They laughed at suffering women! On May 12, 1982 NDP health critic Margaret Mitchell rose in the Canadian House of Commons to address the issue of domestic abuse. As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs Ms. Mitchell had been hearing story after story from battered women who at the time had no legal recourse to hold their abusive partners accountable and no safe places in the community to escape them.
During question period Margaret Mitchell asked the Liberal Minister for the Status of Women Judy Erola what the government was going to do to address this crisis. “One in ten Canadian husbands beat their wives regularly” said Ms. Mitchell. At that the predominantly male House of Commons erupted in laughter. Yes laughter ! Then Tory members of the house began to heckle her.
Ms. Erola rose to tell the men she did not find their behavior amusing and neither did the women of Canada. She promised to provide funding for more transitional housing. Margaret then asked the Solicitor General to require the courts treat spousal abuse as a criminal act. Of the more than 10,000 charges laid by abused Canadian wives up to that point only two had resulted in convictions.
The next day Ms. Mitchell introduced a formal motion asking that the members of the House of Commons who had laughed at her and heckled her apologize. It was defeated.
The Atlantic magazine ran an article this week called The Cruelty is the Point. Writer Adam Serwer lists incident after incident where President Trump has made fun of the suffering of others. And incredibly many of his supporters hoot and holler and applaud when he does so. According to Serwer the American President really takes pleasure in his cruelty.
Trump believes the United States is the birthright of straight, white, healthy Christian men. Accordingly he says cruel things about the LGBTQ community, immigrants, black athletes, women who are the victims of sexual violence, Muslims, and people with physical challenges. His bravado in doing so makes his fans feel so proud and happy and united they cheer and laugh.
But we Canadians should not feel too smug. We need to remember we are capable of such cruelty too, capable of laughing at the suffering of others. Margaret Mitchell’s experience is a good example.