Friday, 1 June 2007

Sounding off. Again.

I've been thinking about volunteers all day to-day, mainly because the organization I work with gives out an award each spring to people who help to make the community a better place to live. I had a list in front of me of people who have all dedicated many hours and impressive skills to a variety of organizations and programs. It was an amazing record. Women who run food programs in the local schools, a visiting service at a local nursing home, the local Community Justice Program, a transition program for low achieving teens entering the work force, a youth support program -- and on and on.

But as we worked on the list and rated these marvelous people, I was looking at the committee members and it struck me that they are equally amazing. They are all working mothers with children ranging from pre-school to university. They hold down demanding jobs -- one is a minister, one runs a doctor's office, one has two half time positions and contributes enough that she seems to be full time in each of them. The office manager has a teenaged Down's Syndrome son. The minister has three children, two at school and one preschooler and is going back to school herself in the fall. The double job holder works a farm with her husband, has two teenagers and manages to leave the smallest footprint on the planet of anyone I know, a time consuming endeavour that takes a lot of research and extra work.

What is so striking and so heart warming about this is the cheerful enthusiasm with which they settle down to yet one more demanding task. When you've got ten good candidates and two awards to give, sorting the better from the good and the best from the better is a stinker of a job. And this group does it with grace and laughter and the decisions they make are fair and reasoned. It's time consuming to do it well. One woman has to get back to her office by noon. Another has an afternoon meeting coming up. The third is always running under time constraints. But they give the process all the time needed to do the thing properly, without hassle or glances at watches or fuss.

I love working with women like this. In my many, many years of experience with committees and boards, I have never found a group of men with equal qualifications and demands on their time who can do this. Who can just get on with things without fuss or posturing and have fun while doing it. Men seem to have to display their credentials, argue about method and ways and means, stake out their territory like robins having spring singing contests, puff up, flare their tails and gobble like turkey cocks. Is it testosterone poisoning?

I think of Question Period in our Parliament and I just want to cringe. A lot of the women in the House seem to have adopted the male stridency and factionalism. Sheila Copps, for instance, was embarrassing in her hounding of the Opposition benches. I like a good debate but when courtesy and common sense are absent, it isn't a debate at all. It's chaos. Men's rules and men rule. I really think that the reason there aren't more women in provincial and federal politics is that they can't abide the nonsense. So they get on with the job in their own way, which is making sure all the notionally small things get done, and our world keeps turning.
I sometimes imagine that I can see the turkey hens look at one another when the male starts to strut, role their eyes and get on with looking for tasty bugs. And I don't blame them at all.


  1. I see the same dynamic in every organization to which I belong. And now my psychological background is showing, but I would not be at all surprised if there is a documented gender difference in the ability to multi-task. (I know I see one writ small in my own household!)

    Evolutionary psychologists would have a field day if there were such a difference...

  2. There are exceptions to these rules but, by and large, these be the rules.

  3. The funny thing is that now that Sheila Copps is out of politics, the columns she writes always strike me as fair and balanced (UNLIKE the majority of columns on political matters). I really enjoy her writing, and any note of stridency usually puts me off very quickly, so I appreciate Copps' inside knowledge and willingness to consider multiple points of view. I was never a fan of hers when she was an MP, though, for precisely the reasons you gave here.