Too many dicks on the dancefloor

This is actually footage from a #TOpoli pub night

#TOpoli, we need to talk. This has been bothering me for a while now, and since it’s International Women’s Day I figure I may as well take this occasion to point out that our burgeoning scene is one big white dudefest. And white dudefests suck. But luckily there are small, practical things we can do to fix this, which is good, because I would hate to totally fucking snap and destroy you all with the burning rage of a thousand Nunziatas.

There wasn’t really anything I could put my finger on until a couple weeks ago, when @chaicube put together a list of top #TOpoli twitterers based on this infographic for Queen’s Park. Of course I immediately pounced on it to see where I ranked, but what jumped out at me was that the list was overwhelmingly men—63 out of 86 accounts. And it’s top-heavy. Women make up 14% of the top half of the list—but 42% of the bottom. (The first woman to appear on the list is Kristyn Wong-Tam at #21.) And only about 9 people on the list are non-white. I was gonna do sexual orientation, too, but 1) my gaydar blows and 2) it would just be too goddamn depressing.

Of course, it’s partly sampling bias—@chaicube was working off his own #TOpoli list—but it does line up with my own observations as a councilspotter. We’ve got more white guy pundits than you can shake a gavel at. And when the scene is so homogeneous, that’s a problem, especially because so many of the Fords’ proposed policies disproportionately affect women, and especially women from marginalized groups.

And it’s not like these women have been underrepresented in the dialogue as a whole. I mean, just off the top of my head there’s “Yelly Granny” Mary T. Hynes; Anika Tabovaradan and Amy Casipullai; Jennifer Arango (who made several male councillors publicly lose their shit by criticizing the lack of women on Executive Committee); Susan Gapka; the countless women who staged protests and deputed with children on their knee for subsidized daycare; and, on Council, people like Karen Stintz and Shelley Carroll.

But when it comes to councilspotting…not so much. Partly it’s that people who aren’t white or dudes or both (PWAWODOB, for short) are passively overlooked. And partly it’s that, for PWAWODOB, there’s more barriers to getting involved in politics in this particular way. Some of them are common to pretty much any traditionally white-dude-dominated scene, like, say, the open source movement. They’re both largely unpaid, time-intensive and skilled pursuits. And a newbie who walks into Committee Room 2 is going to see a room full of white guys. And if you’re not a white guy yourself, it can be extremely alienating. It’s uncomfortable being one of the only women and/or non-white people in the room. Frankly, I don’t think we ought to be comfortable with it, because a scene dominated by white men is inherently a problem. (And if you need that explained to you, please go sit in the corner for the remainder of this post, because grownups are talking.)

There’s a more politics-specific (IMHO) barrier, especially for women, and my original explanation was 500 words but let’s see if I can boil it down—#TOpoli has a bad habit of talking bullshit instead of talking about stuff that matters. How many times have I been at the pub with you all while everyone speculates about what if so-and-so hadn’t won that election in the 90’s, or who will run for mayor in 2014?—stuff that lots of people can sound smart about, but can really never make more than an educated guess.

Sure, it’s fun, but, Jesus Christ, it doesn’t really fucking matter. Where are the conversations about our communities, about gender and race, about class and disability? WHY, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IS KRISTYN WONG-TAM THE ONLY PERSON WHO EVER RAISES THESE ISSUES? These are the things that may not mean a terrible lot to you—but they’re absolutely central to lots of other people, the people who don’t get fucking op-eds or roundtables. Maybe that’s why the scene is so whitebread—people aren’t interested, because the politics you talk is so disembodied.

For white dudes, how to avoid the burning rage of 1000 Nunziatas:

a) Less bullshit. More shit that actually matters. Shit that matters especially to people who aren’t white dudes. Oh, you don’t know enough of them?

b) Train yourself to notice—and promote—those smart, engaged people in #TOpoli who aren’t white dudes. There’s a lot of us, and we bring stuff to the table that you don’t.

c) Duck.

