CHARLOTTETOWN - A new father's successful appeal to make a new-mothers parking spot more inclusive has prompted a debate stoked by what one observer calls the "oppression Olympics."
Justin Simard prompted a Sobeys grocery store in Stratford, P.E.I., to change policies this week — the chain now welcomes fathers to use parking spots previously marked for new mothers.
"The signs at our Stratford Sobeys location have now been updated to read expectant mothers and customers with small children," a Sobeys spokesperson said in an email Thursday. "We will continue to work on updating signs at other Sobeys store locations in Atlantic Canada."
News coverage of Simard's complaint prompted much social media debate, and one mother to write a letter to a P.E.I. newspaper, noting that carrying a child takes a physical toll on women — swollen legs, body aches, stitches after labour— that has no male equivalent.
"Women in full-term of pregnancy and postpartum are temporarily handicapped," Jessica MacFadzen-Reid wrote in the Summerside Journal-Pioneer. "After both (of my) labours ... I was in pain and I was granted a spot to park my car to make the ordeal of feeding my family a bit easier.
"No father has ever had to experience this."
MacFadzen-Reid, a stay-at-home mom in Summerside whose husband is currently on paternity leave, told The Canadian Press she sees Simard's claim to mothers' parking as an example of men feeling entitled to female-designated spaces.
"This is really a story about a man feeling very entitled to hear his voice heard, and a society that kind of lays down and lets him," MacFadzen-Reid said in an interview.
The 38-year-old Simard has admitted it "seems silly" for a man to complain about sexism, but he also questioned the inclusivity of excluding, for example, two-father families.
On social media, some applauded Simard's push for father-friendly parking, while others saw his stance against "sexist" signage as itself being sexist.
Simard tweeted Wednesday that 98 per cent of the feedback he has received has been positive, but the remaining two per cent has included "hate speech, sexist remarks" and suggestions that he "grow a pair."
Ann Braithwaite, a professor who studies diversity and social justice at University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, said the seemingly "mundane" details of people's lives often become the battleground for broader questions, because they are easier to digest and hit closer to home.
However, she thinks the parking-space issue has been blown out of proportion by what she called the "oppression Olympics," in which groups vie to one up each other's claims to hardship.
"Our attempts to be more inclusive too often end up in people policing each other," she said. "If that's the only way that we can get things to change in the world, then we're really in trouble."
Braithwaite said there is enormous attention being paid to claims made on the basis of identity, which can be viewed as a sign of progress.
But too often, she said, people are fighting to ensure justice "only happens for certain groups of people in certain ways," and efforts towards inclusion are interpreted as coming at another group's expense.
"I think people are highly attuned, sometimes badly so, I think ... to what they perceive to be entitlements," she said. "It's worry that if everybody starts asking for something, I will lose something."
While there may only be a limited number of front-row parking spots, Braithwaite said, inclusion is not a zero-sum game.
She said updating signs to include new fathers and trans men who might be pregnant should not be seen as ceding female territory, but an expansion of what it means to be a parent.
"Trying to be more inclusive is experienced by so many people as meaning they're going to lose something," Braithwaite said. "Rather than, we can change the world hopefully to be a more inclusive space."
— By Adina Bresge in Halifax