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Thursday, July 15, 1999

New cowgirl has little sympathy for 'Kickin Vixen'

Christie Blatchford
National Post; Christie Blatchford can be contacted at

It is to a dim old broad, especially one currently languishing in Calgary, which at Stampede time is veritably awash in cowboys in tight Wranglers, all of them talking out of the sides of their mouths and simply oozing testosterone, hopelessly confusing.

First, the National Post sends me west to cover the chuckwagon races as part of our Best of Summer project.

I resist bitterly, but go anyway.

Within three days, I have adapted so brilliantly I voluntarily stand at the rail at Stampede Park, where I watch the races close up and emerge covered in horse dung and dirt and giddy with it; I spend hours and hours in the barns and see grown men cry at the tragic death of their friend and fellow driver Bill McEwen; one day, when I get out of a taxi at my downtown hotel, and look back to see that I've left nothing behind, there is a pile of straw in my seat, and I grin with the warmth of Belonging.

Rarely do I feel more sure of what is manly and what is girly and what is both.

Then I begin reading about the woman now known in Toronto as the "Kickin' Vixen," the 30-year-old who 10 days ago found herself being admired by a group of teenage boys and who responded by slapping one of them across the face and then kicking him in the family jewels, which she fully admits to doing in the local papers.

She is charged with common assault, which seems fair to me. I am alarmed only by her attempt to claim the high road by detailing the years of on-street harassment she says she has suffered and then telling one writer, "It wasn't right, but it was human."

Then I begin noticing the letters to the editors in those papers, first a dribble, then a flood. This culminated in yesterday's Globe and Mail with a whack of them appearing under a headline that read, "Enough! -- the cry goes up," all of them from apparently articulate women, all hailing the vixen Corinne Branigan as a hero.

I am reading these letters, working myself into a rage, when my Post bosses call and ask me to write, from Calgary, about the Toronto vixen and, implicitly, the state of men and women.

Good grief: Just when I thought I knew, again I have no clue.

What's a woman? What's a man anymore? How do you tell? How does a woman act as aggressively as a man, be promptly anointed a dear brave bunny, and get away with it? How does it happen that a bunch of boys could unleash some catcalls, see one of their own dispatched, and be painted as cruel thugs exemplifying male piggery? And whence this general rush to victimhood?

In Calgary, a stampede means horses and hooves; in Toronto, it means criminal charges, lawsuits, wounded feelings, psychological injury and therapy.

A review of the facts suggests the vixen may have, shall we say, overreacted just a tad -- "She just freaked out on us; she's crazy man," one of the alleged villains, Adam Chapman, says -- but for the purposes of this discussion, let us grant that at least she knew how to handle herself. Her feistiness is not unadmirable, though it may have been more than a shade over-the-top.

Certainly, the damage she inflicted upon the alleged victim, 18-year-old Jason Batisse, appears to have been minimal, though he did go to hospital later to have the scratches upon his nose checked out.

In any case, the vixen was immediately released by Toronto Police on what's called a Form 9, which means a simple promise to appear in court next month.

Traditionally, what happens to an accused reflects the seriousness of the alleged offence, and a Form 9 release is lowest on the scale, behind a Form 10, which often has some sort of conditions attached and requires the accused first be paraded before a sergeant at a police station, and behind a show-cause hearing, in which an accused is held overnight and must attend a show-cause hearing. It is safe to infer that Mr. Batisse, poor lamb, has recovered fully from his alleged injuries, though Mr. Chapman notes he did suffer considerably from "the kick in the balls."

Still, it's not with Ms. Branigan my unease lies, though my hunch is she's a flawed figure; the phrase "aspiring actress" always makes me nervous.

Mr. Chapman, for one, who seems a nice young man, is adamant that the comments coming from others in his group that night were initially innocuous, that she instigated the obscenities which were exchanged, and that it was when Ms. Branigan returned from her local laundrymat that she marched over to the group in the schoolyard where they had gathered to play soccer and listen to music, whereupon he says she tried to give his boom box a boot, whereupon Mr. Batisse stepped in -- and into it, as it were.

Mr. Chapman's eminently sensible mother, Shelley, points out that there are "always three sides to a story. They were wrong, she was wrong." But she, too, is stunned by the preposterous claims being made by the vixen and on her behalf -- the suggestion that because she's slight and the boys who issued the catcalls that night are big kids, the balance was automatically off. Ms. Chapman is offended by the rallying of the sisterhood to the vixen's side. "All those boys [who were there that evening] are native Canadians," she says. "Should we get the Indians onside?"

Mr. Batisse, she says, is a lovely kid, very shy, with little sisters and a mother he adores. He was crushed by being described as a "wuss," this because he sought his mom's advice before calling the police to complain about Ms. Branigan. "She's the person he trusts the most in the world," says Ms. Chapman. "He doesn't fight women, but she hit him, and it hurt. What should he do?" Being portrayed as "mama's boy" has hurt him, she says. Should the courts be asked, she notes jokingly, to weigh the psychological damage now?

Years ago, her son, Adam, once stepped in to help a boy who was being beaten up. The boy asked, afterwards, how he could thank him. Adam, being a kid, said, "Aw, gimme a buck the next time you see me." (As Ms. Chapman says she told him the other day, "You're a kid. Everything you say is silly.") When the boy's family later filed charges against those who had been physically pounding their son, they also charged Adam, his rescuer, with extortion. A judge later threw out the charge but how ridiculous was that, Ms. Chapman asks? Should taxpayer dollars be used on frivolous matters like this? And why is everyone in that city so sensitive and litigious, anyway? And what gives with grown women who can't handle a bunch of teenage goofs who flirt with them? The world I know is neither so male-dominated nor oppressive, thank you so much.

At the end of the day, I will defer to the nice man named Evan Shindle I met a few days ago in Calgary at a Stampede breakfast. Born in Saskatchewan, he is 44 now, and lives in Burnaby, but has spent much time in this city, and once, in 1984, lived briefly in Toronto.

"It took me about two months to become a freaking asshole," he said.

As for me, I am looking forward to finding a nice apartment here, within view of the racetrack, and the men who make maleness transparent, thus helping define who I am, and what is expected of us all.

Copyright Southam Inc.