Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stephen, we hardly know you … and likely never will.

On Sunday morning I watched as the current prime minister of Canada held a televised press conference in Québec city and wondered out loud: Who is this? Absent was the familiarly churlish, arrogant, sneering, hostile, contemptuous man that many Canadians knew from past scrums with reporters. So who, or what was this incarnation of Stephen Harper taking questions from the judiciously assembled media?

Soft-spoken, smiling, polite, charming and almost shy as he gazed away and back to the camera, this seemingly diffident version of Stephen Harper was a performance designed to disarm the eager, possibly aggressive probes from the press corps and to capture the hearts of women watching.

The Conservatives know, from polling results, that their leader has a “female” problem. The majority of Canadian women do not trust Harper to defend their rights. To redress this situation, a cleverly crafted persona was created: a gentle and even sweet Stephen.

This was the Harper on display Sunday morning.

I found his performance riveting. Like most Canadian women, I have experienced in the course of my lifetime at least one intimate relationship that was abusive and based on power imbalance. It matters little who that particular individual was: parent, teacher, friend, coach, lover, boss or spouse.

It is the habitual pattern of behaviour that is significant: an ingratiating phase followed by angry, authoritarian actions that are intended to control. Faced with the loss of a relationship (or control over someone) a bully has to resort to a display of tenderness (recriminations, tears, pleading, cajoling, and charm) to seduce the target of his attentions, to convince her that he deserves a second chance.

Since I’ve never let Stevie even get within view of first base with me, his display was intellectually fascinating but did not strike any of the emotional notes that it was meant to do.

As for the men who were watching, there was nothing in Harper’s demeanour that shrieked out ‘girly man’ or weakness. In fact, if any of the guys caught on to his little charade, they probably chuckled to themselves, in solidarity and self-recognition. It likely reminded them of the time their mom caught them downloading porn from the internet or the moment their wife accidentally opened the envelope with the $300 fine reminder for a speeding ticket and the subsequent grovelling they had to do to set things right.

Surely it’s no secret the CPC had extensive, in-depth surveys done to establish how to spin the announcement of an election that, based upon legislation presented and passed by their New™ government, should have been held in 2010. Focus groups results likely determined that the unfavourable ‘gender gap’ factor vis-à-vis their leader could best be overcome by getting Stephen to wear a different face.

And what a stunning performance piece that was. One does wonder what emotional trigger Harper accessed to provide such a convincing act. Raindrops on roses? Whiskers on kittens? Whoever coached him has a brilliant future in Hollywood.

However it should be interesting to see whether the polls conducted by the Cons immediately after Harper’s performance demonstrated that this display was successful in soothing the concerns of Canadian women. I found Stephen Harper’s act amusing yet ultimately, alarming.

Whatever is concealed inside that blue paper package tied up in string, remain wary and vigilant.

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