When newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his cabinet recently, it wasn’t just its gender parity or ethnic and generational diversity that made the news, but Trudeau’s explanation. When asked by a reporter why a cabinet with an equal number of men and women was important to him, Trudeau responded, “Because it’s 2015.” His explanation was that no explanation is needed.
A few weeks earlier and on the other side of the border, there was another interesting moment in politics when U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan shared his conditions for taking the job of Speaker of the House. On his list: weekends at home and limited travel to spend more time with family.
His conditions elicited praise from the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, as well as Huffington Post editor Arianna Huffington. “We need work to work for parents,” Sandberg shared on her Facebook page, “and having leaders who weigh responsibilities as fathers as much as their responsibilities to their jobs shows all of us what is possible.”
Ryan’s statement also elicited criticism. “The Wisconsin congressman is ready to fight for work-life balance – just not on behalf of the American people,” wrote Joe Hines in Salon. Larry Wiltmore, on his late night comedy show, was more colorful in his critique. At issue for both, is Ryan’s opposition to the Family Leave Act.
With three words, Trudeau ended a conversation because there is no conversation – the importance of gender parity in government, academia and all sectors of the economy is a given. On the other hand, Ryan’s words generated a great deal of conversation. This, too, is positive. Whether pilloried or praised, his words were taken at face value. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that this is a sea change in public discourse. “Family” means family. It’s not a cover. It’s not an excuse. It’s a reality, and hey, it’s really okay to talk about it.
For some time now, many have said change will happen only when men realize family time is essential. It would be folly to use one American politician as a litmus test for this theory. Yet, there’s promise, I think, in the conversation coming from the American people.
Meanwhile, in other political news, Nepal has elected its first female president.
The role is more ceremonial than substantial, but given Nepal’s rigidly patriarchal society, the election of Bidhya Devi Bhandari, a long-time campaigner for women’s rights, is also promising.
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