The MP Who Cried Misogyny: Dagenais vs. Borg

jean-guy dagenais charmaine borgIf this were a real fight… I’d probably still put my money on Trudeau

In case you haven’t heard, last week Conservative Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais sent a letter to 23-year-old NDP MP Charmaine Borg – copying all MPs, senators and their staff – allegedly personally attacking her for distributing a flyer in her riding – and his – advocating the abolishment of the Senate, which is, you know, just one of the most fundamentally well-known positions of the New Democratic Party.

According to the Toronto Star, in the original letter (written en francais), Dagenais “characterized Borg as a whiny, ignorant, useless Quebec MP who was elected by fluke and stands little chance of being re-elected.” He also suggested that Borg go to the Library of Parliament and “read a book” to better understand the Constitution before criticizing it. Borg fired back on Monday by formally lodging a complaint against the Conservative Senator “for what she describes as a condescending, ‘misogynistic,’ personal attack against her.”

At a time when the Senate is facing more criticism than possibly any other time in Canadian history (expense scandal, anyone?), the motives behind Dagenais’ letter seem clear: he’s simply defending the Red Chamber. However, was the letter insulting? Yes. Attacking? Oh, yes. Misogynistic? Well… let’s take a step back.

While the letter carried misogynistic undertones, Dagenais did not come out and explicitly attack Borg for being wrong because she is a woman. And while Borg makes a good point that this sort of “public humiliation” wouldn’t be accepted in any other workplace, we need to realize that the House of Commons ain’t your typical workplace. Watch a solid 5 minutes of any daily Question Period and you’ll quickly understand that it’s not just character-assassinating letters that separate the HoC from other Canadian day jobs; pretty much everything that Canadian parliamentarians – elected or otherwise – do on a daily basis would be a typical organization’s Human Resources nightmare.

The “Real World: House of Commons” aside, not only did she say this type of public humiliation wouldn’t be accepted in any other workplace, she made a point of saying “especially towards a woman.” And in a press conference on Monday, Borg said, “the tone insinuated I was nothing but a little girl who knew nothing and I do find that tone very misogynistic. And I do believe that if I was not a young woman I would never have received such a letter.” Not to turn the tables on Borg, but her implication that Dagenais suggested she read a book because she was an uneducated “little girl” was indeed, nothing but her own. Uh, honey? No offense, but doesn’t that make you sound a little misogynist by implying Dagenais’ language may be acceptable man-to-man but definitely not man-to-woman? What if you happened to be black? Or disabled? Or a member of any other minority? Let’s just agree that whether or not Jean-Guy Dagenais is perceived to be a raging misogynist, Borg is also grasping at straws, making this a feminist issue when it is, in fact, more of an ageist one.

elle beaver patrick brazeauIs it weird that the thing that stands out most to me about this is how much
better our MPs look with a spray tan?

Indeed, a well-known piece of info is that Dagenais ran as the Conservative candidate in the electoral district of Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot in the 2011 general election. Judging by that cushy appointment to the Senate in 2012, Dagenais didn’t win. Who beat him out, you ask? Well, rookie NDP Marie-Claude Morin, a woman who, like Borg, is nearly 40 years Dagenais’ junior. So, Mr. Dagenais, are you defending the Senate or swallowing those last few sour grapes of losing the election – and your hometown riding – to a smart young woman opposite the spectrum? Or maybe you’re just starting your 2015 campaign already. It would seem fitting considering Borg recently called you to abandon your seat and run against her in the next election. Hey, maybe you’ll rise to the challenge and take her on and win. Of course that would mean you’d have to give up that $135,200 a year salary in the Senate….but if you stick to your Conservative guns, and think it’s truly age before beauty that matters in politics – as you imply in the letter – maybe it’s worth a shot.

Regardless of Dagenais’ real intent, two things are clear: 1. Dagenais’ wording IS downright condescending and ageist towards an elected official who did nothing more than distribute official party literature; and, as a result 2. Buddy just gave all critics and skeptics of the Senate another clear example of why Canadians don’t need to be footing the bill of a clearly archaic institution.

Misogyny or not: NDP 1 – Senate 0.

And Charmaine, for future battles, don’t be so quick to wrongfully invoke the sisterhood of feminism; we’ve got your back but try not to use it for political gain when there are plenty of other legitimate ways to prove you’re the right woman for the job.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “The MP Who Cried Misogyny: Dagenais vs. Borg

  1. The offending letter is en francais as you point out. The opening of this letter is “Quel torchon!” On the Toronto Star’s comment section for the original story, unfortunately now closed, someone points out that “Quel torchon” means “What a rag!” or “What a mess” (my translation) and refers to the leaflet. And that from the following remarks seems to be what the Senator means; however, were you to search a bit further you would find out that “torchon” also means “slut” so “What a slut!” is a possible translation. Is that misogynistic enough for you? I’m not sure if Charmaine Borg and her staff are aware of that usage or even that usage is Québecois or Francais de France. I’m pretty sure no “Torchonmarche” will be inspired by the Senator’s letter and that’s a pity. Dagenais does seem to be saying like that police officer in Toronto might that Borg is in the wrong place at the wrong time, is the wrong age and not suitably clothed. . My source for my remarks on another meaning of “torchon”? A Dictionary of Modern Colloquial French by René James Hérail and Edwin A Lovatt published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1984 p. 304, but there are other pages on the web that give the same sense to “torchon”. I found the book at my local library in Kingston. .

    • Thanks for the comment Dianna. I’m not a francophone and I didn’t read the original letter. You provide a legitimate interpretation of that wording. If this translation is to be understood as “slut” it is interesting that no one in the media nor Ms. Borg and her team picked this up. However, this possible translation doesn’t apply to the information I used to inform my piece. If validated, of course we can look at it from a different lens.

  2. Saying this e-mail was “misogynistic” means that someone in Borg’s office (perhaps, Borg herself) got it. Dagenais along with other modern MCPs [Male Chauvinist Pigs] veil their comments because misogyny is no longer fashionable. Franco-Ontarians in southern Ontario such as Mlle Borg have to work harder to maintain their French than Parisien(ne)s or people in Québec so I have no doubt that that e-mail was scrutinized by the NDP/NPD and that double entendre was spotted. The actual citation from the English Dictionary on French colloquialisms is ” Torchon: 4) slut, dirty and slovenly woman. This appellation is quite hardy. When referring to their maid, the Jesserand family in Zola’s “Pot-bouille” call her “ce torchon d’Adele”. ” That pig of an Adele or That slut of an Adele would be my translation without looking at the context in the novel. I should point out to you that I learned French properly in Quebec in the 1970s when I was in my mid-20s. I am not an native speaker of French although I tied for the French prize at my high school in grade 12 in 1968. I am also very hard-of-hearing so I am prevented from participating in Kingston’s francophone/francophile community. . .

  3. http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/torchon Trésor de la langue francaise does say that the term “torchon” as a pejorative term for a woman is “vieux” which would mean no longer used. It seems to have been a term used by Zola in his novels. Dagenais has, perhaps, revived a previously forgotten term. I’m posting the page above for those who do read French. Montrealers do have a rather robuste manner of talking to each other. Breath-taking sometimes to this humble person from Kingston, Ontario. If I get a chance I must go down to the Stauffer Library at Queen’s to see what more I can learn about “le torchon”.

  4. Dagenais before being a senator was a police officer. Not the sort of occupation that encourages its members to read Zola, I suppose, but you never know. . . Nathan Cullen who is bilingual seems to understand the situation very well. I’m glad to see Mlle Borg is coming out fighting. Abolition of the Senate or an elected Senate? Is that the question?

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