In 1985 the Canadian Minister of Justice, John Crosbie, told a female liberal minister to “just quiet down, baby.” Sheila Copps’ response has become legendary. She said simply, “I’m nobody’s baby.”
That smart and incisive retort came at a pivotal point in my life. I had been in Canada for eleven years and had been living in various parts of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, supporting my husband’s career in the mining industry and giving birth to two children.
In 1985 my son was six years old, and my daughter was three. We had just moved to Calgary, Alberta, and I was feeling as though I had no identity. We had lost money on our real estate investment (the 1980’s were a lot like the late 2000’s), and we were living in a rented duplex. I had given up my teaching career because Alberta would not accept my English academic qualifications. My days were full, I never got enough sleep, and I had no friends. So, I did what I knew how to do: I read, I wrote, and I took university courses.
Sheila Copps’ confidence was an inspiration. She was not only a female in public office, she was interesting, attractive, original, combative, and clever. I never really saw Maggie Thatcher as a role model, but Sheila Copps was a different story. She wasn’t only playing a man’s game. She was fully female in a man’s world. I have never forgotten how pleased I was when I saw her on TV standing up to a popular “man’s man” in a public forum. She seized the moment, she had a witty come-back, and she stood firm.
Years later, I’m still learning how to do that. When I feel affronted I get an uncomfortable feeling, ruminate on things for hours, then come up with witty repartee just as I’m falling asleep. That is what happened today.
I had just walked into a Lenscrafters’ store when a tall, assertive, blond woman welcomed me. She asked me what I wanted, and when I explained that I needed new glasses because my own were scratched, she steered me towards another employee. In so doing she said, “This little lady is looking for new glasses.”
I did a mental double-take. Did she actually just say what I thought she said? Yes, she did. By this time, though, I was now talking to a different woman and explaining what I wanted. The moment had passed. The tall blonde was now welcoming someone else. Even if she had not been, I don’t know what I would have said.
She wasn’t being deliberately rude, and she probably thought she was being friendly, but I felt infantilized. It was a condescending thing to say. I am not tall, but I never think of myself as short. I am not young, but I never think of myself as old. Somehow, my height, my gender, my accent, and my age translated to “a little lady” in her mind.
While I don’t object to being seen as short, and I don’t object to being considered a lady, somehow putting the two together was demeaning. I didn’t say it at the time but for the record, Lenscrafters, I’m nobody’s little lady.
Image source: http://www.whydidyouwearthat.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/girl-with-glasses-reduced.jpg