The McGill Daily
An Open Letter to White Boys in Poli Sci
Dear White Boys in Poli Sci,
I wonder what your lives must be like. I always wonder this when I see you clustered in the hallways, or standing in the aisles of lecture halls, not realizing how much room you take up. You just stand there, so unapologetic, as the sea of people parts around you. I wonder this when you play devil’s advocate in class and you think you’re being clever, but you’re just shitting on someone else’s personhood. I wonder this when you talk over other people, or comment on what the professor is saying without raising your hand, as if a lecture is just a dialogue that only the two of you can engage in. I wonder this when you spread yourself out on your desk so that your things spill over onto mine, and you don’t apologize, but instead continue as if nothing is wrong – meanwhile, I am too passive to say anything. I wonder this when you exist so loudly and so largely because you’ve been allowed to exist like this your whole life, and I am left to carefully defend the scraps of space that I have left. So this is a letter to you. For all the times I have wanted to punch you in the mouth and refrained, here’s to you.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of just how awful it can be to study political science as a woman of colour, I would just to like to say that this does not apply to all of you in the same ways. Not all of you are ignorant and oblivious to those around you, and not all of you deserve to be lambasted in this open letter for what you have said or done. But I’m also not sure any of you can safely call yourselves “innocent.” Even those who don’t actively engage in any type of belittling behaviour still watch it happen and stand idly by. Even those who consider themselves “allies,” continuously speak on behalf of groups whose hardships they have never experienced, thereby effectively robbing marginalized people of the chance to speak for themselves.
The term “white guy in poli sci” is of course a generalization because all sorts of people can be downright awful. However, the white guy represents the apex of privilege, and I do sincerely believe that this, and other groups who are so privileged in some respects, can be ignorant to the struggles of others. Therefore I use the term only to represent the height of privilege. But by all means, if you recognize any of these types of behaviours in yourself regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, etc., feel free to identify with them and ask yourself, “why do I act like such an asshole?” Now for the juicy stuff. It’s a shame that the same type of people who exhibit these behaviours may never feel inclined to read an article like this, or own up to it, but this first story of dick-bag behaviour goes to one of my classmates. Yes, one particular person inspired this open letter. I hope you read this and know that I tell my friends about this day in class, I tell my family, hell, I’m even telling strangers now. This is exemplary of the type of backwards, bullshit comments that I have to put up with regularly, and I tell them about you. Yes, you. I really hope you pick this up and read this and know that when I look for the pinnacle of whiteprivileged, poli sci bro, I tell them about you.
You might be wondering, what could possibly be so upsetting to inspire such a lengthy diatribe? One day in conference, the class was pitching our research paper topics. I wanted to examine the impacts of gender quotas on female representation in Parliament. Near the end of the conference, my topic had sparked an especially heated debate between this bro and I about the validity of such an approach to fix the gender gap. (I’m seething while writing this, just so you know). I remember feeling frustrated because I worked in the House of Commons for a year, so I knew what it was like to be a woman there. I saw women bring their sleeping babies into the House in a system with a socalled “feminist Prime Minister” that has not ensured enough resources for young moms in the House. I saw the way women staffers were treated and sexualized, the pervasive toxic masculinity, the aggression of certain men, and it was frightening. I told you I would support a gender quota wholeheartedly, if only so I could look into my own parliament one day and see a face that looked like mine. You were dismissive, to say the least. I can understand how this means almost nothing to you because unlike you, I can try and relate to people of a different gender. If I were a white boy like you, I too might be unconcerned, because men are heartily represented and you have no reason to feel like you have to fight for anything. Your voice is always heard, sometimes it’s the only one that’s heard, and you are always safe. But my voice is almost never heard and you could never muster enough empathy for a fraction of a second to consider why I might be invested in this case. You said, and I quote: “women are just less interested in politics.” I spluttered for a second, looked at my conference where women were the majority, and wanted to cry.
I argued this wasn’t true, and even if that vast and entirely unfounded overgeneralization did have any inkling of truth, it may have something to do with the systemic barriers women have faced for centuries. You replied: “I don’t get upset that there are more women in art history than there are men, that’s just the way things work.” At this point my replies were a little sharper and I could feel my emotions getting the better of me. Can you imagine what this must have felt like for me? Actually, no you can’t. To hear that the underrepresentation of women in politics was somehow a natural reflection of interests was so absolutely ignorant of all the struggles women face in this particular field. So, yeah, it got personal. And when I started to cut you off and interjecting because your argument was premised on inaccuracies, you replied in the most patronizing way. You asked me if I could just stop cutting you off and let you finish your argument. I wanted to yell. I wanted to scream and flip a table and throw myself on the ground and rip myself in half. I didn’t want to hear what you had to say anymore. I felt bad for your own body. Your own muscles and vocal cords were plagued with the task of speaking your amazingly ignorant words. I was emotional because my hopes and ambitions were up for debate. Did my voice really need to be heard? Do women really need to be treated as equals? The answer is a stupid, and painfully indisputable YES. And here I was, talking to some dude who pulls up in a Patagonia sweater and acts like these and my own existence were up for debate.
