Women in Canadian Society/Les femmes et la société canadienne

Commentaires

Transcription

Women in Canadian Society/Les femmes et la société canadienne
Editorial Board / Comité de rédaction
Editor-in-Chief
Rédacteur en chef
Kenneth McRoberts, York University, Canada
Associate Editors
Rédacteurs adjoints
Lynette Hunter, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Danielle Juteau, Université de Montréal, Canada
Robert S. Schwartzwald, University of Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Managing Editor
Secrétaire de rédaction
Guy Leclair, ICCS/CIEC, Ottawa, Canada
Advisory Board / Comité consultatif
Alessandro Anastasi, Universita di Messina, Italy
Michael Burgess, University of Keele, United Kingdom
Paul Claval, Université de Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), France
Dona Davis, University of South Dakota, U.S.A.
Peter H. Easingwood, University of Dundee, United Kingdom
Ziran He, Guangzhou Institute of Foreign Languages, China
Helena G. Komkova, Institute of the USA and Canada, USSR
Shirin L. Kudchedkar, SNDT Women’s University, India
Karl Lenz, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Gregory Mahler, University of Mississippi, U.S.A.
James P. McCormick, California State University, U.S.A.
William Metcalfe, University of Vermont, U.S.A.
Chandra Mohan, University of Delhi, India
Elaine F. Nardocchio, McMaster University, Canada
Satoru Osanai, Chuo University, Japan
Manuel Parés I Maicas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Espagne
Réjean Pelletier, Université Laval, Canada
Gemma Persico, Universita di Catania, Italy
Richard E. Sherwin, Bar Ilan University, Israel
William J. Smyth, St. Patrick’s College, Ireland
Sverker Sörlin, Umea University, Sweden
Oleg Soroko-Tsupa, Moscow State University, USSR
Michèle Therrien, Institut des langues et civilisations orientales, France
Gaëtan Tremblay, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada
Hillig J.T. van’t Land, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Pays-Bas
Mel Watkins, University of Toronto, Canada
Gillian Whitlock, Griffith University, Australia
Donez Xiques, Brooklyn College, U.S.A.
ii
International Journal of Canadian Studies
Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
Women in Canadian Society
Les femmes et la société canadienne
Table of Contents/Table des matières
Lynette Hunter
Introduction/Présentation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Barbara M. Freeman
Framing Feminine/Feminist: English-language Press Coverage of the
Hearings of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada,
1968 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Jane Arscott
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After the Royal Commission
on the Status of Women . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Manon Tremblay
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes que les hommes?
Une analyse des votes obtenus par les candidates et candidats du Québec à
une élection fédérale canadienne, 1945-1993 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
Nelda K. Pearson
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment: A Case Study of a
Canadian Farm Women’s Movement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Mimi Ajzenstadt
Cycles of Control: Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender
Role, British Columbia 1870-1925 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
Helen Ralston
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian Immigrant
Women in Canada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Verónica Vázquez García
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada: A Comparative
Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
Ruth Panofsky
“Don’t let me do it!”: Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers . . . . . . 171
Frances Rooney
Edith S. Watson: Photographing Women in Rural Canada . . . . . . . 185
M. Jeanne Yardley and Linda J. Kenyon
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing Women’s Lives . . . . . . . . . 195
Jenny Horsman
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives: Proposal for Research
and Practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
Neil B. Bishop
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique dans Dis-moi
que je vis et Veuillez agréer... de Michèle Mailhot et
They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That de Lois Simmie . . . . . . . . 221
Shirin Kudchedkar
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space: Yolande
Villemaire’s La Vie en prose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
Gillian Whitlock
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Coomi S. Vevaina
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English. . . . . . . . . . 261
Christina Strobel
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian. . . . . . . . . . . 277
Review Essay/Essai critique
Marie-Andrée Bertrand
Regards de femmes sur le Québec, son histoire, ses lettres,
son théâtre et sa vie politique, et les rôles que les femmes
y ont joués . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 291
Introduction
Présentation
The collection of essays in this
issue is widely interdisciplinary
and, as the Journal consistently
attempts, drawn from many
international perspectives on the
issues and academic approaches
to them. Yet within this
multiplicity of views, which
reflect many positions for
intellectual comment and the
enormous differences in the lives
of Canadian women, there is a
consistent preoccupation with
power and with agency. Broadly
speaking, the papers address
three main areas of study
surrounding the relation between
the individual, the state and the
representation and legitimacy of
political power: first, nation-state
politics and its representation
through ideology; second, more
dispersed structures of power and
their discursive representations
often analyzed in social,
economic and cultural studies;
and third, the textual
communities of story and history.
The descriptions, analyses and
critiques that follow are inflected
throughout with issues of
women’s history, gender and
feminism.
Comme elle s’est toujours efforcée de
le faire, la Revue a rassemblé dans ce
numéro des articles qui forment une
trame très multidisciplinaire et qui
s’inspirent de plusieurs perspectives
et approches universitaires provenant
d’un peu partout à travers le monde.
Pourtant, au sein même de cette
multiplicité de vues, qui se réclament
de diverses positions intellectuelles
tout autant qu’elles reflètent les
énormes différences existentielles qui
caractérisent la condition féminine au
Canada, on se retrouve constamment
préoccupé de pouvoir et de
représentation. En gros, on dira que
ces articles abordent les trois
principaux champs d’études qui
cernent la relation entre l’individu,
I’État et la représentation, et la
légitimité du pouvoir politique. Tout
d’abord, la politique de l’État-nation
et l’image qu’il projette de lui-même
dans son idéologie; deuxièmement,
les structures de pouvoir plus diffuses
et leurs représentations dans le
discours: ces représentations
discursives font souvent l’objet
d’analyses dans des études sociales,
économiques et culturelles;
troisièmement, la communauté de
sens que les comptes rendus
d’histoires personnelles et l’Histoire
dans son ensemble peuvent entretenir
sur le plan textuel. Les descriptions,
analyses et critiques qui suivent sont
bien sûr modulées par les questions
intéressant l’histoire des femmes, les
relations entre les sexes et le
féminisme.
The remit of the collection is to
reflect upon, analyze and offer
critical outlooks on the position
of women in Canada during the
thirty years since the Royal
Commission on the Status of
Women. Certainly, two of the
articles, “Framing Feminine/
Feminist” and “Twenty-Five
Years and Sixty-Five Minutes
After the Royal Commission on
the Status of Women,” do
Ce nouveau recueil se distingue en
ceci qu’il apporte des réflexions, des
analyses et des perspectives critiques
sur la condition féminine au Canada
telle qu’elle s’est développée au cours
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
specifically that, both
acknowledging in their own way
the importance of the medium in
which records for such events of
public history are kept. The former
goes on to examine the immediate
effects of those media upon the
public understanding of the women
working on the Royal Commission.
Taking up this emphasis, “Les
femmes, des candidates moins
performantes que les hommes?”
offers an analysis of the public
perception of women as compared
to men within politics today, and
engages further with conventions of
gender in Quebec from 1945-1993.
The effects of gender construction
are central to many of these essays
and a number look closely at the
impact of those effects on political
issues of individual activism within
corporate power, and at strategies
for empowerment and means of
legitimation. “Women’s Leadership
Styles and Empowerment”
describes different leadership styles
and their appropriateness to the
representation of groups already
marginalized by gender; and
“Cycles of Control” offers an
historical perspective on the ways
in which state formation interacts
with the construction of gender
within the family and community.
“Organizational Empowerment
Among South Asian Immigrant
Women in Canada” moves the
engagement with gender
construction and agency into the
complex field of culture and race;
and “Gender and Land Rights”
carries out a comparative study of
different strategies for
empowerment, developed in
response to different national
policies, by First Nations’ women
in Canada and Mexico.
4
des trente dernières années, soit
depuis la Commission royale
d’enquête sur la condition
féminine. Deux de ces articles, «
Framing Feminine/ Feminist » et
« Twenty-Five Years and SixtyFive Minutes After the Royal
Commission on the Status of
Women », s’y attaquent
spécifiquement, soulignant chacun
à sa façon l’importance des moyens
de communication qui permettent
de conserver le souvenir de ce type
d’événements à caractère public. Le
premier de ces articles étudie les
effets immédiats de ces médias sur
l’idée que le grand public se fait du
travail des femmes siégeant à une
Commission d’enquête. L’article
« Les femmes, des candidates
moins performantes que les
hommes? » reprend ce thème en
offrant une analyse de la perception
des femmes qui œuvrent dans les
milieux politiques contemporains
comparée à celle qu’on se fait de leurs
collègues masculins. On s’y attache
plus particulièrement à étudier les
conventions associées au fait d’avoir
été une femme ou un homme au
Québec entre 1945 et 1993.
Les effets de la construction des
sexes se situent au cœur d’un grand
nombre de ces écrits. Plusieurs
traitent plus particulièrement de
leur impact sur le militantisme
individuel au sein de la structure de
pouvoir des entreprises, ainsi que
sur les stratégies de pouvoir et de
légitimation. L’article « Women’s
Leadership Styles and
Empowerment » décrit divers styles
de leadership et discute de leur àpropos dans la représentation qu’on
se fait de groupes de personnes
marginalisées par leur sexe.
« Cycles of Control » offre une
perspective historique sur les
Women in Canadian Society
Les femmes et la société canadienne
As indicated in the essays
specifically on the Royal
Commission, the construction of
gender is inextricably linked to
the representation of gender.
Several contributions address
this complexity directly. The
issues range from access by
women to the publication and
distribution of representations,
documented for example in
“Mazo de la Roche and Her
Publishers,” an historical study
of writer-publisher relations, to
the low aesthetic value placed
upon portrayals of the lives of
women, implicit in the account
of “Edith S. Watson:
Photographing Women” of a
“lost” record of domestic life.
The generic difficulty of
constructing sensitive and caring
representations of experience
that has frequently been
presented as crudely sensational
in popular culture is outlined in
“Dead and Buried” and yet
“Violence and Illiteracy in
Women’s Lives” illustrates the
importance of widening access
to representative media, here
particularly the written, as a
political strategy of
empowerment for those who
have lived lives imbricated with
social violence.
The enfranchising movement
toward opening access to
representation of the self to a
much wider constituency of
women than at present has not
only fed but also grown in
relationship with women’s
movements world-wide and with
the elaboration of feminism as a
way of knowing. Gender studies
frequently begin with the fact of
women’s marginalization not
moyens par lesquels la création de
l’État est en interaction avec la
construction des sexes au sein de la
famille et de la communauté.
« Organizational Empowerment
among South Asian Immigrant
Women in Canada » fait passer
l’étude de la construction et la
représentation des sexes dans le
champ complexe des cultures et des
races, et « Gender and Land Rights »
offre une étude comparative des
diverses stratégies de pouvoir
élaborées en réaction à un éventail de
politiques nationales par des femmes
des Premières Nations au Canada et
au Mexique.
Comme l’indiquent les articles qui
portent spécifiquement sur la
Commission royale, la question de la
construction des sexes est
inextricablement liée à celle de leur
représentation. Plusieurs contributions
s’attaquent directement à cette
complexité. La gamme des questions
envisagées va de l’accès des femmes
à la publication et à la diffusion de ces
représentations, que documente par
exemple « Mazo de la Roche and Her
Publishers », une étude historique des
relations entre la romancière et ses
éditeurs, jusqu’à la faible valeur
esthétique qu’on accorde aux portraits
de vies de femmes comme l’on
retrouve dans « Edith S. Watson:
Photographing Women ». Dans
« Dead and Buried », on retrouve la
difficulté fondamentale de tâcher de
construire des représentations
sensibles et humanitaires d’une
expérience que la culture populaire
présente souvent d’une façon crue et
sensationnelle, tandis que « Violence
and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives »
illustre l’importance d’élargir l’accès
aux moyens de représentation. Il
s’agit dans ce cas de représentation
écrite, considérée comme une
5
IJCS / RIÉC
only from state politics, power and
the media, but also from language
and literary tradition. Both
“Marginalités sexuelle...” and
“Celebrating Women’s Language
and Women’s Space” present
accounts of writers finding
alternative ways to tell their stories
of place, space, self and sexuality
that are not adequately represented
with conventional techniques and
devices. “The Silent Scribe:
Susanna and `Black Mary”’ offers
a study of the historical specificity
that contextualizes the
representation of women’s bodies
within the fields of class, race,
sexuality and culture, in a
comparative analysis of the work
of Canadian Daphne Marlatt with
Australian Kate Grenville. “Black,
Woman, `Righter’ and the Anguish
of English” restates the issues of
access to representation in terms of
the double marginalization of race
and gender in Black women’s
writing and examines the effects of
that social repression upon the
literary structure and poetics of the
texts. And explicitly taking on
ideas of political control and
individual action, “Reconsidering
Conventions” turns the discussion
of sexuality and language in
lesbian writing back toward issues
of agency within hegemonic state
structures.
The essays of this collection not
only respond to the historical and
geographical contexts of women in
Canadian society, but also enact
the particularities of their own
cultural and academic approaches.
The rare opportunity offered by an
international and interdisciplinary
journal such as this to bring them
together momentarily focuses the
diversity of scholarship, the
6
stratégie politique d’habilitation
(empowerment) de celles dont les
vies sociales ont été marquées par la
violence.
Le mouvement d’affranchissement
visant à garantir un plus grand accès
et une plus grande ouverture sur une
représentation de soi à un auditoire
féminin beaucoup plus large que ce
n’est le cas à l’heure actuelle a non
seulement nourri les mouvements
de femmes partout dans le monde
ainsi que la montée du féminisme
comme mode de connaissance, mais
il a grandi en même temps que ces
mouvements.
Les études sur la condition des
femmes commencent souvent en
énonçant le fait que les femmes ont
été tenues à l’écart non seulement
de la politique des États, des
structures de pouvoir et des médias,
mais également de la langue et de la
littérature. Tant « Marginalités
sexuelle... ) que « Celebrating
Women’s Language and Women’s
Space » nous content l’histoire
d’auteures qui ont trouvé des façons
différentes de dire leurs histoires.
Ce sont des histoires que ne
parvenaient pas à rendre les
techniques et moyens
conventionnels et où se mêlent la
localité, I’espace, le soi et la
sexualité. « The Silent Scribe:
Susanna and “Black Mary” » offre
une étude de la spécificité historique
qui contextualise la représentation
du corps des femmes sur le plan des
classes sociales, des races, de la
sexualité et de la culture, dans le
cadre d’une analyse comparative
des travaux de la Canadienne
Daphne Marlatt et de l’Australienne
Kate Grenville. « Black, Woman,
“Righter” and the Anguish of
English » reprend à nouveau les
questions d’accès à la représentation
Women in Canadian Society
Les femmes et la société canadienne
differing emphases and
practices, on a range of
interconnected common
grounds. Far from effacing
difference, the work on
common grounds enacted in
these writings offers further
contexts for enabling our
understanding of the complex
ways in which we learn about
ourselves from both sameness
and difference.
Dr. Lynette Hunter
University of Leeds
sous la forme d’une double
marginalisation, de par la race et le
sexe, dans les écrits des femmes
noires, et étudie les effets de cette
répression sociale sur la structure
littéraire et la poétique du texte. Quant
à « Reconsidering Conventions », il
s’agit d’un article qui aborde
explicitement les idées de contrôle
politique et d’action individuelle et qui
ramène la discussion sur la sexualité et
la langue dans l’écriture lesbienne aux
questions de représentation au sein de
structures d’État hégémoniques.
Les textes qui constituent ce recueil ne
font pas que refléter les diverses
contextualités historiques et
géographiques des femmes dans la
société canadienne : ils mettent
également en jeu les particularités de
leurs propres approches culturelles et
intellectuelles. L’occasion, des plus
rares, que nous offre une revue
internationale et multidisciplinaire
comme celle-ci de rassembler toutes
ces perspectives témoigne de ce que la
diversité des études et les différences
d’accents et de pratiques se
concentrent pour l’instant sur un
terrain commun composé de sujets
connexes. Bien loin d’effacer la
différence, le travail sur les terrains
communs qui se manifeste dans ces
écrits fait surgir d’autres contextes.
Ceux-ci, à leur tour, nous aideront à
approfondir notre compréhension des
moyens complexes qui nous servent à
nous connaître, dans notre identité
comme dans notre différence.
Lynette Hunter
University of Leeds
7
Barbara M. Freeman
Framing Feminine/Feminist:
English-language Press Coverage of the
Hearings of the Royal Commission on the
Status of Women in Canada, 1968
Astract
In 1968, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women held hearings across
Canada which, because of the media coverage, became a public forum like no
other on women’s rights. To understand what has happened in the intervening
twenty-five years since the Commission tabled its report, it is important to
understand what occured at the hearings, and how the media covered them.
This paper does not attempt to present an argument positing a polarity
between cultural understandings of feminine and feminist, but to emphasize
the complexity of those ideas, and how they created confusion among
journalists and readers alike. They emphasized conventional “femininity”
and denigrated “feminism,” even while recognizing that life for Canadian
women was irrevocably changing.
Résumé
En 1968, la Commission royale d’enquête sur le statut de la femme tenait à
travers le Canada des séances qui, à cause de leur couverture médiatique,
devinrent un forum sans pareil sur la question des droits des femmes. De fait,
afin de comprendre ce qui se passa durant les vingt-cinq années qui suivirent
le dépôt du Rapport de la Commission, il est important de bien saisir ce qui se
produisit durant ces séances et comment les médias ont couvert celles-ci. Il ne
s’agit pas pour l’auteure de tenter d’avancer qu’une divergence culturelle
dans la compréhension des termes « féminin » et « féministe » séparait la
société canadienne, mais plutôt de souligner la complexité de ces deux notions
et la façon dont celles-ci semèrent la confusion parmi les journalistes et le
lectorat qui accentuaient une « fémininité » conventionnelle et dénigraient le
« féminisme », tout en reconnaissant que la vie des Canadiennes changeait
irrévocablement.
Be pretty, be pleasant, use mouthwash and deodorant, never
have an intellectual thought, and Prince Charming will
sweep you off to his castle, where you will live happily ever
after. Such is the carrot and behind it is the stick: “Men don’t
make passes at girls who wear glasses,” “wall flower,”
“spinster,” “old maid,” “loose woman,” the list goes on, and
its message is: to have caught a man is proof of a woman’s
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
desirability as a human being; to be without a man is a social
and moral disgrace.1
On a June morning in Toronto, at twenty-eight years of age, Bonnie Kreps was
presenting a brief during a hearing of the Royal Commission on the Status of
Women, then mid-way through its tour across Canada. She was trying to
impress upon the Commissioners and the women attending the hearing how
the traditional view of femininity limited the real abilities and ambitions of
women. The press described Kreps as a former university lecturer in English, a
would-be broadcaster, an American immigrant, the wife of a physicist, and the
mother of a five-year old daughter, the order of her personal and professional
credentials varying according to the publication.2
Bonnie Kreps was also the future leader of the New Feminists, a liberal
offshoot of the more Marxist group, the Women’s Liberation Movement in
Canada. Neither group even existed, however, on the morning she presented
her brief to the Commission.3 In essence, she was a woman in transition, like
many Canadian women at the time. Her role model, whom she quoted
extensively in her brief, was Simone de Beauvoir. De Beavoir and Betty
Friedan, whom Kreps also cited, were two writers whose critical examinations
of the state of white, middle-class womanhood in the western world had
already made them icons among progressive women like herself.4
Several days after she presented her brief, Kreps admitted to a reporter who
had come to interview both her and her husband, “I toned down some of my
arguments. I didn’t want to frighten them.” It is not clear from the story who
she meant by “them.”5 It could have been the five women and two men who sat
on the Commission, women attending the hearing, or the media covering the
event. Clearly, even the outspoken Kreps saw that discretion was the better
part of valour, when, as a woman and a feminist, she presented strong ideas that
challenged the status quo and, in particular, criticized the culturally- held ideal
of femininity as being limiting for women.
Kreps was not alone in her concern, as this article will show. It is an
interpretive reading of how one public institution, the media, and particularly
the English-language newspapers, reflected and shaped the changing public
discourse on femininity and feminism as they reported on the public hearings
of the Royal Commission of the Status of Women in 1968. As historian Andrée
Lévesque has pointed out in her own work on women in Quebec a half-century
earlier, public discourse maps out what is permitted and what is repressed in
female behaviour, regardless of how stringently individual women conform to
the norms; it constructs “an ideal of femininity with which every woman
laying claim to a legitimate place in the social order would have to align
herself.”6
This paper does not attempt to argue a polarity between cultural
understandings of “feminine” and “feminist” in late 1960s Canada. The public
discourse, as reflected in the media, was more complex than that, and involved
overlapping meanings which included culturally familiar but erroneous
references to the “militant suffragettes” of an earlier period. An ongoing
tension existed between what scholars from several disciplines describe as the
12
Framing Feminine/Feminist
“social construction of gender,” meaning the expectations placed on women
which stem from power relations in society,7 and the “social construction of
news,” meaning the ways in which the media “framed” or narrated and
presented those expectations in culturally acceptable ways to a mass
audience.8
Although historians and other scholars have begun to examine the rise of the
so-called second wave of the women’s movement in Canada, and have
credited the media with publicizing the Commission effectively, they have not
closely examined the actual press and broadcast coverage.9 This is necessary if
we are to understand the media’s role in the rise of the women’s movement in
Canada in the 1960s and early 1970s.
I have argued elsewhere that the media coverage of the Commission hearings
greatly advanced the cause of liberal feminism in Canada by underscoring the
very real, difficult and unfair circumstances in which many women found
themselves.10 But it is also clear that most of the women concerned, including
the reporters at the hearings, took pains to present the arguments for equal
status within acceptable “feminine” limits, including the rhetoric of
humanism, and were quick to disassociate from women who did not. As a
result, they were viewed as “feminists” of varying degrees of “militancy.”
The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada received a great
deal of media attention.11 Roughly fifteen hundred newspaper clippings which
reported on the hearings, including photographs12 and cartoons, are contained
in the Commission papers.13 Most are from the competing English-language
dailies in the major cities in which the hearings were held.14 These were
examined to locate sub-themes in the coverage that would shed some light on
how Canadian women viewed themselves at the time. The terms “femininity”
and “feminism” are too elusive to define strictly enough to quantify; however,
these and related terms appeared often enough to reasonably indicate they
provided an underlying sub-theme of the coverage, and a concern for many
women involved in various ways with the hearings.15
Because not all the articles carried bylines, that is, the names of the people who
wrote them, it is impossible to provide a precise gender breakdown of this
coverage. However, the existing bylines do show that female journalists, then
mainly confined to the women’s pages of the newspapers, wrote most of the
articles. The reporters, regardless of gender, followed the standard “objective”
model of reporting in which the “facts” were at least superficially separated
from their own values, except for analytical articles in which their opinions
and judgements were expressed more openly.16 Because few women worked
in any capacity in general news, it is safe to assume that virtually all of the
people who wrote the headlines and photo captions, took the photographs,
drew the cartoons and wrote most of the other columns and editorials were
men, who rarely if ever attended the hearings.17
Regardless of gender, journalists and editors tended to respond uneasily and
defensively to any activist who strayed too far from the feminine ideal in
presenting her case for equal status. There were differences among the women
journalists who covered the hearings, but these were a matter of degree. They
13
IJCS / RIÉC
all seemed to share the same general idea of what “feminine” meant and
presumed their readers did, too.
In Femininity, Susan Brownmiller writes that the ways in which a woman
presents, adorns and moves her body, uses her voice, shows her feelings and
expresses her ambitions, including a desire for motherhood, are all timehonoured indicators of that elusive quality considered most attractive in her,
her “femininity.” A feminine woman wears makeup, jewellery and skirts,
perfumes and depilates her body, moves gracefully, smiles often, does not
glare or shout, flatters men, and wants more than anything to have children,
even when she also has a career.18 But, Brownmiller argues, allegiance to
femininity restrains women in the ways they look, move and speak.
“Femininity, in essence, is a romantic sentiment, a nostalgic tradition of
imposed limitations,” which really serves to underline and flatter the
contrasting “masculinity” of men. A woman who refuses to play the game
takes a substantial risk of losing masculine attention and approval, “...for a
woman found wanting will be appraised (and will appraise herself) as mannish
or neutered or simply unattractive, as men have defined these terms.”19
In its coverage of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, the media
did not define “femininity” or “feminine” specifically. Nevertheless, in their
descriptions of the female Commissioners, women’s movement leaders and
women who presented briefs at the hearings, reporters and editors qualified or
indirectly invoked those terms, both positively and negatively, with references
to physical appearance, marital status, actual or potential motherhood, body
language, tone of voice and rhetoric. Regardless of her age, journalists of both
sexes most readily denigrated or dismissed a woman as both “unfeminine” and
as a “feminist” when she was not considered attractive or pretty, was dressed in
an unconventional way, appeared firm in beliefs which challenged the gender
status quo, was assertive or aggressive in her body language, was judged to be
loud, bitter or angry, was unmarried, or was not a mother.
According to the media accounts, Canadian women themselves were uncertain
about any new roles they might play in life. The Commission hearings were
held during the spring and fall of 1968, a transition period in which the
Canadian feminist movement started to shift from its ladylike roots in various
women’s clubs, volunteer groups and professional organizations to a younger,
more radical constituency.20 At the time, the struggles of various minority
groups in the United States and Canada, including people of colour, Quebec
separatists and the Aboriginal peoples, were competing for media attention
with New Left campus politics, the peace movement, the “hippie”
counterculture and the so-called “sexual revolution.”21 The fact that 1968 was
the United Nations’ International Year of Human Rights gave journalists a
handy “hook” for just about any story that involved personal freedoms, and
this served the publicity needs of the Commission well. The new Liberal Prime
Minister, Pierre Trudeau, had campaigned on a promise to bring “a just
society” to Canadians, and women’s rights leaders, who had convinced his
predecessor of the need for an inquiry into the status of women, were
determined to hold him to it.22
14
Framing Feminine/Feminist
In the preceding decade, increasing numbers of women had entered the
Canadian workforce, so that by 1968, about a third of it was female. The birth
control pill had given these women more power over their biological destinies
than other methods, allowing them to plan their families if they wished.23
Canadian women activists, already exposed to the writings of de Beauvoir and
Friedan, aware of the mixed success of the 1963 Kennedy Commission on the
Status of Women in the United States, and tired of making annual pilgrimages
to lobby their own federal government, felt it was time for a national inquiry
into their grievances.24
The women who appeared before the Royal Commission on the Status of
Women in Canada complained that they were not given equal opportunities in
the labour force, that their rights as equal partners in marriage were limited,
that the law denied them access to adequate birth control and abortion services,
that their needs for government-sponsored daycare were ignored, and that
schools and universities actively discouraged girls and women from
developing their intellectual potential.25 Although the proceedings were
dominated by business, professional and volunteer women’s groups and clubs,
other women presented briefs, including union leaders, factory workers, farm
women, high school and university students, poor women, single mothers,
socialist activists and Aboriginal women. Even journalists, engaged in a
struggle for equality within their own profession, presented briefs or gave their
opinions from the floor.26
The biggest professional challenge to the reporters covering the hearings was
how to take the masses of information and opinion, contained in the briefs and
expressed at the hearings, and relay them effectively to their audiences. To do
so, they employed narrative conventions which had become standard in the
profession. Mass communication and cultural critics have long noted how the
journalist, in the process of creating a narrative, employs story-telling devices
such as conflict with its simplistic either/or configuration, unusualness and an
emphasis on personalities, especially prominent ones, rather than remote
institutions, dwelling on issues or events which are familiar culturally to both
readers and editors and often based on mythological traditions. In the words of
two of these scholars, Elizabeth Bird and Robert Dardenne, news stories, like
myths, “do not `tell it like it is’ but rather, `tell it like it means.’” Any perceived
deviance from cultural norms is signalled by the use of words such as
“militant” or “radical.”27
No doubt sensitive to these biases, the Commission tried from the beginning to
establish itself in the public mind, and in the media, as a calm, rational forum
for women who were primarily concerned with sexual equality as a natural
offshoot of human rights. The Commission, which was made up of white,
middle-class professionals over the age of forty, saw its own mandate within a
liberal, human rights framework, rather than within a theoretical approach
which would examine underlying problems in society, such as the economic
imbalance of power between men and women. The Commission’s terms of
reference, set down by the government in February of 1967, allowed it to
investigate the status of women in areas that fell under federal jurisdiction,
including criminal and taxation law, labour regulations, marriage and divorce
15
IJCS / RIÉC
and other areas the Commission deemed “relevant.” Even so, it did not
examine related issues, such as violence against women.28
The chair of the Commission was Florence Bird, an established, well-known
journalist and broadcaster. Bird, who had been born to an upper middle-class
Philadelphia family, declared upon her appointment that she herself had never
suffered discrimination because of her sex, but had always been interested in
the problems of working women.
