5 Totally Bonehead Messages From Leaders During These Times
Let's be extremely real here, folks: America is currently run by the guy from Home Alone 2 who used his bully pulpit during a once-in-a-lifetime plague to wonder if people should be shooting up cleaning supplies (like Trainspotting but starring Mr. Clean). But he's not unique in being a font of gobsmackingly awful advice -- here are some other leading luminaries making the world stupider:
The Mayor Of Osaka Said Women Shouldn't Go Shopping
According to Ichiro Matsui, the mayor of Osaka, this is a time when the menfolk should shop for the household. Why? In his own words, spoken at a coronavirus press conference: "Women take a longer time grocery shopping because they browse through different products and weigh out which option is best." Unlike men, who "quickly grab what they're told to buy so they won't linger at the supermarket -- that avoids close contact with others."
When a reporter called him out, he just said that that's true in his family, even though it might sound out of touch. Of course, he later got dragged later on social media -- for example, famous journalist Shoko Egawa said that "people who know nothing about daily life shouldn't make comments," and regular users called his comments "full of prejudice against women" and "disrespectful to women and men." Which you'd think wouldn't even need saying in one of the world's most advanced countries, but 2020 has found yet another way to disappoint us.
Unfortunately, views like his aren't too uncommon, Japan is still a very patriarchal society where women are routinely expected to take care of kids and do household chores on top of working full-time. To give you a sense of how bad it is, the World Economic Forum's gender gap index ranked it 121 out of 153 countries.
In an environment like that, it's probably not too out-of-left-field to hear a major politician make misogynistic statements with the weak defense of "I know this might sound out of touch." Being part of a society that patriarchal might make you think that those beliefs are a little quaint, at most, and make you ignore the impact of repeating them from a position of power. And that's one reason to be glad that, at least, a reporter called him out on it right away. It may not be much, but it's one puncture in a really noxious bubble.
A Canadian Energy Official Said It's Great That People Can't Protest Pipelines
In a podcast interview in May about building a pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver, Sonya Savage, the energy minister of Alberta, Canada, said that now was an ideal time for it. Why? because the lockdown limited protests to 15 people. "Let's get it built," she said, making her interviewer laugh, as you might expect a normal human being to do. She didn't laugh back, not even with a maniacal cackle. Instead, just to drive her point home, she emphasized that "ordinary Canadians" wouldn't put up with protests that could prevent job creation at this point anyway.
If you expected Canada's opposition to condemn her for minimizing the importance of preserving the environment, well ... you would be disappointed. Irfan Sabir of the New Democratic Party criticized her remarks because, he says, they would "harm the reputation of Alberta's energy industry" and make it harder to attract investors. Admittedly, we're having a hard time understanding why people who want to build pipelines would be turned off by someone begging them to build a pipeline.
The Albertan government has a history of being pretty bad for protesters. In December 2019, they upped the punishment for people protesting for animal rights at agricultural facilities, and in February 2020, they introduced a fine and possible jail time for protestors who mess with the functioning of energy infrastructure (which was already illegal). To be fair, the Premier did say that a guy arrested at the legislature for protesting the lockdown should be able to protest -- but that wasn't a case where a big corporation's interests would be directly harmed.
So Savage's comments, while awful, are part of a pretty clear pattern. The Albertan government seems to be all about building pipelines, no matter the human and environmental cost. This is just probably the first time someone said the quiet part out loud.
An Indonesian Cabinet Minister Compared The Virus To A Wife
Mohammad Mahfud MD, Indonesia's Minister for Politics, Law and Safety Coordination, was discussing government policy on a YouTube stream in late May. That sounds as unbearably boring as anything could be, but things got out of control pretty soon. As he was discussing how the government plans to adjust to the pandemic, he said the Minister of Maritime Coordination sent him a meme (as top government officials do, apparently) that said "Corona is like your wife. Initially, you try to control it, then you realize you can't. Then you learn to live with it."
