On 'Climate Barbie,' and the plight of the Man Un-Laughed-With - Macleans.ca

On ‘Climate Barbie,’ and the plight of the Man Un-Laughed-With

Tabatha Southey pours one out for the men who relish cheap, crass jokes at the expense of women—which are now being met with silence

Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna takes part in a news conference during the First Ministersí meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie - RTSVGP4

Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna takes part in a news conference during the First Ministersí meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie – RTSVGP4

Last week, during a news conference, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna responded to a question from Rebel Media journalist Christopher Wilson by asking if he, and Rebel Media in general, would commit to not using the #ClimateBarbie hashtag of which they are so fond, and stop calling her “Climate Barbie.”

Wilson said that he “personally” had not done this, but could not commit on behalf of Rebel Media as a whole.

To be fair, no single Rebel reporter, even its B.C. bureau chief, can make promises on behalf of all of Rebel Media. He certainly can’t reasonably commit to preventing Rebel Media from doing something utterly pointless that completely undermines their credibility as a news organization. As far as anyone can discern, that’s their mandate.

Requesting that someone stop Rebel Media from employing the same witless insult over and over again is some Jason-and-the-Argonauts-level tasking. The Rebelers get so excited when they find one of these insults, it’s like watching a new knock-knock joke tear through a class of very large and ungainly grade ones: “Orange you glad I’m not telling you my opinions on ‘Gypsies’ again?”

Asking Rebel Media staff to stop repeating the exact same demeaning insult ad nauseum—they’ve been using “Climate Barbie” since McKenna was named to her cabinet post, back in November 2015—is like asking them to stop saying things on camera that can be easily disproved; in fact, Wilson had called McKenna “Climate Barbie” in several tweets, which he later deleted when they were pointed out to him, and twice in a column that is still online.

McKenna made it clear why she was asking Wilson, The Rebel, and others to knock it off. She would like more women, including her own two daughters, to feel more welcome in politics. A climate where women are routinely condemned as too ugly to be seen or too pretty to be taken seriously—even when they are not in charge of the coveted “Hot or Not” portfolio—is one that should undergo some manmade change.

READ: Canadian politics are sexist. What are men going to do about it?

Still, critics were quick and predictable in saying that, while Rebel Media shouldn’t have called her that and it was misogynist, the real shame was her reaction—it’s just not dignified, they said, and if McKenna wants to be a minister, she has to have thicker skin.

“Thicker skin,” in this context, is that unique form of toughness expressed entirely by letting people walk all over you. Thicker skin is the thing that women are expected to grow at the same time they’re being told to “lighten up.”

Apparently, the ideal form of a woman politician is some kind of hydrogen-filled armadillo. Although, truth be told, Ms. Hindendillo would likely secure my vote.

This same level of epidermic fortitude is not, by and large, demanded of men who are mostly seen as reacting, not over-reacting, to affronts to their dignity. We validate male rage to the same degree we invalidate female rage, and the fact that I instinctively wanted to change that to “female anger” to make it less threatening, speaks to that.

McKenna, for the record, did not appear angry during the news conference, although she did look fed up. She was, after all, being asked to answer a question put to her by a man who has repeatedly referred to her as a plastic doll, asked on behalf of a news outlet that has repeatedly referred to her as a plastic doll, and that has also invited others to refer to her as a plastic doll. This invitation, some may recall, was eagerly taken up by one Gerry Ritz, a now-retired Conservative MP from Saskatchewan who this past September tweeted, “Has anyone told our climate Barbie!” in response to an article about countries meeting the Paris climate accord.

It’s “Member of Parliament” not “Member of Pageant,” and yes, “Barbie” is gendered, and yes, it’s an insult. There does seem to be a growing reluctance, or more likely a longstanding-like-a-mighty-sequoia-now-being-articulated reluctance, on the part of a good many women to accept that a certain amount of this nonsense is just their lot in life. They’re done being hazed.

WATCH: Monique Bégin’s powerful speech to MPs and senators about male power

I don’t think McKenna’s response to Wilson (B.C bureau chief!) was out of line. If you want your work as professional question-asker to be taken seriously—and Wilson, chief of the B.C bureau, did say woundedly, “I have a legitimate question”—it’s best not to refer to people you seek to engage in dialogue as children’s toys.

Most people know this. If they find themselves in need of affordable caffeine or some child-silencing donut holes, they will instinctively go with “Excuse me, do you know where I can find a Tim Hortons?” over “Hey, Navigation Polly Pocket! Where’s the nearest donut place?” Four out of five doctors of Not Looking Like a Really Weird Nine-Year-Old agree that this is a better method of getting to a coffee shop.