Bird did have the air of a woman apart. Reporters described her as “a tall,
distinguished-looking woman with upswept, white hair,”29 and “a plummyvoiced 59 year-old broadcaster.”30 Her public demeanour was consistently
ladylike, courteous, and diplomatic but firm, an attitude she encouraged in the
other female Commissioners, who usually followed her lead.31 But as they set
out her femininity, class, and professional credentials, including photographs
which invariably showed her in feminine dress such as skirts and pearls, most
journalists and editors were also careful to note that she was “Mrs. John Bird,”
the wife of another prominent journalist, even when some of them persisted in
referring to her by her professional name, “Anne Francis.”32 In fact, Bird
herself insisted, as chair of the Commission, on being called by her private
name. At the time, it was still considered common courtesy to address a
married woman in this way, but some women had already begun to question
the cultural practice of a wife taking her husband’s name, which in Canada was
not required by law.33
As in the case with Florence Bird, the reporter’s descriptions of the four other
female Commissioners noted their marital status often, before their
professional credentials. Most women journalists wrote about them in
generally approving ways, using all the professional tricks in the book to make
their articles interesting for their readers, including the snappy “lead,” or
introduction. The results were sometimes flippant comments that actually
devalued the qualifications of the woman concerned. For example, in a series
she wrote to introduce the Commissioners to her readers before the hearings
began, Alixe Carter of The Ottawa Journal began her article on the only
unmarried member of the Commission:
If you can call an intellectual academic careerist a Go Go girl, then
Jeanne Lapointe is just that. She obtained her pilot’s license a year
ago, which also proves she is a career girl constantly on the way up.34
It can be safely stated that Lapointe, who was a respected literary scholar in her
middle years from Laval University in Quebec City, would hardly be found
among the hosts of gyrating, skimpily-dressed and sometimes literally caged,
young women dancing above the throngs in night clubs and dance halls during
the 1960s. The strained parallel between her and the Go Go girl says
something, nevertheless, about a perceived cultural split in flattering
occupational designations for women, regardless of reality: you were either
respectably married or a glamorous “career girl” on the go. It was a sharp
contrast to the way in which Carter described the male Francophone professor
on the Commission in her lead to that article. Jacques Henripin, a demographer
from the University of Montreal, was “one of the new breed of enlightened
French Canadian academics.”35
16
Framing Feminine/Feminist
Taken overall, Carter’s series on the Commissioners was supportive of their
mandate, but she tended to mix the personal and the professional attributes of
the female Commissioners, something she shared with all the journalists when
describing especially accomplished women. According to Carter, Doris
Ogilvie, a juvenile court judge from New Brunswick, had a “sense of fun” that
was not only going to be an “asset” during long deliberations but received
more attention in this article than her professional credentials.36 Elsie Gregory
MacGill, an aeronautical engineer and clearly the most feminist of the group,
took after her late mother, a juvenile court judge from British Columbia, in that
each was “a dogged doer of things” who rose to the top of her profession.
Carter did not explain why MacGill, who had been married for many years to a
“business executive,” persisted in using her maiden name.37 Lola Lange of
Alberta was an accomplished musician, a rancher’s wife and mother of three
daughters; she had taken many courses in leadership training and continuing
education. She was also “attractive,” a personal appellation that Carter did not
use in reference to the other female Commissioners.38
The Commission was framed in the media, and in its own perception, as a
calm, rational sounding board made up of very accomplished, well-bred,
understanding and generally open-minded people who would do their best to
make sure that all viewpoints were heard. They even observed all the social
niceties between the genders in public; for example, the men invariably held
doors open for the women.39 During the news conferences that preceded and
ended the hearings in every city across Canada, Florence Bird and her
colleagues were careful to play down any perceived “militancy,” “man-hating”
or “revolutionary” agenda, making it clear that the opinions of men were sought
as well as those of women.40 Women who considered themselves ladylike,
rational pleaders for basic human rights could present their case before the
Commission, and not have to worry about being called names. Or so they
thought.
Many women’s rights leaders in Canada at the time either denied their
feminism, or played it down, framing it in terms of a humanist argument for
equality. In Manitoba, a prominent activist, June Menzies, equated feminism
with humanism during a panel discussion held in advance of the Commission
hearings in Winnipeg. A journalist reported that “Mrs Menzies said she
regarded herself as a feminist because she equated feminism with human
rights. `The status of women is not a women’s problem — it’s a question of
human rights...’”41
At the Commission hearings, several speakers carried the humanist argument
further, making patently inaccurate and simplistic parallels between the
struggle for women’s rights in Canada and that of the “Negro” in the United
States. This theme was taken up in the media. Margaret Butters of the WellandPort Colborne Tribune, a local weekly in Ontario, very supportively discussed
the briefs presented in Toronto, adding:
Throughout all of the sittings, either spoken or inferred, is the feeling
that women in Canada are in the same situation referring to civil and
legal rights as the negro in the United States. They have been termed
“second class citizens;” “cheap or slave labor.”
17
IJCS / RIÉC
Any reasonable woman would fight for her rights under those circumstances,
or so Butters implied.42 But another more conservative writer, Sheila H.
Kieran, resented the comparison. In a period in which the term “nigger” was
adopted by various non-Black groups who wanted to signal that they, too, were
being oppressed,43 she defined it as a “bigoted, unflattering term for a secondclass citizen...(who)...in the inverted bigotry of modern liberalism, is someone
you have to make allowances for.” In Maclean’s, Canada’s weekly news
magazine, she attacked the “flower-hatted ladies” presenting briefs before the
Royal Commission as shrill, unwomanly “professional Friedanites” who were
demanding “special consideration,” not equal status.44
There was already a public perception, before the hearings began, that they
would be dominated by professional and club women, whose leaders had
already been tagged in the media as “vocal” and/or “militant feminists.” Chief
among them was Laura Sabia, the head of the Committee for the Equality of
Women in Canada, a federation of thirty-two Anglophone women’s groups
which had lobbied successfully for the status of women inquiry. Sabia’s
perceived militancy stemmed from her outspokenness on women’s issues and,
especially, her threat to lead a protest march of two million women to Ottawa if
her request was refused.45
The labelling of Sabia was sometimes extrapolated to media descriptions of
the hundreds of CEWC members as “militant feminists.” A male reporter
viewed the CEWC’s intention to keep an eye on the Commission proceedings
as a threat from “militant watchdogs” waiting to “pounce” on the
investigation.46 The fact that many of the groups who later presented briefs
were members of the CEWC added to the perception that “feminists” were
running the show, regardless of whether they saw themselves as such, or what
they actually said. Even women who showed up at the hearings just to listen
were defined by their very presence as “feminists.” A photo in the Vancouver
Sun, showing a row of older women sitting in the audience, most of them
wearing hats and one of them knitting, carried the caption, “Intent Feminists
...listen to speakers at women’s status probe.”47 As the Commission prepared
to move on to Alberta, the Calgary Herald warned its readers that the war
between the sexes was out in the open with the headline, “Men Main Target Of
Commission On Women.” The story makes it clear, however, that it was
several women at the hearings, not the Commission itself, who criticized male
attitudes.48
Rosemary Speirs noted the understandable confusion and ambivalence that
some women, even younger ones, felt about losing their feminine credentials
and antagonizing men when they appeared before this particular
Commission.49 This unease was underscored by women who came to the
hearings to specifically “remind” other women of their proper place in life. At
a hearing in Edmonton, Alberta, a thirty year-old woman who referred to
herself as Mrs. Trevor Anderson came with her husband and well-scrubbed
young children in tow to defend traditional roles for wives and mothers. Speirs
reported that she wore a bright pink dress with a pink and yellow ribbon
arrangement tying back her long black curls.50 In its own story, the Edmonton
Journal introduced her, on page one, as a “Man’s Woman,” and included a
18
Framing Feminine/Feminist
flattering picture of her with the caption, “Woman has place...behind her man,
says Mrs. Anderson.”51 Headlines in other newspapers read: “Ladies
Reminded They’re Women”; “Femininity plea” and “Married Women Told
To ‘Rely on Female Instincts.’”52
Even when a woman worked outside the home and espoused more liberal
beliefs than Mrs. Anderson, the journalists frequently described her in terms of
her “feminine” qualifications, such as her degree of personal attractiveness,
her marital status and even what she wore, sometimes in the same sentence as
her professional or other qualifications. During the Ottawa hearings, one
reporter noted in detail the particularly fashionable attire of a prominent union
leader. Huguette Plamondon, the vice-president at large of the Canadian
Labour Congress, “looked like a chic fashion-plate” but “spoke with ringing
conviction” at the Ottawa hearing in October. Readers were told:
Miss Plamondon wore a smart, jaunty black hat, a black and white
ensemble and gold jewellery. She also answered questions from the
commission on employment, discrimination, retraining, maternity
leave and day care centres.
In the short, three-paragraph article, the unnamed reporter gave no details of
the questions Plamondon was asked or her replies. But there was a head-andshoulders photo of her at the hearing which took up twice the space of the
copy.53
Flattering descriptions of a woman’s apparel were a very common social and
journalistic convention at the time. Even self-declared feminists such as
Speirs54 commonly used expressions such as “pert brunette university
student” and “pretty young mother” to describe women appearing at the
hearings.55 Speirs herself caught at least one, presumably male, magazine
editor’s eye. The caption for a Canadian Press photo of her sitting at her
typewriter, which accompanied her Toronto Life article about the hearings,
described her as an “emancipated woman” and “a gorgeous redhead who is 27
and single,” even while noting that she was just completing her Ph.D in labour
history.56 This emphasis on personal attractiveness, especially for young
women, was already firmly embedded in the culture. A Commission study, for
example, noted that eighty-nine percent of female images in newspapers and
magazines were of “young, elegant and beautiful” women under 35 years of
age.57
It is apparent from the media coverage that, aside from youth and beauty,
another measure of “femininity” was how a woman conducted herself in
public, with the emphasis being not just on what she said but how she said it.
For many women, the very act of speaking out, especially at public meetings,
was risky to one’s “feminine” sense of self. At the Commission hearing in
Halifax, Nova Scotia, one woman scheduled to present a brief felt so
intimidated that she refused to get up and do it.58 As Eleanor McKim, the
women’s editor of the Evening Telegram in St. John’s, Newfoundland, wrote
on a similar occasion, speaking out in public was a challenge to the bravest of
women, especially when men were present.
19
IJCS / RIÉC
We’re still immobilized by the long held tradition that it is
unfemminine (sic) to be forthright.... It’s going to take a new kind of
courage for women to overcome this sub-conscious hurdle.59
Even women who did have the courage to speak up at the Status of Women
hearings seemed concerned that they or other women might appear strident or
shrill, even when their anger was justified. One reporter recorded an
interesting exchange between two women at a hearing in Calgary, Alberta.
While one women complained that “women have become very shrill in saying
they are mistreated and misunderstood,” another countered “that if female
demands sound strident and shrill, `it may be that we have been asking for
changes so long our voices have become shrill with repetition.’”60 Rosemary
Speirs maintained that the occasional “whining” or “petty, querulous tone”
that crept into the discussions resulted as much from the guilt these women felt
at making demands, as from their unhappiness.61
Some journalists at the hearings seemed uncomfortable with anything but the
most ladylike presentations from any woman. In Ottawa, one reporter
describing a summary of the discrimination suffered by female professors at
thirty universities, a brief opposed by their own male-dominated associations,
seemed to need to reassure her readers that the presentation was “calm in tone
and free from feminist lecturing.”62 When Carrie Best, a Black activist and
newspaper columnist from Pictou, Nova Scotia, challenged the
Commissioners on the lack of racial minority and Aboriginal women at the
hearings, and later presented her own brief in Ottawa, her white colleagues at
the press table praised her interventions as “even-voiced” and “dignified.”
Their readings of her appearance begged questions about their expectations of
a woman of colour,63 and also amused the usually outspoken Best, who wrote
in her autobiography that it “may be the last time I shall be so described.”64
Not only did a woman have to watch her tone of voice when she spoke out in
public, she had to be very careful not to threaten men in what she said if she
wanted to be taken seriously and avoid vilification in the media. In Vancouver,
sociologist Norma Ellen Verwey was labelled, in her own words, as “some
kind of nut” after the local media gave front-page coverage to a suggestion that
she had apparently made in all seriousness: that all young men of sixteen and
over be forced to undergo compulsory vasectomies which, she said, were
reversible. It was time, she declared, that men be made to take responsibility
for birth control. Many newspapers across the country carried the story. In the
Canadian Press version, which the Globe and Mail headlined “Compulsory
vasectomies at 16 advocated by feminist sociologist,” the reporter referred to
her “ardently feminist presentation” and included reaction from a male
medical specialist who said vasectomy could be reversed in fewer than half of
cases.65 The front-page story in the Vancouver Sun included a picture of the
middle-aged Verwey, who had short hair and was not conventionally pretty,
with her mouth wide open and the caption, “Norma Ellen Verwey...pleads to
commission.” The photo also showed a thin, older woman wearing a hat seated
in the background, her lips pursed in what appeared to be disapproval. The
story noted that Verwey was married but childless.66 In The Globe and Mail,
the same picture, cropped to Verwey’s head and shoulders, was positioned
facing two larger photos of a pair of svelte, pretty young fashion models, one of
20
Framing Feminine/Feminist
them in a bikini, which provided a stark contrast between what was considered
“feminist” and what was considered “feminine.”67 It is not surprising that
other women appearing before the Commission, including a teaching order of
nuns from Quebec, would support only “those feminist movements” which
could demonstrate that they were “truly feminine and not excessively
radical.”68
But what was “excessively radical”? When the media wants its audiences to
grasp an idea instantly, it sometimes uses an historical reference, a supposedly
shared memory, already embedded in the culture. In this case, the media
compared the “feminists,” especially of the “militant” variety, to the radical
“suffragette” of a half-century earlier. In fact, Canadian “suffragists,” as they
were properly known, were a much more decorous group than the real
suffragettes who belonged to the Women’s Social and Political Union in
Britain, and were not given to hunger strikes, stone throwing or arson in order
to win the vote.69 But the modern media seemed to perceive parallels between
the violence of the suffragettes, the determination of the assertive modern-day
club woman, and the anger of the young, left-wing radical busily engaged in
demonstrations, sit-ins and protests for her own rights, especially right next
door in the United States.70
The “suffragette” motif continued during and after the media coverage of the
Commission, in both small and large publications. For example, an unnamed
columnist in a small-town Alberta newspaper decided to publish a letter
written by a farm wife about her lack of rights to marital property, but
demurred, “I am not sure whether I should be using this column for this
suffragette-type of indoctrination.”71 After the Toronto hearings were over,
Elizabeth Thompson’s advice column in the Globe and Mail featured a debate
among herself and a number of readers variously identifying themselves as
“Sick of Suffragettes,” “A Suffragette,” “A Woman,” and “Another
Suffragette,” and all espousing viewpoints which ran the gamut from
traditionally conservative to socialist.72
Some journalists even urged Canadian women to become active in the
women’s movement, but assured them that they did not have to become
“suffragettes” to do so. Marilyn Anderson, in her column in the Niagara Falls
Review, wrote “... while we don’t have to resort to the tactics of suffragettes,
tying ourselves to lamp posts to get what we want, we do have to get ourselves
involved in fighting for our rights.”73
Given the suffragette’s public image, it is not surprising that even progressive
journalists treated the label with caution. Scholars who have examined
editorial cartoons tell us that one centuries-old tradition of western journalism
is to lampoon and ridicule women who were mythologized as overbearing and
threatening, including the “suffragette.”74 Regardless of what individual
journalists wrote on their women’s pages about the Royal Commission,
cartoonists had a field day before and during the hearings. At the time, they
were all men who tended to see themselves as detached, satirical observers of
the political and social scene.75 True to tradition, they usually drew the modern
women’s rights advocate as large, overbearing and sometimes violent,
especially in relation to men they depicted as meek. In one cartoon, for
21
IJCS / RIÉC
example, a woman sitting in an armchair reading about the appointment of the
Commission in a newspaper glowers at her spouse who has interrupted his
dishwashing to answer the phone. On the wall is a calendar depicting “Judy La
Suffragette,” a mischievous reference to Judy LaMarsh, the outspoken cabinet
minister who had worked behind the scenes to get the Commission
established.76
In short, the term “suffragette” became part of an uneasy and conflicted public
discourse about modern feminism that included women of all ages across the
country. Although some young women showed up at the Commission
hearings, many appeared reluctant to do so. The media investigated and
concluded that many of them were uncomfortable with the whole idea of
feminism. The Toronto Telegram actually set up a panel discussion featuring
female students from York University and the University of Toronto, who
thought “...`feminists’ are old hat.” One student was optimistic that her
generation could change things without an “aggressive” women’s movement.
She is quoted as saying, “I react violently to this suffrage thing — I don’t think
it will solve anything.”77
But for all the reluctance of young Canadian women to embrace feminism,
there were a few who were already alarming their elders. They were the
advance guard of the young feminist constituency, represented by Bonnie
Kreps, who would soon be forming their own women’s groups. In Toronto, the
Commission heard from four Young Socialists who seemed to the uneasy
media to represent a real threat. The Toronto Telegram began its account:
The seven commissioners looked apprehensive as the militant
delegation composed of three mini-skirted girls wearing huge Che
Guevara buttons and one serious looking youth wound their way
through flowered hats in St. Lawrence Hall. The Young Socialists
began quietly and then let loose a wild diatribe against society which
they said suppresses and degrades young Canadian girls.78
One of them was described as “a 21 year-old blonde in a low-cut blue dress and
orange sandals.”79 Another had “hair cut so short she looked more like a boy
than a 21 year-old woman.” Both descriptions assumed sexual behaviours
and/or identities beyond the accepted norm, even for journalists at the time,
who may have been privately more conservative than they admitted.80 The fact
that the students shouted did not help their case at all.81 But such
demonstrations were rare at the time.
When the hearings ended in October, women in the media were able to report,
with some satisfaction, that the Commission had made a real difference to the
aspirations of Canadian women partly because the women presenting briefs
were not, by and large, what one vituperative male columnist called “all those
feminist harridans who projected their hatred and envy of men into a holy
crusade.”82 In her award winning, front-page analysis, Yvonne Crittenden of
the Toronto Telegram wrote, to paraphrase the headline, that the
Commission’s eventual recommendations would be “One report Ottawa can’t
ignore.” She noted that the issues brought before the Commission during the
hearings, such as the need for daycare, equal pay and job opportunities,
reproductive freedom and tax reform “have been in the news for years and are
22
Framing Feminine/Feminist
favorite targets of militant women’s groups.” But what had happened at the
hearings themselves made a difference to how these issues are heard now.
When the Commission was first announced, many people, mostly
men, announced openly that it would be an exercise in futility, that
the feminists and “flowered hat brigade” would dominate the
hearings, that all one would hear were whines and gripes.
She went on to reassure her readers that most women who appeared before the
Commission were not resentful or bitter, that there was no “battle of the sexes”
and that the women simply talked about their day-to-day problems. There were
ordinary women who were “scared stiff” about getting up and speaking in
public, and others with “private, heartfelt briefs,” some of whom had travelled
hundreds of miles to attend the hearings. Crittenden also noted that many
women expressed a wish to remain at home which, she said, “should cause a lot
of people to breathe a sigh of relief.”83
This article has focused on the various ways in which “femininity” and
“feminism” were interpreted by the media covering the status of women
hearings. According to their accounts, the female Commissioners, and most of
the women who appeared at the hearings, confined themselves to standard,
“ladylike” behaviour even while presenting the toughest arguments. The
emphasis on their perceived “femininity” including descriptions of how they
looked, their marital and motherhood status, what they said and how they said
it, was derived from feminine culture, and from what Brownmiller perceives as
the strategy for survival that suffuses it.84
It was important to most of these women, and to the journalists who reported
their words, to believe that one could gain equality with rational, humanist
arguments without sacrificing one’s “femininity,” or, at the very least,
important that men be placated in the process of “revolution.” In other words,
women were going to have to win their rights by looking attractive, by not
raising their voices, by not challenging the status quo too abruptly, and by not
overtly threatening men. That meant distancing themselves from more
impatient women who did raise their voices, did threaten to shake up the status
quo, and did challenge men. These women became, by definition, “feminists,”
usually of the “militant” or “radical” variety, a label that was difficult for many
women to accept for themselves, at least publicly, regardless of their personal
feelings and actions. It was a reluctance that continues to this day.
Notes
1.
2.
National Archives of Canada, Papers of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
(hereafter NAC, RCSW), RG 33/89, Vol. 17, Toronto June 6, 1968, Bonnie Kreps, Brief
#373, p. 4.
Media coverage included a few paragraphs in a summary of the day’s proceedings by
Margaret Weiers, “Urge dental care in medicare,” Toronto Star, June 7, 1968, p. 61; Leone
Kirkwood, “Social disgrace to be single, commission told: Woman `expected to act like
Cinderella waiting for Prince,’” The Globe and Mail, June 7, 1968, p. 13; and no byline,
“Cinderella may not dig her role,” Toronto Telegram, June 7, 1968. Hereafter, where no
page is indicated, the clipping can be found in National Archives of Canada, Papers of the
Royal Commission on the Status of Women, RG 33/89, Vols. 41-45.
23
IJCS / RIÉC
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
24
Maggie Siggins, “The Feminists,” Toronto Telegram, September 5, 1969. See also Margaret
Penman, “The Feminists go marching on,” Montreal Star, May 8, 1970, pp. 23-24.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Paris, Galimard, 1949); Betty Friedan, The Feminine
Mystique (New York: W.D. Norton, 1963.)
The reporter wanted to know what it was like to live with a woman who believed in sexual
equality. The answer was in the headline. Leone Kirkwood, “Attitude changed after
marriage: Physics professor believes in equality in the kitchen,” The Globe and Mail, June
10, 1968.
Andrée Lévesque, Making and Breaking the Rules: Women in Quebec, 1919-1939, trans. of
La norme et les déviantes by Yvonne M.Klein (McClelland and Stewart, 1994), p. 12.
One of the most influential historians has been Joan Wallach Scott, whose several articles on
this form of analysis have been republished in her Gender and the Politics of History (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
See especially, Gaye Tuchman, Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality (New
York: The Free Press, 1978), p. 1. She discusses mainstream media coverage of the
American women’s movement of 1975 in Chapter 7. See also Michael Schudson, “The
Sociology of News Production Revisited,” in James Curran and Michael Gurevitch (eds.),
Mass Media and Society (London: Edward Arnold, 1991), pp. 141-159. For cultural
critiques centred on gender issues in today’s media, see Liesbet van Zoonen, “Feminist
Perspectives on the Media,” in the same volume, pp. 33-54.
For example, see the various articles on Canadian feminism in Constance Backhouse and
David H. Flaherty (eds.), Challenging Times: The Women’s Movement in Canada and the
United States (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992).
See Barbara M. Freeman, “The Media and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women:
Research in Progress,” forthcoming in Resources for Feminist Research, and “`CBC
Matinee,’ the `Press Girls’ and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1968,”
forthcoming in Frequence/Frequency: Journal of the Association for the Study of Canadian
Radio and Television.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation provided regular coverage of the hearings on two
of its national network programs for women, “CBC Matinee” on radio and “Take 30” on
television. Freeman, “CBC Matinee;” Freeman, “`Go Girls Go’ and `Stamp Out Men’:
CBC’s `Take 30’ and the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, 1968, 1970,” a paper
presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Canadian Radio and
Television, Ottawa, Ontario, June 1993.
Media scholar Stuart Hall writes that a news photograph is chosen for its immediate news
value, but also for the way in which it fits into the political-moral discourse of society and the
particular editorial biases of the newspaper concerned. Stuart Hall, “The Determination of
News Photographs,” S. Cohen, and J. Young (eds.), The Manufacture of News: Social
Problems, Deviance and the Mass Media (London: Constable, 1981); pp. 176-189.
NAC RCSW Vols. 41-45. Many of these publications are also available on microfilm.
Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia; Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta; Regina and
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario; Montreal
and Quebec City; Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Fredericton, New Brunswick;
Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Two of the Commissioners also visited
Whitehorse in the Yukon, Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, and several tiny native
communities in the North. White women and Aboriginal women living there had different
concepts of women’s roles, which in turn differed from women living in southern Canada,
cultural differentiations that will be addressed in future research. It is also beyond the scope
of this research to analyze Francophone media coverage, particularly in Quebec, where
women have their own multi-layered and complex history, and a different journalistic
tradition. See Michèle Martin, “Changing the Picture: Women and the Media in Quebec,” in
Sandra Burt, Lorraine Code and Lindsay Dorney, Changing Patterns: Women in Canada,
Second Edition, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993, pp. 177-211.
To discern how common the shared cultural assumptions about femininity and feminism
were, I have also included examples from magazines and from small to mid-size circulation
dailies and rural weeklies which either sent their own reporters to the bigger cities for the
hearings or carried Canadian Press wire service stories about the Commission. In my further
Framing Feminine/Feminist
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
research, I will examine the public discourse about “equal status,” and “working mothers,”
for example.
On the tradition of journalistic objectivity, see Daniel Schiller, Objectivity and the News
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), pp. 1-6, 194-195. For a slightly
different historical analysis, see Michael Schudson, Discovering the News (New York:
Basic Books 1978), and Schudson, “The Sociology of News Production Revisited.”
See Freeman, “The Media and the Royal Commission,” and “CBC Matinee.”
Brownmiller combines an historical overview of the cultural meanings of femininity from
ancient times to the 1980s, but also muses on her own personal experiences and struggles as a
young woman growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Susan Brownmiller, Femininity (New
York: Fawcett Columbine, 1984).
Brownmiller, pp. 14-16.
See, for example, Amy Von Heyking, “Red Deer Women and the Roots of Feminism,”
Alberta History, Winter 1994, pp. 14-27. For an overview of the battles for equality in
Canada since that time, see the articles in Ruth Roach Pierson, Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Paula
Bourne and Philinda Masters, Canadian Women’s Issues, Vol. 1 (Toronto: James Lorimer,
1993).
See, for example, Elizabeth Dingman, “The Sixties: A decade of protest,” Toronto
Telegram, December 30, 1969.
They included Doris Anderson, the editor of Chatelaine magazine. She was sceptical, since
only one woman, Grace MacInnis of the New Democratic Party, was elected to the House of
Commons that year as opposed to four the previous term. Doris Anderson, “Justice: 1 woman
to 263 men?” Chatelaine, Sept. 1968, p. 1.
There are several sources on the legal and economic position of women in Canadian society
at the time. See, for example, S. J. Wilson, Women, Families and Work, 3rd Edition
(Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1991), Chapters 5 and 6.
While Canadian feminist leaders were influenced by the U.S. movement to some degree, and
were exposed to it through the media, there were many differences between the two
countries. A Canadian political scientist, Jill Vickers, writes that English-Canadian
feminists of all stripes saw reform being carried out within the established political system.
This “radical liberalism,” as she calls it, was more tolerant of diversity within the movement
than American feminists were at the same stage, encouraged dialogue among them and,
unlike Americans, Canadian feminists were firm believers in the advantages the welfare
state held for women. Jill Vickers, “The Intellectual Origins of the Women’s Movement in
Canada,” in Backhouse and Flaherty, Challenging Times. See also Naomi Black, “The
Canadian Women’s Movement The Second Wave,” in Burt, Code and Dorney (eds.),
Changing Patterns, pp. 151-175. On the Kennedy Commission, see Ginette Castro,
American Feminism: A Contemporary History, trans. by Elizabeth Loverde-Bagwell (New
York and London: New York University Press, 1990), Chapter 1.
Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada (Ottawa: Minister of
Supply and Services, 1977), Chapter 1.
The briefs are in NAC RCSW on microfilms C-4878 to C-4883 and C-6798 to C-6803. On
media women, see Freeman, “CBC Matinee.”
Richard Ericson, Patrician Baranek, and Janet Chan, “Representing Order,” in Helen
Holmes and David Taras (eds.), Seeing Ourselves: Media Power and Policy in Canada,
(Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Canada 1992); S. Elizabeth Bird and Robert W.
Dardenne, “Myth, Chronicle and Story. Exploring the Narrative Qualities of News,” in
James W. Carey (ed.), Media, Myths and Narratives. Television and the Press, Sage Annual
Reviews of Communication Research, Vol. 15. (Newbury Park: Sage, 1988), pp. 69, 71-72;
Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge, “Structuring and Selecting News,” in Cohen and Young;
Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the
New Left (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980).
“Terms of Reference,” Report of the Royal Commission, pp. vii-viii. Monique Bégin, who
was executive secretary of the Commission, writes that it was regarded as a “social issue,”
not as a specifically feminist one. Monique Bégin, “The Royal Commission on the Status of
Women — Twenty Years Later,” in Backhouse and Flaherty, p. 31.