Indonesian women's rights groups absolutely slammed him for the comment. Mike Verawati Tangka, secretary-general of the Indonesian Women's Coalition, called the comment not just misogynistic but out of touch, adding that it "shows he doesn't have a clear understanding of the seriousness, the gravity and the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic ." And Women's Solidarity group chief executive Dinda Nisa Yura basically echoed that -- according to her, this doesn't just reveal public officials' "sexist and misogynistic mindset," but also their impotence in dealing with the pandemic.
Mahfud MD has apparently faced zero consequences for this. That's in spite of the fact that women's rights groups ruthlessly piled on him and that Indonesia made the global news thanks to his dumb statement rather than, well, anything else. You'd think that maybe the rest of the government wouldn't want a misogynist flapping his mouth to represent them at home and abroad, but you'd be wrong. Maybe they're just too busy sharing memes.
Tanzania's President Says The Virus Burns In The Body Of Christ
Where could COVID patients find healing? Perhaps in hospitals? According to Tanzanian president John Magufuli, definitely not. They should go to church for "true healing" instead. This is because coronavirus is a "devil" that "cannot live in the body of Christ. "It will burn instantly." Trying to use disinfectant? Don't bother. "There is no disinfectant that kills coronavirus." Disinfecting just kill mosquitoes, fleas and cockroaches, he says. As a reassurance that you aren't listening to someone unqualified, know that Magufuli has a Ph.D. in chemistry.
This guy was so intent on people healing through going to church, he kept mosques open for prayers during Ramadan (but at least the meal eaten to break the fast wasn't shared -- you could only get it as a takeaway). He even set aside days for prayer to rid the country of the virus. And, just to top it all off, priests and worshippers apparently didn't have to wear gloves during services.
You can probably guess how he reacted when Tanzania became COVID-free. That's right: he thanked Tanzanians (of all faiths) for praying and fasting for God. He believes (as do many Tanzanians, he says) that the Almighty wiped out COVID in the country, apparently thanks purely to the healing power of prayer and devotion. Pretty disappointingly, people reacted to all this by cheering and applauding.
It's pretty grim, but you have to wonder how many were put at risk by remarks like that. OK, at least some preventive measures were taken -- like making sure people couldn't share meals during Ramadan -- but it sounds like he basically totally ignored everything medicine had to say. We're wondering what he'd have done without a chemistry Ph.D.
An Ohio State Senator Asked If African Americans "Don't Wash Their Hands As Well"
During an Ohio Senate hearing to decide whether racism should be declared a public health crisis, Sen. Steve Huffman boldly decided to ask if, maybe, it was African Americans' fault they got sick. Wondering why African Americans aren't more likely to get COVID than the general population, even though they're more likely to die of COVID, he asked if maybe they were just bad at avoiding disease. These were his words: "Could it just be that African Americans or the colored population do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves?"
We're just glad he didn't keep going with that.
He posed the question to Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, who is black, and her response was a model of restraint. "That is not the opinion of leading medical experts in this country," she said, presumably while trying to hide her disappointment mixed with a resigned lack of surprise. She then clarified that while, yes, all populations need to wash their hands, differences in the incidence of disease probably aren't down to whether populations wash their hands at different rates.
Not everyone had an equally restrained reaction. People at the hearing visibly cringed and, later, Huffman got fired from his job as an ER doctor. Democratic State Rep. Stephanie Howse told a local paper that the question is a good example of what systemic racism looks like, as Huffman was a working physician and presumably approached his Black patients with the same (incredibly condescending) assumptions.
Did Huffman make a contrite apology -- maybe saying his misspoke, or something? Nahhh. In a phone interview with The Washington Post, he just said he really didn't mean to use derogatory language at all -- really, he just thought "people of color" and "colored population" were basically interchangeable. Did he address how dumb, patronizing, and clearly racist his question had been? Of course not. He just stressed several times that it was a rhetorical question. That was that. Maybe he thinks the realm of rhetoric is beyond racism.
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