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Who deserves the Person’s Case Award?

November 16th, 2008     by Nicole Cohen     Comments

The recipients of the 2008 Person’s Case Awards were announced earlier this month. The award honours people who have made “outstanding contributions” to the advancement of Canadian women and is named for the five women who, in 1929, won the right for women to be recognized as persons - The Famous Five.

The list of recipients is impressive but Shari Graydon - a longtime feminist activist and writer - wonders why the youth award was given to a man named Ben Barry for running a modelling agency. Shari has passed on a letter she wrote to the Persons Case Award Committee (see below). In it, she argues that the Person’s Case youth award could have been handed out to one of the hundreds of young women across Canada who struggle to improve women’s lives in meaningful ways.

I agree with Shari. In the face of the continual violence, exploitation, and oppression women in this country face, and considering the tricky tactics the beauty industry uses to sell us things we don’t need, I do not believe that running a for-profit modeling agency should be recognized as making an “outstanding contribution” to women’s lives, and I can think of dozens of young women activists (many of whom frequent this blog) who deserve this award. Maybe Shari’s letter will inspire you to nominate someone next year.

To The Persons Case Award Committee,

I was disappointed to learn that the committee making the selection of winners for this year’s Persons Case Award decided to award one of the six prizes to a young man.

I am happy to know that it is possible for an entrepreneur to make a living representing models of different shapes and sizes, and I hope that in doing so, and in talking about related issues, he helps to change the media environment for all of us.

But as Ben Barry’s website makes clear, he is in the business of meeting clients’ needs and finding the models they want. Good for him for embracing and exploiting this marketing niche. I wish him well and expect that his financial success will be its own reward.

But the fact that there is a business case for using more diverse and representative models is not an innovation; MediaWatch began making this case back in 1994, well before the Dove campaign. We conducted research, published a report and made national headlines with our findings, which laid out in clear terms that advertisers would do well to feature real women in their campaigns.

Our efforts were supported by dozens of women across the country who volunteered their time and energy with no hope or expectation of personal gain. I suspect many of them have continued to invest themselves in projects designed to improve women’s equality, often sacrificing better paying jobs in the private or public sectors in order to make more meaningful contributions in an area that still presents many opportunities for improvement.

In my own work - with MediaWatch, with the Women’s Future Fund, with the Coalition of Elizabeth Fry Societies, with the BC Centre for Excellence in Women’s Health, with the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, with Power Camp National, with Vancouver Rape Relief, among others - I have come into contact with literally hundreds of women across this country of all ages who have worked selflessly and for no financial gain or public recognition for many years to improve the equality rights of women and the often unfair or dangerous circumstances of their lives. I was proud to nominate two of those women this year, and - time permitting - could have made compelling cases for many more.

Indeed, when I was honoured with the award myself last year, I was embarrassed to discover that many of the women I have considered inspirations and role models had not yet been recognized themselves. I vowed to help change that and would be happy to support the decision-making committee in generating more submissions from diverse sources. As long as inequities remain in Canada, I am certain there will be no dearth of worthy female recipients for this, the most prestigious feminist honour in the country. Awarding the prize to a man seems like tokenism of the worst kind, and an insult to the thousands of deserving Canadian women.


Shari Graydon

Tags: activist report, in my opinion..., news flash

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