An exclusive interview with Professor Stephen Hawking, for instance, will likely go more smoothly if you’re not on record as having referred to him as “Black Hole Bratz Doll” for two years running.

In large part, cheap insults dramatically weaken the speaker’s authority and produce less than desirable outcomes, as anyone who’s ever shouted, “Get out of the building, In Imminent Mortal Danger Tamagotchi, there’s a gas leak!” can attest.

A scenario that involves the words “Okay, Desperate Hostage Taking Twilight Sparkle, let me get this straight, you want a fuelled plane and $5 million in unmarked bills? I’m going to have to talk to my boss Chief Troll Doll…” is unlikely to end with Little Hostage Timmy safe and smiling on the front page of the newspaper.

Yes, the question, “Can you offer assurances that your remarks regarding the purpose of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s visit to Iran will have no effect on the judicial process there, Boris Johnson, you big Foreign Affairs Weeble?” does rather roll off the tongue, but it has so far been wisely avoided.

McKenna is no more obliged to accept being referred to as a blonde plastic hyper-sexualized toy than the rest of us. She clearly doesn’t want to accept it for the rest of us, but what she did when she called Wilson out at that conference was more than ask not to be called a toy. Watching some of the response to her brief remarks, I realized that what she did was close to radical: refuse to laugh at a man’s joke.

That may be the sea change you’re feeling, and what some are responding to. At its heart, what we are watching unfold is the tragic story of The Man Un-Laughed-With.

He’s at a bar with his friend, this man, but the friend is named “Keith,” and you can only expect so much comfort from a Keith. Our man stares into the distance, then realizes an observer might mistake “the distance” in Keith’s eyes and so quickly looks at the TV, which is off.

“This blonde woman didn’t laugh at my blonde joke, Keith,” he says.

“Seriously?” Keith replies, obviously startled, a touch confused. “Maybe she didn’t hear you?”

“I think she did. I repeated it about 17 times. Maybe I should have stuck it out for 20.”

“She gave you a sardonic eye roll though, right?”


“A dry ‘LOL’?”


“What about that thing where she doesn’t actually smile but her mouth forms a perfectly straight line so it’s clear she’s not frowning?”

“Not even that. She didn’t even spare a huff that I could mistake for a chuckle if I were drunk, Keith.”

A long pause.

“It’s like I look out my window and what do I see? A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me. Hand passes me a note, just says, ‘Dude, that’s not funny.’ All the nightmares came today, and it looks like they mostly consist of women giving me blank stares and impatient glances when I make terrible jokes at their expense.”

“Wow, giant sky is a real bitch,” Keith offers.

Later that night, our man sits alone and tries to put his pain into verse.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

Women aren’t laughing at my jokes




On ‘Climate Barbie,’ and the plight of the Man Un-Laughed-With

  1. Perhaps we’re at a turning point where women (and good men) will not only recognize sexism and misogyny when they see it or are the brunt of it, but will speak up against it. It is not political correctness; it’s empathetic correctness. It is standing up for what is right.

    I applaud McKenna–she stood up for herself and she stood up for all women.

    • JT elbows a female MP. Captured on video — witnessed by millions. Apologies are forth-coming. An admittance of poor judgement is confessed and Canadian’s are soooooooooooo forgiving. Excuses of “poor judgement” or a “momentary lapse of reason” are given.

      Do you not find it strange how we (or the media) pick and choose who can and cannot be forgiven?

      • Yes, an accidental bump is on the same level as misogynistic hate speech.

        • Depends what side you’re on. Many have called the “accidental bump” an unprovoked manhandling. It was enough to cause the MP to leave and miss an important vote. After all — only one whip is needed to be seated for a vote to proceed. There was absolutely NO reason for Trudeau to bring Mr. Brown to his seat. In fact Mr. Brown told Trudeau to “let go of him” and return to his seat.

          Liberal MP Nichola Di Iorio said to a Conservative MP “Where’s your pole to slide down?” — and he said it on International Women’s Day — of ALL the days. Why did the misogynistic hate speech disappear from the press. Like I said — strange how we (or the media) pick and choose who can and cannot be forgiven.

    • Let’s be real here. McKenna is charged with crafting, promoting, and enacting legislations that will be injurious to the liberties and economies of tens of thousands of Canadian families, with almost no concomitant benefits accrued to any other Canadian families outside of those who live and work within the regulatory realm. If the minister wishes to play in that realm, she needs to grow up and start wearing her big girl panties.
      To volunteer for the responsibilities she has signed up for- deeply damaging as they will be to many- and apparently be expectant that all will be sunny ways is demonstrative of both thin skin and shallow intellect. If the apparently dim and fragile minister thinks folks are being mean to her, she needs to go get a job drooping fries into the oil, ’cause she ain’t cut out for the big leagues.
      She’s stepped into a gunfight that she instigated, armed with a plastic picnic knife, and is complaining about the noise of the gunfire.

