically all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs.” This regrettable slip from Premier Jim Prentice that awkwardly attempted to summarize the contested history of our province has understandably evoked outrage from many quarters including advocates for the one in ten of Albertans (including the 48,000 children) who live in poverty. Then there is the pesky problem of the growing disparity between women and men documented in a recently released study by Queen’s University law professor Kathleen Lahey. As her report illustrates, Alberta women’s full-time earnings – now the lowest in Canada compared to men - were 63% of men’s, much lower than in neighbouring Saskatchewan, where women earned 80%.
For many Albertans the premier’s unintended dismissal of a variety of economic and social conditions linked to ‘women’s issues’ cannot be ignored. We need to look no further than the cuts being contemplated to public education in the coming budget. The projected loss of 2,000 teachers this fall will devastate the teaching profession, 78 per cent of whom are women and who work an average of 56 hours a week – more than any of the OECD countries except Japan. Then there is the fact that Alberta remains one of the last three provinces in the country to introduce full day kindergarten or that we remain the one of the lowest performers on the United Nations’ indexes for readiness to learn and support for daycare. All of these realities fall disproportionately on the laps of Alberta women who already do more hours per week (35) of unpaid housework than any other province.
While these conditions blow apart the Premier’s assertion that Albertans have had “the best of everything” rather than joining in on the frenzy of twitter and piling on our hapless Premier - who we actually believe wants to get it right – we would rather take pause and consider more sympathetically “mansplaining” as a way to understand the Premier’s mystifying comments.
Perhaps if Premier Prentice had read, “How to be a man in 2015” by the Guardian columnist, Max Olesker, his troubles could have been avoided. As Olesker writes, “I’m not sure when I first heard the term “mansplaining” – the act of a man explaining something condescendingly to a woman – but I do know that as soon as I became aware of it I felt terrified that I’d inadvertently done it at some point.”
After considering his comments as an example of ‘manslpaining’, one would hope that Premier Prentice is as mortified by his comments as many Albertans are. Whether it is the Premier’s unintended dismissal of women’s issues or the prospect that he may hollow out public education and support for Alberta’s children and youth, whatever course he chooses in the upcoming March 26 budget, hopefully he will not resort to another episode of ‘mansplaining.’
Instead he could chose to focus on making Alberta one of the most equitable communities in Canada. The evidence is clear that the more equitable a society is the healthier it is, the longer people live, there is less crime, more students finish school, college and university and wellness and happiness rise. Unequal societies make sure that some do well whilst most do not.
Alberta is becoming more unequal - we can see this in our school systems and the way in which those with special needs are neglected and included into classrooms which make no sense to anyone: too many students, not enough support and too little capacity to manage these complex situations all thoroughly documented in a recent independent report.
Teachers, perhaps when looking in a mirror, don’t blame themselves – they look to a systems failure to imagine and then delivery a better future for all Albertans. Meanwhile, as documented by our colleague Pasi Sahlberg of Harvard University, it is well-established that the road to educational development is through a commitment to gender equality at all levels of society.
Yet here in Alberta, we are quickly losing the capacity for schools to be great places for all students especially in the context of the growing diversity and complexity of Alberta’s school communities (see here for an in depth analysis).
So rather than ‘mansplain’ this away, Premier Prentice might want to start to explain why he is seeking to promote inequality, embrace austerity and become the voice and representative of a small cadre of Alberta’s elite who are - not by accident - typically males.
Dr. J-C Couture coordinates research with the Alberta Teachers’ Association. Stephen Murgatroyd is a freelance writer, consultant and imaginer. Although self-professed nurturing males they too struggle with ‘mansplaining.’