For people who aren’t white or dudes or both:

Am I totally fucking off-base with this? Is punditry too superficial to worry about? Or do I have a point? Would you like to get together sometime and have different, better conversations? Let’s talk.

5 thoughts on “Too many dicks on the dancefloor”

  1. Well hello there Neville Park – and thanks for the forum. A most interesting and inclusive post from you, and certainly something that has meaning to me, as one of the #topoli non-dudes. I’m a woman who has only recently developed a fascination with #topoli and all things municipal – not that I haven’t had a political opinion or two (my friends find me quite the bore), but because I have been galvanized into action by the inane and anti-citizen antics of our Mayor and his bullying bro most especially when it comes to our beloved TTC. And I hugely enjoy #topoli for the humour and intelligence.

    Hiding behind a sorta-neutral handle online is something I also did during the few years that I played fantasy baseball. (Yes, it’s Catfish as in Hunter.) I just couldn’t STAND the thought that the statheads wouldn’t take me seriously, and damn it, I KNEW the slugging percentage of whoever played left field for the Brewers in those days. I’m not in the least intimidated walking into a room of white guys, but I am careful not to express opinions in a way that get dismissed by same as flighty, frilly, or dumb. Anyway now I am out of the #topoli closet, so to speak, let me acknowledge just how fantastically right KWT is in her approach and way of framing issues for women in particular. For many years I was a single mom and for a lot of that time I was one paycheck away from eating cornflakes boxes. My kid and I used TTC to get to various daycares, school, work, doc, dentist, orthdontist, Birchmount Bulldogs, Ted Reeve, house league this and that, cub scouts, summer camp, friends, relatives, downtown, uptown, midtown, and all points in between. With or without stroller, school bag, hockey bag, etc. etc, When he first started daycare, my morning route was bus, subway, bus to the babysitter; then bus, subway/subway to work (or bike in summer). Again in the evening. Rinse and repeat five days a week. Without access, regular service, lots of destinations and lots of stops, we could not have managed what we did, i.e., give the kid a regular kid life full of regular kid things. For years he wanted to be a streetcar driver.

    What I do find frustrating is not the preponderance of white guys – I am quite fond of the species in general – but more the focus on defining transit success as zooming from Point A to Point B at the speed of light. That is a very dudely viewpoint. There are accompanying myths like comparing ‘waiting in the snow for LRT’ vs. ‘nice warm cosy subway stops.’ How do you suppose a parent with a babe in a stroller and a five year old carrying an art project gets to the subway stop through two feet of snow in the first place – are those flying unicorns back in service? Women probably think through the realistic needs of transit users much better than guys (who may just get a teensy bit competitive in the debating arena).

    Actually speaking of councilspotting, I’m trying to wangle March 21 off work to show up for the Scarborough Subway vs LRT UFC Championship Bout. I’ve never been to City Hall before and I think it’s time I presented my pinko lefty union self to Giorgio.

    God it’s nice to have more than 140 characters. Thanks for the space.
    – Annie/Catfish8888

  2. Hi! Pleased to (digitally) meet you. And thanks for your epic comment.

    I’ve been using gender-neutral handles and profile pics virtually all the time I’ve been online, and I guess I’ll never know how that affected getting to know Twitter people offline, or their opinions of me. I know what you mean about trying extra hard not to be flighty. I wouldn’t say it’s hard being “one of the boys”, but I’m definitely very conscious of it all the time.

    I really like how you put it:

    the focus on defining transit success as zooming from Point A to Point B at the speed of light

    because the quality and safety of the transit experience gets left out. In addition to all the things you listed, I haven’t heard much talk about, say, what it’s like waiting alone late at night, or getting harassed on public transit, or needing the help of a stranger to carry the stroller down a flight of stairs to a subway station. Why aren’t we talking about it on our own terms? It’s irritating that it feels like an uncommon perspective when women are about half the population.

    Please do come out on March 21st if you can! It’s pretty much guaranteed to be HBO-grade dramedy.

  3. Pingback: Welcome | witopoli

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