Marilyn Argue (Canadian Press, hereafter referred to as CP), “Inquiry Head Anne Francis
Never Met Discrimination,” Winnipeg Free Press, February 3, 1967, p. 22.
25
IJCS / RIÉC
30.
31.
32.
33.
34.
35.
36.
37.
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
44.
26
Rosemary Speirs, “Girl Power: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Would Prefer to Rule the
World,” Toronto Life, August 1968, 42. Although Bird did not have children of her own, she
was able to tell the media that she kept house and took care of a British friend’s two little boys
in Winnipeg during World War II, and their questions about the world conflict led to her
career as a broadcaster on international affairs, a rare accomplishment for a woman at the
time. Argue, (CP) “Inquiry Head Anne Francis.”
No byline, “Royal Commission on Status of Women gets a day of brickbats and bouquets,”
The Globe and Mail, June 6, 1968, p. W2.
The examples are legion, but to take just one from the same newspaper: a Canadian Press
story from Ottawa about her appointment, which appeared on the front page of the Winnipeg
Free Press, described her as “Mrs. John Bird of Ottawa, wife of the parliamentary
correspondent of the Financial Post.” In a follow-up CP story in the same newspaper, but on
the women’s page the following day, both the copy and photo caption under her picture refer
to her as “Anne Francis,” although the story also notes that she is Mrs. John Bird “in private
life,” CP (no byline), “Status Probe Set,” Winnipeg Free Press, February 3, 1967, p. 1; and
Marilyn Argue (CP), “Inquiry Head Anne Francis Never Met Discrimination,” Winnipeg
Free Press, February 4, 1967, p. 22.
No byline, “Royal Commission on Status of Women gets a day of brickbats and bouquets,”
The Globe and Mail, June 6, 1968, p. W2.
In the absence of a husband, it was duly noted that Lapointe’s father was a prominent lawyer.
Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women Commissioners,” The Ottawa Journal, February
28, 1968, p. 48. It is interesting to note that Lapointe was not framed as a “blue-stocking,” a
term which has a history in relation to academic women in Canada. See Alison Prentice,
“Bluestockings, Feminists, or Women Workers? A Preliminary Look at Women’s Early
Employment at the University of Toronto,” in Journal of the Canadian Historical
Association, New Series, Vol. 2, 1991, pp. 231-261.
Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women Commissioners: Jacques Henripin,” The Ottawa
Journal, March 6, 1968, p. 34. The other male Commissioner, John Humphrey, was the
Dean of Law at McGill University in Montreal and well-known in the international human
rights field. Carter’s lead stressed that he was not “phased” at having to work with a
predominantly-female Commission. Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women
Commissioners: John P. Humphrey,” The Ottawa Journal, March 11, 1968, p. 18.
Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women Commissioners: Doris Ogilvie,” The Ottawa
Journal, March 1, 1968, p. 26.
Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women Commissioners: Elsie Gregory MacGill,” The
Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1968, p. 23.
Alixe Carter, “Meet the Status of Women Commissioners: Lola Mary Smith Lange,” The
Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1968, p. 18.
Speirs, “Girl Power,” p. 43.
Margaret Weiers, “Status of Women hearings open here today,” Toronto Star, June 3, 1968.
Mary Bletcher, “Call for women in politics made by status researcher,” Winnipeg Tribune,
March 18, 1968.
Margaret Butters, “Weekend Digest,” Welland-Port Colborne Tribune, June 8, 1968. She
may have been referring to a specific brief, in this case, from a white male, 47-year old Bruce
Mickleburgh. See Speirs, “Girl Power,” p. 44; Canadian Press (no byline), “Women still
slaves,” Ottawa Citizen, June 5, 1968, p. 43. Later, Bonnie Kreps, as leader of the New
Feminists, used the same analogy but in a different way. See the full-page feature under the
banner headline, “Freedom-seeking women study Black Power strategy,” Toronto Star, Jan.
31, 1970, p. 11. Marjorie Griffin Cohen has argued that recent scholarship on the “second
wave” of the feminist movement in Canada has overstated the influence of the American
civil rights movement. Even so, I found quite a number of references linking the two in the
mainstream media of the time. See Margaret Griffin Cohen, “The Canadian Women’s
Movement,” in Pierson et al, Canadian Women’s Issues, p. 4.
Even in Quebec. See Pierre Vallières, White Niggers of America (Toronto: McClelland and
Stewart, 1971).
Sheila H. Kieran, “Who’s Downgrading Women? Women.” Maclean’s magazine, August
1968, pp. 18-19, 40-42.
Framing Feminine/Feminist
45.
46.
47.
48.
49.
50.
51.
52.
53.
54.
55.
56.
57.
58.
59.
“Women’s March May Back Call For Rights Probe,” Globe and Mail, Jan. 5, 1967;
Canadian Press (Windsor, Ont.), “Biological Beat of Bed, Board, Babies Attacked by Vocal
Canadian Feminist,” Montreal Star, March 14, 1967. Sabia twice ran for public office in
1968. See “Sabia blames religion for `passive women,’” Toronto Telegram, June 11, 1968;
Margaret Weiers, “Next House could boast even fewer women than last,” Toronto Star, Feb.
21, 1968; John Sharp, “Feminist will need male help to win mayoralty,” The Toronto
Telegram, Nov. 7, 1968, p. 58; Mary Jane Charters, “Laura Sabia wants `a mass injection’ of
women into public life, social structure of Canada,” London Free Press, Ontario, Nov. 6,
1968, p. 38. Recent scholarship suggests that women politicians of that era were framed in
the Canadian media in predominantly “biological” terms, but I believe a more complex
interpretation is needed. Gertrude J. Robinson and Armande St. Jean, “Women Politicians
and Their Media Coverage,” in Kathy Megyery, ed., Women in Canadian Politics: Toward
Equity in Representation, Vol. 6, Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party
Financing in Canada (Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1991), pp. 127-169.
Ken Clark (CP), “Watchdogs Ready to Pounce on Investigation Commission,” The Ottawa
Journal, Feb. 17, 1967, p. 24. Published as “Watchdogs all over the place: Militant group to
keep track of status of women study,” Globe and Mail, Feb. 17, 1967, p. 11.
Lorraine Shore, “Probe Into Status of Women hears UBC Co-ed Complain of Sex Barrier,”
Vancouver Sun, April 19, 1968.
CP (no byline), “War Between Sexes Goes Public: Men Main Target Of Commission On
Women,” Calgary Herald, April 22, 1968, p. 11.
Speirs, “Girl Power,” pp. 42-44.
Rosemary Speirs (CP), “Ladies Reminded They’re Women,” Vancouver Sun, April 25,
p. 47.
Lorna Wright, “She’s A `Man’s Woman,’” Edmonton Journal, April 25, 1968, p. 1.
Speirs, “Ladies Reminded They’re Women,” appeared as “Femininity plea,” Regina
Leader-Post, April 25, 1968; and as “Married Women Told To `Rely on Female Instincts,’”
Ottawa Journal, April 25, 1968, among others.
The item and photo were on the same page as several more detailed articles about other briefs
presented at the hearings. (No byline), “Officer Looked Chic,” The Ottawa Journal, October
2, 1968, p. 41. The Globe and Mail version of the story, which focused on the comments of
her co-presenter, the CLC’s male president, described Plamondon as “fiery” when she
publicly disagreed with him on whether the union treated its female members equitably. CP
(no byline), “Forceful law to end sex bias in employment urged by CLC,” The Globe and
Mail, October 2, 1968.
Speirs says she was a feminist even then. Barbara M. Freeman interview with Rosemary
Speirs conducted in Ottawa, December 15, 1992.
Rosemary Speirs (CP) “`Phony womanhood forced by media,’” The Winnipeg Tribune,
April 19, 1968, p. 14; “`Stop hiding behind skirts’: Women must adjust status views,
commission is told,” Globe and Mail, April 23, 1968, p. 11.
The photo accompanied Speirs, “Girl Power,” p. 44. The same photo, but with captions that
did not refer to her physical appearance, was published in some newspapers when the
hearings began in April. See, for example, the Charlottetown Guardian, Prince Edward
Island, April 15, 1968, n.p. and The Fredericton Gleaner, New Brunswick, April 18, 1968.
Speirs is one of the few journalists in Canada today who holds a Ph.D. Today, she is
Parliamentary Bureau Chief of The Toronto Star in Ottawa.
Collette Charisse, “Portrayal of Women by the Mass Media” as cited in Report of the Royal
Commission on the Status of Women, Chapter 1, “Women in Canadian Society,” p. 15.
Examples abound even in the newspapers used for this essay: Zena Cherry, “Massey
granddaughter to be wed,” The Globe and Mail, June 6, 1968, p. W2 took precedence in
placement and size that day over articles about the Commission hearings; there are fashion
photos in the Globe and Mail, April 19, 1968, p. 9 and June 7, 1968, p. 13, and in The Ottawa
Journal, March 11, 1968, p. 18; beauty queens are featured in a photo in The Globe and Mail,
April 17, 1968, p. 10; and there is a photo of “girl students,” wearing mini-skirts and shorts,
cleaning a local street in The Montreal Star, June 11, 1968, 52.
Carrie M. Best, “Human Rights: Status of Women,” Pictou Advocate, Sept. 19, 1968.
In this instance, McKim was castigating herself for not speaking out at a similar forum, the
Hellyer inquiry on housing. Eleanor McKim, “Frankly Speaking” column, Evening
27
IJCS / RIÉC
60.
61.
62.
63.
64.
65.
66.
67.
68.
69.
70.
71.
72.
73.
74.
75.
28
Telegram, Nov. 29, 1968. It was her daughter, Mary McKim, also a journalist, who covered
the Status of Women hearings in St. John’s for the Telegram in September 1968. It was
Mary’s first news assignment, which she says she was told to do because, in the words of her
male editor, “you’re a woman.” Conversation between Barbara M. Freeman and Mary
McKim at the Women in the Media conference, Canadian Association of Journalists,
Halifax, Nova Scotia, November 12, 1994.
Canadian Press (no byline), “Women must adjust views, hearing told,” The Globe and Mail,
April 23, 1968, p. 11.
Speirs, “Girl Power,” p. 44.
(No byline), “Women charge college discrimination,” Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 4, 1968.
CP (no byline) “Negro Journalist Lectures Women’s Commission In N.S.,” TelegraphJournal, Sept. 13, 1968; “Carrie Best’s Moving Tribute,” The Ottawa Journal, October 4,
1968.
See Carrie M. Best, That Lonesome Road (Halifax: Clarion, 1977) pp. 71-72, and her
columns in the Pictou Advocate, Sept. 19, 1968, section 1, p. 8, and Dec. 12, 1968, p. 5. She
wrote that she sometimes used the soft-spoken, philosophical approach strategically against
intolerance, however. See her column of December 28, 1967, p. 7. She stated her case on race
relations strongly in one interview I have heard. Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Ar. 22652268, 2279, interview with Carrie M. Best recorded c.1970.
CP (no byline), “Compulsory vasectomies at 16 advocated by feminist sociologist,” Globe
and Mail, April 19, 1968, p. 9.
(No byline), “Woman’s Plea To Women’s Probe: Sterilize All Young Men,” Vancouver
Sun, April 18, 1968, p. 1.
The Globe and Mail, April 19, 1968, p. 9.
No byline, “Teaching Nuns Seek Govt Aid For Feminist Groups,” Quebec ChronicleTelegraph, June 11, 1968.
Deborah Gorham, “English Militancy and the Canadian Suffrage Movement,” in Atlantis,
Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall 1975, pp. 83-112. This did not stop Canadian journalists even back then
from writing as if violence from women demanding their rights was as an immediate threat in
Canada as it was in Britain. Barbara M. Freeman, Kit’s Kingdom: The Journalism of
Kathleen Blake Coleman, Ottawa: Carleton University Press, Women’s Experience Series
No. 1, 1989, especially Chapter 5. For a recent overview of earlier feminism in Canada, see
Jane Errington, “Pioneers and Suffragists,” in Sandra Burt, Lorraine Code and Lindsay
Dorney (eds.), Changing Patterns: Women in Canada, Second Edition (Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart, 1993, pp. 59-91).
English Canada, which shares a common border and language with the United States, has
been less than successful in resisting the cultural influences and concerns of the more
powerful American mass media, as embodied in the magazines, radio, television and film
eagerly snapped up by Canadian audiences. There are several articles on this theme in
Holmes and Taras, Seeing Ourselves.
The letter, from “Farmer’s Wife,” had originally appeared in the Melrose Review in
Saskatchewan, and was republished in the Brooks Bulletin, Alberta, Sept. 19, 1968.
Elizabeth Thompson’s column, “Ashamed of briefs to commission,” Globe and Mail, June
12, 1968, p. 10; “Ignore smokescreen and fight for rights, woman says,” Globe and Mail,
June 24, p. 13; and “Women unequal as long as they are pampered household pets, reader
says,” Globe and Mail, July 2, 1968, p. 11.
Marilyn Anderson, “The fight for women’s rights,” Niagara Falls Review, Oct. 19, 1968.
Alice Sheppard, Cartooning for Suffrage, introduced by Elizabeth Israels Perry.
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994), pp. 58-64.
The Canadian cartoonist as satirist is discussed in Peter Desbarats and Terry Mosher
(Aislin), The Hecklers, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979), and in the more analytical
and critical Raymond N. Morris, The Jester’s Mask: Canadian Editorial Cartoons about
Dominant and Minority Groups (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.) Neither book
explores the ways in which cartoonists represented women. I have interviewed two retired
cartoonists: Sid Barron of the Toronto Star in Coombs, B.C., Feb. 20, 1995 and Len Norris of
the Vancouver Sun in Langley, B.C., Feb. 25, 1995. They both say their cartoons reflected
public attitudes about the women’s movement at the time.
Framing Feminine/Feminist
76.
77.
78.
79.
80.
81.
82.
83.
84.
Yardley Jones, Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, Quebec City, Feb. 21, 1967, editorial page. A
cropped version without Lamarsh appeared in the Chatham News, Ontario, March 22, 1967.
Other cartoons included women brandishing rolling pins or otherwise threatening or
inflicting actual damage on men. Al Beaton, Telegraph-Journal of St. John, New
Brunswick, February 23, 1967; Duncan MacPherson, Toronto Star, June 7, 1968, “Sock it to
them baby” and Kuch, Winnipeg Tribune, Friday, May 31, 1968.
Yvonne Crittenden, “Students think `feminists’ are old hat,” Toronto Telegram, March 19,
1968. See also (no byline), “Youth suspicious of probe,” Winnipeg Tribune, Feb. 24, 1968;
Bletcher, “Call for women in politics,” Winnipeg Tribune; Canadian Press (no byline),
“Feminine Image Not Too Bright,” Vancouver Sun, March 23, 1968, p. 32; Joyce Douglas,
“Attitudes are most to blame, says McGill undergraduate,” Montreal Star, June 12, 1968, pp.
59, 63.
(No byline), “Girls protest that sex is used to sell everything,” Toronto Telegram, June 7,
1968.
Margaret Weiers, “Urge dental care in medicare, ”Toronto Star, June 7, 1968, p. 61.
In fact, a study done for the Vanier Institute of the Family found that journalists, especially
those who worked for newspapers, tended to disapprove of young mothers working outside
the home and of sex outside of marriage. See Hilda Kearns, “Media survey takes
conservative stand on family life,” The Montreal Star, February 19, 1971, p. 19.
(No byline), “Girls protest that sex is used to sell everything,” Toronto Telegram, June 7,
1968, and (no byline), “Young socialists use royal commission to promote ideology of
socialist state,” London Free Press, June 5, 1968, p. 32.
Dennis Braithwaite, “Subsidy to women who stay at home,” Toronto Telegram, Sept. 6,
1968.
Yvonne Crittenden, “One report Ottawa can’t ignore,” Toronto Telegram, October 1, 1968,
pp. 1, 3, 9, and via the newspaper’s own news service, as “Status of Women — one report
Ottawa cannot ignore,” Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, October 7, 1968, p. 7. This article won
Crittenden the annual award for the best news story from the national Canadian Women’s
Press Club. CP (no byline), “Telegram’s Yvonne Crittenden wins news award,” unmarked
clipping in NAC RCSW Vol. 43, Binder 8.
Brownmiller, pp. 235-237.
29
Jane Arscott
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
the Royal Commission on the Status of Women*
Abstract
In the twenty-five years since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
(RCSW) reported to Parliament, very little has been told about how the
Commission did its work. The RCSW marks a watershed in the development of
public policy on women. For better and for worse, this blueprint continues to
be influential. The personal papers of one of the Commissioners, Elsie
Gregory MacGill, contain most of the minutes and supporting documents used
in the creation of the report. These sources indicate how the Commissioners
understood their roles, sexual equality, rights and important aspects of the
research conducted by the RCSW. How its Report came to take the form that it
did, especially the way in which the Commission came to see its tasks, offers
important insight into the relation of feminism to public policy in Canada.
Résumé
Il y a près de vingt-cinq ans, la Commission royale d’enquête sur le statut de la
femme (CRESF) présentait son rapport. À ce jour, il existe peu d’information
sur le fonctionnement de cette commission, qui s’est avérée pourtant un grand
tournant dans le domaine du développement de la politique gouvernementale
sur la question des femmes. Cette esquisse continue, pour le meilleur et pour le
pire, à avoir une grande influence. Les chroniques personnelles d’une des
commissionnaires, Elsie Gregory MacGill, mettent en lumière les procèsverbaux et autres documents pertinents qui ont servi à l’élaboration du
rapport. Ces sources indiquent la façon dont les commissionnaires voyaient
leurs rôles, l’égalité sexuelle, les droits et les aspects importants de la
recherche effectuée par la CRESF. La forme qu’a prise le rapport et plus
précisément la façon dont la Commission percevait sa tâche nous offrent un
aperçu important de la relation entre le féminisme et la politique
gouvernementale au Canada.
A commission is chiefly remembered for its final report.
The untold story, normally, is how the commission
produced the thing for which it is remembered. (Cameron
1993, 333)
Twenty-five years after the creation of the Royal Commission on the Status of
Women (RCSW) it is now possible to show how particular decisions and
recommendations were made, and what range of options were considered1
This fuller account is possible due to the “turning up” of an almost complete set
of minutes of its sixty-five meetings. Although, the Commissioners had
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
decided to have all copies of the minutes destroyed, one copy of them, along
with many supporting documents, survives at the National Archives in the
personal papers of Elsie Gregory MacGill. This article is only the first stage in
a larger project to provide a comprehensive, analytical and contextual account
of the RCSW, drawing on an analysis of the minutes and of some 500
submissions and 1,000 letters of opinion received by the secretariat, and a
textual analysis of the Report. For a growing number of the Report’s potential
readers who, like me, had no knowledge of the event at the time, important
choices relating to family, career and personal autonomy have been
significantly shaped by this major development in the federal government’s
political agenda for public policy. Revisiting the RCSW with a view to
explaining its significance to the generation born after its completion provides
valuable new information along with a different perspective on its activities
and its meaning for feminism — past, present and future — in Canada.
’
The RCSW s “Culture” in the Absence of Written Records
Before becoming Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
in 1967, Florence Bird worked as a freelance journalist and broadcaster who
travelled internationally making documentaries. In her biography submitted to
the Commission at the time of her appointment, she describes herself as having
“always been interested in welfare and the problems of women.2 Within a year
of taking up the appointment, she suggested to her fellow Commissioners that
they entitle the first chapter of their report, “Canadian Society on Trial.”
Everyone involved had already learned a great deal about the subject being
studied, the Commission’s mandate in studying it, and the members’ function
as Commissioners. But to judge the RCSW only by its final product, the
Report, is to miss much of what the social production of knowledge actually
involved.
The minutes reveal the Commissioners’ initial uncertainty about what they
considered to be the strong language of international rights. Such language
might be perceived by the government, the public or both to “antagonize many
of the men responsible for implementing the report.”3 In a discussion on the
prospective content of the first chapter of the report, Chairman Bird urged that
it first focus public attention on society and the changes that had occurred since
World War II. (14th meeting, Oct. 30-31, 1968) She proposed to call this
chapter, “Society on Trial” because the briefs had already convinced her that
there was “something wrong” with Canadian society. “We need only read the
newspapers to realize that people are questioning the values of our society.”
She wished to send a clear signal to the Canadian public that Commission
members were concerned about the problem of poverty and “discrimination
against minority groups, such as Indians, etc.” She maintained that an
historical approach would capture the public’s attention and, therefore, win
government acceptance more readily.
The importance of the document’s acceptance by men, specifically a majority
of the 263 MPs and 1 woman MP who sat in the House of Commons, weighed
heavily on the Commissioners. Rosemary Speirs, the journalist most familiar
with the RCSW after travelling extensively with the Commission during most
34
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
of its public hearings, reminded readers of Chatelaine in advance of the
Report’s tabling how easily the government could cast aside the
Commission’s work in favour of the portion of women who were content to
settle for unequal status. The Commission’s Report would have to be “an
exceptionally persuasive and impressive document” if it was to overcome
“prejudice and apathy.” (Speirs 1969, 52)
In the ensuing discussion of the suggested title, several unnamed
Commissioners opined that “Society on Trial” placed excessive stress on
complaints by women. Briefs and submissions were welcome; letters of
opinion and complaints were perceived as special pleading. Rather than make
women appear unhappy with their lot by casting their condition in terms of
rights, their situation could be presented in an “interesting and lively” way.
John Humphrey’s acknowledged expertise in the area of international human
rights gave added weight to his opinion that “human rights were uppermost” in
the mind’s of people “the world over,” which made it essential to clearly
present this position at the outset. At this point, Bird restated her position but
acknowledged that other Commissioners clearly wanted the criteria (that
ultimately put rights in the foreground of the Report) to take priority.
Bird’s argument for the “On Trial” chapter title expressed her sense that
Canadian womanhood had been mistreated, and that the Commission’s task
was to assess the damage. Accounts of the Commission’s activities exist in
Florence Bird’s autobiography and can be gleaned from Judy LaMarsh’s
memoirs, and from press coverage.4 The several specialized studies on the
Commission tend to focus on its creation, immediate responses to its
recommendations or its merits as a document that reflects the ideology of
liberal feminism. (Morris 1982; 1980, Cumming 1991) Unlike the
Bilingualism & Bicultural Commission (B & B), the Macdonald Commission
and the Pépin-Robarts Task Force, next to nothing has been published about
the RCSW’s program of research or it group dynamics. It is precisely the selfdefinition of their subject and the research program that Frank Milligan, who
had worked for the Glassco Commission, emphasized to the Commissioners
when he spoke to them about the newly created Commission on 10 April
1967.5 He strongly recommended a team approach whereby Commissioners
would never be deployed as individuals but always as members of the group.
This collective identity provided their self-definition. “Insider’s” accounts
about the RCSW by Monique Bégin, the executive secretary who has since
become a Member of Parliament, a Cabinet Minister and a respected
academic, and by Florence Bird, are more guarded and less analytical than
those provided by Richard Simeon and David R. Cameron about the
Macdonald Commission and the Pépin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian
Unity, respectively.
Amid the substantial literature on Royal Commissions and the public utility,
the RCSW has yet to receive the scholarly attention that it deserves as perhaps
the most efficient and inexpensive inquiry on a vast subject. Cognizance of the
RCSW in the literature on royal commissions amounts to little more than the
inference that can be drawn from the affirmation that “temporary, projectdriven organizations” are well-suited to non-recurring issues. (Cameron 1993,
35
IJCS / RIÉC
336, Cairns 1990, 91-93) The RCSW inquired on an ad hoc basis into a general
“socio-cultural” issue. (Doern 1967, 431) Inquiries of this sort can assist the
government, not the least of all by sounding out public opinion before the
launch of a new initiative. (Hodgetts 1964, 488) The Commission had copies
of the articles by Doern and Hodgetts.6 Hodgetts’ personal account of the
advantages and disadvantages of royal commissions was recommended to the
Commissioners by the Privy Council Office (PCO) as an appropriate manner
of expressing their individual beliefs after the report had been presented to the
Prime Minister. The PCO advised the RCSW to excise John Humphrey’s final
comment in his minority report in which he addresses readers as a “citizen and
taxpayer” rather than as a Commissioner concerning the need for a permanent
staff within the public service to be responsible for all Royal Commissions.
Milligan’s advice was clearly not followed here. In the exchange that followed
between Humphrey and the Commission, he raised the question of possible
censorship of his views. In the end, the passage appeared in the report. (Canada
1970: 450-1)
For interested observers to trace what Jane Jenson has described as a public
inquiry’s “learning curve” some written records in addition to the
reminiscences of the main participants would be helpful in understanding the
product of the RCSW’s labours. (Jenson 1994, 54) But establishing the
“culture” at work in a particular Commission can be next to impossible for an
outsider who was not there to see how things were done. In recent times,
Commissions have not left a paper trail of their decision-making processes. In
the case of the RCSW, the documents deposited by the Commission in the
National Archives are of very limited use. No record documented the
Commission’s day-to-day decision-making processes, that is, until the
personal papers of Elsie Gregory MacGill were donated to the National
Archives by her estate in 1983. The “find” is remarkable, especially on
learning that the Commissioners were initially uncertain about what
information they would be obliged by law and by past practice to make public,
and what they might destroy in all good conscience as a public body providing
a well-defined service to Parliament.
An initial discussion of the Commission’s obligations to retain some of its
work for the public record occurred early in May 1968. Bégin provided a
written report stating that the Privy Council Office had informed her that the
Commission was entitled to select whichever documents it saw fit to be
deposited in the National Archives upon completion of its work. Depositing
the Minutes of the Commission’s meetings was not regarded as “compulsory,”
but the tapes of the public hearings were to be included in lieu of transcripts.7
Bégin told RCSW members that other Royal Commissions did not generally
deposit their Minutes. The secretariat usually destroyed its copies and
Commissioners kept their personal copies confidential. Commissions usually
retained some but not all of the information generated by the Commissioners
and their staff. Moreover, access could be restricted to some material for a
limited period of time. She recommended that the minutes be destroyed.
At the last minute, on December 1, 1970, at the sixty-fifth meeting of the
Commission, Elsie Gregory MacGill submitted a motion to have all of the
36
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
official minutes of the commissioners’ meetings, their inter-office memoranda
and all drafts of the chapters destroyed.8 (65th meeting Dec 1, 1970) The
motion passed unanimously. Why MacGill did not surrender her papers
following that decision no one knows. Whatever her reasons — administrative
oversight, rush, or perhaps unwillingness to part with the fruits of her labour so
quickly — MacGill kept her copy of the minutes.
This material reappeared on the desk of Judith Cumming at the National
Library in 1989.9 She happened to notice the instruction to have the minutes
destroyed. (Cumming 1991, 15 and n.) Cumming’s training as a librarian
motivated her to inquire of Bégin (with whom she was studying at the time)
why she had agreed to their destruction when their preservation might assist
future generations to comprehend the Commission’s acitivities. The
professor’s response? “You can’t possibly know that.”10 But know it, she did,
as will any other member of the public who wishes to consult them. On that
occasion, Bégin recalled that later in the life of the RCSW Florence Bird had
strongly suggested that the Commission not give any hostages to fortune that
might possibly damage the Report’s success in relation to the Canadian
establishment over the long term. (Cumming 1991, 15) The report was to be
the official, definitive word on the subject. This message had been stressed to
the members of the Commission from their first meeting. All of the
Commissioners had taken an oath of office in which they promised “not to
disclose or make known, without due authority...any matter that comes to my
knowledge, by reason of my holding that office.” (Guidebook) Self-censorship
was practised by the RCSW to avoid breaching the government’s trust.
Commissioners were careful not to give anything away, especially to the
media, that might prejudice the reception of its report.
The papers sometimes paraphrase what individual Commissioners said, which
makes it possible to see the influence that each of them and members of the
staff had. (Cumming 1991, 16) MacGill’s own series of memoranda on all
manner of subjects — Indian women, unjust laws and possible personal biases
that might affect the content of the report — provides strong evidence of her
commitment toward women’s advancement and to the Commission’s function
in devising a blueprint for social change.
The significance of the Minutes — their existence and content — exceeds their
potential for challenging the oral history about the Commission on the basis of
documentary evidence. For the first time, they allow authors who are
personally unacquainted with the politics and personalities of the day to write a
more comprehensive account of how, why and in what manner the
Commission set about its task. Interest in the women’s movement in recent
years has shifted away from a univocal approach to social change toward
identity politics and the politics of representation. Such concerns are foreign to
much of the work of the RCSW. The Commission’s collective
conceptualization of the subject to be studied, and the principles to be used in
studying it, can all be discerned from the Minutes. Its interpretation of its
mandate, its choice of language for expressing its views, its style of argument
and the tone of its recommendations can now be understood more fully. No one
person’s individual memory can possibly recall in full detail the reasons for
37
IJCS / RIÉC
particular decisions. The brief overview that follows summarizes the way in
which the RCSW came to understand its task.
