One of my favourite local columnists is the Toronto Star's Jim Coyle. I wanted to point out two of his recent columns, both dealing with the same general theme.

In the first, Coyle looks behind the most recent flap about Liberal MP Belinda Stronach, and finds, lo and behold, what surely must be the world's oldest and most widespread bigotry.
In the aftermath of a dispute about whether or not Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay had disparaged Stronach — his former lover — as a dog during an exchange in the Commons, Spector reportedly said on a Vancouver radio station: "I think she's a bitch. It's as simple as that.

"And I think that 90 per cent of men would probably say she's a bitch for the way she's broken up Tie Domi's home and the way she dumped Peter MacKay."

Spector said the issue of MacKay's alleged insult received more attention than it merited because "half the press gallery now are women, and women find this very offensive."

Later, he reportedly defended these remarks on the grounds that the Oxford English Dictionary defines bitch as "malicious" or "treacherous," that Stronach allegedly was this in leaving the Conservative party for the Liberals, and that he was speaking not as a partisan of any party but as an "analyst."

Well, you'll have to put this space in the 10 per cent.

For starters, it's interesting to consider where this sort of savage "analysis" was when male politicians crossed the floor or when male politicians too numerous to list have found themselves entangled in messy affairs. At a minimum, it would appear a slight double standard was at work.

Frankly, I carry no brief for Belinda Stronach. (The rich are different from you and me.) But of one thing there can be no doubt. And that was where responsibility rested in the matter of Tie Domi's home.

Belinda Stronach was not married when her relationship with the former Toronto Maple Leaf allegedly began. Tie Domi was. Belinda Stronach made no solemn undertakings to Leanne Domi. Tie Domi had. Belinda Stronach had no obligation to Tie Domi's children to safeguard them from hurt and harm. Tie Domi did.

Tie Domi — not Belinda Stronach — had full responsibility for maintaining his marriage and his home. The choice was his.

Spector's "analysis" — the notion that Stronach had no right to leave the relationship with MacKay when she chose, the proposition that she had more obligation to Domi's marriage and family than the man himself — comes perilously close to just the sort of proprietorial rage and creepy self-pity used by every man who ever stalked, threatened or brutalized a former partner.

This year, Jack Holland's book A Brief History of Misogyny was published posthumously. Holland died of cancer in 2004 just after finishing the manuscript. His book was subtitled "the world's oldest prejudice." And it's hard to say otherwise. Holland was apparently appalled, his daughter Jenny wrote in a foreword, by the astonishing list of crimes committed through the ages against women by their husbands, fathers, neighbours and rulers.

Through history, he found half the world's population chronically oppressed and brutalized by the other. And he found misogyny in the words of Greek thinkers, from Christian ascetics of the third century to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, from the back streets of 19th-century London to the freeways of modern Los Angeles and, as we have known too locally and too recently, classrooms where young women and girls study.

Holland didn't resort to calling names at the perpetrators. He did what might be termed some "analysis."

On the depressing list of hatreds that human beings feel for each other, he said, "none other than misogyny involves the profound need and desires that most men have for women. Hatred co-exists with desire in a peculiar way. This is what makes misogyny so complex: It involves a man's conflict with himself.

"Indeed, for the most part, the conflict is not even recognized."
The second column deals with a subset of this oldest prejudice, a figure of speech that I detest and try not to use: the use of the word "balls" to mean courage, gumption, nerve or inner strength. Some people who possess those qualities also possess testicles, but a look around our world will confirm that when it comes to courage and strength, testicles are not required. Indeed, sometimes it seems they are a hindrance.
It was impossible to read the numerous splendid profiles of Toronto mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield published in the last few days without noticing a recurring theme.

She was, it was said, "a tough nut." She was "a tomboy in pearls." She apparently works on car engines herself. She successfully cut it, prior to entering politics, in the macho business of sales.

It was in that manly realm that she reportedly developed "an elephant hide." And it was in the same rock-ribbed environment she absorbed the teaching that "no excuse is good enough."

From such testosterone-soaked testimonials, it was probably only a short jump to the eye-popping declaration made by not one, but two women journalists around town.

No credible male challenger would take on Mayor David Miller, one wrote. "Only Pitfield had the balls to do it."

The Leaside councillor doesn't have a chance in the Nov. 13 vote, another said, "but does at least have balls" to have made a fight of it.

Now, it cannot be entirely without meaning that political discourse is conducted these days in language that makes Ms. Pitfield, a long-shot mother of four, sound less a sacrificial lamb than a sacrificial ram.

Recent analysis in the United States has attributed the long-running success of the Republicans there to their masterful control of the terms of (such as it is) debate.

A liberal, say, is no longer someone willing merely to entertain both sides of any discussion. Rather, they are, by definition, detestable latte-sipping, foreign-car driving, draft-dodging, flag-burning, same-sex marrying, tax-hiking weenies.

Frame the terms of the argument and you usually win. And if the only females who are portrayed as capable of cutting it in the upper echelons of politics are both figuratively and now physiologically indistinguishable from men, well, women lose. If they bother to enter such a preposterous and puerile contest at all.

Surely, it does not bode well locally for the goal of attracting more women to politics and improving the tone, depth and quality of political debate when the best that can be said of an aspiring female candidate is that she both acts like a man and, in fact, owns what was once regarded as a key part of that gender's defining hardware.

It is probably a measure of the depths to which political conversation has sunk — all the more remarkable given the chaos that male leaders have through the generations created — that this non-gender-specific "ballsiness," as it were, is so frequently trotted out as a measure of high praise.

One chap is said to have "balls of steel." Television satirist Stephen Colbert is said to have "balls as big as church bells."

Even those who go off half-cocked on some reckless and ill-advised adventure or other, and end up in the inevitable ruin, can generally count on the consoling nod that "at least he has balls."

It's hard to say precisely when this business began of balls having more merit than brains, or of it being considered praise of the highest order — even from women — to say that even those categorically without them possess them.
If there's a figure of speech I hate more than this, it's the opposite: the use of words for female genitalia to mean weakness. I know I display my own prejudice when I say that the common usage of "pussy" and "balls" often gets it ass-backwards.

Jim Coyle's columns here and here.

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