Female columnists from an early time have been viewed as feminists. The earlier columns written by women were intended to reach out to other women, to break their isolation and to provoke cooperative action for women’s rights. For Canadian women living on the Prairies, newsprint was the primary means by which the women could communicate with each other (Goebel). Newspaper media remains a very powerful avenue for communication today. The early feminist columnists acted as role-models for many women. They possessed the confidence, determination, bravery and courage to stand up to men and demand equal rights.
Columnists have a loud and strong voice. They have the opportunity to voice their opinions to a vast audience. Few occupations allow you to do this. Leah McLaren is not your typical Globe and Mail columnist. Leah writes for the Entertainment section of the paper in a column entitled “Generation Why? ” Some of her articles include: “I’d rather be a spoiled brat than a sugar baby”, “Why everyone should be blond like me”, “Functional Alcoholism” and “Stroke me or spank me – why choose? ” While many readers have criticized her articles, salary, personal and love lives, they continue to read her column week after week.
Although you and I might feel inclined to take the opportunity of writing in a prestigious newspaper seriously and write about real issues concerning Canadians, Leah chooses instead to write mindless articles based largely on her own petty life experiences and which reek of her own self-absorption and shallowness. I argue that Leah McLaren is a negative role-model for Canadian women because her writing insults and criticizes womanhood and impedes the advancement of Canadian women’s interests by trivializing issues that are of importance to women in society.
Insulting and Criticizing Womanhood While Leah does not concern herself with issues that are important or pressing to women, she instead mocks women somewhat by writing about the most unimportant issues. It is insulting because you would think that being a columnist for the Globe and Mail would be taken seriously as a high-profile position. Instead, Leah makes a joke out of it and everything she writes about. I think that Leah views herself as a feminist.
She portrays herself as this independent, successful journalist who does not need a man in her life to make her happy meanwhile she is ridiculing everything about her single-life and about herself as this insecure, blond ditz that has nothing more important to write about than expensive clothes, drinking, guys, sex and herself. “I am really trying to be a good feminist” (McLaren quoted in “The Girls of the National Dailies”). On the surface, Leah may appear to be living the stereotypical life of a feminist.
She is an independent woman who works and makes a good living, supports herself, and is able to express herself in her work. There is some irony to this, however. Leah was basically handed her job as columnist for the Globe and Mail on a silver platter by her mother who was the editor for the Focus section. In her column, she writes about insignificant matters that for the most part pertain to herself and her own little world. For this, she will not be viewed as one of Canada’s great feminist writers. Leah McLaren is not a feminist.
Feminism is defined as “the belief that society is disadvantageous to women, systematically depriving them of individual choice, political power, economic opportunity and intellectual recognition” (Dickerson and Flanagan). All Leah is concerned with is her right to buy “wicked shoes” and her right to “get drunk”. Feminists generally do not apologize to all men for being unappreciative, they do not endorse mindless stereotypes, and they do not disparage the poor.
Rarely do you hear a feminist “apologize to [her] male compatriots” by saying “I have failed to appreciate you”, “I hope you will forgive me”, or “I… enerally took you all for granted, I am sorry” (McLaren, “Put it on the front page! Canadian guys rule”). The worst part of it is that she is not apologizing for their suffrage over the years, or for not recognizing them as equal persons, or for denying their rights as human beings, she is apologizing because she went to London, met some English fellows, and decided that she likes Canadian guys better. Furthermore, she stereotypes both English and Canadian men, making generalizations that are not valid. At times, Leah tries to break what she considers unfair stereotypes and uses her column to voice her opinion on them.
In her article entitled “Why everyone should be blond like me”, Leah is endorsing a “Blonde Legal Defence Club” website that aims to “stop the widespread belief that blondes are dumb and incapable. To destroy blonde stereotypes and publicize blonde accomplishments throughout history, dispelling the myths and mistakes about blondes, both natural and chemically created. To ultimately make sure hair colour isn’t a factor in work or social environments” (National Blonde Day as quoted in McLaren’s “Why everyone should be blonde like me”). It’s nice to see a prominent Canadian columnist standing up for what she really believes in – being blonde.
Although she attempts to break away from her own stereotype, her diction and choice of words validates that she part of this stereotype. Expressions such as “is that not so sweet? ” and “as if that wasn’t so totally cute” are just examples of how Leah fits this stereotype. Finally, she succumbs to the benefits of the stereotype saying she learned this valuable lesson: “While being really, really cute and blond can lead to discrimination, it can also persuade people to give you what you want” (McLaren, “Why everyone should be blond like me”).
Similar to her discussion on stereotypes, Leah irresponsibly considers the evident class structure in our society. Poverty is a huge issue in society today and should not be taken lightly, especially by journalists like Leah McLaren. Income levels have been dividing our country’s citizens into classes since Confederation. In 1978, 10 percent of the richest families in Canada were only 10 times richer than the poorest 10 percent.
Today, this difference is 250 times instead of 10 times (Lawrence). 0 to 30 years ago the elderly were by far the largest group within the “low income” category, while more recently lone-parent families headed by women have grown in significance (Fellegi). 36 percent of unattached females under the age of 65 are living below the poverty line. 36 percent of persons under the age of 18 in female lone-parent families are living below the poverty line (Statistics Canada, “Persons in Low Income After-Tax”). This data illustrates the prevalence of poverty among single women with or without children. Conversely, Leah likes to poke fun at this class division.