Representational Politics in the RCSW
Judy LaMarsh’s continuing efforts to have such a commission created date
from at least 1964. She repeatedly endeavoured to influence the Prime
Minister on the subject of women and their place in Canada. Her efforts equal
the groundswell of support from the established women’s movement,
nominally headed by Laura Sabia. (Cumming 1991, 4-5) Without the crosspressure from inside Cabinet and from a vocal segment of the public, the
RCSW would not have been appointed when it was.11 (Findlay forthcoming,
13n) Of the seven members appointed to the Commission, only Donald
Gordon, Junior, and Jeanne Lapointe had any previous experience working for
government. All of the married women were appointed under their husband’s
names. Despite this initially mixed message about the primacy of these
women’s marital status as opposed to their professional identities, the women
Commissioners were highly self-conscious of their symbolic public function
as examples of the competence of Canada’s women.12 The Commissioners
were Mrs. John Bird of Ottawa, Miss Elsie Gregory MacGill of Toronto, Mr.
Jacques Henripin of Montreal, Mrs. Ottomar Lange of Claresholm, Alberta,
Mrs. Robert Ogilvie of Frederiction, and Mr. Donald Gordon, Junior, of
Waterloo. Gordon was later replaced by Mr. John Humphrey.13
In the final report, all of the women used their own names without titles. The
emergence of the women’s own identities occurred in an early discussion held
in the spring of 1967 at which each of the Commissioners commented on her or
his understanding of the Commission’s terms of reference. (3rd meeting, A-3)
MacGill wanted the individual Commissioners to use their professional
names. “Judge Ogilvie,” “Professor Henripin,” and “Anne Francis” conveyed
the respected status and work experience that each of them brought to their
new jobs. The group decided that rather than impose a rule on anyone,
everyone would be addressed by the title and name she or he preferred.
References to the men remained unchanged, but the women immediately
switched to using their own first names but without any professional
designation.
When the Commissioners were appointed, Canadian Labour, a national organ
for unionized labour, complained that there were “no direct representatives of
women wage and salary earners among its members.” (Canadian Labour,
1967, 26) A similar complaint came in regard to the women of British
Columbia.14 (3rd meeting May 24-26, 1967) But just as for Aboriginal
women, and visible minority women, the appointment of Commissioners to
the RCSW fitted into an already established pattern. Interests and identities
that were not formally represented in the corporate body of the Commission
were expected to be included in the proceedings as writers of briefs and as
witnesses at public hearings. Britain continued the practice of appointing
members to Commissions of “all affected interests,” whereas smaller bodies
that provided for the representation of interests and identities, as the wellknown political scientist J. E. Hodgetts expressed it — “in the witness box
38
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
rather than on the commission itself” — was the norm followed in the case of
the RCSW. (Hodgetts 1951, 477; Doern 1967, 423) Once the Commissioners
became aware of the blatantly discriminatory attitude of the law toward
Aboriginal women, they worked to obtain additional information about and
submissions from aboriginal women.15
In the absence of multi-variable breakdowns of the census data, the
Commissioners’ initial sense of which cleavages in the population merited
study appears to have been strongly influenced by a one-page set of tables
entitled “An Objective Criteria for the Establishment of Priorities” that gave
the “Number of Women by Sub-Groups.”16 The sub-groups included the
number of women by province, ethnic origin, religious denomination,
percentage of the total labour force, age and marital status, marital status of
women in the labour force and the numbers of women in select occupations.
The disproportionate attention to age, marital status and employment indicates
that marital status in relation to labour force participation was a primary and
easily understandable concern from the outset of the Commission’s work.
Because 90 percent of women married and remained so for an average 40
years, the Commission’s emphasis on the phases in the life cycle of most
women made considerable sense based on the assumption that the marital state
was the defining characteristic of their lives. (Canada 1970: 10) But the Report
also stressed that the life cycle of women had changed from a two phase cycle
experienced by previous generations to a three phase cyle which gave women a
“second life” following their child-bearing years. (Canada 1970: 5) Moreover,
trends in employment indicated that almost all women worked prior to
marriage, and most of them continued working until their first pregnancy. An
increasing proportion re-entered the labour market after their children had
grown up, some beginning as soon as their youngest child started school. (40th
meeting, Jan. 28-30, 1970: item 24) MacGill notes in the margin, “Some don’t
stop working.”
What women were to do in the new third phase, between the ages of 35 — the
RCSW assumed that assuming childbearing ended at 30 — and 76, posed a
crucial question in the judgement of the Commission. Work of some kind
seemed to interest many women. But whether this work was to be paid or not,
full-time or part-time, had yet to be determined. Regardless of the individual
solution chosen by women, the Commission strongly affirmed women’s
capacity even their right to make their own choices. From this perspective,
feminism and women’s liberation centred on choice and women’s right to have
and exercise choice.17 Without adopting the label of either of these
movements, the RCSW agreed with their basic assumption but stopped short
of making a structural analysis of production, reproduction, sex and the
socialization of children of the sort associated with Juliet Mitchell’s Marxism.
(1966: 29) Not only did the RCSW give a wide birth to Marxist class analysis,
it viewed divisions within Canadian society from a relatively traditional
perspective.
Other differences recorded in the analysis by sub-groups included region,
ethnicity, religion or language. But these divisions were of much less
importance to the Commission than their relation to the economy. Among
39
IJCS / RIÉC
these categorizations, the most controversial criticism of the work of the
RCSW in recent years has been its apparent blindness to matters of race.
In the case of visible minority women, the Commission’s working
assumptions were that the vast majority of immigrants sought to be
acculturated to one of the two main language groups, and that visible
minorities did not compose a significant portion of the immigrant group. In
adopting these attitudes, their views were consistent with those of Canada’s
first woman Cabinet minister, Ellen Fairclough:
We must explain to these new arrivals that they are welcome to our
midst and that our grandmothers and great grand-mothers were in
very much the same position a century or more ago. We are of varied
racial backgrounds and relations and we are anxious to see our new
friends become Canadians in feeling as we are, without destroying
the memories of their homelands. (Canada 1959: 12)
Her suggestion that new immigrants be invited into people’s home for coffee
and acculturation in the ways of Canadian living expresses the same sense of
confidence in the unity of the Canadian identity and of Canadian womanhood
reflected little more than a decade later in the RCSW report.
Preliminary fact-finding completed 3 November 1967 indicated that
immigrant populations remained primarily European and American.
According to immigration statistics used by the RCSW in setting its research
priorities, less than 2 percent of Canada’s female population were visible
minority women at the time, most of them aboriginal women (1.5) and the rest
(.5) of Chinese or Japanese descent.18 Two years and four months later, the
Department of Manpower and Immigration supplied information that
indicated significant immigration by visible minorities, and not only from the
Pacific Rim.19 In 1969, 2 percent of new immigrants came from Africa, 3.3
percent from India, 3.5 percent from Trinidad and Tobago, and 5.1 percent
from China. Visible minorities made up 13.9 percent of immigrants. Many of
these more recent, visible minority immigrants could not readily claim English
or French ancestry as the RCSW had conceived only two years before! The
disjunction between their initial assumption and the information they obtained
much later is striking. I conclude that their inattention to visible minorities is
understandable. This said, the possible error, oversight, indifference or
racially motivated wilful disregard for the category of race deserves close
scrutiny.
For its time, the RCSW figured among royal commissions as the most
progressive, relatively successful example of incorporation of diversity. The
RCSW was the first royal commission headed by a woman and comprising a
majority of women (including its staff). Most of the regions and the country’s
two main language groups, varied marital status, professional and laypersons,
urban and rural, older and not so old Commissioners provided the RCSW with
a wealth of inexhaustive yet bold range of interests and identities.
Given the times, it would be inappropriate for anyone to assume that the
Commission and its senior staff were uniformly heterosexual. In the late
1960s, sexual orientation was not a common form of public self-identification
40
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
in the way that it has become somewhat more readily accepted today. A
parallel argument applies to the representation of persons with disabilities. For
example, had Elsie Gregory MacGill been appointed to a Royal Commission
now, rather than in 1967, some reference to her “disability” would certainly be
made. As the result of myelitis contracted when she was a graduate student,
MacGill’s mobility was permanently affected.20 She would now be seen at
least for some limited purposes to represent women with disabilities. Before
she died in 1980, she had accepted an appointment to the Canadian Organizing
Committee for the International Year of the Disabled to be held the next year.
Earlier, in her appointment to the RCSW, the emphasis fell exclusively on her
competence as a professional woman. She was the first woman to graduate in
electrical engineering from the University of Toronto and the first to earn a
master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan.
All of the Commissioners repeatedly demonstrated deep concern for some
categories of women not strongly represented on the Commission.
Accordingly, the Commission developed a concern for Aboriginal women.
MacGill in particular sought to have Aboriginal women speak for themselves
rather than have their views interpreted by a third party. Lange’s concern for
women who were isolated from social networks for whatever reason,
Lapointe’s interest in women’s associations, Ogilvie’s concern for
marginalized women (prostitutes and incarcerated women), Henripin’s
concern for mothers who stayed at home to raise children, and Gordon’s
concern to professionalize the function of housewives, readily suggest their
collective understanding and empathy for the different social identities and
circumstances of women across the country. Poverty, care for the elderly, and
immigrant women all receive some attention in the minutes. No one can claim
that the Commission wilfully overlooked the full range of women’s interests
and identities. The RCSW merits high praise as a forum for the politics of
representation on three counts. First, its composition was innovative compared
to recent past practice. Secondly, its mandate covered a broad but open-ended
range of topics. Thirdly, the Commissioners’ response to their mandate
involved a large measure of innovation.
It was only the second Commission to hold meetings in cities across the
country scheduled at times when its subjects — women — would most likely
be able to attend.21 Members of the Commission were sent to the Yukon to
seek additional input from Northerners. Segments of the public hearings were
televised. Most importantly, the Commission scrutinized its own performance
on this score. Lists were made of the various ways in which different categories
of women had been approached to make their views known to the public.
The RCSW has certainly received a good deal of criticism for inadequate
representation in its makeup or in the range of opinions solicited. But some of
its members were acutely aware of these shortcomings — both perceived and
real — and did everything in their power to conduct their inquiry in a manner
that we would now call inclusive. For example, Donald J. Gordon’s
interpretation of the Commission’s mandate stressed the need to be forwardlooking and to take into account the present and future function of “minority
groups such as Ukrainians, Italians and Jews as well as Indians and Eskimos.”
41
IJCS / RIÉC
(3rd meeting, p. 8) Following the B & B Commission, ethnicity was a variable
almost routinely included in the list of parameters. In response to persistent
requests from Lola Lange for more extensive efforts to elicit the views of
women’s voluntary organizations, and to reach out to what she referred to as
the “unorganized individual” whose interests and identities might give her no
voice whatsoever in any association, club, union, church group or professional
organization, the executive secretary drafted a list of all of the ways in which
the secretariat had tried to contact different categories of women by region,
ethnic origin, religion, marital status, socio-economic status and
professions.22 (8th meeting, March 12, 1968, Appendix J) In addition to letters
of opinion from old women, poor women and female heads of households,
many of which gave personal accounts of alleged discrimination, more formal
briefs and submissions came from individuals — “teachers, students, lawyers,
doctors, [and] nurses” — and from groups, including but not limited to “labor
unions, national women’s associations, governments, universities and
political associations.” (Bird 1977, 170)
The Commission was given some credit even at the time for its efforts to “come
to terms with the special problems faced by women living in rural areas, by
Indian and Eskimo women, by immigrant women, and by those in low income
groups.” (Bird, 1974, 27) Feminist women, especially women involved in
organizations associated with the women’s movement — branches of the
Voice of Women, Women’s Institutes and daycare committees — presented
submissions that provided the Commission with competing approaches and
analysis of the origins of women’s condition in Canada. Foremost among these
was that of Bonnie Kreps of the New Feminists, a Toronto-based
consciousness-raising group that had its own premises and activities in
Toronto. The Vancouver Caucus of the Women’s Liberation Movement
provided the RCSW with a background paper on its activities.23 (37th
meeting, Jan. 7-9, 1970: item 36) A member of the local women’s liberation
group, Dr. Margaret Mahood, presented a very powerfully argued position on
“The Availability of Medically-Safe Abortions” at the public hearings held 3
May 1968.24 She presented this view on behalf of the Saskatchewan Voice of
Women to the public hearings held in Saskatoon. Lapointe asked her to send
the text to the Commission. It appears among the letters of opinion rather than
the briefs.25 The views of overtly feminist groups had relatively little impact
on the Commission because of the members’ inability to understand their
demands in terms of the Commission’s existing framework. (Bégin 1992, 28)
However, they did have some influence, especially in broadening the range of
analysis available to the Commission, and in challenging the Commissioners’
frame of reference by demanding that they incorporate more differences than
perhaps the Commission would otherwise have been prepared to consider.
MacGill offered the opinion that “groups like the New Feminists” were
multiplying and that their presence might permanently alter the existing array
of women’s voluntary associations. (62nd meeting July 15-17, 1970:
EGM/R262) This was possible because many of the members of the feminist
groups “come from or associate with disadvantaged groups.” They expressed a
fundamental dissatisfaction with what had formerly been regarded as the
“proper channels of political communication.” Feminist groups positioned
42
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
themselves “— by choice — outside the [political] party structure which
today is intrinsic to political power.”
On the whole, established women’s groups spoke most volubly for white,
urban, middle-class apparently able-bodied and heterosexual women who
viewed lobbying as a legitimate form of political participation. But the same
was not true for the feminist groups associated with the women’s movement,
according to MacGill. This said, it was the established women’s groups — the
Business and Professional Women’s clubs, church women’s groups,
homemakers’ associations, and the occupational associations of nurses,
teachers and social workers — that provided the voices around which the
Commission constructed its conception of Canadian Women. (Findlay 1995,
21, 25) Slightly more than half the submissions received by the Secretariat
came from groups, many of them Ontario-based national organizations.26 At
the same time, the Commission attempted to incorporate other viewpoints,
most notably that of Indian women and poor women, with mixed success.
The Commission’s final report certainly adopts the rhetoric of equality as
sameness in its effort to give Parliament a strongly drawn, coherent account of
womanhood in Canada. This rhetorical strategy used and reproduced an
essentialized category of woman that significantly flattens the real differences
between women into euphemistic and highly sanitized descriptions of
relatively less well off women and relatively better educated women. It does
not call poverty, marginalization, exploitation and violence by the names that
we more recently use to identify the multiple forms of gender oppression.
Despite the calculatedly dispassionate tone of the Report, the Commissioners
discussed what we now refer to as the politics of representation and identity
politics. Elsie Gregory MacGill asked her fellow Commissioners to consider
any personal commitments that might limit their collective capacity to
consider such topics as “free love” and lesbianism.
Early in the life of the RCSW, the Commissioners made a conscious choice to
have their text address every woman in Canada in her capacity as a citizen of
the nation. Like the parallel Commission in the United States — the
President’s Commission on the Status of Women entitled American Women
(1963) — the text of Canadian document emphasized the inclusiveness and
universality of the “Canadian women” category. The Commissioners decided
to adopt this linguistic strategy to avoid any misinterpretation of their
recommendations that might instead be used to suggest that women’s
citizenship, their relation to the family, public affairs and employment divided
categories of women against each other. They decided to forestall the
government, detractors of the Report or anyone else from continuing to justify
different entitlements to different categories of women. They did not wish to
perpetuate already existing inequalities or to generate new ones. They thought
that new immigrants or Aboriginal women might be singled out as different
from other Canadian women. The prospect of perpetuating inequality and
discrimination was utterly abhorent to the majority of the Commissioners.27
They were prepared to take their official stand on principle, and the inherent
logic behind the principle then had to be worked through in every aspect of
Canadian society.
43
IJCS / RIÉC
So strongly did they come to believe in this principle that, late in the life of the
Commission during a discussion of a subsection of a draft of Chapter One that
referred to women as a “psychological minority,” Humphrey made a motion
“That nowhere in the Report should the specific name of any (especially racial
or ethnic) minority be used as a point of comparison with women.” (53rd
meeting, April 22-24, 1970: item 22) The motion carried by a vote of four to
two with Lange and Lapointe opposed, and MacGill abstaining. If women
were not a minority, how were they to be discussed? Ready to hand was the
language of individual rights.
The RCSW Grasps the Nettle of Rights Talk
More than any other document sponsored by the international community, the
unanimous adoption of the United Nation’s General Assembly resolution of
December 10, 1948 “clarified” the issue of women’s rights for the RCSW:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (RCSW
1970, xi) This statement is the first idea expressed in the Report in the initial
section on “Criteria and Principles.” The principle expresses a philosophic
commitment to sameness involving freedom and equality in dignity and rights
among people regardless of differences in their identitites and interests. There
is to be “no distinction in rights and freedoms between women and men,” a
position which takes as its ideal a common status for women and men rather
than a separate status for each gender or, presumably, a ranking within each
gender. This commitment to sameness sets the stage for a “new society” to be
“equally enjoyed and maintained by both sexes” and informs the document
from beginning to end.
The RCSW was to “inquire into and report upon the status of women in
Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the Federal
Government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all
aspects of Canadian society.” [emphasis added] (Canada 1970, vii) In
addition to the general distribution of legislative powers under the
Constitution, Parliament directed the RCSW to give particular attention to
matters falling under federal jurisdiction. Thereafter followed a list of nine
items of particular interest including laws and practices related to political
rights for women, their participation in the labour force; their training and
education, federal Labour laws; their employment by the federal government;
taxation, marriage and divorce, the criminal law, immigration and citizenship,
and any other matter relevant to the status of women in Canada.
The view that the Commission was obliged to compare women to men, taking
men’s performance as the norm, arose in several different contexts. At several
of its earliest meetings, some of the discussion referred to “full equality for
women” until Donald Gordon reminded the group that “equal opportunities”
and not full equality for women was the actual language used in the terms of
reference. [emphasis added] Thereafter for the sake of consistency, “equal
opportunities” is referred to in “all official statements.” (3rd meeting, May 2426 1967,18) The idiom of full equality had been used by Bird-cum-Francis in
her pamphlet on women’s rights published in 1950. (Bird 1974, 210) In it, she
had outlined the numerous limitations that prevented the realization of this
44
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
ideal. In reviewing Catherine Cleverdon’s historical account The Woman
Suffrage Movement in Canada, reviewer Frank Underhill had noted in 1950 in
the Canadian Historical Review that Francis’s pamphlet provided “an
enlightening supplement” to Cleverdon’s historical overview precisely
because the pamphlet tackled the disjunction between formal political
equality and the capacity to effectively make use of the entitlements women
had won for themselves. [emphasis added] (Underhill 1950, 423) The
sophisticated account of slippage between formal rights and the capacity to
exercise them alluded to by Underhill did not become a conscious conceptual
division for the RCSW.
The government’s official commitment to the realization of every Canadian’s
entitlement to the rights and freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights is used in the Report as the standard for assessing whether or
not women possessed the associated entitlements in theory and were capable
of exercising them in practice. Foreshadowing the Report’s findings, and its
recommendations, a measure of equality is said to have been “lacking” at the
time “for men as well as for women.”
Women are to be discussed consistently in terms of their relation to men, a
standard of comparison used consistently throughout the report. The
justification for reform is grounded in the commitment to realize the perceived
internal logic of equality that requires both men and women in their capacity as
human beings to receive the same treatment in respect to their rights, freedoms
and dignity. This said, the norm of behaviour and aspirations for all human
beings is generalized from the experience of men. Moreover, this norm is
never used to differentiate between men and their relative capacity to possess
and enjoy the rights and privileges they were all presumed to have in virtue of
being male. What difference there might be, if any, between men and different
classes of men or differently situated individual men does not enter into the
directive and principles at all. Differences between men, between men and
women, and among women are less important than the broadest possible
generalizations about how women, in general, can become more like men, in
general, if they choose to enter male domains.
The Commission did not have an explicit conceptual framework of a
shared philosophy, other than its commitment to the “equal rights”
approach, which co-existed with general notions of the value of a
specifically “female culture.” (Bégin 1992, 29)
More than twenty years later, a person as closely associated with the Report as
Bégin appears not to take into account the philosophically inconsistent
position involved here.
The sameness standard of treatment implicit in the internal logic of equal rights
sits uncomfortably with the difference standard of treatment of the genders
implicit in valuing the specificity of “female culture.” Cross-pressure that
resulted from these two fundamentally irreconcilable positions made it all the
easier for the Commission to be constrained by the advice of acknowledged
“experts,” especially civil servants in the Privy Council Office and academic
experts. Conflicting opinions among the Commission’s members, particularly
in the form of male resistance and self-censorship, also reined in the
45
IJCS / RIÉC
Commission’s ambitions to make the world over. These constraints created
containment strategies that influenced almost every aspect of the
Commission’s activities.
Containment Strategies
Interactions with the Privy Council Office taught the Commissioners what was
required of a Royal Commission. Leo LaFrance, supervisor of Royal
Commissions in the PCO, appeared before the Commissioners at their second
meeting to answer questions and offer advice on the development of their
work. The research plan and how to finance it were the most important issues
since research would take up the lion’s share of the Commission’s expenses.
The initial planning stage for the research program had to be scrutinized with
great care to avoid duplicating research and ensure that the research
commissioned was relevant to the Commission’s terms of reference. The
experience of B & B Commission had showed the importance of taking
adequate time and care in drafting the initial plan. The B & B Commission, he
implied, had undertaken research and committed resources that would play no
direct part in its report. Such excess ought to be avoided. He offered to make
his experience in this and related matters available to the RCSW.
Lafrance’s overview of the function of Royal Commissions described them as
an “autonomous entity within the constitutional system” created by the federal
executive under an order in council. At the same time, the Commission’s
operations and reports were completely its own. He provided a two-way
channel of communication between the PCO and the Commission. The PCO
could give “advice and assistance based on its experience of other
Commissions,” and thereby possibly forestall any difficulties the Commission
might encounter in conducting its work. No minister of the Crown would be
needed to facilitate effective communication of this kind. He further explained
that a Royal Commission was treated in the manner of a government’s
department for budgetary reasons. Finally, LaFrance encouraged the
Commissioners to take a special interest in research subjects that interested
them as individuals in virtue of their education and experience. The
Commissioners agreed that some degree of specialization might prove useful,
but they did not wish to work in isolation from each other. What the
Commission now needed above all else was a viable program of research.
Research Design: Three Constraints
Personnel changes, budgets and time constraints all influenced the research
design adopted by the RCSW. The hiring of a Research Director had initially
been left to a sub-committee made up of Mrs. Bird and the male professors.
They selected, H. David Kirk, a sociologist and former colleague of Gordon’s
at the University of Waterloo. The main research instrument proposed by Kirk
involved a Central Survey of 1,200 women and 600 men in each of four regions
— the West, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes — for a total of 7,600
respondents. The questionnaire would have asked about women’s
socialization, their aspirations and their coping mechanisms for dealing with
the personal consequences to their health, psychological well-being and
interpersonal relations that resulted from their status. The respondents were to
46
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
be classified primarily according to their “age” as determined by their marital
status. From the earliest meetings of the Commission, a crucial operating
assumption was that a woman’s marital status more or less determined her
participation in the labour force. As the tables on women’s sub-groups
indicated, married women were much less likely to work outside the home for
pay than were single women. More than any other correlation, that between
marital status and paid employment informs every other aspect of the analysis.
The Central Survey was Kirk’s brainchild.
Kirk’s absence from his new job during the summer of 1967 (between May 29
and September 5) left much of the initial planning to the Assistant Director,
Mark McClung, who had been seconded from the Department of the Secretary
of State. McClung, the son of newspaperwoman and feminist Nellie McClung,
was hired as Assistant Director of Research. His job was to act as executive
assistant to Kirk, the Director, and to help coordinate all of the Commission’s
research. He was to be responsible especially “for liaison between research
staff and consultants with the federal government departments and agencies.”
This job description explains why a person who was already knowledgeable
and familiar with the workings of the public service would have been
considered ideal for the job.28 McClung knew much about the idea of relative
deprivation, a precursor of modern theories of oppression. His efforts,
however, concentrated almost entirely on writing an analytical essay on
discrimination that the Commissioners did not find useful, with the result that
it was not used, and McClung contributed to the RCSW only in the earliest
planning phase.29
The cost of administering the survey was estimated at $450,000, combined
with other studies, the total cost of the general research budget climbed
somewhere between 1 to 1.5 million dollars, leaving 400,000 to 900,000
dollars to run all of the Commission’s other operations. This ambitious,
research-oriented agenda was gradually pared down and then abandoned
entirely. By mid-October, McClung returned to the Department of the
Secretary of State.
Personality conflicts and financial pressures had put the Central Survey in
jeopardy. The two key research posts, that of Research Director and Assistant
Research Director, were vacant by the end of the autumn, leaving what at first
glance appears to have been a huge hole in the coordination of the research
program. Control over the Commission’s research slowly but surely eluded the
men to whom it had been awarded by the hiring committee made up of Bird,
Gordon and Henripin.
Regardless of budgetary constraints, Kirk insisted that the Central Survey
proceed, even if only a scaled-down version could reasonably be completed.
So strong was his resolve that he offered to resign as Research Director to
devote his entire efforts to this one project. A messy business of trying to
change the terms of his employment in mid-stream followed. On the advice of
the PCO, the Commission severed all ties with him at considerable financial
cost. The Central Survey was a dead letter.
47
IJCS / RIÉC
As for the other research projects, many were already committed. Monique
Bégin had earlier been put in charge of projects in economics, education,
taxation and law. (3rd meeting May 24-26, 1967, p. 11) Kirk retained control
over projects involving sociology, anthropology and demography. The
departure of Kirk and McClung had little impact except to place the operation
of the Commission’s research program almost entirely in the hands of women
under the coordination of Dorothy Cadwell and Monique Coupal. Cadwell had
worked at Treasury Board prior to being brought in not as a direct replacement
for Kirk as Director of Research, but to fill the newly created post of
Coordinator of Research. (6th meeting Dec. 13-14, 1967) Monique Coupal
had initially been hired as the Assistant to the Executive Secretary of the
Commission. But she became heavily involved in overseeing different aspects
of the research program. In the final report, she is described as a senior
administrative officer.
The personnel difficulties with staff members Kirk and McClung, and the
resignation of Commissioner Gordon effective 1 November 1967, appears to
have forced the remaining staff and Commissioners to rely on their own
resources, intensifying their commitment to fulfil the mandate assigned to
them, without anyone being able to cast aspersions on their work. Neither
difficult time constraints nor tight budgets were going to stop the Commission
from completing its work!
Following budget estimates tabled in the House of Commons, the RCSW’s
budget would apparently be subject to the two percent cut announced by the
government for all government departments. (8th meeting, March 1968)
Within days, the Commission’s budget for the fiscal year April 1 to March 31,
1969 was calculated at $600,000. For the rest of the Commission’s short life,
its members made shrewd decisions in domestic science to ensure that this
household did not overspend its budget to avoid public criticism concerning its
ability to hold to the terms of its appointment. When the subject of unpaid
overtime on the part of Commissioners came up, rather than pay themselves
smaller honoraria, the Commissioners decided to keep track of their hours of
unpaid work. (18th meeting, March 19-20, 1969) It would have been unseemly
for the Commission to ask for a larger budget or an extended length of time to
complete its task. As it was, the final draft, editing and production took almost
a half year longer than scheduled. This delay, and the additional expense of
maintaining a skeleton staff, was a source of embarrassment to the
Commission, especially considering its overall scrupulous compliance with
the wishes of the government as specified by the PCO. (51st meeting, April 1517, 1970: item 5 and Appendix C, attachment) Printing costs dropped
repeatedly, along with the number of additional studies to be published. One
cost-saving measure that was soon reversed involved a plan to lay off the
translation staff. Once the PCO became aware of the lengths to which the
Commission was prepared to go to stay within its budget — letting staff go,
minimizing its plan for publications and discussions of working for free —
additional money for translation and publication was made available and the
completion date extended.
48
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
Earlier, the budget crunch resulted in the Commission’s taking a more
circumspect attitude toward any additional research that involved spending
money. Instead, the body hunkered down to await the results of the research
contracts already assigned, to fill perceived gaps in the research design and to
organize the material collected through briefs and interaction at public
hearings. Deciding on the design of the report and the content of the chapters
was a collective effort by the Commissioners in the meetings that began with
the Fourth Meeting in May 1967 and ended more than two years later in the
summer of 1969.
