In the heat of the U.S. election campaign, an Ottawa butcher shop put up a sign that stopped me in my tracks.
It advertised a Clinton special with small turkey breasts and big thighs, and a Trump special called the “grab a rump package.”
Over the next few weeks, the sign came up in conversations with neighbours and friends about the American election. All politics is local, after all.
I was offended by it. To use a woman’s body to advertise meat, to make light of another man’s derogatory comments about women’s bodies – to me, that’s not OK at any time, but there was something about this time that made it worse.
Turns out, though, I seemed to be in the minority among people I know. Responses ranged from it being a good way to lighten a sombre election mood, or that the shopkeeper was known for jokes, and, while this one might not have been the best, so what. If you didn’t find it funny, one person said to me, you didn’t have to laugh.
There was a time where that’s exactly what I would have done: just not laughed.
Taking the time to go into the store and express my displeasure, to write the owner – that’s not something I’ve ever done before.
But this time I did.
Why now? It’s because of the other women in my life.
They didn’t encourage me to go into that store. They didn’t know about the sign until later. An effect of the Clinton versus Trump campaign, however, had been that a lot of us had been talking a lot more about what being a woman means today.
When you start realizing that all your female friends have a story – a boss who only hands choice projects to men, a male colleague who dismisses an idea you suggest, but goes on to use it himself – you begin to realize that experiences you thought were yours alone are not.
And you also begin to see that behaviour you brushed off, or thought was because of something you did, might have nothing to do with you personally but your gender.
The butcher shop owner later said that what he was trying to do was be funny, not offensive. It didn’t occur to him that’s how the “jokes” might or could be understood.
And that’s one reason I walked into that shop. Because the conversations about how those jokes aren’t funny can no longer be had just among women.
In my circle of Jewish friends, the election-related conversation sometimes careened off into a conversation about Jewish life, the separation of genders everywhere from religious institutions to such seemingly secular areas like fundraising, like the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s “women’s campaign.”
A part of me thinks it’s well past time to retire the idea of a “women’s campaign.”
There’s no de facto “men’s campaign.” Canvass all of us as individuals or family units, according to our interests or needs, not our genders.
Yet, each year at Choices, the annual Federation women’s fundraiser, I see women I never see at any other community event. I meet new ones who’ve never been to a community event at all, but they are at this one because another woman invited them.
It takes women talking to women to give us all the strength to build the community we want to live in.
When I told my daughter that Clinton had lost, she responded in typical toddler Talmudic fashion with a question: “Did she try her best?”
I don’t know the answer to that.
But the broader answer to my daughter’s question is whether we, as women, are trying our best: to build communities where we are proud to raise our children, to stand up for ourselves. I walked into that butcher shop to do all those things.
And to people who told me to lighten up, including women, who said that sign was just a joke; to them I say, what if it wasn’t Clinton’s body being made fun of but your own, or your daughter’s?
It’s no longer enough just not to laugh.