Photo by: Shealah Craighead/White House

The Plague-Ground – Women’s Faces in Urgent Places

I think one reason Canada’s doing ‘okay’ in beating back COVID-19 is that we have so many women in charge of fighting it.

Half of Canada’s 10 chief provincial medical officers are women, as is Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and Toronto’s, Dr. Eileen de Villa. This, in a land where there are no women Premiers or Prime Ministers. None.

Every day for the past month, these women have followed their political masters in daily briefings, buttressing the latest announcement with facts, science and advice.

As CTV News noted: “The scientists are pushing aside athletes and … entertainers for the public’s attention.”

Theresa Tam is no Celine Dion. In her “steely, distinctive voice,” she cajoles and comforts millions of us who are suddenly turning to broadcast news for our life-and-death information. Dr. Tam is almost a cliché of a typical Canadian professional: she was born in Hong Kong, got her medical training in Britain, then moved to BC where she was a fellow in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia.

Her female colleagues are threatening to become rock stars:

Dr. Bonnie Henry of BC cried when she announced at a press conference that two elderly people had contracted COVID-19 in a long-term care home.  They hadn’t died. They’d just got the virus. Did we wince when we saw those tears? Did we think her weak and not up to the job? Of course not. If anything, her compassion and concern galvanized our own.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw of Alberta had to self-isolate, then returned to the podium wearing a dress patterned on The Periodic Table of Elements, which its Victoria manufacturer is now scrambling to meet orders for. Lest you think this is all a bit ‘girly’, take note that Quebec’s chief medical officer, Dr. Horacio Arruda gave Quebeckers his recipe for Portuguese Tarts to encourage them to do something they usually don’t in order to break the boredom of self-isolation.

Dr. Eileen de Villa is no stranger to health-care politics. She brings to her daily briefings with Mayor John Tory the scars from criticizing Premier Doug Ford’s loosened alcohol regulations, and pushing Ottawa to ban the sale of handguns. She took on Ford again when he tried to cut the number of public health units across Ontario from 35 to 10, claiming the Toronto Board of Health to be a “bastion of lefties.” Less than a month after Ford’s cuts were announced, Toronto confirmed two new cases of measles.

Meanwhile, up at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, runs one of the largest Health Management Organizations in the world; and in Ottawa, Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, and Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, seem to be able to convey facts without their leader’s drama-school eye-rollers of being “all in this together” and “there for every Canadian.”  Not that this doesn’t need to get said. Just not once every minute.

So now let’s cast our glance, painfully, to the south. By statistical right, Canada should be running at about one-to-ten cases of COVID-19 compared to America.

As of this writing, Canada has 5,655 cases and America has 124,686 – a more than one-in-twenty ratio. This is not cause for congratulations, but for fright.

Here I was going to hail Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, whose measured expertise has made her America’s Second Most Credible Spokesperson, next to the redoubtable Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is 79.

Until two days ago when the infection of standing so closely to America’s 45th President took hold as she answered a question about the clear and present reality that there won’t be enough respirators or hospital beds for everyone.

“To say that to the American people, to make the implication that when they need a hospital bed, it’s not going to be there, or when they need that ventilator, it’s not going to be there — we don’t have evidence of that right now.”

Oh well, it was a nice theory that women are more credible than men. Especially when it comes to existential crises.

At least it still is here in our home and native land.

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21 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Women’s Faces in Urgent Places”

  1. Hi Bob, Thanks for your important insights. I particularly appreciate today’s message. As a woman who’s been around the block more than a few times, I can bolster your point that we experienced women have little tolerance for BS. We raised the tough issues and ask the tough questions, and when necessary we give the tough messages, but with as much compassion as we can muster. Keep you insights coming, and everyone, please stay safe!

    1. Because I wanted to show just how dreadful things are with the Trump White House.
      Thanks for connecting, Gerlinde.

      1. Can’t help but shake my head when I see Trump’s conferences – they all stand shoulder to shoulder, including Fauci!

        You know, the first step in leadership and change management (and this is from McKINSEY so it MUST BE RIGHT???), is ROLE MODELING.

        Maybe Fauci should insist he have his own disinfected microphone and podium, and that everyone stand back at least 2 metres. Ok 7 feet then.

  2. Too many men in power make it about themselves. Yes, a gross generalization and never true when speaking of individuals, but sadly much too true in general.

  3. It is reassuring to listen to and watch these top [female] professionals tell it like it is. Give a woman a fishing rod and she will make damn sure there is supper on the table. For everyone.

