Timmins councillor calls out sexist email, sparks social media debate
TIMMINS -- Timmins city councillor Michelle Boileau is hoping to spark conversation around the treatment of women in the workplace, after she received what she calls a misogynistic email while on parental leave.
The sender apparently responded to Boileau's automatic message reply, telling her that "women have no place in politics or the workplace." The email went on to tell her to "have more kids and never come back."
Rather than ignoring the remarks, Boileau decided this was an opportunity to expose what she said many women experience daily.
"I think the fact that we have just been brushing it under the rug is why these kinds of comments are still happening in 2020," Boileau said. "Personally, I thought it was important to put it out there, to call it out and I encourage other women to do it."
In her career as a politician, including running in municipal and federal elections, Boileau said she has become used to a certain level of offensive remarks. But she said the blatant tone of this email, and the fact that the sender seemed to feel comfortable enough to write it, was troubling.
"It was hurtful, not because it was directed towards me but mostly because it was directed to all women," Boileau said.
City councillor Noella Rinaldo said she's become familiar with rude comments from constituents, business people and fellow councillors over her 10 years at city hall.
She said early in her career, she would often make light of those situations. But in recent years, Rinaldo said she's been strict about calling out sexism when it arises. Talking with Boileau after seeing the email, Rinaldo said she advised her fellow female councillors not to tolerate misogyny from both men and, at times, women.
"I think we have to be mad," Rinaldo said. "We have to say that is wrong and it's incorrect to say that and we have to stop them in their tracks. It has to be out in the open that this is not acceptable."
As for having open discussions about sexism, Rinaldo said Boileau's decision to post the email she received on social media was the right approach.
Boileau said her post is garnering a largely positive response and has even led to women sharing their own experiences of rude remarks in the workplace.
In councillor Kristin Murray's experience, said she would receive criticisms on the campaign trail that her professional pursuits would take away from her role as a mother. In that vein, the email Boileau received was particularly frustrating.
"I find it surprising that someone would think that, as a mother, you can't take on other roles," said Murray, who attends university, works full-time and is a mother, in addition to being a city councillor. "You can be a mother, you can be a professional, you can wear many hats."
The situation hasn't changed her approach to fighting for women's rights, said Murray, who is involved in various women's groups and committees in the city. Her philosophy involves speaking up against sexism when it arises, but also not allowing it to distract her from her ambitions.
Setting the example
Murray, Boileau and Rinaldo agree Timmins has made strides on city council and the corporation to develop an inclusive atmosphere. Rinaldo said to discourage sexism in the community, public officials need to continue setting the example so women feel encouraged to reach their full potential.
Deputy Mayor Andrew Marks said the city's current council is the most inclusive he's been a part of, with three female councillors, but more still needs to be done.
The key element, he said, is communicating about social issues in the public sphere, like Boileau has done.
"My wife reminded me of something the late John Lewis said, that silence is complicity," Marks said. "For the City of Timmins, we need to have conversations. We'll practise active listening, we'll hear other people's views ... and maybe that could help us all grow into a more inclusive Timmins."