Toronto
4 min

Surviving Post feminism

Conrad Black's new daily won't rest until feminism is dead

JUST SAY NO. The National Post snorts at women. Credit: Xtra files

The National Post recently won a slew of awards for art direction. That’s no surprise. The Post is a good looking paper, and has been from its very first issue. The colour photos, the double page graphic in Arts And Life, the caricatures (well, never mind the caricatures), all showed a determination to be off-beat, stylish and sassy.



During the two months that I tried to read it daily, however, I kept hearing my mother’s warnings about my early dating choices: “Handsome is as handsome does,” she said. For a feminist, reading the National Post is like dating somebody who wears Armani clothes, but can’t be bothered with oral hygiene. Eventually their smile becomes repulsive.



Now we just pick up the Post on weekends, and read it for morbid laughs. In more than 20 years of writing about Canadian feminism, I have never seen a mainstream publication that so aggressively despises feminists and anything that it believes feminists espouse.



Other papers may miss important stories, or misunderstand what feminists are saying, or even feature sexist pictures and jokes. They even, on occasion, get it right, especially the Toronto Star.



But the National Post spends an extraordinary amount of energy trying to save the world from us. Take the public opinion poll that the Post commissioned, which found that three-quarters of Canadians either approve of what the National Action Committee On The Status Of Women and other groups have achieved, or at least are neutral.



The Post reported it as: “Twenty-five percent of Canadians say that feminist lobby groups have too much power.” Now, is there any other reason for the bass-ackwards reporting than to emphasize what the Post supports?



Nobody expected Conrad Black’s long-awaited national newspaper to be politically neutral. Southam papers had already drifted to the right in direct proportion to the percentage of Black’s ownership.



Tax cuts, free trade, privatization – the basic neo-con fiscal agenda offered the obvious editorial direction. But who would have predicted that the new Post would adhere so faithfully to all the tenets of the Reform Party, including family values?



Anti-feminism would not have been my first pick as the new Post’s defining characteristic. But perhaps the names on the Post’s staff roster would have served as a warning, had the roster been made public. Besides Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel, who has used “feminists” and “fascists” interchangeably for so long that her column headlines are beginning to blur into one repetitive rant, the women on staff include anti-feminist types like columnists Linda Frum and Patricia Pearson and reporter Donna Laframboise.



Linda Frum gets to interview celebrities, which shapes her columns. Brother David Frum is also a columnist, and a frequent contributor. And what a coincidence! Danielle Crittenden, who happens to be married to David Frum, was recently hired as a columnist. Crittenden already enjoys frequent exposure in the Post, including a two-page spread devoted to an excerpt from her book, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes The Modern Woman. According to Crittenden, it’s because of feminism.



The Post seems to like authors. Patricia Pearson is author of When She Was Bad, a book exploring the supposed rise in violent crime by women over recent years.



Pearson published a very funny column early on about flavoured condoms, which revealed a great deal about at least some of the Post’s staff. “Why would anybody want a flavoured condom?” cried one man, who reacted as if he’d been burnt when she told him what

she had put in his hand. Guess she picked the wrong colleague.



Donna Laframboise authored Princess At The Window. You’ve got to hand it to Laframboise: she found a way to parlay a Women’s Studies degree into a full time job – ripping into feminists.



Laframboise’s first Post story said that funding for battered women’s shelters is in peril because of a couple of fraud cases against some staff, some instances of infighting, and a few clients who complained they were uncomfortable.



Funny, battered women’s shelters seem have survived the bad press. But, from that first story on, Laframboise’s approach has pretty well defined the angle that the Post takes on feminist organizations, in news as well as commentary.



The Post echoed the fathers’ rights groups’ charges that shelters encourage women to make false allegations of abuse – charges those groups repeatedly and aggressively made before the federal government’s Joint Committee On Custody And Access.



Many of the men making those charges also served as sources for Post stories on divorce, domestic violence and shelters. By contrast, The Globe And Mail practically ignored the entire joint committee, perhaps in the (well-founded) belief that its recommendations were destined only for dusty archive shelves. And the Star, especially columnist Michele Landsberg, reported the feminist side.



The Post seized upon news that the National Action Committee faced financial difficulties, as “proof” that feminism was dead. (What, again?) The Post greeted International Women’s Day with an editorial titled, “We Don’t Need No Liberation.”



Most of all, the Post championed Alberta Judge John McClung against alleged “personal invective” by Madam Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dube. L’Heureux-Dube, as part of the Supreme Court Of Canada’s unanimous decision to overturn an Alberta sexual assault acquittal, had criticized McClung’s comment that the victim had “not been wearing a bonnet and crinolines.”



In response, McClung accused L’Heureux-Dube – whose husband took his own life – of contributing to the high suicide rate of Quebec men. The Post flogged the so-called controversy for weeks, including a particularly nasty attack on L’Heureux-Dube by criminal defence lawyer Edward Greenspan. To its credit, the paper did carry news – on its front page – that the Judicial Council upheld L’Heureux-Dube’s comments.



Still, I’m left grappling for the right word to describe the Post’s presumption in taking a run at the Supreme Court Of Canada for supposed “feminist bias.” Hubris? Chutzpah? One or two more miscalculations like that one, and even conservative readers will start to wonder about the paper’s credibility. Then the Post is liable to find itself all dressed up with no place to go.