While writing my Lester B. Pearson posting on the weekend, a line in the Pearson biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online stuck out to me: “[L.B. Pearson’s wife] Maryon is one of the most interesting of the Canadian prime ministerial wives.” Apparently she was known for such barbed comments as “Behind every successful man there is a surprised woman.”
This is something that I’ve noticed before – in Canada, we don’t tend to focus on Prime Ministerial (or PM candidate’s) wives the way that they do with presidential wives in the US. Hell, they are even given a title – “First Lady” – in the US. Honestly, the only ones whose name I can even think of off the top of my head are Margaret Trudeau and Mila Mulroney. I have a sneaking suspicion that Paul Martin’s wife was named Sheila, and Jean Chrétien‘s wife, Alene¹, but other than that, I couldn’t tell you. I haven’t the faintest idea what Harper’s wife’s name is. Conversely, I know of Laura Bush, Lynn Cheney, Hiliary Clinton (obviously), Tipper Gore, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Marilyn Qualye, Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martha Washington²… and those are just off the top of my head!
I rather like that politicians’ wives aren’t focussed on here because, really, women are more than just an appendage of their husbands³ and should be free to do their own thing even if their husband happens to be the PM. I mean, of course they are going to be involved, but focusing on a candidate’s/president’s wife to the extent that they do in the US (I’m remember the cookie bake off between Hilliary Clinton & Barbara Bush during the 1992 US presidential election) just rubs me the wrong way.
OK, now that I’ve been thinking about this (but clearly don’t have anything all that coherent to say on the matter), I’ve been tooling around through Wikipedia and have learned the following things:
- you can’t call the wife of a Prime Minister the “First Lady” because technically the “First Lady” would be the Queen or queen consort
- the wife of the Vice President is known as the “Second Lady”
- the mirror term for “First Lady” used when the spouse of the President is male is “First Gentleman”
- the Wikipedia entry on “Spouses of the Prime Ministers of Canada” is fairly short, but did answer two of my previous questions4
There, don’t you feel so well informed now?
¹no idea on the spelling of that one
²not to mention Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton (again, obviously), Cindy McCain, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Elizabeth Edwards… well, you get the point!
³should they chose to have one
4The spelling of Chrétien’s wife’s name is “Aline” and Harper’s wife is Laureen.