      • Let’s be clear, you do not like the polices of the duly elected gov so you think it is fair to be disrespectful to a woman by referring to her as a toy. we get it we get you, we have always got you now we can tell you.

  2. It’s a ‘class’ difference.

    And the Cons don’t have any.

  3. Time for her to put on her big boy panties and realize that she’s a politician and politicians are not always treated the way they would like to be treated. She has her supporters and her detractors. She’s giving this matter legs it doesn’t deserve by taking the stance she has taken. I’ve heard her boss referred to as a snowflake, the surfer dude, Mr. Selfie, etc. If he went out and asked those “mean” people to stop, he’d likely get more as she has inspired for herself.

    • In my opinion you could not be more wrong. Our society is getting more ignorant, more rude, more insulting and it is not right. We can express our opinions, thoughts and ideas but by calling people names we only degrade ourselves. This has been going on for a few years but has only become worse since Trump got involved with politics. Anybody who disagrees with him is called a derogatory name. I don’t understand why we put up with that kind of behavior. It is demeaning.

      • Did you forget about Hillary calling half of America who disagreed with her “deplorables”? That was a pretty big swath of hatred released in one fell swoop.

        • Or, Jerome, you could have read Clinton’s remarks in full. Was that just too much work?

          “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now how 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

          But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroine, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

          • Trump clearly recognized something that Clinton didn’t-that there are a lot of Americans who not only feel they’ve been left behind under years of Democratic leadership, they have, in fact, been left behind!
            Consumer confidence is at a high because Trump has given them some hope. My concern, however, is that with all the daily drama, he won’t get a chance to deliver. Probably a good move for Trump to step down and let Pence take over and get on with delivering without all the drama.

    • Turdo is the latest name for Trudeau in comments on this site. Doesn’t seem to bother the editors.

    • Your support for misogynist trash talk is duly noted

    • Nope you are wrong mocking a professional takes away from all of us, we work hard and have the right to be treated w respect in our workplace calling a woman after a TOY is shameful.

  4. Small-c and big-C conservatives wore that insulting, misogynistic nickname out long ago. But they’re reeeeally slow on the uptake.

    The close correlation between climate change denial and a particularly bigoted, unthinking, regressive strain of right-wing political ideology is striking. I wouldn’t be surprised if 90% of Trump supporters reject climate science as a ‘socialist conspiracy’.

  5. The outburst by the so-called Environment mInister was just a distraction to change the focus from a prominent OECD spokesperson who said that Trump was doing a better job of actually reducing emissions than Trudeau and the #hashtag minister. That and Chrystia Freeland had been hogging all of the headlines.

    For a perception obsessed #hashtag minister, who can’t leave home with her taxpayer funded photographer, she had to do something to change the narrative of her failure on the climate file.

    But her outburst was followed by her ebullient praise of Bashar Al Assad, which put her right back in the ditch of fighting for the title of most incompetent female in Trudeau’s cabinent with Melanie Joly.

    • It wasn’t even close to an outburst. It was a legitimate comment that needs addressing. Just because Trump is demeaning and rude we don’t have to follow his lead.

      • I should have added to Hillary calling half of Americans who did not support as being “deplorables”, she also called the various women who ratted out her husband’s sexual deviance “sluts and trailer trash”. Trump has a way to go to be that demeaning and rude!

    • Go Catherine , you are absolutely right.

    • Your support for misogynist trash talk is duly noted. You’re not so bad at it yourself.

  6. She should have kept Her Trap Shut, Now she will allwaaayyss Be Climate Barbie…

    • you will always be the asshole who thinks women need to keep their trap shut.

      • Why does this happen so often…at no point did he say all women should keep their mouths shut..only she should have kept hers shut in this case.

        • Jackie just spouts the normal left wing banter which falls under the banner of: “you don’t agree with everything I say so you are a racist, a misogynist, and a white supremacist.”

  7. People are hypocrites and liars.

    Politicians are skilled manipulators of people.

    She calls him a misogynist for calling her a Barbie. If it wasn’t this it would be something else.

    The supposed issue has long been lost in the scrum.

    In every case one perspective will be supported by truth, the other contradicted by it. Usually the contradicted side begins the personal attacks. That’s the ONLY way politics works to manipulate hypocrites and liars.

    Dont buy into it. Politics is becoming to governance what the horse and buggy became to transportation.

    Value truth and accept it when it contradicts your faulty perspective. Then demand action supported by truth. No more politics, no scrum.

    More women in politics? Fill your boots.