This was not the only time the gender quota issue would spark some debate, and it manifested
I felt bad for your own body. Your own muscles and vocal cords were plagued with the task of speaking your amazingly ignorant words.
Every time I see a female professor, lawyer, politician, or in any other field, I think to myself: it’s safe. These waters have been tested.
itself in strange ways. A longtime friend of mine, a white guy ( see, I can be friends with white guys, this isn’t misandry), said that, while women in Parliament should be represented more, he didn’t like the idea that a gender quota might force us to overlook the most qualified candidate. I don’t understand how he and so many other people have this impression that the most qualified politician would always be an old, white, dude. Not to mention the job of an MP is one that actually has spectacularly few requirements, and therefore what really constitutes a “qualified candidate?” Some would have argued that Tony Clement, former Harper Cabinet Minister, was a “qualified candidate” up until he sent dick pics to people and caused a nation-wide scandal. Farmers can be qualified, and lawyers can be qualified, and my favourite example, Ms. Ruth-
Ellen Brosseau can be qualified. She has now successfully been elected twice and she got pregnant at 16, dropped out of school, finished via distance learning, and didn’t campaign in a traditional sense. She was originally elected in the orange wave in Quebec, and proved herself a qualified candidate again in the 2015 election. The job of MP has few requirements and perhaps even fewer clear job descriptions. So how can you even evaluate what it means to be qualified when there are so few qualifications in place?
The gender quota/ women in politics discussion is just the tip of the iceberg. Those white guys who trample all over women’s rights are just as eager to do it to minorities and Indigenous people. In class about a week ago, the most vocal critic of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous nations was some white guy. It’s one thing to support Indigenous nations, but to speak on their behalf and pretend to feel some righteous indignation seems wrong. You just don’t get the right to talk about other’s pain and suffering, and raise your voice and feel justified in your anger when it isn’t yours. If somebody stood up and spoke about Afro- Latinas and claimed to understand my pain, my confused identity, my personal struggle with my homeland and culture, and the biases I face, I would be offended, especially if they were to do it as if they have the right to feel those things on my behalf. Now, obviously, this highlights the greater issue that Indigenous people are also severely underrepresented in Mcgill at large and and in its poli sci program, but instead of passively deferring to other people to speak on their behalf, when these topics do come up in class, guest lecturers or Indigenous writers should be at the forefront, not you, white guy.
In political science, I feel like I have to constantly defend my right to be represented, which may prompt some of you to ask why I didn’t choose something a little less emotionally exhausting. It’s because I saw what politics was like for a woman of colour and I wanted to ensure that no one else who looked like me or had experienced what I had experienced would question their right to engage in political dialogue and be heard. Another white poli sci bro asked me why representation was so important anyway. He said: “I don’t need to see a white person doing my job to know that I can do it too.” And I think this is pretty much a remarkable level of privilege. This is something that you are born with and as you slip out into the world, society will only continue to reinforce it. It’s something so deeply held and something so deluding that I am actually amazed people like that can walk through the world so unaware, even today. You seemed genuinely upset when you said this – like you thought I was stupid for needing to see myself represented in politics. So, here is why representation is so important. Every time I see a female professor, lawyer, politician, or any other profession, I think to myself: it’s safe. These waters have been tested. I’m not diving into a pool of sharks. Or if I am, at least I know I’m not doing it alone, and that other women have survived, and even thrived, so I can too. I need a testament to the fact that pursuing something will not exhaust me emotionally, or crush my spirit, or defeat me, because even though it may be difficult and I will be the minority, I will know I am not alone. But can you imagine how hard it was for the first women in graduate seminars, surrounded by white men? Can you imagine how fucking hard it must have been to know that there is no path, you are the first one to walk it, and you must make the way easier for others who will follow? If I can only muster as much strength as she did, I will come out of this okay, and maybe even stronger.
Lastly, before I collapse into yet another heap of helpless tears about how stupidly awful poli sci can be, let me just say to the guy in the Conservative Association on campus who wore a “Make Canada Great Again” hat courtesy of Rebel Media: fuck you. It was Activities Night and you made me fucking scared for what poli sci here might be like because I thought it might be filled with the likes of you. I believe that the MAGA hat, in all its incarnations, is an act of violence and if you’re reading ( if anyone knows this guy please direct him to this letter), just know that what you wear is not about “free speech” in some asshole Jordan Peterson way. It is dehumanizing and offensive and you disgust me.
I don’t know if this letter has accomplished anything besides allowing me to say what I have been thinking for so long and ease my own pain. Like I said, I doubt any of you bros will pick up this letter and read it and actually change, or call out your buddies and ask them to change. I bet some of you will even boycott the Daily, if you don’t already, as if throwing away this paper will stop the Daily from calling out men on toxic masculinity. But I would be oh so grateful, if just this once, you proved me wrong about your behaviour, and looked inside yourself, and did some good with your immense privilege.
In political science, I feel like I have to constantly defend my right to be represented