In the end, most of the research studies published by the RCSW were not of the
calibre performed by the B & B Commission. Of the thirty-four studies
prepared for the Commission, the Commissioners were satisfied with only
about half of the eleven that were published. Unlike the B & B Commission,
that cost $9 million over slightly more than four years, the RCSW completed
its equally wide-ranging mandate at a cost of just $1.9 million spent over two
and half years. (Jenson 1994, 60) The RCSW had neither the budget nor the
time to do as thorough a job, and yet the Commission grew up in the shadow of
its older sibling. As things turned out, the RCSW was appointed, produced its
work and tabled its report in Parliament while the B & B Commission was
extant. Lacking the long-term commitment from government and close ties to
the academic community that might have been able to produce original
research, the Commission’s research efforts were expended on the collection
and organization of basic information about the historical experience of
women, their legal status in various jurisdictions, their involvement in the
labour force and what would now be called their “gender socialization.” The
attention lavished by the press on the B & B Commission understandably made
it the most obvious comparison to the RCSW, at least in the eyes of the
Commissioners.30 The publicity already received by the B & B Commission
benefited the RCSW insofar as it did a modest job of sensitizing the
Commissioners and Commission staff about cleavages in the country
involving language and ethnicity.
Sixty-Five Minutes and not a Moment to Spare
From this overview of the Minutes of the RCSW, it becomes apparent that the
difficulties experienced in its interior dynamics were largely overcome by a
fear of failure and how such a failure would harm the cause of women’s
advancement. The Commissioners strongly believed that the Commission was
to amplify what was already apparent to them and to anyone else who cared to
think about what needed to be done. They felt a sense of obligation to the
women who had submitted briefs and attended public hearings to do their
utmost to have the Report become a living document. In addition to the wish
that the report express the views of the active participants in its creation, most
of the Commissioners were highly aware that women in less advantaged
circumstances could also benefit from it, in spite of the fact that many if not
most of their number had been absent or even unaware of its proceedings. In
her autobiography, Florence Bird notes her hope that the women who had
cleaned her house and cared for members of her family would be able to look
forward to a better life as the result of the report. (Bird 1974, 4) Lola Lange’s
49
IJCS / RIÉC
continual concern for women who were isolated and not a part of women’s
traditional social organizations clearly indicates her concern for a broad range
of women having different identities, interests and experiences, as did Jacques
Henripin’s concern not to discount the value of the stay-at-home wife and
mother. The Report’s plan of action identified three criteria for the success of
the recommendations: implementation, enforcement and public education to
raise public awareness of women’s rights. (Branching Out 1974, 26) In an
assessment of the RCSW’s degree of success, published by the newly-created
National Action Committee on the Status of Women founded in 1972 and
entitled What’s Been Done, one finds that about one-third of the Commission’s
recommendations affecting federal jurisdictions had already been
implemented, a second third had been partially implemented, and the final
third had not been realized at all.
The main disjuncture between the minutes and the Report involves the way in
which personal experiences were edited out of the drafts, and evidence that had
the appearance of being objective, disinterested and scientific became the
official voice of the Commission. Of the 469 briefs submitted to the
Commission, fewer than 65 are referred to anywhere in the published volume.
One-third are used to document women’s place in society, another third refer
to their position in the economy and the final third are sprinkled in the chapters
that discuss education. The briefs are rarely quoted directly, as if the
Commission is the better placed to express ideas about women than women
themselves. Nothing of the content of the thousand letters of “opinion”
received by the Secretariat is mentioned. As with the minutes in which the
individual voices and identities of Commissioners emerge, so the lack of
reference to the letters loses what might, in another place or time, have
provided key evidence that past practices harm people and must be
discontinued through government intervention if necessary.31
Many people, including many of the members of NAC, consider another
general inquiry into the status of women in Canada impossible. The issues of
representation and identity politics which the RCSW dealt with in its own way
now virtually rule out such a large-scale report. The political will no longer
exists to deal with issues involving gender equity, as the termination of the
Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women indicates. Women no
longer speak the language of rights and universality as Bird and the rest of the
Commission were prepared to do. Divisions among women have emerged
such that the modern student of public policy might anticipate separate
Commissions on the condition of aboriginal women, other visible minority
women, abused women, women and their reproduction, etc. This splintering
has in fact taken place as shown by the Royal Commission on New
Reproductive Technologies, the Task Force Panel on Violence and the Royal
Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Today, it would not be Humphrey and
Henripin who felt compelled to write minority reports but the latter-day
MacGill and Lange whose commitments to radical feminism and the women’s
movement would have triggered their concern about the direction taken by the
Commissioners in their collective capacity. But their sorts of concerns are not
solely creations of a later period in the development of the Canadian state and
its public policy toward women. They existed already in the internal dynamics
50
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
of the RCSW. However, this subtext can now be clearly distinguished from the
content of what has become the official version of women’s demands at the
time. By contrasting the two narratives, a more complex and richly- textured
analysis emerges that can help feminists build links between the generations
and regain a continuity and solidarity with at least some aspects of our
common past.
The historical record shows that much more was going on in the RCSW than a
careful reading of its Report conveys. To an important degree, the RCSW did
operate as a “mechanism that contained the contradictions between demands
for women’s equality and the interests of the groups that had historically
dominated the policy process in governments.” (Findlay 1995, 43) But a more
radical perspective also informed the Commission’s work. Its inflections were
muted but not entirely silenced. The larger context suggests that to discount its
findings as the work of relatively privileged, white, middle-class women
associated with the established women’s movement risks denying the very real
sense in which the record also shows something else. The Commission itself
was certainly a site of struggle over representation and women’s interests and
identities. Issues of representation and identity politics indeed informed its
final product minute by minute.
Notes
*
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
Jill Vickers, the Halifax Women’s History Group (especially Frances Early), Sue Findlay
and the anonymous reviewers at the Journal have helped me to produce a better account of
the RCSW than I could have done without their highly valuable assistance. Judith Cumming
generously provided me with a copy of her master’s thesis. Karyn Collins assisted me with
bibliographical sources. Jack Crowley and Daniel Woolf provided helpful stylistic advice.
Lester Pearson’s Liberal government created the Commission on the 3 February 1967 to
inquire into the condition of women in Canada.
MG31 K3 Vol 3, File 1 “Guidebook: Outlines for Organization of Commission, Internal
Administration and Research Program, sec I-8; hereafter cited as Guidebook.
“Biographies.” Henceforth this manuscript group will be referred to as MG31 K7.
MG31 K7 Vol. 3, File 3: Fifteenth Meeting of the Commissioners, December 4 and 5, 1968:
Minutes of the Fourteenth Meeting, p. 13. Hereafter the minutes will be referred to by the
number of the meeting and the date it was held.
Barbara Freeman’s doctoral thesis being done for the Department of History at Concordia
University examines the interplay between the media and the RCSW, and will supply one of
the missing pieces to this puzzle.
National Archives, Royal Commission on the Status of Women, Record Group (hereafter
RG) 33/89, vol. 24, file “Other Commissions.”
RG 33/89 vol. 24, file “Other Commissions.”
The RCSW was the first Commission to make a record of its proceedings in this way. I share
Barbara Freeman’s concern that the deteriorating quality of the physical material puts at risk
a very rich source of the oral tradition in women’s history in Canada for its expression of
women’s self-knowledge in their own voices. This source is likely to become of increased
interest to historians over time. Action needs to be taken to ensure that the tapes are
preserved.
MG31, K5, Vol. 5, File 24, Minutes of the 65th Meeting, 1 December 1970.
The National Archives received MacGill’s personal papers in two batches, one in 1974 and
the rest from her estate in 1983.
Telephone interview with Judith Cumming, October 17, 1994.
51
IJCS / RIÉC
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
52
Other nations including the United States, France, Norway, the United Kingdom and
Denmark had already established national bodies to inquiry into the status of women. On the
international scene the United Nations’ Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women provided further support for a timely show of good will.
The importance of forms of address, especially in the work world, is discussed by Barbara
Wootton in “Woman’s Place?” New Statesman (Dec. 24 1960, p. 997). A woman who signs
her name “M. Smith” was said to be more likely to receive an interview than the candidate
who signed herself “Margaret Smith.”
Brief biographical notes drawn from the biographies submitted to the Commission. Mention
is also made of members of the Secretariat mentioned here in the Appendix.
Lola Lange took it as her special responsibility to see that the women of British Columbia
had their concerns brought to the Commission’s attention.
Documenting this complicated claim would take me far beyond the limited scope of this
paper. It will be elaborated in “Canadian Women” and “The Deliberate Choice of False
Universalism: Royal Commission on the Status of Women on Race and Ethnicity,” to be
presented at the Conference on Race, Gender and the Social Construction of Canada
sponsored by the Center for Research in Women’s Studies and Gender Relations, University
of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C., September 21-23, 1995.
MG31 K7 Vol. 6, File 2. The page is dated in hand Nov. 3, 1967.
For this attitude in the media see Isobel Lymbery, “The World of the New Feminists,”
Homemaker’s (July/Ausgust 1970), 4-6, 11, 12, at 11; Doris Anderson, “Women: A Chance
for a Choice?” Chatelaine (Oct. 1969), 42. For a more women’s lib expression of the same
point in stronger language see Amy Gross, “Women’s Lib Loves You,” Mademoiselle, (Feb.
1970), 286-7. For its general use by the RCSW see 40th Meeting, Jan. 28-30, 1970,
“Economics,” item 31.
Women by Ethnic Origin English 3,998,334 (49.1); French 2,770,173 (34.0); German
524,799 (6.4); Ukrainian 236,668; Italians 225,175; Netherlands 214,839; Chinese 29,098;
Japanese 14, 578; Indians 108,932; Eskimos 6,500.
Canada, Department of Manpower and Immigration, press release, March 9, 1970, for which
see RG 33/89 vol. 20 “Documentation & Research on Citizenship and Immigration.”
MG31 K7, Volume 2, “E. G. MacGill Funeral Service 1980.”
“Royal Commission’s First Hearing in Victoria on 18-Day Tour,” Ottawa Journal, April 11,
1968, p. 19.
National Archives, MacGill papers.
In future work, I plan to analyse the extent of the ties between the RCSW and the women’s
liberation movement in Canada.
She is named as the contact person for the Women’s Liberation group in an appendix to a
background paper written by Mrs. B. Myers in the spring of 1970. See Record Group 33/89
vol. 24, “Miscellaneous Articles.” Dr. Margaret Mahood, Community Health Services
Medical Clinic Group, presented brief on Availablity of Medically Safe Abortions May 3,
1968 Women.
RG33/89 Vol 8, File: Letters of Opinion – Saskatchewan.
Only 19 of the 455 briefs, the origins of which are identified came from men. No more than
65 of them were written in French. Regional representation included the largest number of
briefs from the West (more than 150) followed by Ontario and Quebec (approximately 130
and 105 respectively). Fewer than 50 originated from the Maritimes, 25 from the North and 3
from abroad. In the near future, I will provide a similar breakdown of the “letters of opinion”
received by the Secretariat.
This topic deserves more attention than can be given here. The minutes show that
inclusiveness greatly concerned members of the Commission, and that it was a leitmotif in
its day-to-day work.
MacGill Papers, Vol 3, File 1: Guide-Book: Outlines for Organization of Commission,
Internal Administration and Research Program, 1967, I-7.
The last mention of the idea of deprivation was excised from the draft of the chapter on
Women in Canadian Society in March 1970 (Meeting 47, March 18-20, 1970: item 16). With
it, went the last remaining trace of McClung’s viewpoint.
See “Lingering,” Globe & Mail, April 6, 1970, circulated at the RCSW at the 50th Meeting,
April 8-10, 1970, p. 6.
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
31.
See for example the letters of Mrs. J. S. S* of Port Mouton, N.S. whose American-born
daughter cannot get Canadian citizenship or of Mrs. M. M. W* a single parent of Toronto
who works to support two children. She reports going without meals herself to provide for
them. She worries that her children will lose interest in their education due to their inability to
join in activities that cost money. The situation of Miss N. S* of Prince Rupert left her
possessions uninsured because an insurance company would not sell a policy to a single
woman. These personal accounts help to explain some of the Commission’s concerns and I
will give them considerably more attention in the future.
Bibliography
Arscott, Jane. “`A Job Well Begun’: Representation, Electoral Reform and Women,” ed.
François-Pierre Gingras Gender and Politics in Contemporary Canada (Toronto: Oxford
University Press, forthcoming July 1995).
——. “Women’s Representation in the Mirror of Public Policy,” a paper presented at the
Colloquium on Women and Political Representation in Canada held at the University of
Ottawa, Ottawa, September 29-30, 1994.
Anderson, Doris. “Women: A Chance for a Choice?” Chatelaine (Oct. 1969), 42.
Ashforth, Adam. “Reckoning Schemes of Legitimation: On Commissions of Inquiry as
Power/Knowledge Forms,” Journal of Historical Sociology 3 (1990), 1-22.
Aucoin, Peter. “Contributions of Commissions” in Commissions of Inquiry, eds. A. Paul Pross,
Innis Christie and John A. Yogis (Toronto: Carswell, 1990), 197-207.
Bégin, Monique. “Debates and Silences: Reflections of a Politician,” Daedelus, 117 (Fall 1988),
335-352.
——. “The Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada: Twenty Years Later,”
Challenging Times. The Women’s Movement in Canada and the United States, ed.
Constance Backhouse and David H. Flaherty (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press,
1992), 21-38.
——. “The Great Decade for Canadian Women,” Current History 72 (April 1977), 170-172,
179-180.
Bird, Florence. Anne Francis: An Autobiography (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1974).
[Bird, Florence]. Francis, Anne [pseud.]. The Rights of Women. Canadian Institute of International
Affairs. (Behind the Headlines) 1950.
Black, Naomi. “The Canadian Women’s Movement: The Second Wave,” in Sandra Burt et al, eds.
Changing Patterns: Women in Canada (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1988).
“Where are the recommendations of yesteryear?” Branching Out (June-July 1974), 25-8.
Cairns, Alan. “The Macdonald and Other Royal Commissions’ Role in Public Policy,” the 1986
David Alexander Lecture delivered at Memorial University, November 3, 1986.
——. “Reflections on Commission Research” in Commissions of Inquiry in Pross, Christie and
Yogis, 87-108.
Cameron, David R. “Not Spicer and Not the B & B: Reflections of an Insider on the Workings of
the Pépin-Robarts Task Force on Canadian Unity,” International Journal of Canadian
Studies 7-8 (spring-fall 1993), 333-345.
Canada. Department of Manpower and Immigration, press release, March 9, 1970.
Canada. Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Report (Ottawa, 1970).
Canada. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Ellen Fairclough speech to a luncheon meeting
of the Progressive Conservative Women’s Association, Ottawa, 30 Nov. 1959.
Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Ten Years Later: An Assessment of the
Federal Government’s Implementation of the Recommendations made by the Royal
Commission on the Status of Women (Ottawa, 1979).
Canadian Labour, “No working women on royal commission,” 12 (March 1967), p. 26.
Courtney, J.C. “In Defence of Royal Commissions,” Canadian Public Administration 12 (1969),
198-212.
Cumming, Judith. “The Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women: A Liberal
Feminist Analysis,” Master’s Thesis, Carleton University, Ottawa, 1991.
Doern, G. Bruce. “The Role of Royal Commissions in the General Policy Process and in FederalProvincial Relations,” Canadian Public Administration 10 (Dec. 1967), 417-33.
Findlay, Sue. “Democracy and the Politics of Feminist Struggles with the Canadian State, 19601990,” doctoral diss., School of Public Administration, University of Toronto, to be
defended winter 1995.
Gross, Amy. “Women’s Lib Loves You,” Mademoiselle, (Feb. 1970), 286-7.
Hodgetts, J.E. Institute of Public Administration of Canada. Proceedings of the Annual
Conference, 1951, 351-367.
——. “Should Canada be De-Commissioned? A Commoner’s View of Royal Commissions,”
Queen’s Quarterly, 70 (Winter 1964), 475-90.
53
IJCS / RIÉC
Jenson, Jane. “Commissioning Ideas: Representation and Royal Commissions,” How Ottawa
Spends 1994-1995: Making Change, ed. Susan D. Phillips (Ottawa: Carleton University
Press, 1994), 39-69.
——. “Learning by Doing: Decision-Making in Royal Commissions,” (Internal report to the
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Ottawa, 1992).
LaMarsh, Judy. Memoirs of a Bird in a Gilded Cage (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1968).
“Lingering,” Globe & Mail, April 6, 1970, circulated at the RCSW at the 50th Meeting, April 8-10,
1970, p. 6.
Lymbery, Isobel. “The World of the New Feminists,” Homemaker’s (July/Aug. 1970), 4-6, 11, 12.
Mitchell, Juliet. “Women: The Longest Revolution,” The New Left Review 40 (1966), 11-37.
Morris, Cerise D. “`Determination and thoroughness’: the movement for a Royal Commission on
the Status of Women in Canada,” Atlantis 5 (1980), 1-21.
——. “No More than Simple Justice: the Royal Commission on the Status of Women and Social
Change in Canada,” doctoral diss., McGill University, 1982.
National Action Committee on the Status of Women. What’s Been Done?: Assessment of the
Federal Government’s Implementation of the Recommendations of the Royal Commission
Status: a Report (Ottawa: Advisory Council on the Status of Women, 1974).
National Archives of Canada. Elsie Gregory MacGill papers, Manuscript Group 31, K 7.
——. Margaret MacLellan papers, Manuscript Group 31, E 17.
——. Royal Commission on the Status of Women, Research Group 33/89
Phillips, Susan D. “Political Strategies of the Canadian Women’s Movement: Who’s Listening?
Who’s Speaking?” (Ottawa: School of Public Administration, Carleton University
Discussion Paper Series, 1994).
“Royal Commission’s First Hearing in Victoria on 18-Day Tour,” Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1968,
p. 19.
Simeon, Richard. “Inside the Macdonald Commission,” Studies in Political Economy, 22 (spring
1987), 167-179.
Underhill, Frank. “Review of The Woman Suffrage Movement in Canada by Catherine Lyle
Cleverdon (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1950),” Canadian Historical Review 31
(1950), 422-423.
Wilson, V.S. “The Role of Royal Commissions and Task Forces,” The Structures of PolicyMaking in Canada, eds. G. Bruce Doern and Peter Aucoin (Toronto: Macmillan, 1971),
113-129.
Wootton, Barbara. “Woman’s Place?” New Statesman (24. Dec 1960), p. 997.
54
Twenty-Five Years and Sixty-Five Minutes After
Appendix
Brief Biographies
Monique Bégin
Public servant and politician. Born Rome, Italy. Master’s in Sociology.
Founding member of the Fédération des femmes du Québec 1965-67. First
women elected to Parliament from Quebec, 1972. Joint Chair of Women’s
Studies Carleton and Ottawa Universities 1986-.
Mrs. John Bird
Ottawa freelance journalist, broadcaster and lecturer. Born Philadelphia.
Educated Bryn Mawr College. Winner of two Women’s National Press Club
Awards and four honourable mentions. She wrote a weekly newletter on the
status of women in Canada for the International Service of the CBC. Married.
Dorothy Cadwell
Public Servant. Born Saskatoon. High school teacher. Personnel
Administrator then Administrative Secretary with the Public Service
Commission. Research Coordinator RCSW. Author: Murder on the House.
D[onald] R. Gordon
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo. Born
Toronto. Print and radio journalist. University Professor. Author of Logic,
Language and the Mass Media, Canadian Peacekeeping in the Congo, 196064. Study of the reporting of national issues in 30 Canadian daily newspapers
for the B & B Commission. Co-reporter of the Couchiching Conference 19646. Member of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting, Board of Broadcast
Governors, 1967. Co-host “20,000,000 Questions,” about Canadian politics
on the CBC national TV network (Oct. 1966-Feb 1967). Married, three
children.
Jacques Henripin
Demographer. Born Lachine. Professor of Demography. Université de
Montréal since 1954. Founder and director of the Department of Demography
1964-1973. Member of the Royal Society. Member of the Canadian Institute
of Public Affairs. Married, three daughters.
John Humphrey
Specialist in International Law. Born Hampton, NB. Lawyer. Director,
Division of Human Rights, UN Secretariat, 1946-66. Articles on international
legal subjects. Professor of Law and Political Science, McGill University
1966-.
Mrs. Lola Lange
Noted for her work in voluntary associations involved in farming and
continuing education. Born Edmonton. Winner of the Bank of Montreal Farm
Leadership Award. Director of the Farm Women’s Union of Alberta; Field
Instructor for the Farmer’s Union and Co-operative Development
Association; Vice President of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League; Past
President Claresholm Ladies Curling Club, Treasurer of the Welfare
55
IJCS / RIÉC
Committee for Claresholm & District Community Chest, Senior 4-H Leader of
the Claresholm Girls’ 4-H Club, enumerator and deputy returning officer;
church organist. Married, three daughters.
Jeanne Lapointe
Born Chicoutimi. Raised in Quebec City. Professor of Literature since 1939.
Member of the Royal Commission on Education in Quebec (Parent
Commission), 1961-1966. Contributor to the periodical Cité libre. Member of
the Advisory Arts panel of the Canada Council. Member of the executive
committee of the Canadian Conference for the Arts.
Elsie Gregory MacGill
Born Vancouver. Consulting Engineer. Daughter of Helen Gregory MacGill,
judge of the Vancouver Juvenile Court. Master’s degree in Aeronautical
engineering. Canadian Technical Advisor at the United Nations Civil Aviation
Organization. Professional Awards. Life Member of the Canadian Federation
of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (National President 1962-4) and
of the Toronto Business and Professional Women’s Club. Life Member of the
Art Gallery of Ontario. Author of technical articles in scientific journals and
My Mother, the Judge. Married with stepchildren.
Mark McClung
Public Servant. Son of Nellie McClung, journalist and women’s activist.
Mrs. Robert Ogilvie
Deputy judge of the New Brunswick Juvenile Court. Born Halifax. Bachelor
of Secretarial Sciences, Mount Saint Vincent University, 1938. BA,
University of Newbrunswick, 1962. Law degree, 1963. Admitted to the Bar
1964. Married, four daughters.
56
Manon Tremblay
Les femmes, des candidates moins
performantes que les hommes?
Une analyse des votes obtenus par les
candidates et candidats du Québec à une
élection fédérale canadienne, 1945-1993*
Résumé
Il y a près d’un quart de siècle, la Commission royale d’enquête sur la
situation de la femme au Canada identifiait dans les partis politiques un acteur
vraisemblablement responsable de la sous-représentation des femmes en
politique; croyant en un ressentiment de l’électorat envers les candidatures
féminines, les organisations locales se montreraient réticentes à les retenir.
Cet article se propose de comparer la performance électorale des candidates
et candidats du Québec, en analysant leurs votes obtenus aux élections fédérales
canadiennes de 1945 à 1993. L’objectif est d’établir si les femmes obtiennent ou
non moins de votes que les hommes. Les analyses bivariées et multivariées
démontrent que le sexe affecte le nombre des votes reçus, mais non dans le sens
attendu : lorsque certaines composantes du cadre électoral sont contrôlées, les
candidates des grands partis terminent en moyenne avec plus de votes que leurs
vis-à-vis masculins. Il faut donc chercher ailleurs que dans l’électorat une
explication à la présence marginale des femmes aux Communes, notamment dans
le statut qui leur est dévolu lorsqu’elles sollicitent un mandat.
Abstract
Twenty-five years ago, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women
identified political parties as a possible cause of women’s
underrepresentation in politics. Fearing voter resentment against female
candidates, local political organisations were hesitant to retain them. This
article compares electoral showing of Québec candidates by analyzing the
number of votes received during the federal elections of 1945 to 1993. The aim
is to determine whether or not women receive fewer votes than men. Bivariate
and multivariate analyses show that gender does influence the number of votes
obtained, but not with the expected result: when certain elements of the
electoral parameters are controled, female candidates of major political
parties receive on average more votes than their male counterparts. One
therefore must look elsewhere to explain the marginal representation of
women in the House of Commons, for example to the status that is given to
women when they seek a nomination.
À l’instar de la Commission Kennedy créée au début des années 1960 aux
États-Unis, en 1967 le Canada met sur pied la Commission royale d’enquête
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
sur la situation de la femme (Commission Bird), laquelle déposera son rapport
en 1970 (Tremblay 1993). Près d’un quart de siècle après sa publication, le
Rapport Bird demeure aujourd’hui une référence incontournable en ce qui a
trait à la situation des femmes dans la société canadienne. Le Rapport a non
seulement permis d’éveiller l’opinion publique aux conditions de vie des
femmes et aux discriminations systémiques qu’elles rencontraient dans la
société canadienne, mais aussi d’interpeller l’action des gouvernements en
matière de droits des femmes. En outre, un apport tangible du Rapport réside
en sa contribution à l’émergence et au développement du mouvement
féministe au Canada (cf. Adamson, Briskin et McPhail 1988, Collectif Clio
1982). C’est ainsi qu’il a suscité la mise sur pied du Comité canadien d’action
sur le statut de la femme — un groupe de pression toujours actif surtout au
Canada anglais —, avec l’objectif de veiller à ce qu’il soit donné suite aux
recommandations formulées par les commissaires (pour un historique de ce
groupe de pression cf. Vickers, Rankin et Appelle 1993).
Mais la référence encore consacrée au Rapport Bird tient certainement au fait
que plusieurs de ses observations demeurent toujours d’actualité. Au chapitre
de la participation politique par exemple, la Commission remarquait que la
nomination par un parti semblait constituer une épreuve bien plus difficile à
réussir pour une aspirante-candidate que l’élection elle-même (Commission
Bird 1970: 392). Certes, depuis la première moitié des années 1980, les
directions nationales des partis politiques affirment haut et fort rechercher des
femmes « compétentes » intéressées à briguer les suffrages (comme si par
l’ajout de ce qualificatif on voulait signifier que tous les hommes qui posent
leur candidature à une élection ont la compétence pour occuper un poste
politique). D’ailleurs, les principales formations politiques canadiennes ont
depuis adopté des mesures particulières en ce sens, allant de fonds monétaires
de soutien aux candidates1 à des mesures de quotas pour les candidatures aux
Communes.2
En fait, le problème se pose davantage au niveau des organisations locales qui
résistent à asservir leur autonomie du choix de leurs candidates ou candidats au
discours des directions nationales des partis concernant une représentation
plus équitable des sexes parmi les rangs des candidatures.3 La déclaration de
Jean Chrétien lors de l’élection de 1993, à l’effet de retenir 25 p. 100 de
candidates dans les rangs libéraux en constitue un exemple récent. À la
direction nationale, on expliquait que cet espoir a du être abandonné en raison
des résistances des exécutifs locaux qui voulaient un processus plus
« démocratique »! De cette façon, plusieurs éléments laissent à penser que les
organisations locales exprimaient des doutes sur les capacités des femmes de
faire aussi bonne figure que les hommes face à l’électorat. Des constats récents
ont été posés en ce sens, tant au niveau canadien (Brodie 1991, Erickson 1991)
que québécois (Tremblay et Pelletier 1995). Par exemple, les femmes
rencontreraient plus d’opposition au moment de la campagne d’investiture ou
feraient les frais d’un sexisme éculé de la part de militantes et militants. Les
structures locales imposent ainsi une pratique qui sonne faux avec les volontés
exprimées par les partis depuis Ottawa.
60
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
Norris et Lovenduski (1989; cf. aussi Norris 1993), ainsi que Studlar et
McAllister (1991), avancent l’explication suivante pour rendre compte de
cette réticence des militantes et militants envers des candidatures de femmes :
un modèle abstrait du « candidat idéal » inspirerait informellement les
organisations locales des partis politiques dans leur quête de la personne qui, le
jour de l’élection, défendra leurs couleurs. Or, en vertu de ses traits, ce type
idéal rejoint peu les femmes. De sexe masculin, il possède un haut degré de
scolarité, une occupation dans les professions du droit ou de l’enseignement
universitaire, etc. C’est ce que Norris et Lovenduski (1989) nomment le
modèle de l’homo politicus. Dès lors, les personnes ne correspondant pas à ce
modèle (dont les femmes) ou bien ne seraient pas sélectionnées par les
organisations locales ou bien verraient leur candidature retenue dans les
comtés peu compétitifs (ou « perdus d’avance »). Dans ce cas, même si les
candidates perdaient des votes parce qu’elles ne répondaient pas aux
supposées attentes de l’électorat telles que cristallisées dans l’homo politicus,
les conséquences en seraient limitées pour le parti, donné perdant au départ.
Pourtant, il semble bien qu’il s’agisse là d’un scénario caduc. Comme l’a
démontré Maillé (1990a) par son examen des résultats de sondages publiés
dans des quotidiens francophones du Québec depuis 1960, l’électorat endosse
de plus en plus l’engagement des femmes dans des fonctions politiques
d’importance. Ce soutien grandissant pour les femmes dans des rôles publics a
aussi été observé aux États-Unis (Costain 1992, Hartmann 1989, Rinehart
1992). De telles tendances de l’opinion publique militent contre l’idée que les
femmes seraient des candidates moins « sûres » que les hommes, notamment
parce qu’elles « perdraient des votes ».