  4. Birx, and I will not refer to her as a physician, was a Trump hack from Day 1. Did anyone not notice that she was more a bobblehead behind Trump at the very first presser, where she nodded profusely at every statement, no matter how false and inflammatory, he made? She is a disgrace to women who are playing such a vital role to fighting this virus. Want me to tell you how I really feel? 🙂

  5. I disagree in part. Canada may be doing better not because women per se are smarter or better-– but because Canada taps and uses the talents, skills, courage and intelligence of the other half of human race: the female half. Yes, yes no argument that the most prejudiced group in the history of mankind is not based on race, religion or creed but on gender. And yes again there are still some issues remaining in Canada. But either through luck or happenstance I have dealt with multiple cultures across in the world in my travels. The conditions women find themselves are appalling, That is not the situation here. Women are equals. Women are not inherently superior to men, and men certainly aren’t inherently superior to women. Human beings have skills set. Utilize the needed skills of a human being for the right situation. That is what is happening here.

  6. Bob, I’m convinced it’s time to give control of our world to the women. We guys have screwed things up for far too long.

  7. Hi Bob: beautiful piece. As a US trained female physician for over 20 years, always adamant to tell it like it is, I am proud to join the team of Canadian female physicians now in the last year as we face this crisis together as a world league of physicians. Zubina Mawji,, MD, MPH, FACP

  8. Bravo Bob!!! I have been reinforcing this reality and am so proud of their incredible contributions. It is time – so many new realities are coming from this crisis! Sophisticated technology as a way of doing business is no longer optional – it is de rigueur daily! And with young people being at home, many will see the leadership of these special women – and now have fabulous role models!! Wonderful!!!

  9. Bob, thank you for these blogs which I enjoy. Totally agree with you on our PM’s vacuous feel good comments, but not so much on your gender argument. Dr Fauci is the most credible US spokesperson while Dr Birx stands behind her leader nodding and smiling in support.

  10. I am so proud of all our women scientists and politicians and our country. Two men stand out for me; who I have just listened to; Bill Gates and Gov. Coumo. We won,t mention the others. Stay well, Jane

  11. Bob, as the father of three teenage sons and two grown daughters, I’m dismayed to hear you peddling this divisive dogma of “four legs (female) good; two legs (male) bad”. I am not for a moment denying the abominable behaviour of too many men in public and private life. But I’m pretty much convinced that the wholesale demonizing of maleness per se makes for only more damage and despair in and by our young men. Far better to emphasize examples, as you did by singling out Dr. Fauci, of what a good, grownup man looks like.

  12. Ah well, yes gender. There it is yet again. I wish I didn’t have to notice – men / women / or what is the non-gendered person term?

    In fact, I had not particularly noticed the examples you point out, Bob, although I do keep seeing and hearing Dr. Theresa Tam and her commercials these days. Also, in BC, Dr. Henry’s cautious, too early to call, but MAYBE good news we all want to hear – paraphrased – “we think social distancing is helping to reduce the acceleration of the curve”. I hadn’t much noticed women premiers in decline either, although I certainly notice the rise of some asses, and a frightening turn toward American-style politics. Maybe this COVID19 situation is causing a change in that tune.

    Bob, as usual, your words provoke, and this is good. As we make gender equality progress, we cannot take an attitude of “we” better than “they” (south side borders or otherwise).
    I love when we have top notch, qualified people in top roles. I actually think the PM is doing his role and doing it well, (let’s not criticize his doe eyes – that’s genetic). He has a daily session, keeps on message, is clearly coached and keeps adjusting as new circumstances dictate. The policy / programmes seem to be flexing as needed. I don’t think it is Trudeau creating all this, but his cabinet / team / handlers. I am grateful to have a PM who tunes in to that and is an advocate for women in politics. I think Krystia Freeland is a star. I am thankful that Trudeau seems to encourage and let her be. He also recently appointed Kirsten Hillman as Cdn Ambassador to USA following her work in negotiating delicate matters surrounding the border closure.

    In terms of the medical / research & science side, listening to my nephew who is a research doctor at SickKids, he tells me unequivocally – it is harder for women in science. They continue to face gender bias, and those old school assumptions that create steeper barriers for reaching top jobs. Science may be unbiased, but institutions are human constructs. So when we see women in such top jobs, know they have broken their own versions of glass ceilings to get there.

    We will know we have arrived when gender is not noticeable, but in a twisted way, we cannot be complacent and we will need to keep track anyway.

    (Mom of 3 boy-men who have been known to tell me “Are you gender assuming me, mom?” )

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