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Manon Masse

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Splitting hairs in the Quebec provincial election

 

Perhaps you’ve heard, or not, what is going on in Quebec right now? After Ontario, it is now Quebec’s turn to elect a new government and there are quite a few options available to the voter. But, without talking politics, what I find most interesting in the 2018 Quebec provincial elections concerns one candidate in particular: the co-spokesperson of Québec Solidaire—and the only woman running for the position of Premier of Quebec—Manon Massé.

Massé and Québec Solidaire have, for sure, left-leaning ideas and want to shake things up by offering substantial tax reductions for everyone, accessible public transit, and free schooling, from daycare to the doctorate level. They have a different approach to doing politics, starting with the idea that there should not be a single party leader, but rather two co-spokespersons. What drew me to Massé in particular, though, was not her separatist stance, but how people reacted to her looks. Yes, if you look carefully, you will see in interviews and pictures that Manon Massé has visible facial hair and wears it with pride.

Her ‘moustache’ has been talked about in the past and ridiculed to such an extent that, for some in the media, it is now considered old news. However, I was in the belle province this summer and I realized during discussions that her permanent movember is still the subject of some dire remarks, and that it, quite frankly challenges people’s expectations of what should be the outward appearance of a politician. One thing I noticed in those discussions this summer was that certain people cannot get past the capillary facial fence, a fact that prevents them from even considering the party’s political message, so offended they were by it.

Such an attitude truly saddened me, since I realized that some people’s notion of a woman’s appearance is so restrained and controlled by social normative expectations that this prevents them from listening and questioning the political message at hand. The silver lining, however, to such political entanglements with family and friends, was that my curiosity was piqued: I had to read up on the subject and see if Manon Massé had ever spoken up about her appearance.

Manon, an intelligent and articulate woman with experience in the political arena, is very conscious that she sports a white ‘stache’, but she has decided to remain true to her idea of what it is to be a woman and not fold under the pressure of public expectations and gender conceptions as prescribed by the media and the general public. Not considering her political agenda, I find such a position a strong and admirable one that should perhaps even serve as model for generations of younger people.

This issue touches me in particular because, when I was twelve years old, I was mocked once by someone for having a moustache. I was so offended and hurt by the boy’s comments that I came home crying and feeling that the core of who I was at that time had been attacked. As a result, I proceeded to dye my own upper lip capillaries, only to learn a few years later that one could use wax (my first attempt at this was a disaster). Usually, at a very young age, indeed the very age my son is now, we teach our children the differences between the sexes. In my household, we were confronted with this when my son asked where my ‘penis’ was. Point being, when quite young, we come to learn our gender and what constitutes the outwards signs that define these concepts. In Western cultures, feminine hair is one of the most recognizable differences between the sexes. And, yes, if I let all my body hair grow, I will have less than my partner’s, but it is still expected that what partly defines me as a woman is that I don’t have a beard, or chest hair, as my two year old so aptly pointed out.

But, as a mother, I find myself too busy sometimes to shave my legs. And yes, I’ll admit, I sometimes walk about with hairy legs. When I do, I feel a sort of guilt and shame and I crumble under the pressure of our Western notions of feminine beauty. Women in Canada no longer follow rule books on good behavior such as L’Encyclopedie de la Femme Canadienne, and yet we still operate under certain unwritten rules, perhaps one of the cardinal ones being facial hair. It seems as though facial follicles are undermining the very nature of what it is to be an independent, intelligent, woman nowadays.

And this is why, if only for this gesture, I admire Manon Massé’s demeanor, integrity, and respect of her own set of standards for what constitutes being a woman. In this day and age, when we proclaim that we accept trans-gender people and non-gendered people, I wonder to what degree do we also accept ourselves, our appearances and those of others. Specifically, I think it is important to question those insidious beauty norms that have been imposing themselves over the centuries so that the choices we make are not those of a beauty industry but truly led out of our own accord.