7 December 2007

Public displays of private matters - Irene Mathyssen and James Moore

I agree that the issue now is whether or not it is appropriate for politicians to be checking out pictures of their girlfriends, half-naked, while at work, or pictures of any women. It is so easy to claim the offensive pics are 'legitimate.' Does the label 'soft porn' not apply if the man is in a relationship with the female posing scantily-clad? Why would the writer of this article consider it sanctimonius to prefer that members of parliament keep their minds focused on official matters being dealt with rather than on pictures of scantily-clad women whoever she was. Does this have something to do with current norms by which sex is seen as right and normal and cool, while anything objecting to time and place might be considered old-fashioned, and unsexy? I'm not sure that the motive of the offending MP, James Moore, is relevant (see question asked by writer of the article). When sex is introduced into the public arena in the workplace, and so easily dismissed as possibly being problematic, the question we must ask is why the writer of an article such as this thinks its okay for an MP to be viewing pictures of scantily-clad women on the job. Is it because it's his right? And if it is his right, what else does he have the right to, while on the job.

Irene Mathyssen, NDP MP, raised this matter after inadvertently seeing the images of a scantily clad woman, full-screen, on Moore's laptop computer during a parliamentary session. She thought afterwards that it would have been better if she had approached him first about this behaviour, which she saw as inappropriate, instead of passing the information along and having it end up in public. I don't know how many women have tried to resolve difficulties personally, only to have the individual back off and refuse to communicate, but it has hapened to me, and in a way that has come to ruin my life. Mathyssen is lucky she has the backing of her organization. It is likely that a woman on her own wouldn't stand a chance of having a man attempt to resolve such a problem otherwise.

Added Apr 2012

The phrase “No sex please, [fill in the blank]” (see Sudbury Star, 2003) is a joke, and using it as the title of a news article makes a joke of the issue being discussed. No sex please … we’re Canadian …we’re British …we’re sweaty …we’re babyboomers … we’re married, are just some of the ways it is used in the news.

It’s so easy for people to say this incident was a non-issue, that it should never have been raised, that to have done so was “obnoxiously sanctimonius” – ie. coming from a sense of superiority or high-mindedness in sexual matters, and in a high-handed manner. However, the MP sitting in a session of parliament with his computer screen set at an angle so it was visible to members seated behind him was an unnecessary distraction, to say the least. More was said about it at the time, leading to the incident being dismissed with a ‘full’ apology from the MP who had brought it to the attention of the House.

And who should the Sudbury Star have apologized to? Certainly not to MP James Moore, whose reputation they protected by making a joke out of the incident. There were no repercussions that we know of - no jobs lost and no new regulations about parliament members’ permitted viewing during parliamentary sessions. Members should have some sense about what behaviours are acceptable and what may not be, in certain places at particular times, such as in the House of Commons during a parliamentary session. There’s a time and place for everything, and it is usually left to the judgement of the parliamentary politicians to determine that, as individuals.

Why Ms Mathyssen responded the way she did, by raising the matter without addressing it in private first, or to someone in authority, I don’t know, but the incident occurred close to the Dec 6 commemoration of the Montreal Massacre, and the hype associated with that can lead to increased sensitivity to women’s issues. Even though Marc Lepine’s acts of violence had nothing to do with intimate relationships, the other side of it - the White Ribbon campaign - suggests that men work together “to stop domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment” (White Ribbon Campaign, 2012). Sexism is part of that, though often considered to be of milder consequence, if any.

A month or so ago, I was carrying out my routine task of rolling the garbage bin out to be picked up the next day, whereupon I noticed a fairly large picture on the inside of the window of a car, directly in front of me as I reached the sidewalk. It was of a scantily-clad woman, posing in a sexually suggestive manner. There was no information on what it was advertising, and no name or phone number. I don’t know how common this is, but there it was! It only happened once, and I have not seen it since, in fact, I haven’t seen anything remotely similar on a car window before, or since then.

In ‘Tempest in a laptop,’ Moore is said to have made accusations against Mathyssen on his website, claiming,, “This was a baseless personal attack, and I am disappointed she resorted to such an outrageous tactic to score a headline." That’s as bad as the original accusation made by Mathyssen, in its tone and substance. He is accusing her of making the accusation about soft porn on his laptop to get at him personally, for no reason that he can see, except to be able to make headlines in the news. Obviously, he was “rattled,” but was he as rattled as Mathyssen when she decided to make public his apparent display of sexual images?

According to Allan Woods of the Toronto Star, “MPs are protected from legal action for anything that they say in the House based on the principle of parliamentary privilege.” But in this case, Mathyssen repeated her allegations against Moore to reporters afterwards, while Moore also overstepped legal boundaries by placing his defamatory comments onto his website. It seems as though they were both at fault. It wasn’t the law Mathyssen was afraid of, was it, that led her to apologize. Could it have been the threat of loss of career, for speaking out against behaviour that for men might well be seen as normal?

The phrase ‘tempest in a laptop’ is a play on words of the phrase tempest in a teapot, referring to a big fuss over a minor matter, similar in effect to the joking, demeaning title of the article ‘No sex please, we’re Canadian.’

Allan Woods continues to distort the event in his ‘Tempest’ article, writing that while telling reporters about it, “the image of the scantily clad woman she had described to her fellow MPs turned into "soft porn, Playboy-type stuff." Sometimes it takes a while to come up with the right words to best explain the situation. “Scantily-clad” could mean images from the underwear section in the Sears catalogue. But we all know the difference between that and the kind of sexually suggestive images that are implied by the terms "soft porn, Playboy-type stuff." And, by the way, the image stuck on the inside of the window of the vehicle I mentioned outside where I live was of a woman scantily clad, but of the Playboy type, not Sears catalogue. It was small, too – the article of clothing work by the woman in the image - not the picture itself.

Both of these people - Irene Mathyssen and James Moore - made mistakes in judgement, but only one of them had to apologize, coming across as the guilty party. So was this an error on her part in “jumping to conclusions,” as Woods says in his opening sentence, or was her lack of judgement more to do with expecting this kind of behaviour among MPs, or any men in the workplace, to ever end. If it did end, if men stopped looking, what could we surmise from that?

The problem returns again to one of time and place. Where should such behaviours be tolerated, or accepted as humorous, or seen as normal, and when? It then depends on the person him or herself to decide and act accordingly.

No sex please, we're Canadian
Sudbury Star
7 Dec 2007

Mathyssen stands by her complaint
By Chip Martin
London Free Press (Sun Media File)
Dec 7, 2007

NDP MP sorry for 'scantily clad woman' attack
The Canadian Press
Dec 7, 2007

Tempest in a laptop 'Porn' furor grips MPs
By Allan Woods
Toronto Star
Dec 6, 2007

White Ribbon Campaign
Online site

Links updated Apr 19, 2012

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