C’est précisément l’objectif de cet article : comparer la performance électorale
des candidates et candidats en termes de votes obtenus aux élections fédérales
canadiennes depuis près d’un demi-siècle. Dans un premier temps, je situerai
le point de vue retenu parmi les recherches canadiennes et québécoises
concernant la sous-représentation des femmes au sein des institutions
politiques et expliquerai pourquoi le cas du Québec retient plus
particulièrement l’attention. Ensuite, je présenterai et analyserai les résultats
de cette recherche, puis en discuterai les implications en conclusion.
La sous-représentation des femmes en politique canadienne : un
état des recherches
À l’instar d’autres démocraties représentatives du monde industrialisé, le
Canada se caractérise par une faible proportion de femmes au sein de son
Parlement national. En effet, l’élection de 1993 a fait passer la représentation
féminine de 13,9 p. 100 à 18 p. 100. Pourtant, sans atteindre le seuil des pays
scandinaves, cette proportion se compare avantageusement avec la place
laissée aux femmes dans les Parlements nationaux en général et les Parlements
du monde occidental en particulier. Une recherche effectuée sous l’égide du
Centre de développement social et des Affaires humanitaires de l’ONU
montre qu’en 1987 les femmes occupaient en moyenne 9,7 p. 100 des
banquettes des 124 Parlements nationaux retenus par l’étude, cette proportion
étant de 13,2 p. 100 dans les démocraties occidentales (United Nations 1992).
61
IJCS / RIÉC
Dans le contexte canadien, plusieurs théories ont été élaborées pour expliquer
cet effacement des femmes de la scène politique. Une première se concentre
sur la division sexuelle du travail qui, en confinant les femmes à la sphère
privée et en consacrant le domaine public aux hommes, limiterait, pour ces
premières, les occasions d’acquérir les habiletés psychologiques,
intellectuelles et sociales généralement associées à un engagement dans la vie
publique. L’identité de genre, la socialisation et les obligations familiales
restreindraient les capacités de développer certains préalables associés à une
carrière politique, plaçant les femmes hors d’un réseau informel au sein duquel
les élites politiques émergent et se développent (cf. par exemple Bashevkin
1983a, Brodie 1985, Brodie et Vickers 1982, Vickers et Brodie 1981). Il faut
dire toutefois qu’il ne s’agit pas là d’une barrière incontournable. Les
recherches de Gingras, Maillé et Tardy (1989) et celle de Tardy et ses
collaboratrices (1982) ont permis de démontrer que les normes culturelles qui
proscrivent la participation des femmes à la vie politique pouvaient être
dépassées, dans la mesure où ces dernières connaissaient des expériences de
contre-socialisation au cours de leur existence (par exemple une mère
socialement engagée ou un conjoint qui supporte l’engagement politique de sa
compagne; en France, cf. Sineau 1988, particulièrement les pages 47-73).
Une seconde théorie suggère plutôt que les femmes ne parviennent pas à être
sélectionnées par défaut de ressources financières; elles n’auraient pas les
fonds nécessaires pour assumer les dépenses liées à une campagne
d’investiture, souvent non encadrée par la législation comme c’est le cas au
Canada. Et, de fait, plusieurs chercheuses canadiennes voient dans l’élément
financier une raison de l’effacement des femmes de la scène politique
(Bashevkin 1993, Brodie 1991, Maillé 1990b). À tel point que, dans le cadre
des travaux de la Commission royale sur la réforme électorale et le
financement des partis, Brodie (1991) recommandait que les dépenses
engagées par les candidates et candidats au moment d’une campagne
d’investiture fassent l’objet d’un remboursement.4
Une théorie fréquemment avancée veut que les femmes ne parviendraient pas à
se faire élire au Parlement parce qu’elles seraient candidates dans des
circonscriptions peu compétitives. Bien que cette proposition ait été formulée
et vérifiée dans plusieurs travaux à la grandeur du Canada (Bashevkin 1982,
1983b, Brodie et Vickers 1981, Erickson 1993, Vickers 1978, Vickers et
Brodie 1981), nous sommes parvenus à une conclusion contraire pour les
élections provinciales québécoises de 1976, 1981, 1985 et 1989 (Pelletier et
Tremblay 1992) : à l’exception du Parti québécois au scrutin général de 1981,
les candidates libérales et péquistes n’étaient pas désavantagées par rapport à
leurs vis-à-vis masculins, entendons par là qu’elles n’étaient pas
disproportionnellement plus nombreuses dans des circonscriptions dites
« perdues d’avance ». C’est aussi le constat posé par Studlar et Matland (1994)
au niveau canadien.
Les conditions et le rythme de renouvellement du personnel politique se sont
également retrouvés au centre de propositions théoriques qui visent à mieux
comprendre l’accès restreint des femmes aux institutions démocratiques. À
l’heure actuelle, les règles du jeu permettent à une personne membre du
62
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
Parlement de solliciter un renouvellement de mandat autant de fois qu’elle le
désire. Or, devant l’urne, les parlementaires jouissent d’un avantage certain
sur leurs adversaires non membres de la Chambre au moment de sa dissolution
(Krashinsky et Milne 1983, 1985, 1986). Peu de candidates se prévalant du
statut de députées sortantes, il est facile d’y voir là une situation qui limite
l’accès des femmes aux Communes. Il faut toutefois dire qu’au Canada, le haut
taux de roulement du personnel politique fédéral réduit cet effet néfaste sur les
candidatures féminines (Young 1991).
Une dernière théorie privilégie le mode de scrutin canadien — du type
majoritaire, uninominal à un seul tour — pour expliquer la sous-représentation
des femmes de la scène politique. Au contraire des systèmes proportionnels
qui semblent favoriser la victoire de femmes (particulièrement le scrutin de
liste qui permet l’élection de plusieurs représentantes et représentants par
circonscription), au Canada, dans la mesure où chaque parti ne peut espérer
faire élire qu’une seule représentante ou un seul représentant par
circonscription, les organisations locales seraient soucieuses de présenter la
personne la plus susceptible de remporter la victoire. Or, craignant que
l’électorat ne discrimine négativement les femmes en ne votant pas — ou
moins — pour elles, les exécutifs locaux porteraient alors leur choix vers des
candidatures masculines jugées plus « sûres ».5 Au contraire des autres
théories, cette dernière, selon laquelle l’électorat discriminerait les femmes,
n’a pas fait l’objet d’un examen approfondi. La seule recherche canadienne à
avoir abordé cette question sous cet angle est celle de Hunter et Denton,
publiée il y a plus d’une décennie (en 1984). La principale conclusion de cette
étude indiquait que les femmes ne perdaient pas de votes. Lorsqu’elles se
présentaient à la députation, les femmes constituaient des candidates aussi
compétitives que les hommes, dans la mesure où elles se trouvaient sur un pied
d’égalité avec eux en termes de rival titulaire, de compétitivité du siège disputé
et d’allégeance partisane. En fait, Hunter et Denton (1984) croient que la sousreprésentation des femmes aux Communes tient moins à un sentiment de rejet
de l’électorat qu’à leur difficulté d’être sélectionnées dans des circonscriptions
où leur parti présente des chances de succès.
Pourtant, bien que cette étude constitue une contribution incontournable au
problème qui retient l’attention du présent texte, elle apporte une réponse
limitée à la question de savoir si les femmes constituent des candidates moins
performantes que les hommes au chapitre des votes qu’elles obtiennent. En
effet, cette recherche n’a retenu que deux élections générales canadiennes, a
fortiori très rapprochées (les scrutins de 1979 et 1980). En outre, elle ne traite
pas de façon distincte le Québec, alors qu’il me semble y avoir là un terrain
particulièrement propice à l’examen de l’idée selon laquelle l’électorat
discriminerait les candidates, qui obtiendraient par conséquent moins de votes
que les candidats masculins.
Bien que les Québécoises aient obtenu le droit de vote aux élections fédérales
au même moment que les Canadiennes des autres provinces, ce n’est qu’en
1972 que trois représentantes du Québec font leur entrée à la Chambre des
communes, soit plus d’un demi-siècle plus tard.6 Ce n’est aussi qu’en 1940,
bien après les autres provinces,7 qu’elles obtiennent le droit de vote aux
63
IJCS / RIÉC
élections provinciales et en 1961 qu’une première femme siège à l’Assemblée
nationale du Québec.8 Qui plus est, avant 1960, le Québec vivait dans une
société traditionnelle, marquée notamment par une division hiérarchique des
rôles selon les sexes. Sans affirmer que cette division était plus forte au Québec
qu’au Canada-anglais, il n’en demeure pas moins que les Québécoises ont
acquis certains droits liés à la citoyenneté bien après les femmes du reste du
Canada, notamment en matière d’éducation et de droits civils (cf. Boivin 1986,
Commission Bird 1970, Lamoureux 1989), ce qui semble significatif de
mentalités réfractaires à l’insertion sociopolitique des femmes. Il est vrai que
les Québécoises ont fait preuve d’une assiduité insoupçonnée au plan de la
participation électorale à cette époque (Maillé 1990c), mais c’était bien à
l’encontre du discours sexiste des élites cléricales et politiques, alors fortement
liées.9 En fait, une telle conception hiérarchique et ségréguée des rôles selon
les sexes n’a pas fait l’objet d’un large questionnement public avant 1967, dans
le cadre des travaux de la Commission Bird. Dans un tel contexte, il est aisé
d’imaginer une hostilité de l’électorat aux candidatures féminines qui
s’estompe graduellement au profit d’un décloisonnement des rôles selon les
sexes — du moins au plan politique.
Objectif, hypothèse, données et analyses
L’objectif premier de cet article est de cerner le rôle de l’électorat dans la sousreprésentation des Québécoises à la Chambre des communes du Canada. En
fait, il importe d’établir si les femmes constituent des candidates moins
performantes que les hommes, notamment en attirant moins de votes. Le point
de vue défendu ici est que le fait d’être du sexe féminin ne génère pas un
ressentiment de l’électorat, de telle sorte que les candidates obtiennent moins
de votes que les candidats. La difficulté des Québécoises à se faire élire aux
Communes tient plutôt à d’autres considérations, notamment leur statut en tant
que candidates.
Cette recherche repose sur les résultats électoraux obtenus par les candidates et
candidats du Québec à une élection fédérale générale canadienne de 1945 à
1993. Les statistiques électorales compilées aux fins de cette étude sont telles
qu’elles apparaissent dans les rapports du directeur général des élections du
Canada depuis la fin de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. Six variables ont été
retenues : l’année d’élection, la circonscription électorale,10 le sexe, le parti
politique, le statut,11 finalement les votes en nombres absolus. En tout, 5 487
personnes — soit 562 femmes et 4 925 hommes — ont cherché à représenter
une circonscription électorale québécoise à Ottawa depuis 1945. La
performance de ces candidates et candidats sera comparée et analysée en
termes de votes obtenus.
La variable du statut demande certaines précisions. Deux modèles de cette
variable ont été élaborés. L’un, plus simple, attribue la cote « 1 » au statut de
membre sortant du Parlement qui sollicite un renouvellement de mandat et la
cote « 2 » aux autres candidates et candidats. L’autre, plus complexe, réserve
des cotes plus étendues aux deux statuts déjà mentionnés. Elle a été nommée
variable « statut plus ». Cette démarche visait non seulement à saisir plus
justement la réalité, mais également à optimiser les conditions d’utilisation des
64
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
calculs de régressions, notamment en limitant l’usage de variables nominales
dichotomiques. L’échelle de la variable « statut plus », y compris une
définition de ses modalités, apparaît en annexe.
L’analyse quantitative qui suit repose principalement sur des mesures
descriptives. Dans un premier temps, la moyenne des votes obtenus par les
candidates et candidats est examinée, et ce, en fonction de différents contextes.
Par la suite, des corrélations, des régressions simples et multiples permettront
de mieux situer le rôle et l’importance des relations distinguées de cette
première démarche. La variable dépendante au centre de ces analyses est celle
des votes obtenus — et valides — en nombres absolus; les variables
indépendantes sont le sexe, le parti politique, le statut des adversaires en
compétition, le vote à l’élection précédente et la compétitivité de la
circonscription. Aucun test de signification n’a été réalisé parce que cette
recherche prend en compte l’ensemble des candidates et candidats du Québec
à l’une ou l’autre des seize élections générales canadiennes de 1945 à 1993, et
non un simple échantillon tiré de façon aléatoire de cette population.
Présentation des résultats
L’histoire politique du Québec à Ottawa (comme ailleurs) se veut résolument
masculine. Comme l’illustre le tableau 1, des 5 487 femmes et hommes qui ont
brigué les suffrages au Québec à l’occasion d’une élection fédérale depuis
1945, seulement 562 (ou 10,2 p. 100) étaient des femmes. De ce nombre, 54
femmes ont été élues, contre 1 131 hommes, soit 9,6 p. 100 des aspirantesdéputées (contre 23 p. 100 des aspirants-députés).12 Il est important de
souligner que les premières Québécoises firent leur entrée aux Communes en
1972, soit à la première élection suivant la publication du Rapport Bird. Ce
document fait ressortir, entre autres, l’absence des femmes des institutions
démocratiques canadiennes. La contribution du Rapport à l’accès de
Québécoises aux Communes s’avère d’autant plus probable, que c’est
également lors de l’élection de 1972 que le nombre de candidates
conservatrices et libérales a légèrement augmenté, témoignant d’une certaine
sensibilité des partis politiques aux critiques formulées par la Commission
royale d’enquête sur la situation de la femme.13 Il faut également voir que le
début des années 1970 correspond aux premières mobilisations du mouvement
féministe canadien. Or, ce mouvement a constitué une véritable expérience de
contre-socialisation pour les femmes, notamment en questionnant la division
privé-public qui consacrait leur exclusion des lieux du pouvoir (cf., entre
autres, Carroll 1989, Klein 1984).
Certes, on ne peut guère s’étonner du faible nombre de femmes élues à la
Chambre des communes du Canada depuis un demi-siècle, puisqu’elles ont été
nettement moins nombreuses que les hommes à se présenter. Pourtant, même
lorsqu’elles posent leur candidature, elles parviennent moins bien à se faire
élire que les hommes; pour la période 1945-1993, leur taux de succès comme
candidates se situe à 0,42. En d’autres termes, alors qu’un candidat sur cinq a
gagné son élection, ce n’est vrai que pour une candidate sur dix.
65
IJCS / RIÉC
Tableau 1
Nombre des candidates et candidats du Québec aux élections fédérales
canadiennes, taux de féminisation des candidatures et taux de succès des
candidates, 1945-1993
Candidatures
Année
d’élection
F
H
Total
1945
1949
1953
1957
1958
1962
1963
1965
1968
1972
1974
1979
1980
1984
1988
1993
4
2
11
3
2
4
7
8
9
29
43
83
94
75
86
102
280
251
217
210
217
279
288
319
314
314
327
435
424
384
300
366
284
253
228
213
219
283
295
327
323
343
370
518
518
459
386
468
Total
562
4 925
5 487
Personnes élues
Taux de
F
féminisation
p. 100
1,4
0
0,8
0
4,8
0
1,4
0
0,9
0
1,4
0
2,4
0
2,4
0
2,8
0
8,4
3
11,6
3
16,0
4
18,1
6
16,3
14
22,3
13
21,8
11
10,2
54
H
65
73
75
75
75
75
75
75
74
71
71
71
69
61
62
64
1 131
Taux de
succès des
candidates*
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0,46
0,32
0,29
0,39
1,17
0,73
0,62
0,42
* Ce taux de succès est emprunté à Jorgen Rasmussen (1981). Il a été établi à partir de la
formule suivante :
Nombre d’élues/Nombre de candidates
Nombre d’élus/Nombre de candidats
Cet indice varie entre 0 et l’infini. Lorsqu’il excède 1,00, comme à l’élection de 1984, ceci
signifie que proportionnellement plus de candidates sont parvenues à se faire élire que de
candidats.
Il faut noter que l’élection de 1984, où les femmes affichent un taux de succès
supérieur à celui des hommes, constitue l’exception. Ce résultat va dans le sens
des propos récents de Studlar et Matland (1994). Il est courant de soutenir que
l’augmentation du nombre des élues aux Communes en 1984 tient au fait que
le Parti conservateur aurait sélectionné des femmes dans des circonscriptions
qu’il considérait marginales, celles-là profitant alors de la « vague bleue » pour
se faire élire. Ces auteurs suggèrent plutôt qu’il y avait alors assez de femmes
candidates pour assurer une augmentation appréciable de la représentation
féminine aux Communes, nonobstant l’humeur de l’électorat à ce moment. En
outre, l’avènement d’un débat organisé par le Comité canadien d’action sur le
66
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
statut de la femme, où les trois chefs des principales formations politiques
s’affrontèrent sur des questions concernant de façon spécifique les
Canadiennes, a pu sensibiliser l’électorat à la condition féminine au Canada,
particulièrement au chapitre politique. Finalement, il faut tenir compte qu’est
survenue alors une diminution du nombre des candidates pour les tiers partis
— de 84 en 1980 leur nombre passa à 49 en 1988 — et une augmentation
parallèle des candidates au Parti conservateur (PC) et au Parti libéral du
Canada (PLC) — de 10 en 1980 à 26 en 1984 —, les deux seules formations
politiques qui, en 1984, pouvaient espérer faire élire des candidates et
candidats au Québec. Pourtant, aux élections générales de 1988 et 1993, le taux
de succès des femmes décroît de nouveau. Comment expliquer cette difficulté
plus grande des femmes d’accéder au Parlement canadien? Plus précisément,
peut-on l’attribuer au fait que les femmes obtiennent moins de votes que les
hommes?
Analyse bivariée
Une étape préliminaire d’analyse consiste à comparer sous différents angles la
moyenne des votes obtenus par les candidates et candidats du Québec aux
élections fédérales de 1945 à 1993. Le tableau 2 montre ces moyennes en
fonction du sexe et d’autres variables indépendantes. Plusieurs des résultats
jettent le doute sur l’affirmation que les femmes constituent des candidates
moins performantes que les hommes en obtenant moins de votes qu’eux.
Certes, toutes formations politiques confondues, les candidates obtiennent en
moyenne 1 980 votes de moins que les candidats. Pourtant, ce constat demeure
simpliste s’il n’est pas accompagné d’une considération pour la couleur
partisane, et ce, parce que tous les partis n’offrent pas à leurs candidates et
candidats les mêmes chances de succès. Ainsi, en considérant seulement les
cinq principales formations politiques québécoises sur la scène fédérale de
1945 à 1993,14 on constate que le déficit des femmes s’abaisse à un mince 92
votes. Puisque cet article veut d’abord comprendre le rôle de l’électorat dans la
sous-représentation des Québécoises à Ottawa, l’analyse subséquente ne
reposera que sur les candidates et candidats de grands partis, à l’heure actuelle
les seuls susceptibles de faire élire des femmes et d’accroître ainsi leur
présence au Parlement fédéral.
Le tableau 2 fait ressortir une donnée intéressante en ce qui a trait à la période
historique. Comme il a été mentionné plus haut, le Québec d’avant 1960
constituait une société fortement marquée par des valeurs conservatrices,
ruralistes et traditionnelles. La Révolution tranquille des années 1960 signale
le passage à une société plus libérale, ce qui n’a pas été sans affecter les
mentalités et les valeurs collectives et personnelles, notamment eu égard aux
rôles selon les sexes. L’assignation de rôles inégalitaires basée sur le sexe a
d’ailleurs fait l’objet de critiques dans les pages du Rapport Bird (1970), puis a
mobilisé et nourri le mouvement féministe dont les intérêts se sont
graduellement déplacés vers l’arène politique au cours de la décennie 1980.
Comme le montre le tableau 2, ces étapes de l’histoire politique des
Québécoises transparaissent dans le soutien de l’électorat pour les
candidatures féminines : leur déficit de 7 463 votes en 1945-1958 s’abaisse à 1
959 votes en 1984-1993. Un tel résultat vient en quelque sorte appuyer les
67
IJCS / RIÉC
Tableau 2
Votes moyens obtenus par les candidates et candidats du Québec aux
élections fédérales canadiennes, 1945-1993
Femmes
Hommes
Différence
femmes-hommes
5 324
(562)*
7
304
(4 925)
-1 980
9 445
(302)
9 537
(3 577)
-92
•1945-1958
1 375
(11)
8 838
(839)
-7 463
•1962-1968
3 006
(24)
7 435
(1 112)
-4 429
•1972-1980
7 564
(106)
9 739
(1 038)
-2 175
•1984-1993
12 194
(161)
14 153
(588)
-1 959
25 070
(33)
16 651
(928)
8 419
7 528
(269)
7 045
(2 649)
483
12 790
(70)
9 164
(745)
3 626
• 1 à 5 000 votes
4 048
(101)
4 234
(1 015)
-186
• 5 001 à 10 000 votes
5 038
(45)
7 693
(765)
-2 654
• 10 001 votes et plus
15 365
(86)
16 259
(1 052)
-894
7 617
(248)
7 143
(2 558)
474
20 636
(23)
14 588
(467)
6 048
Partis politiques
• Tous les partis politiques
• Seulement les grands partis
Périodes historiques, grands partis
Statut comme candidate et candidat,
grands partis
• Membre sortant du Parlement
• Personne qui n’était pas membre du
Parlement au moment de sa
dissolution
Vote antérieur, grands partis
• Nouvelles circonscriptions
Compétitivité, grands partis
• Faible
• Moyenne
• Forte
15 760
16 357
-597
(31)
(552)
* Le chiffre entre parenthèses indique le nombre de personnes impliquées dans l’analyse.
68
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
sondages québécois qui montraient un soutien grandissant de l’électorat en
faveur d’un rôle politique plus engagé des femmes (Maillé 1990a).
La performance électorale des femmes dépend également de leur passé
personnel et partisan dans la circonscription. Plusieurs études ont déjà
démontré l’avantage des parlementaires qui sollicitent un nouveau mandat sur
leurs adversaires qui n’étaient pas membres du Parlement au moment de sa
dissolution. Dans ce cas, le succès des femmes se compare avantageusement
avec celui des hommes : lorsqu’elles demandent à leurs électrices et électeurs
de les représenter de nouveau à Ottawa, en moyenne elles gagnent la faveur de
25 070 commettantes et commettants, contre 16 651 votes pour les hommes. Il
n’est donc pas étonnant de constater qu’elles performent mieux dans les
circonscriptions remportées par leur parti à l’élection précédente (voir l’aspect
de la compétitivité moyenne au tableau 2). Pourtant, leur avantage est
également manifeste lorsqu’elles posent leur candidature dans une
circonscription nouvellement formée, comme si elles compétitionnaient alors
avec des adversaires de même taille. Aussi, l’analyse multivariée permettra
maintenant de démêler et de préciser ces relations.
Analyse multivariée
En vue de mieux saisir la dynamique du vote féminin et masculin, j’ai élaboré
un modèle explicatif destiné à cerner le rôle et l’importance de certaines
variables en ce qui concerne les votes attribués aux femmes et aux hommes. En
plus du sexe, ce modèle intègre une variable partisane,15 une variable relative
au statut des adversaires en présence (laquelle comporte quatre valeurs comme
définies à l’annexe), une variable portant sur le vote obtenu par la candidate ou
le candidat du parti dans cette circonscription à l’élection précédente,16
finalement une variable qui traduit la compétitivité de la circonscription.17 Le
choix de ces composantes s’inspire des recherches similaires réalisées au
Canada (Hunter et Denton 1984) et à l’étranger (entre autres, McAllister 1992,
Rasmussen 1983, Studlar, McAllister et Ascui 1988) et se base sur des
analyses bivariées destinées à identifier dans un premier temps les relations qui
présentent un certain intérêt.18 Ce modèle n’a évidemment pas la prétention de
tenir compte de l’entièreté des facteurs qui aient pu affecter les votes obtenus
par les candidates et candidats du Québec depuis 1945, mais plutôt de saisir
l’impact de certaines variables qui semblent significatives.
Des analyses de régressions multiples ont été faites en vue de mesurer les effets
de ces variables sur les votes obtenus par les candidates et candidats du Québec
aux élections fédérales de 1945 à 1993. L’analyse multivariée est guidée par
deux questions principales : 1º Une fois que plusieurs variables du « combat
électoral » sont contrôlées, les femmes obtiennent-elles moins de votes que les
hommes?; et 2º Est-ce que les variables qui agissent pour expliquer les votes
obtenus par les femmes et les hommes sont les mêmes ou si elles différent? Le
tableau 3 apporte une réponse à ces interrogations. Afin de répondre à la
première question, j’ai effectué une régression multiple en considérant le sexe
comme variable indépendante. Le résultat apparaît à la colonne gauche du
tableau 3. Pour répondre à la seconde interrogation, j’ai réalisé
69
IJCS / RIÉC
indépendamment deux analyses de régressions, l’une pour les femmes et
l’autre pour les hommes.
Une première observation à tirer du tableau 3 suggère que le nombre des votes
obtenus à une élection dépend à la fois de considérations personnelles
(notamment le sexe) et partisanes. Toutefois, par-delà cette influence
commune sur les votes reçus, l’importance de l’impact de chaque critère varie
grandement; le parti politique constitue la variable la plus déterminante, alors
que le vote antérieur a somme toute peu d’influence. Quant à la compétitivité
de la circonscription, elle exerce un effet contraire à ce qui était attendu. Cette
régression multiple sur les votes obtenus en fonction des variables du sexe, du
parti politique, du statut, du vote à l’élection antérieure et de la compétitivité de
la circonscription explique 41 p. 100 de la variance. Autrement dit, bien que
d’autres éléments interviennent pour expliquer les votes obtenus (pensons
seulement à l’effet des « vagues » électorales, au phénomène des
« candidatures-vedettes », à la région ou au portrait socio-économique de
chaque circonscription), le modèle élaboré ici permet néanmoins de saisir le
rôle et l’importance de certaines variables sur les votes reçus, particulièrement
en ce qui a trait au statut et au parti politique.
Une seconde observation qui ressort du tableau 3 — probablement la plus
inattendue de cette recherche — montre que le sexe affecte le nombre des votes
obtenus par une candidate ou un candidat. Ce résultat va à l’encontre de la
principale conclusion de Hunter et Denton (1984) concernant les élections
canadiennes de 1979 et 1980; il et elle montraient alors que les femmes et les
hommes obtenaient un nombre de votes essentiellement identique. Aussi, pardelà une caractéristique personnelle, le sexe structure un rapport social, ce que
l’on nomme les rapports sociaux de sexe (ou le genre). Comme l’illustrent les
résultats obtenus ici, le genre se pose comme une variable d’analyse propre à
faire émerger des rapports conflictuels — ou de pouvoir — sur la base du sexe.
Il s’agit là d’une piste de recherche et de réflexion qui mériterait d’être
approfondie prochainement.
Plus intriguant encore, la relation identifiée au Québec entre le sexe et les votes
reçus ne se manifeste pas dans le sens attendu : loin de constituer des
candidates moins performantes que les hommes, les femmes attirent au
contraire plus de votes qu’eux, une fois pris en considération les variables du
parti politique, du statut, du vote antérieur et de la compétitivité de la
circonscription. En outre, le sexe se situe parmi les variables les plus influentes
retenues par le modèle, au contraire de la compétitivité et, surtout, du vote
antérieur. Il s’avère donc sans fondement de soutenir que les femmes
constituent des candidates plus à risque que les hommes; dans un contexte
identique de confrontation électorale, les femmes s’affirment plus
performantes que les hommes dans le sens qu’elles attirent plus de votes
qu’eux. Un tel résultat renforce les conclusions d’une autre recherche
effectuée auprès des candidates et candidats du Québec (Pelletier et Tremblay
1992) : puisque les femmes font aussi bonne figure que les hommes, tout laisse
croire qu’elles ne sont pas « sacrifiées » dans des circonscriptions perdues
d’avance. Ainsi, une clé au problème de la sous-représentation des femmes
aux Communes se situerait au niveau de l’investiture (processus moins
70
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
Tableau 3
Régressions multiples sur les votes obtenus en fonction du sexe, du
parti politique, du statut, du vote à l’élection antérieure et de la
compétitivité de la circonscription
Femmes et
hommes
Constant
Femmes
Hommes
-2 562****
(556,6)¥
-2 881**
(909,4)
-737*
(299,2)
Sexe (femmes)
1 463***
(411,3)
Nil
Nil
Parti politique
1 507****
(87,6)
2 946****
(316,5)
1 380****
(90,3)
Statut
1 498****
(80,5)
3 247****
(379,2)
1 410****
(81,5)
Vote antérieur
406****
(17,9)
-1+
(77,9)
434****
(18,3)
Compétitivité
-1 046****
(94,4)
-1 292**
(447,4)
-997****
(95,2)
R2
,413
,478
,420
R2 ajusté
,413
,471
,419
Nombre
3 879
302
3 577
¥
+
*
**
***
Les nombres entre parenthèses sont l’erreur type.
