By Mita Naidu
I’ve been followng closely and listening with respect, like many of you, to the voices emerging in this particular moment in history.
Several leaders have captured my attention and risen to the top of the pandemic news cycle.
Dr. Bonnie Henry (provincial health officer for B.C.) and Dr. Theresa Tam (chief medical officer of Canada) have certainly garnered our collective respect with their impressive intelligence, their ability to hold pressure-filled press conferences, their dignified handling of the wide array of questions and criticisms, and their unwavering energy to deliver day after day.
Recently, as a result of her popularity, Vancouver designer John Fluevog created a pair of shoes in honour of Dr. Henry. Jaunty and pink, with a Mary-Jane buckle, the shoe was most certainly inspired by Henry’s sweet, smart, and spunky press conference vibe (noted by many observers).
We know Dr. Henry is a fan of Fluevog’s by the numerous pairs she wears in her pressers. Although this might seem like a paternalistic reward to some, as a fashion nerd myself, I did think it was great that this brilliant woman (with no desires for celebrity) was offered such a personal tribute for her hard work.
What ALSO immediately crossed my mind: where were the rewards and collective recognition for Dr. Tam?
Keeping in mind that both doctors are delivering roughly 95 percent of the same content and messaging, I seemed to observe a duality in our focus on these two leaders:
One is seen as having “the voice of reason and calm”, the other is seen as having a “steely, distinctive voice”, et cetera.
One has an actual fan club (they made her a song), the other…does not.
Knowing the social media world can serve an as open-mic reflecting the darkest wounds in our society, it can also serve as a barometer. Twitter has not been kind.
Dr. Tam’s accent, her delivery, her lack of makeup, and her overall appearance IN ADDITION to her knowledge, her expertise, and her qualifications have been questioned daily.
Also, media and other observers have written some interesting headlines to be sure:
“Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle…”
“Devastating Timeline Reveals Total Incompetence Of Theresa Tam’s Virus ‘Response…’”
“No offence Dr. Tam, but Canadians need a second opinion…”
“Dr. Bonnie Henry brings wealth of global experience to B.C.'s COVID-19 response…”
“An ode to Bonnie Henry, on guitar and standup bass…”
“Dr. Bonnie Henry has reasons for managing information, but more wouldn't hurt…”
Sense a difference yet?
The deeper probes need to be asked at some point:
Why are we rewarding and recognizing one and not the other?
Why are we more forgiving toward one and not the other?
Why is one more harshly criticized than the other?
Why is appearance, voice, and delivery judged at all?
And is ANY of this tied to the anti-Asian vitriol deeply entangled within this pandemic?
Acknowledging my own positionality, privilege, and power as a woman and settler of colour living in unceded lands, I am eager for my daughter to have answers to these questions.
At 17, she may have already discovered that she may not always get the same credit, rewards, and recognition of her colleague—while doing the exact same work with the same qualifications.
She may have already discovered that she will get judged and criticized on superfluous details that have nothing to do with her competency. She may have already discovered that this is something we ALL need to confront as Canadians… sooner than later.
All “rock stars” deserve a pat on the back every now and then…and maybe a “cute pair of shoes designed in their honour”.