A Spectacle of Sexism

National Women’s Show Stereotypical and Offensive

  • Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

The National Women’s Show rolled into town recently, bringing with it the kind of old school sexism that dominated the 1950s. The show bills itself as the “ultimate girl’s day out,” offering everything from the latest makeup to the newest in kitchen technology.

Notably absent from the show, which claims to have “something for everyone,” was anything relating to women’s issues, issues of equality or really anything non-stereotypical, save for a small section on the show’s website advertising the “Business and Career Centre.”

Given how outlandishly sexist the rest of the show is, I don’t necessarily have high hopes for this.

In 1976, 48 per cent of Canadian women participated in the labour force, compared to 91 per cent of men, according to census data. In 2009, the female participation rate had risen to 76 per cent, while the male rate fell to 86 per cent.

Women represent a large portion of the country’s labour force; the National Women’s Show and its attempt to minimize this reality is insulting to the progress that has been achieved over the years.

This is not to say that the status of women has by any means become a non-issue—the wage gap is still a reality—though the disparity is slowly lessening.

The point of the show is to promote the things that women apparently like and are interested in, and to assume that women aren’t interested in things like equality or gender issues is inane, not to mention flat out incorrect.

The National Women’s Show, and other events like it, does nothing to further the idea that women are just as capable as men are.

How are stereotypes going to change if events like the National Women’s Show continue to impress upon people that a woman’s place is exactly where it was 50 years ago—in the kitchen making dinner or playing the role of observant housewife?

According to their website, 29 per cent of the attendees at last year’s show were between the ages of 19 and 29. This represents a significant portion of attendees who are in the early years of their adult life, who are likely still figuring out how to situate themselves in the world.

Imposing such a narrow view of what it is to be a woman is doing nothing to break down the gender divide and is only perpetuating stereotypes.

The show highlights its special guest speakers on its website. Of the four speakers, three are men: one is a life coach, another is a psychic and the third is a “personal style expert.”

The sole female special guest is a former Olympic athlete who now works as a nutritionist.

It is simply not possible that no other guests were available—there is no shortage of women working in tech or design in Montreal who could lend their voices to a panel at the show.

Take, for example, Liesl Barrell, the executive director of Montreal Girl Geeks, an organization that promotes female involvement in the Montreal tech scene. In the past, Montreal Girl Geeks has hosted events that teach women how to use code, manage start-ups and work with other facets of the tech world that the National Women’s Show does not even bother to consider.

I don’t see anything wrong with women wanting to be up-to-date on their style, or for them to enjoy new cleaning gadgets, but if those are the types of events the show wants to focus on, why not advertise itself as exactly that?

It’s the fact that the National Women’s Show promotes itself as an inclusive event with something for every woman yet provides nothing but stereotypes that’s problematic.

It’s hard to see it as anything but incredibly offensive and backwards.

Conferences like this cannot claim to have national appeal while only offering a snapshot of what women like (hint: some of us like science and fashion).

Don’t get me wrong, some of the seminars advertised could actually be interesting, but it’s 2013, not the ‘50s. This type of sexism is best left in the past.

What’s important now is that we focus on the future and how to make things like the National Women’s Show better represent the 17.2 million women in this county because, let me tell you, we aren’t all the same.

By refusing to incorporate a more well-rounded idea of what women are interested in, the National Women’s Show does a disservice to all.

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