Indique que les femmes obtiennent moins de votes que les hommes.
P £ 0,05
P £ 0,01
P £ 0,001
transparent qu’il ne paraît, comme je l’ai souligné plus haut), soit de décrocher
une « bonne » circonscription.
Trois explications sont susceptibles d’éclairer ce résultat (plutôt étonnant
compte tenu de la faible présence des Québécoises au Parlement d’Ottawa).
Une première veut que l’opinion publique concernant les rôles politiques des
femmes se soit transformée au cours des années 1980 : l’idée d’un rôle plus
engagé des femmes en politique a progressé (Maillé 1990a). Ceci n’a
probablement pas été sans affecter le soutien électoral aux candidatures
féminines, à une époque où augmente le nombre des aspirantes-députées à
briguer les suffrages sous la bannière d’un grand parti. Mais, plus encore, mon
idée est qu’à cette ère de désabusement de la population face à la classe
politique, les femmes attirent peut-être plus de votes, car elles incarnent un
renouveau ou une alternative en raison de leur exclusion historique du pouvoir.
Une seconde explication propose de vérifier si les femmes ne sont pas plus
susceptibles que les hommes d’être des « candidates-vedettes », attirant ainsi
plus de voix en raison de leur notoriété. Finalement, les recherches
71
IJCS / RIÉC
américaines ont montré l’existence d’un gender gap en matière électorale : les
politiciennes en faveur du féminisme s’attiraient le soutien de l’électorat
favorable aux droits des femmes (Somma 1992). Un phénomène apparenté a
pu être observé au Canada : dans un sondage réalisé entre le 4 et le 7 janvier
1989 auprès de 1 021 adultes répartis à travers le Canada, la maison Gallup a
trouvé que 20 p. 100 des femmes interrogées affirmaient qu’elles seraient plus
portées à appuyer un parti dirigé par une chef, contre 10 p. 100 des répondants
(Gallup Canada 1989). Des résultats comparables ont été obtenus auprès de
jeunes politologues francophones au Canada (Tremblay 1994). Aussi, les
recherches futures devraient tenter d’identifier si, au sein de l’électorat
canadien, les femmes expriment un « préjugé favorable » aux candidatures
féminines, dans l’optique d’expliquer qu’elles obtiennent plus de votes que les
hommes.
Pour ce qui est de la seconde question abordée par les analyses de régressions
multiples, il ressort que les variables du parti politique, du statut, du vote
antérieur et de la compétitivité de la circonscription structurent d’une façon
différente les votes obtenus par les candidates et candidats. D’abord, le modèle
explique une part plus grande de la variance pour la régression multiple
effectuée sur le groupe des femmes seules (soit 47 p. 100) que sur le groupe des
hommes seuls (42 p. 100). Puis, la donnée la plus importante qui apparaît, si
l’on compare les résultats des régressions d’une part pour les femmes et
d’autre part pour les hommes, est la suivante : plus que pour ces seconds, les
votes obtenus par ces premières reposent principalement sur deux variables.
En effet, alors que chez les hommes les votes subissent des influences réparties
d’une façon plus régulière, au moins entre trois variables, chez les femmes ce
sont principalement leur statut et le parti politique dont elles défendent les
couleurs qui affectent les votes qu’elles reçoivent. Sans dire que le vote
antérieur de leur parti dans la circonscription n’a pas d’effet chez elles, au
contraire de leurs vis-à-vis masculins.
Des corrélations viennent étayer cette importance du statut qui est plus
déterminante sur les votes obtenus par les candidatures féminines. Lorsque les
candidates sollicitent un nouveau mandat alors qu’elles siégeaient au
Parlement au moment de sa dissolution, la corrélation avec les votes obtenus
s’établit plus haut que dans le cas des hommes : 0,534 pour elles contre 0,486
pour eux. Un autre statut favorise la performance des femmes, soit lorsqu’elles
héritent d’un siège abandonné par la personne titulaire qui ne sollicite pas de
nouveau mandat aux Communes : la corrélation avec les votes obtenus est
alors de 0,129 (et de 0,113 pour les hommes). Pour ce qui est du parti politique,
je mentionne d’abord que les candidates libérales, conservatrices et bloquistes
(les trois seuls partis à avoir fait élire des représentantes du Québec à Ottawa)
obtiennent en moyenne plus de votes que les candidats de ces partis.19 En
outre, des corrélations plus fortes entre le parti politique et les votes obtenus se
manifestent à la faveur des candidates,20 expliquant ainsi l’importance plus
grande de cette variable sur les gains des femmes. Il se distingue une
corrélation assez importante entre les votes obtenus par un parti dans la même
circonscription au cours de deux élections successives, et ce, tant pour les
femmes que pour les hommes.21 Par contre, si l’on contrôle la variable du
statut, la corrélation devient pratiquement inexistante chez les femmes (soit
72
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
0,069), ce qui n’est pas le cas chez les hommes (0,387). Le même phénomène
survient entre les variables des votes obtenus et de la compétitivité, bien que
sous l’effet d’un contrôle de la variable du statut, la corrélation devient cette
fois presque inexistante pour les deux sexes.22 Ces résultats confirment une
fois de plus l’importance du statut eu égard au problème de la sousreprésentation des femmes aux Communes canadiennes.
Conclusion
Sept élections générales canadiennes plus tard, le problème identifié en 1970
dans le Rapport Bird semble toujours d’actualité pour expliquer la faible
présence des femmes à la Chambre des communes du Canada. L’analyse des
résultats du Québec aux élections canadiennes de 1945 à 1993 montre que
l’absence des Québécoises du Parlement fédéral ne peut s’expliquer par un
ressentiment de l’électorat; loin d’attirer moins de votes que les hommes
lorsqu’elles sollicitent un mandat à Ottawa, les candidates terminent en
moyenne avec plus de voix que leurs vis-à-vis de l’autre sexe, une fois
contrôlées les différentes composantes du contexte électoral (notamment le
parti politique, le statut, le vote à l’élection antérieure et la compétitivité de la
circonscription). Il faut donc chercher ailleurs la raison de cet effacement; tout
porte à croire que les partis politiques ont quelque chose à y voir.
Cette recherche a permis de démontrer l’importance du statut sur le nombre
des votes obtenus et, par conséquent, sur l’élection de femmes. Ainsi, 66,7 p.
100 des candidates québécoises sollicitant un renouvellement de mandat ont
obtenu gain de cause entre 1945 et 1993. Quarante pour cent de celles qui ont
hérité d’un siège abandonné par un membre sortant du Parlement ont remporté
leur élection. Par contre, seulement 8,7 p. 100 des candidates ne possédant
aucun de ces avantages ont franchi le seuil des Communes. Puisque
l’augmentation du nombre des femmes au Parlement ne peut reposer
uniquement sur le renouvellement du personnel féminin déjà élu une première
fois, il faut envisager d’autres solutions en vue de gonfler les rangs de celles
qui nous représentent.
Une voie royale d’accès pour cela se trouve dans le statut d’héritière : plus de
femmes doivent se présenter dans ce type de circonscriptions. Or, les
establishments locaux des organisations partisanes peuvent se montrer
réticents à un tel projet, craignant un sentiment défavorable de l’électorat (non
fondé comme le démontrent les résultats présentés ici),23 prétextant l’absence
de candidates « compétentes »24 ou, simplement, n’appréciant guère de voir
leur autonomie assujettie au discours national d’une représentation plus
équitable des sexes sur la scène politique fédérale. Pourtant, dans la mesure où
les femmes constituent des candidates plus compétitives que les hommes (du
moins en termes de votes obtenus), les partis politiques ont tout intérêt à retenir
leur candidature, surtout s’il est prouvé qu’elles attirent l’électorat féminin.
Aussi, il me semble que la présence plus importante des femmes au Parlement
d’Ottawa passe par une modification des règles du jeu électoral. En ce sens,
limiter le nombre de mandats consécutifs aux Communes à deux aurait pour
conséquence de favoriser un taux de roulement plus élevé du personnel
politique fédéral. Dès lors, plus de candidates et candidats néophytes (statut du
73
IJCS / RIÉC
type 1) pourraient se prévaloir des avantages électoraux — en termes de taux
de succès — attachés au statut d’héritière ou d’héritier (du type 3). En outre, il
me semble indispensable de compléter cette mesure par l’imposition de
quotas, au niveau des organisations locales, concernant le sexe de la personne
qui défendra les couleurs du parti le jour de l’élection. On pourrait ainsi penser
à un quota de 40-60 en vertu duquel, à l’intérieur de cinq élections générales ou
partielles consécutives, un parti ne pourrait pas présenter plus de trois
candidates ou candidats du même sexe. Un tel délai de cinq élections, combiné
à un quota de 40-60, préserve une certaine flexibilité quant au choix du sexe de
la candidate ou du candidat.
En outre, avec un tel scénario les organisations locales demeurent maître
d’oeuvre du processus de choix de la personne qu’elles désirent voir siéger au
Parlement. En effet, même lorsqu’un sexe devra être privilégié au détriment de
l’autre en vue de satisfaire les exigences liées aux mesures de quotas, le choix
des militantes et militants s’exercera toujours à l’intérieur d’une pluralité de
femmes seulement, ou d’une multiplicité d’hommes, toutes et tous aptes à
devenir parlementaires. D’ailleurs, n’est-ce pas ce dernier scénario
entièrement à saveur masculine plutôt que ce premier qui, le plus souvent, a
encadré le choix des militantes et militants au sein des partis politiques
fédéraux depuis que les femmes ont le droit de siéger à Ottawa? Le sexe ne
deviendrait alors qu’un critère de sélection à prendre en considération parmi
d’autres, au même titre que le sont actuellement le milieu de vie (urbain ou
rural) ou la maîtrise du français et de l’anglais dans plusieurs circonscriptions
du Québec. En ce sens, la proposition envisagée ici ne constitue en rien une
révolution; tout au plus, elle participe à une réforme de nos institutions
démocratiques, afin de les rendre plus représentatives de la population.
Notes
*
1.
2.
3.
74
Cette publication s’intègre à un projet de recherche plus vaste subventionné par le Conseil de
recherches en sciences humaines du Canada (#410-93-0163). Elle a été écrite alors que
j’étais chercheuse invitée au Centre for Research in Public Sector Management, University
of Canberra (Australie). Je tiens à exprimer mes remerciements au Centre pour son soutien
technique et matériel, ainsi que sa contribution financière à ce projet. Je veux tout
particulièrement remercier la professeure Marian SAWER de son assistance et de sa
collaboration. Je tiens finalement à souligner la participation de Kevin KOCH à ce projet, qui
a travaillé à titre d’assistant à la recherche.
Il s’agit du Fonds Agnes MacPhail au Nouveau Parti démocratique (NPD), de la Fondation
Ellen Fairclough au Parti conservateur (PC) et du Fonds Judy LaMarsh au Parti libéral
(PLC). Ces Fonds veulent offrir un appui financier aux femmes qui se présentent aux
élections fédérales. Les argents alloués peuvent être utilisés, entre autres, pour financer des
services de garde d’enfants et d’entretien ménager. En favorisant ainsi le cumul des rôles
privés et publics des femmes, ces Fonds agissent pour limiter les effets d’un obstacle
important à l’élection de femmes, soit leurs responsabilités familiales. À titre d’exemple, à
l’élection de 1993, les montants alloués étaient de $1 200,00 au Fonds Agnes MacPhail, de
$1 000,00 à la Fondation Ellen Fairclough (plus une masse monétaire pour subventionner
des projets présentés par des candidates) et de $2 000,00 au Fonds Judy LaMarsh.
C’est le cas notamment du Nouveau Parti démocratique qui, à l’occasion de l’élection de
1993, avait un quota de 50-50 en ce qui a trait à des groupes précis — dont les femmes.
Au Canada, le processus de sélection des candidatures s’exerce au niveau des
circonscriptions : la supervision au niveau national s’avère rare, bien que la ou le chef du
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
parti peut, exceptionnellement, exercer un droit de veto en refusant de signer les papiers de
candidature (comme au NPD) ou imposer quelques candidates ou candidats en vertu des
pouvoirs que lui confère la Constitution de son parti (comme c’est le cas au PLC).
Autrement, à l’occasion d’une convention de nomination, il revient aux membres en règle de
l’organisation locale d’un parti de choisir la personne qui défendra les couleurs partisanes à
l’élection. Le choix s’effectue par le moyen de votes secrets jusqu’à ce que, par suite
d’éliminations successives, une seule candidate ou un seul candidat demeure dans la course.
Pourtant, le processus de sélection des candidatures n’est pas aussi compétitif et
démocratique qu’il ne paraît. En effet, retenant les sélections effectuées au PLC, au PC et au
NPD à l’occasion de l’élection fédérale de 1988, Erickson et Carty (1991) montrent que les
deux-tiers des candidatures ont été désignées par acclamation. Lorsqu’il y a eu compétition,
58 p. 100 n’opposaient que deux personnes. Comme le soulignaient Norris, Carty, Erickson,
Lovenduski et Simms (1990), l’homogénéité des membres du Parlement (notamment en
termes de sexe) me porte à croire que « [i]f this is not what selectors explicitly seek, it is
certainly what they normally get. » (p. 241)
4.
La Fédération des femmes du Québec faisait la même recommandation dans son mémoire
présenté à la Commission; cf. Maillé 1990d.
5.
Ceci, dans le contexte d’un processus de sélection des candidatures fortement décentralisé
au sein des partis politiques fédéraux, comme souligné plus haut.
6.
Par comparaison, c’est en 1921 qu’est élue une première représentante en provenance d’une
circonscription de l’Ontario, puis en 1935 venant du Territoire du Yukon, en 1940 de la
Saskatchewan, en 1941 de l’Alberta, en 1961 de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, en 1962 des
Territoires du Nord-Ouest, en 1963 du Manitoba, en 1964 du Nouveau-Brunswick et en
1965 de la Colombie-Britannique. Cf. Bibliothèque du Parlement 1992.
7.
Les femmes ont acquis le droit de vote aux élections provinciales en 1916 (Manitoba,
Saskatchewan et Alberta), en 1917 (Colombie-Britannique et Ontario), en 1918 (NouvelleÉcosse), en 1919 (Nouveau-Brunswick), en 1922 (Île-du-Prince-Édouard) et en 1925
(Terre-Neuve).
8.
C’est en 1967 qu’une première députée entre à la législature du Nouveau-Brunswick et en
1970 à celle de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard. Pourtant, dans toutes les autres législatures
provinciales du Canada une femme fut députée avant 1961 (soit en 1917 en Alberta, en 1918
en Colombie-Britannique, en 1919 en Saskatchewan, en 1920 au Manitoba, en 1930 à TerreNeuve, en 1943 en Ontario et en 1960 en Nouvelle-Écosse).
9.
On peut apprécier la teneur de l’opposition des élites cléricales et politiques à la participation
des Québécoises à la vie politique en consultant Jean (1974) et Lamoureux (1989).
10. De nombreuses modifications à la carte électorale sont survenues au cours de la période
1945-1993, rendant d’autant plus difficile le dénombrement des sièges du Québec.
L’évolution historique des frontières d’une circonscription a donc été retracée à l’aide de
documents internes produits par la Bibliothèque du Parlement canadien et qui fait
l’historique de chaque circonscription électorale québécoise; cf. Bibliothèque du Parlement
1982.
11. Dans sa composition, la variable du statut ne tient pas compte du phénomène des
« candidatures-vedettes ». La première raison en est qu’il s’agit d’un type de candidature
relativement restreint en termes de nombres; plus souvent, ce sont des personnes plus ou
moins imposées par la ou le chef du parti aux organisations locales. La seconde raison tient à
la difficulté de définir ce qu’est une candidature-vedette: difficulté dans le temps (peut-on
définir de la même façon une telle candidature en 1945 — en supposant que ce phénomène
existait — et en 1993?), mais aussi difficulté en termes de source (qui détermine qu’une
candidature est « vedette » : la ou le chef du parti et sa direction nationale, les exécutifs
locaux, les médias ou l’opinion publique?). En fait, il me semble que ce phénomène des
candidatures-vedettes, sans être ici complètement ignoré, devrait faire l’objet de réflexions
sérieuses dans un proche avenir.
12. Une personne a pu être élue plus d’une fois. Par ailleurs, cette faible proportion des
candidates élues par rapport aux candidats élus s’explique par une concentration de celles-là
dans les tiers-partis ou comme candidates indépendantes. En effet, si on désigne comme
grand parti le PLC et le PC au cours de la période 1945-1958, puis le PLC, le PC et le Crédit
social de 1962 à 1979, le PLC et le PC de 1980 à 1988, finalement le PLC, le PC et le Bloc
75
IJCS / RIÉC
québécois (BQ) en 1993, on s’aperçoit que seulement 28,1 p. 100 des 562 candidates se sont
présentées sous les couleurs d’un parti majeur.
13. En effet, alors qu’il n’y a jamais eu plus de trois candidates libérales et conservatrices à
défendre les couleurs du Québec à une élection générale avant 1972, cette année là elles sont
sept.
14. Ces principaux partis sont le PC, le PLC, le NPD, le Ralliement des créditistes/le Crédit
social (RC/CS), enfin le BQ. Au contraire des tiers partis, ceux-ci ont tous fait élire au moins
une personne à Ottawa au cours de la période à l’étude, que ce soit à une élection générale ou
partielle.
15. Pour les fins de l’analyse, les partis ont été codés selon le nombre de candidates et candidats
qu’ils ont fait élire aux Communes depuis 1945, soit : la valeur « 1 » pour le Nouveau Parti
démocratique du Canada, « 2 » pour le Bloc québécois, « 3 » pour le Ralliement des
créditistes/le Crédit social, « 4 » pour le Parti progressiste-conservateur du Canada et « 5 »
pour le Parti libéral du Canada.
16. Pour les fins de l’analyse, les codes de cette variable varient de 0 à 99. Ainsi, la valeur « 1 » a
été attribuée si la candidate ou le candidat du même parti dans la même circonscription a
obtenu entre 1 et 1 000 votes à l’élection précédente, « 2 » si elle ou il a obtenu entre 1 001 et 2
000 votes et ainsi de suite.
17. Dans ce cas, j’ai repris pour l’essentiel la codification effectuée par Hunter et Denton (1984)
et décrite à la page 399 de leur article.
18. Le tableau suivant présente l’effet de chaque variable indépendante sur le nombre des votes
obtenus (variable dépendante) et la proportion de la variance expliquée pour chacune d’elles.
D’autres variables n’ont pas été retenues (comme le nombre des adversaires en présence et
leur position après le décompte des votes) parce que trop peu significatives.
2
Sexe
Parti politique
Statut des adversaires
Vote antérieur
Compétitivité
Femmes et hommes (R )
-92* (,000)
2 875 (,238)
2 104 (,253)
542 (,285)
1 792 (,180)
2
Femmes (R )
Nil
3 598 (,346)
3 737 (,315)
400 (,144)
2 054 (,124)
2
Hommes (R )
Nil
2 859 (,232)
2 048 (,255)
557 (,304)
1 784 (,188)
* Un résultat négatif indique que les femmes obtiennent moins de votes que les hommes.
19.
Au Parti libéral, 18 911 votes pour les candidates contre 15 675 votes pour les candidats, au
Parti conservateur 13 218 votes pour elles contre 8 891 votes pour eux et au Bloc québécois
29 517 votes pour les femmes contre 24 136 votes pour les hommes.
20. Notamment au Parti conservateur, pour les femmes la corrélation est de 0,204 et pour les
hommes de -0,048. Au Ralliement des créditistes/Crédit social, les corrélations respectives
sont de 0,362 et 0,229 et au Nouveau Parti démocratique de -0,593 et -0,392.
21. Pour les femmes, la corrélation est alors de 0,379 et pour les hommes de 0,551.
22. Soit une corrélation de -0,29 pour les femmes et de 0,089 pour les hommes.
23. Ce qui m’amène d’ailleurs à croire qu’il serait important que des recherches futures
s’appliquent à cerner de quelle façon sont perçues les candidatures féminines au sein des
organisations locales.
24. Dans cet esprit, pourquoi ne pas penser à l’établissement de banques de ressources humaines
« au féminin » dans les partis politiques, au sein desquelles les organisations locales
pourraient puiser lors de leur recherche de candidates « compétentes ». En outre, la mise en
place d’une politique de quotas inciterait les femmes à se présenter, sachant qu’elles auraient
des chances d’être sélectionnées en raison même des quotas.
Bibliographie
ADAMSON, Nancy, Linda BRISKIN and Margaret McPHAIL (1988), Feminist Organizing for
Change. The Contemporary Women’s Movement in Canada, Toronto, Oxford University
Press
BASHEVKIN, Sylvia B. (1993), Toeing the Lines. Women and Party Politics in English Canada,
Toronto, Oxford University Press
76
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
BASHEVKIN, Sylvia B. (1983a), « Social Background and Political Experience: Gender
Differences Among Ontario Provincial Party Elites, 1982 », Atlantis. A Women’s Studies
Journal/Journal d’études sur la femme, 9, 1: 1-12
BASHEVKIN, Sylvia B. (1983b), « The Dimensions of Underrepresentation », Status of Women
News, April: 16-17
BASHEVKIN, Sylvia B. (1982), « Women’s Participation in the Ontario Political Parties, 19711981 », Journal of Canadian Studies, 17, 2: 44-54
Bibliothèque du Parlement (Canada) (1992), Femmes au Parlement. Compilations, Ottawa,
Direction de l’information et des services techniques
Bibliothèque du Parlement (Canada) (1982), Historique des circonscriptions électorales
fédérales, 1867-1980, Ottawa, Service d’information et de référence
BOIVIN, Michelle (1986), « L’évolution des droits de la femme au Québec: un survol
historique », Revue juridique. La femme et le droit, 2, 1: 53-68
BRODIE, Janine (1991), « Les femmes et le processus électoral au Canada » dans Kathy
MEGYERY (sous la direction), Les femmes et la politique canadienne. Pour une
représentation équitable, Montréal, Wilson & Lafleur: 3-66 (Volume 6 de la collection
d’études de la Commission royale sur la réforme électorale et le financement des partis)
BRODIE, Janine (1985), Women and Politics in Canada, Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson
BRODIE, M. Janine et Jill McCalla VICKERS (1982), Canadian Women in Politics: An
Overview, Ottawa, Institut canadien de recherches pour l’avancement de la femme
(ICRAF), Les documents de l’ICRAF, no 2, septembre
BRODIE, Janine M. et Jill VICKERS (1981), « The More Things Change... Women in the 1979
Federal Campaign » dans Howard R. PENNIMAN, Canada at the Polls, 1979 and 1980. A
Study of the General Elections, Washington, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy
Research: 322-336
CARROLL, Susan J. (1989), « Gender Politics and the Socializing Impact of the Women’s
Movement » dans Roberta S. SIGEL (sous la direction), Political Learning in Adulthood. A
Sourcebook of Theory and Research, Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 306-339
Collectif CLIO (1982), L’histoire des femmes au Québec depuis quatre siècles, Montréal, Quinze
Commission Bird (Canada) (1970), Rapport de la Commission royale d’enquête sur la situation
de la femme au Canada, Ottawa, Approvisionnements et Services Canada
COSTAIN, Anne N. (1992), Inviting Women’s Rebellion. A Political Process Interpretation of the
Women’s Movement, Baltimore & London, Johns Hopkins
ERICKSON, Lynda (1993), « Making Her Way In: Women, Parties and Candidacies in Canada »
dans Joni LOVENDUSKI et Pippa NORRIS (sous la direction), Gender and Party Politics,
London, Sage: 60-85
ERICKSON, Lynda (1991), « Les candidatures de femmes à la Chambre des communes » dans
Kathy MEGYERY (sous la direction), Les femmes et la politique canadienne. Pour une
représentation équitable, Montréal, Wilson & Lafleur: 111-137 (Volume 6 de la collection
d’études de la Commission royale sur la réforme électorale et le financement des partis)
ERICKSON, Lynda et R. K. CARTY (1991), « Parties and Candidate Selection in the 1988
Canadian General Election », Canadian Journal of Political Science, 24, 2: 331-349
GALLUP CANADA (1989), « Canadians Indifferent to Gender of Political Leaders », 6 février
GINGRAS, Anne-Marie, Chantal MAILLÉ et Évelyne TARDY (1989), Sexes et militantisme,
Montréal, CIDIHCA
HARTMANN, Susan M. (1989), From Margin to Mainstream. American Women and Politics
Since 1960, Philadelphia, Temple University Press
HUNTER, Alfred A. et Margaret A. DENTON (1984), « Do Female Candidates “Lose Votes”?
The Experience of Female Candidates in the 1979 and 1980 Canadian General Elections »,
Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 21, 4: 395-406
JEAN, Michèle (textes choisis et présentés par) (1974), Québécoises du 20e siècle, Montréal,
Éditions du Jour
KLEIN, Ethel (1984), Gender Politics. From Consciousness to Mass Politics, Cambridge,
Harvard University Press
KRASHINSKY, Michael et William J. MILNE (1986), « The Effect of Incumbency in the 1984
Federal and 1985 Ontario Elections », Canadian Journal of Political Science, 19, 2: 337-343
KRASHINSKY, Michael et William J. MILNE (1985), « Additional Evidence on the Effect of
Incumbency in Canadian Elections », Canadian Journal of Political Science, 18, 1: 155-165
KRASHINSKY, Michael et William J. MILNE (1983) « Some Evidence on the Effect of
Incumbency in Ontario Provincial Elections », Canadian Journal of Political Science, 16, 3:
489-500
LAMOUREUX, Diane (1989), Citoyennes? Femmes, droit de vote et démocratie, Montréal,
Remue-Ménage
MAILLÉ, Chantal (1990a), Les Québécoises et la conquête du pouvoir politique, Montréal, SaintMartin
MAILLÉ, Chantal (1990b), Vers un nouveau pouvoir. Les femmes en politique au Canada,
Ottawa, Conseil consultatif canadien sur la situation de la femme, novembre
77
IJCS / RIÉC
MAILLÉ, Chantal (1990c), « Le vote des Québécoises aux élections fédérales et provinciales
depuis 1921: une assiduité insoupçonnée », Recherches féministes, 3, 1: 83-95
MAILLÉ, Chantal (1990d), Mémoire de la Fédération des femmes du Québec à la Commission
royale sur la réforme électorale et le financement des partis, Montréal, Fédération des
femmes du Québec
McALLISTER, Ian (1992), Political Behaviour: Citizens, Parties and Elites, Melbourne,
Longman Cheshire
NORRIS, Pippa (1993), « Conclusions: Comparing Legislative Recruitment » dans Joni
LOVENDUSKI et Pippa NORRIS (sous la direction), Gender and Party Politics, London,
Sage: 309-330
NORRIS, Pippa, R. J. CARTY, Lynda ERICKSON, Joni LOVENDUSKI et Marian SIMMS
(1990), « Party Selectorates in Australia, Britain and Canada: Prolegomena for Research in
the 1990s », Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 28, 2: 219-245
NORRIS, Pippa et Joni LOVENDUSKI (1989), « Pathways to Parliament », Talking Politics, 1, 3:
90-94
PELLETIER, Réjean et Manon TREMBLAY (1992), « Les femmes sont-elles candidates dans
des circonscriptions perdues d’avance? De l’examen d’une croyance », Revue canadienne
de science politique, 25, 2: 249-267
RASMUSSEN, Jorgen S. (1983), « The Electoral Costs of Being a Woman in the 1979 British
General Election », Comparative Politics, 15, 4: 461-475
RINEHART, Sue Tolleson (1992), Gender Consciousness and Politics, New York, Routledge
SCOTT, Joan (1988), « Genre: Une catégorie utile d’analyse historique », Les cahiers du Grif,
37/38: 125-153
SINEAU, Mariette (1988), Des femmes en politique, Paris, Economica
SOMMA, Mark (1992), « The Gender Gap and Attitudes Towards Economic Development
Strategies Among Midwestern Adults », Women & Politics, 12, 2: 41-57
STUDLAR, Donley T. et Richard E. MATLAND (1994), « The Growth of Women’s
Representation in the Canadian House of Commons and the Election of 1984: A
Reappraisal », Canadian Journal of Political Science, 27, 1: 53-79
STUDLAR, Donley T. et Ian McALLISTER (1991), « Political Recruitment to the Australian
Legislature: Toward an Explanation of Women’s Electoral Disadvantages », Western
Political Quarterly, 44, 2: 467-485
STUDLAR, Donley T., Ian McALLISTER et Alvaro ASCUI (1988), « Electing Women to the
British Commons: Breakout from the Beleaguered Beachhead? », Legislative Studies
Quarterly, 13, 4: 515-528
TARDY, Évelyne et al. (1982), La politique: un monde d’hommes? Une étude sur les mairesses
au Québec, Montréal, Hurtubise HMH
TREMBLAY, Manon (1994), « Les opinions des nouvelles et des nouveaux politologues
francophones concernant les rôles des femmes et des hommes en politique », Revue
québécoise de science politique, 26: 103-159
TREMBLAY, Manon (1993), « Gender and Society: Rights and Realities » dans David THOMAS
(sous la direction), Canada and the United States: Differences that Count, Peterborough,
Broadview Press: 271-300
TREMBLAY, Manon et Réjean PELLETIER (1995), Que font-elles en politique?, Ste-Foy,
Presses de l’Université Laval
United Nations (Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs) (1992), Women in
Politics and Decision-Making in the Late Twentieth Century. A United Nations Study,
Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers
VICKERS, Jill McCalla (1978), « Where Are the Women in Canadian Politics? », Atlantis. A
Women’s Studies Journal/Journal d’études sur la femme, 3, 2 (Part II): 40-51
VICKERS, Jill, Pauline RANKIN et Christine APPELLE (1993), Politics As if Women Mattered.