According to her, this is how you distinguish the rich from the poor: “Trying to sort out the rich from the poor? Simple. The lucky people are the ones with alligators on their tennis shirts. The unlucky people are the ones scowling out from the grimy windows of public transit” (McLaren as quoted in “Leah McLaren: Canadian Asshole”). Living in the upper middle-class ‘bubble’ that she does, Leah reveals her ignorance about poverty as a social problem just as she belittles other issues of importance in society. Trivializing Issues of Importance to Women Impedes the Advancement of Women’s Interests
As a young female professional, Leah can be classified by feminists as “the New Woman”; an emancipated woman associated with taking on traditional male traits such as dancing, eating, drinking and smoking and obtaining an education (Goebel). Perhaps because she has taken on these traits, Leah views herself as a feminist. However, a feminist is a woman who is genuinely concerned about the interests of women in society. Feminists do not trivialize those issues that cause great trepidation to many women nor do they advocate detrimental behaviours such as alcoholism or eating disorders or belittle social problems such as poverty.
In her article “Functional Alcoholism”, Leah admits that she and her friends “drink more nights than [they] don’t and [they] generally drink to get drunk. ” She also refers to herself as being “alcohol dependent” as well as a “Party Princess” (McLaren, “Bad combo: hangover, black dress, hot barbeque”). If she really is an alcoholic, then all of her senseless opinions and reflections about life would surely be disregarded and disrespected. Perhaps they are – this, I am unsure of. I do not know how many readers of her “Why everyone should be blond like me” article would run out to buy a box of hair dye after reading the column.
Who knows? Media is a very powerful influence in people’s lives. Regardless of whether or not people read deeper into her words, the messages are not subtle; Leah McLaren is endorsing alcoholism. She even goes on in her article to recite her own “rules of functionality” while being drunk, suggesting that as long as you stick to Leah’s plan, everything will be fine. By doing this, Leah is trivializing the issue of alcoholism. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 60-68 percent of female Canadians aged 18 to 54 are regular drinkers and 20 percent of females aged 20 to 34 were classified as heavy drinkers.
Since a fair percentage of the Canadian female population are drinkers, it is not in the best interest of women to promote pushing your limit and becoming a ‘functional alcoholic’. The fact that her psychotherapist suggested she should be medicating herself with antidepressants to overcome her drinking should itself be enough to convince anyone that she is not a good role model. Leah decided she would rather drink away her depression than take the medicine since it “dampens the libido” (McLaren, “Functional Alcoholism”).
Now there is a role-model: a young woman who is depressed, drinks a lot, boasts about it, and who refuses to medicate herself so as to not take away from her sexual urges. That is a great message to send to women: substitute mental and physiological health and stability for sex at all costs. Whereas alcoholism is disease often related to genetics, eating disorders are a rising problem among young girls today due depression caused by societal pressures to be thin. Canadian females aged 15 and older are more than 5 times likely to be at risk of an eating disorder than their male counterparts (Statistics Canada, “Risk of Eating Disorder”).
In her column, Leah McLaren is facetious in her discussion on “Fat and Thin” wardrobes despite the prevalence of eating disorders in our society. Since eating disorders frequently develop in adolescence or early adulthood, and since females are more likely to develop an eating disorder than males, it is fair to say that women would be more affected by Leah’s column than males (National Institute of Mental Health). Leah writes that she tends to “go off food when [she] is unhappy and not in love” (McLaren, “Fat and thin: the two wardrobes every woman needs”). This is a terrible message to being sending to young women.
Leah addresses the criticisms she had received once before when she wrote about what she calls her “misery diet”: “They wrote in to say that columnists like me who extol the virtues of thinness are causing a generation of children to starve themselves to death” (McLaren, “Fat and thin: the two wardrobes every woman needs”). Ironically, this caused her to lose more weight, an event that she “commemorated” with a new designer dress. In this rather insulting blurb on being fat or thin, Leah parallels being fat and thin with sad and happy. She quotes “It could be worse.
I could be a sad-fat person – a dark state that is arguably offset only by the endorphin-charged highs of happy-thinness” (McLaren, “Fat and thin: the two wardrobes every woman needs”). If Leah were a feminist, and considered herself a role-model to Canadian women, then I doubt she would address this pertinent issue in the offensive and foolish way she did. While Leah McLaren’s writing may be described as entertaining and somewhat comical, the issues that she discusses are those that important to Canadian women, many of which are growing problems in our society that need to be seriously addressed.
To advocate eating disorders and alcoholism, disparage the poor, or to publicly represent yourself as self-absorbed and superficial is not to advocate women’s rights or the advancement of women’s interests. Her approach to women’s issues is selfish, inconsiderate and insensitive. Never has she seriously and intelligently discussed an issue of significance to women. Leah’s apathetic views on central issues do not make Leah McLaren a good role model for Canadian women. I am sure that many women are more insulted by her attitude and outlook than they are amused.