A Political Analysis of the National Committee on the Status of Women, Toronto, University
of Toronto Press
VICKERS, Jill McCalla et M. Janine BRODIE (1981), « Canada » dans Joni LOVENDUSKI et
Jill HILLS (sous la direction), The Politics of the Second Electorate. Women and Public
Participation, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul: 66-74
YOUNG, Lisa (1991), « L’incidence du taux de roulement des députés sur l’élection de femmes à
la Chambre des communes » dans Kathy MEGYERY (sous la direction), Les femmes et la
politique canadienne. Pour une représentation équitable, Montréal, Wilson & Lafleur: 89109 (Volume 6 de la collection d’études de la Commission royale sur la réforme électorale et
le financement des partis)
78
Les femmes, des candidates moins performantes
que les hommes?
Annexe
Valeurs attribuées aux modalités de la variable nommée « statut plus »
Définitions des modalités de la variable « statut plus »
Valeurs
Les néophytes : Candidates ou candidats qui n’étaient pas
membres du Parlement au moment de sa dissolution. Elles
ou ils affrontent une héritière ou un héritier ou, encore, une
personne membre du Parlement précédent.
1
Les égalitaires : Candidates ou candidats qui n’étaient pas
membres du Parlement au moment de sa dissolution et qui
affrontent des adversaires qui ne l’étaient pas non plus. Ces
personnes se confrontent dans une circonscription
nouvellement formée, de telle sorte qu’aucune n’hérite d’un
siège remporté à l’élection précédente par le parti dont elle
porte les couleurs.
2
Les héritières et héritiers : Candidates ou candidats qui
n’étaient pas membres du Parlement au moment de sa
dissolution et qui affrontent des adversaires qui ne l’étaient
pas non plus. L’avantage de ce statut est d’hériter du siège
remporté par son parti à l’élection précédente dans cette
circonscription.
3
Les parlementaires : Candidates ou candidats qui étaient
membres du Parlement au moment de sa dissolution.
4
79
Nelda K. Pearson
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment: A
Case Study of a Canadian Farm Women’s
Movement1
Abstract
As the New World Economy’s down-sizing continues, regions and
communities in the GSeven World confront the need to develop alternative
strategies to top-down development. These strategies require a leadership
style that empowers indigenous people to solve local economic problems using
local talent and resources. Women’s grassroots groups are an excellent
source for observing these alternate styles. Using Belenky’s Women’s Way of
Knowing, we analyze the style differences of the first two leaders of a
Canadian grassroots farm women’s movement, Women for the Survival of
Agriculture. Our findings show that the connected, empathic, conciliatory and
inclusive leadership style tends to be more empowering than the more
traditional, adversarial style. These findings have implications both for social
movement theory and community leadership training.
Résumé
Au fur et à mesure que la nouvelle économie mondiale continue à être
rationalisée, les régions et les communautés du Groupe des sept doivent faire
face à la nécessité de créer de nouvelles stratégies pour trouver des solutions
au développement dont les décisions proviennent de la haute gestion. Ces
stratégies requièrent un style de leadership qui donne pleins pouvoirs à la
population locale, dotée des talents et des ressources nécessaires pour
résoudre les problèmes économiques de leur communauté. Les groupes
populaires, plus précisément les groupes de femmes, constituent un excellent
modèle pour observer ce type de style. En se servant du livre de Belenky,
Women’s Way of Knowing, l’article analyse les différences de styles entre les
deux premières chefs d’un regroupement de fermières canadiennes, « Women
for the Survival of Agriculture ». Les résultats indiquent qu’un style de
leadership où la chef est compréhensive, conciliatrice, en contact avec la base
et inclut les autres est plus apte au partage du pouvoir qu’un style où la chef est
plus traditionnelle et antagoniste. Ces résultats ont des conséquences sur le
domaine des théories des mouvements sociaux et sur la formation des chefs de
groupes populaires.
As the global economy continues to down-size (Brecher and Costello, 1994),
more and more communities in the GSeven countries will turn toward
community economic development as an alternative to competing for major
corporations as a source of employment. Community economic development
is a strategy of underdeveloped countries and requires an approach unfettered
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
by the formalization, professionalization and routinization typical of complex
organizations and bureaucracies. It demands a way of defining economic
development that motivates and empowers people to solve their own problems
using their own resources with little dependence on experts and professionals.
(GATT-Fly, 1983; Freire, 1970; Lederach, 1992) It also requires a different
style of leadership. Our case study looks at one grassroots movement and how
its leaders’ “ways of knowing” affected their style of leadership and their
ability to empower others.
A quick look at Women for the Survival of Agriculture (WSA) presents a
glowing picture of success. Here is a grassroots farm women’s organization
that started in a small farming community in Eastern Ontario in 1975 and has
spread to every province. It has completed four farm studies, participated in
innumerable projects and political actions and was the primary organizer of
four of six national farm women’s conferences: Ottawa, 1980; Charlottetown,
PEI, 1985; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1987; St. John, New Brunswick, 1989.
This was all done with no national executive committee, no ongoing source of
money and no paid staff. WSA has been a dramatically successful grassroots,
community-based organization developed by farm women for farm women
and the family farm.
However, deeper probing of all materials, including WSA newsletters since
19752 (there were no minutes kept of meetings), interviews with key actors
beginning in 1984,3 especially “Dotty Harris” the founding mother of WSA
and “Dede Morris” the second president of the “home” chapter, as well as over
one hundred interviews with WSA members in all ten provinces, and
participant observation at three of the six national farm women’s conferences,
suggests a much more complex picture. (Although all leaders in this group are
semi-public figures, the names used in this article are fictitious.) Using this
material, we will analyze how leadership style has affected this grassroots
movement.
Empowerment
Empowerment is a concept widely used in women’s and economic
development literature and/or participatory community development
literature, although it has not been clearly defined nor operationalized. Moser,
in her review of Third World policy approaches to development, articulates an
empowerment model without defining it. According to Moser, empowering
groups “are committed to empower women and [have] a concern to reject rigid
bureaucratic structures in favor of non-hierarchical open structures.” (Moser,
1993:79) Braidotti, et al. discuss the “acquisition of subjectivity” as
empowerment through “the living process of transformation of self and other.”
(Braidotti, et al., 1994, 81) This rejection of women as other and object is also
raised by Vella:
The principle behind the theme of the AWID conference is that each
woman, each person, is a subject in her own life. People are not
created to be objects. We are made to be subjects, decision makers, in
our own lives. (Vella, 1993:105)
84
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
All of these approaches derive from a non-western tradition and blend
ecofeminism (Shiva, 1989; Meis and Shiva, 1993), feminist science (Harding,
1986; Fox-Keller, 1985), post-modern feminism (Haraway, 1991), African
American feminism (Collins, 1990) and popular liberation education (Freiri,
1970), all of which reject Euro-American thinking as a “monoculture of the
mind” that destroys both biodiversity and cultural diversity, oppressing
women, people of colour, tribals, manual workers and nature. (See especially
Meis and Shiva, 1993)
Participatory development literature also tends to use empowerment as an
understood concept and primarily concentrates on ways to be empowered. The
National Women’s Training Sourcebook (1993) discusses the importance of a
group or individual being able “to articulate, discover, or reclaim their
particular vision” (Ibid., 31) and sets up exercises to “voice” the dreams and
visions of neighbourhood women. This manual also critiques the approach of
professional women who use a more traditional, “top-down”
learning/teaching approach such as a) deciding for grassroots women what
should be done, b) fixing problems without teaching how to fix them, c) having
inflexible viewpoints and thinking things can only be done one way, d) being
arrogant, pulling rank and not being able to take criticism, and e) being blind to
and failing to use grassroots women’s expertise. (Ibid., 137) Hope and Timmel
(1984), in their three-volume training manual, Training for Transformation,
make clear that no education is neutral, that all education either “domesticates”
or “liberates,” and that their DELTA project listens, respects and affirms all
participants’ ideas and feelings in an elicitive model of learning. Bookman and
Morgan (1988), in their book Women and the Politics of Empowerment, also
do not define empowerment but state in their introduction:
...empowerment begins when they [women] change their ideas about
the causes of their powerlessness, when they recognize the systemic
forces that oppress them, and when they act to change the conditions
of their lives. (Ibid., 4)
The statement which best articulates the concept of empowerment is an article
from a discussion of Israeli and Palestinian women:
Women experience others having power over them as women and as
members of oppressed communities, but they seek to empower
themselves. They want this sense of empowerment to be “power
with”; power with other women, power with men, power with other
national groups with whom they are in conflict.
...
The goal of empowerment is to help the weaker party become aware
and utilize the power that it does have, in order to equalize the
relationship and transform the nature of the conflict. (Bernards
1993:199-200)
The components of empowerment identified from this discussion are: a)
voicing the silenced, b) owning one’s own vision, c) facilitating selftransformation from object to subject, reactive to proactive, acted upon to
agent of action d) creating autonomy, e) raising self-esteem, and f) developing
a person committed to reconciliation, inclusivity and consensus-building
85
IJCS / RIÉC
while allowing for diversity. The group structure which best allows this is
small and informal, where the leader plays the role of facilitator to the voice of
the participants, listening respectfully to ideas and feelings, and affirming the
validity of the experience and vision of the participants.
The Problem
One of the primary problems of grassroots leadership is burnout among key
leaders as the movement grows and takes on new challenges. (Pearson, 1993)
Leaders must recruit, empower and train new grassroots leaders as
replacements while they are leading the movement. The type of group
identified above tends to disappear as a movement grows larger and becomes
more task-oriented. Limiting group size is obviously one way to continue to
empower (Gilman, 1993), although this would ultimately defeat the purpose of
a grassroots group concerned with political action. Another solution is to
maintain leaders whose style empowers others. Our discussion of leadership
style and ways of knowing will take place within the constraints to
empowerment inherent in a movement that becomes larger and more taskoriented.
Theoretical Background and Belenky’s Paradigm
Much of the literature on social movements over the past twenty years has
focused on resource mobilization. (Mueller, 1992) Recently, more interest has
centred on how individuals come to be identified with and remain involved in
social movements. However, the research has placed little emphasis on the
differences between men’s and women’s way of becoming identified with a
movement. Most literature that has dealt with women’s participation has
concentrated on their role as wife and mother, i.e., their status derived from
their relationship to men, and has ignored their class, race and occupational
position as variables that relate to their belief that they can bring about change.
(Morgen and Bookman, 1988) In addition, research has not examined whether
a gender difference affects how and why women lead, although it is debated in
sustainable development literature. (ECOFEM@csf. colorado.edu, 1994)
As discussed above, a key issue in community economic development is
empowerment, the awareness that one personally has the capacity to create a
movement and/or participate as a leader in a movement to solve a problem.
Women are frequently not empowered because they believe, or have been led
to believe, that they have no power to obtain the resources to solve problems or
even if they had those resources that they lack the ability to use them
effectively. (Schaef, 1985) Given the stereotype of farm women this is even
truer for them. Farm women are less likely to believe that they can bring about
change due to their continued stereotyping by urban society as less than
competent. They are seen as less sophisticated, less well educated, and more
traditional. (“Farm Women through...,” Manitoba Co-ordinator, April 11,
1985; Rosenfeld, 1985)
Belenky, et al. (1985) produced a developmental model helpful in examining
how women become empowered. This model sees women moving in stages
toward a mastery of the world wherein more and more the locus of control is
86
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
internal to themselves. It specifically addresses how women come to relate to
an authority structure that is patriarchal both in terms of who holds authority
and its andrologocentric view of reality which stresses hierarchy, meritocracy,
linearity, rationality and objectivity. (Mies and Shiva, 1993) A key point of her
model is that women, unlike men, maintain a connectedness to others, i.e.,
have a sense of the common good which remains unchanged by their sense of
mastery and empowerment. Whether this assumption is essentialistic or a
social construction is left moot by Belenky, and since discussions in the
African American culture suggest similar connectedness for both men and
women (bell hooks [sic] and West, 1991; Collins, 1990), we assume that this is
a social construction (for a discussion of essentialism vs. social construction
on gender see Biehl, 1991). This connectedness contrasts with the rational
actor assumption of most of mobilization theories which, based on the
andrologocentric worldview, assume that most people act on self interest
(Ferree, 1992), rather than the common good.
Although her analysis grows out of Gilligan’s (1985) comparison of men and
women in the U.S., and overlooks the tendency for both sexes in the U.S. to be
more individualistic in their thinking than Canadians, who are more concerned
with the common good (Lipset, 1985), it nonetheless applies to Canadian
women given their status in Canadian society. (The World’s Women, 1991)
Belenky expanded on Gilligan by pointing out that women’s historical
position in society has shaped this connectedness in various ways depending
on the individual woman’s experience. Belenky’s paradigm moves from the
level one, silence, in seven steps to the final level, constructed knowledge. The
first two levels, silence and received knowledge, describe women’s limited
knowing due to the oppression of the patriarchal authority structure. Women at
these levels deny their potential to be empowered. The third and fourth levels
include subjective knowledge. Here “truth and knowledge are conceived of as
personal, private and subjectively known or intuited.” (Belenky, 1986:15)
These women become empowered and gradually move from anger and
distrust of all external authority to beginning to trust what they hear
subjectively and placing it within the broader framework of external
knowledge.
At the level of procedural knowledge, women become involved in “learning
and applying objective procedures for obtaining and communicating
knowledge.” (Belenky, 1985, 15) At this level, there are two different kinds of
procedural knowers. The connected procedural knower depends on personal
experience rather than pronouncements of authorities, has a capacity for
empathy, can see a lot of different points of view at the same time, tends to
want to understand what circumstances led others to think the way they do,
sees personal experience as adding to perception, and believes that the diverse
personalities of a group enrich the group’s understanding. The connected
knower tends to criticize the system but has not reached the point where she
can question the andrologocentric premises of the system. Belenky contrasts
the connected knower with the separatist procedural knower, who is much
more critical and adversarial while accepting the pronouncements of authority
if it is based on pure reason and/or empirical data. (Belenky,1986:95 im
87
IJCS / RIÉC
passem) The connected knower rejects the hierarchical, linear, objective
rational worldview of patriarchy as not so much wrong as limiting. The
separatist masters this worldview and uses it either to her personal ends or for
what she sees as the common good.
Women in these two categories are empowered but in very different ways.
Although both types of women use procedure, the connected knower is
successful because of her empathic links to others, while the separatist is
successful because she can make the procedure “work for her.” The connected
knower tends to empower others while the separatist tends to use her
knowledge as power over others to get the job done as she has defined it.
Belenky concludes with the final way of knowing, the constructed knower
who transforms knowledge and is capable of being a “servant leader.”
(Greenleaf, 1977)
It is tempting to see this as a hierarchy, and Belenky and her coauthors often
write as though it were. The intention of the authors is to see different styles as
merely differences in order to articulate these differences. When we link these
styles to leadership, it is also tempting to see one style as better than another. In
our discussion, the point is not to decide which is “right” but which is more
appropriate to the task at hand. From the description, the connected knower is
more affirming and person-oriented while the separatist knower is more taskoriented.
In our analysis of WSA and its leaders, we found the primary struggle to be
between connected procedural leaders and separatist procedural leaders.
We also found that group members in denial (silence or received knowledge)
or angry (subjective knowledge) had difficulty participating in the movement.
The impact of connected vs. separatist ways of knowing on leadership style
and the organization is the focus of this analysis.
WSA: A Brief History
Dotty Harris, the wife of a beef feed lot farmer in Winchester, Dundas County,
Ontario (thirty-five miles south of Ottawa), initiated a new farm women’s
organization in 1975. A regular attender of the Ontario Farmer’s Association,
Ms. Harris was struck that only one other woman attended regularly. At the
same time, Ms. Harris had been writing letters to the editors of various
newspapers to protest articles that suggested farmers were getting rich off the
“poor” consumer.
Ms. Harris addressed both the issue of farm costs and the low visibility of farm
women in a letter to the editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail dated November
16, 1974.4 This letter echoes the main theme of Ms. Harris’ early message
which was that a) urban consumers were misinformed about farm life and food
production, b) farm costs were “crippling the farmer” and c) farm wives
needed a greater voice in farm policy and more recognition by both the farming
community and the urban consumer.
In mid-March of 1975, Ms. Harris signed up twenty potential members for
WSA at an Ontario Federation of Agriculture banquet and dance in Dundas.
Her position had obviously struck a chord with farm women.
88
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
WSA started with a strong emphasis on public/political action and was
misread as a strident radical group of “marching mothers.” In fact, the headline
in the April 22, 1975 Farm and Country states “Women form militant farm
group.” However, the call for the May 1975 WSA meeting presents a
somewhat more benign picture. The goals of WSA are stated as follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
To be aware and informed of all aspects of farming so we
can effectively support our men in agriculture.
Open the lines of communication between the farmer and
the public, to seek ways and means of creating a better
understanding of farming, its work, its influence and its
problems to all people.
To take a stand on critical issues which affect us.
To defend our way of life.
To tell of the vital role women play in agriculture.
To form a network of women for agriculture across the
country so we can speak with one voice on issues that affect
us all.
(“W.S.A. Plans Meeting ...,” Winchester Press, May 1,
1975, no page number)
From the very beginning, Ms. Harris worked to keep WSA and its message in
the public eye. WSA was involved in eleven activities in 1975 including
lobbying, putting together the WSA newsletter (edited by Dotty Harris), letter
writing, grant writing, and networking with other farm groups. These projects
and activities generated over thirty-three newspaper articles in everything
from Farm and Country to the Globe and Mail.
By 1976, WSA was receiving national recognition and was featured on CBC
Television’s hour-long show Platform. However, the number of new projects
dwindled. In 1976, WSA concentrated on only four activities and generated
fewer newspaper articles (twenty-two). Only three newspaper articles were
generated in 1977 and eight in 1978. Only four newsletters exist for 1977 and
two for 1978. There are no annual reports. The May 1978 newsletter (the last
for that year) starts with Ms. Harris’ usual positive style. “The past two months
have been significant for WSA. Farm leaders and publishers have contacted us
saying `you have earned recognition in the farm community...you have a tiger
by the tail, don’t let go’” (page one). She then devotes over half of the
newsletter to encouraging members to participate. During this period of slowdown, Ms. Harris initiated many leadership workshops to encourage more
farm women to take roles of responsibility in the group. By 1979 this tactic
bore fruit.
The January 1979 newsletter, now edited by L. D., spells out five goals for
WSA, making it very clear that WSA needed more support from all members.
That year, Dede Morris also became extremely active as Education Coordinator and initiated several courses/workshops at Kemptville. Although
Ms. Harris remained as president of WSA until 1984, when Ms. Morris took
over, she now had two extremely dedicated workers who took responsibility
for two major time consumers: the newsletter and the education program. The
89
IJCS / RIÉC
addition of these two colleagues altered the direction of WSA and the “tone” of
the organization.
The years from 1979-1984 were years of steady expansion. More WSA
chapters were formed in the ten provinces. Ms. Harris continued to travel and
promote her vision while Ms. Morris worked at home on the expanding
educational program. L. D., the newsletter editor, expanded its format. The
newsletter was still primarily filled with WSA news, but now included
information from relevant articles in other publications, listings of meetings of
other groups and compilation of statistics. Most importantly, it frequently
referred to the activities of WSA chapters in other provinces. The mailing list
included members of WSA in all other chapters. Winchester’s newsletter was
the co-ordinating link among the various independent chapters.
The First National Farm Women’s Conference was planned by WSA and took
place in December 1980 in Ottawa. This conference was an invigorating
moment for farm women. For the first time, women from across Canada were
meeting and asking to be recognized as partners in the family farm. The
conference was both a celebration of the identity of these women as co-farmers
with their husbands, brothers, fathers and a sharing of common concerns. At
this point, a big part of Ms. Harris’ vision was realized; the recognition of
women as co-farmers and not as “merely” farm wives.
D. R. replaced L.D. as newsletter editor in 1982 and the newsletter became
systematically more formal, more dependent on other sources for information,
more statistics-based, and less likely to report either local or national WSA
news in depth. At times, the newsletter read (and still reads) very much like a
“reader’s digest” of agricultural news and information. While the newsletter
provided a plethora of technical information, personal WSA stories illustrating
the data were less frequent. The newsletter was no longer a primary source of
information about WSA and its members, and no longer worked to link the
chapters together.
The farm crisis hit Ontario badly in 1983-1984. This pushed Ms. Harris harder
to try to fulfill her vision of a national farm women’s organization officially
recognized and funded by the federal government. Planning began for the
Second National Farm Women’s Conference. In the midst of this planning,
Ms. Harris turned the presidency over to Dede Morris. Ms. Harris had a variety
of reasons for doing this including burn-out and a need to plan her and her
husband’s retirement, but mostly she thought it was time. She felt that WSA
had become too dependent on her leadership and she wanted to empower more
women. She had personally chosen Dede Morris as her successor due to Ms.
Morris’ competence and dedication as educational co-ordinator. Ms. Harris
had also identified another young woman as the likely person to start training
as Ms. Morris’ vice president. (Interviews, 1985)
The Second, Third and Fourth Farm Women’s conferences saw increasing
factionalization, politicalization and acrimony. The Second National
Conference in 1985, through the use of grassroots work groups, developed the
idea of creating a national farm women’s network. At the Third National
Conference in 1987, the network was established and C. Y. from
90
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
Newfoundland WSA was selected as president. At the Fourth National
Conference in 1989, a constitution was adopted for the network. However, at
each conference, the attempt to maintain an inclusive grassroots atmosphere
diminished.
At the Second National conference, work groups were facilitated by neutral
facilitators trained to illicit the opinions of all group members and develop an
inclusive, consensual statement from the conference for the federal Minister of
Agriculture. By the Fourth Conference, the groups were headed by handpicked delegates in order to control and shape debate in the direction of
acceptance of the constitution (discussed below).
Despite efforts at the Second Conference to maintain an inclusive
participatory democracy approach, political struggles emerged. The split
primarily concerned WSA, Women’s Institute, National Farmer’s Union and
the Quebec delegation, Comité des fermières de l’Union des producteurs
agricoles. A further divisive element was the regional coalitions: the prairie
provinces, the maritimes and a coalition of BC and Newfoundland formed
through Ms. Harris’ intervention (discussed below), with Ontario and Quebec
each standing alone. These groups caucused privately and worked across the
discussion groups created for the conference. Many did not want a new
organization. Ms. Harris developed the idea of a network of organizations.
This compromise was accepted.
By 1987, at the Third National Farm Women’s Conference in Saskatoon, the
political lines were fairly clearly drawn. The recommendation that the federal
government sanction and support a national farm women’s network was the
main issue of the conference. Opponents maintained that a new organization
was redundant in light of existing organizations, such as Women’s Institute
and National Farmer’s Union. WSA leadership (but not all members)
maintained that no one organization spoke for farm women across Canada.
They pointed out that although WSA existed in all provinces, it lacked a central
office and although Ms. Harris had been seen as the national leader she had in
fact only been the president of Ontario WSA. They raised the issue that until
there was one national organization, funding from the federal government
would remain problematic. This was countered with debate as to whether the
formation of the new organization was really just funding-driven. Many
delegates feared that the new network would constitute a new organization and
that the primary motivation was funding. (Interviews 1987) Although there
were several programs and speakers, everyone knew the real issue was the
vote. Ms. Harris reiterated the phrase — a network not a new organization. The
network was formed and C. Y., the WSA president from Newfoundland, was
chosen to head it.
At this conference, Ms. Harris kept a lower profile and spoke frequently of her
concern that much of the opposition to the national network came from those
who thought she was getting “too big for her britches” and that she was a “glory
grabber.” She limited her presence on the floor of the conference, using her
influence in private conversations or by working through Ontario delegates,
and spoke of becoming inactive in WSA. (Interviews,1987)
91
IJCS / RIÉC
The second and third conferences made a very clear point with regard to the
role of Dotty Harris and Dede Morris. Although both were “only” the president
of Ontario WSA, Ms. Harris was seen as the national leader while Ms. Morris
was not. At both the 1985 and 1987 conferences, Ms. Harris was more of a
political force than Ms. Morris. This changed by 1989 at the Fourth National
Conference.
Ms. Harris did not attend the 1989 conference in St. John, New Brunswick.
This conference was much more clearly a convention for the purpose of
ratifying a constitution for the newly formed network. Ontario WSA, at Ms.
Morris’ behest, had hired a lawyer to write a constitution for the group.
Although this was to be merely a “working paper” for discussion, it quickly
became an adversarial issue.
The constitution came to the floor for a vote. Several manoeuvres involving
Robert’s Rules of Order were made in an attempt to unseat some delegates and
prevent the issue from coming to a vote. This move was viewed by WSA
members as an attack on them and a misuse of the Rules of Order. A good deal
of back-room politics and strategizing occurred, but not across groups. The
tone was definitely not conciliatory. Ms. Morris promoted this adversarial
atmosphere in part by using the lawyer as the spokesperson for the constitution
rather than WSA delegates. When questions were raised, the lawyer tended to
argue against the question rather than answering, much like a courtroom scene.
In interviewing delegates from the various factions, it was clear that all felt the
atmosphere to be very acrimonious and accused other groups of engaging in
unfair tactics. The issue of the value of the constitution itself became muted
behind the issue of “the way they (the other group) did things.” The phrases
“shoving it down our throats” and “dirty politics” were used by all factions.
Although the constitution was accepted, many delegates left feeling a good
deal of ill will and vowing to never come back. Several delegates whom I knew
very well, and who had invited me in their homes while conducting my
interviews in the various provinces, now distanced themselves because I had
been seen “once too often with [Ms. Morris] and C. Y.” (Interviews, 1989)
Dotty Harris’ “style” had enormous influence on the early years of WSA. She
is the most prominent figure during the first four years of WSA in addition to
being the founder. Although innumerable factors undoubtedly influence the
evolution of an organization (and a broader more lengthy discussion of WSA
will look at these other factors), our analysis will examine how Ms. Harris’
style shaped the first nine years. We will then examine how Dede Morris’ style
shaped the years 1984-1989 and conclude with a comparison.
Dotty Harris’ Style
Dotty Harris stressed: 1) promoting other women into leadership, 2) being
assertive yet conciliatory, and 3) being inclusive. Ms. Harris admits that for the
first four years of WSA, she was the driving force. She also states that she
wanted to include as many women as possible and was disappointed when
women did not move into positions of responsibility (telephone interview,
December 1991). Evidence from the sixty-five newspaper articles from 1974-
92
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
1978 indicate that only twelve other WSA members were mentioned only
twenty-three times. The newsletters are somewhat different. Ms. Harris clearly
attempted to involve as many members as possible and delegate as much
authority as possible. While Dotty Harris was newsletter editor (1975-1979),
twenty-five other WSA women were mentioned (excluding guest speakers,
government officials, etc.) a total of fifty-three times, a rotating chair of the
monthly meetings was initiated, activities such as “idea roads” were used to
develop both community spirit and empowerment, and authority was
delegated to various committees for projects initiated by the membership.
Dotty Harris personally empowered individuals. For example, she strongly
supported a very angry farm wife who had been abused as a child as the best
candidate to run a shelter for battered women in Dundas County, a project of
WSA. E.R. was probably not the best candidate for the job based on
professional skill, as Dotty Harris knew. She also knew that E.R. had been one
of the hardest workers in getting the shelter (a bitterly-fought community
battle) and therefore in some sense “deserved” the position. She also believed
that E.R. would acquire the skills necessary to direct the shelter and that
successfully running the shelter might “turn [E.R.] around.” Ms. Harris was
willing to work with her to cultivate these skills.
Both C. Y. and W. McM., the PEI President, recounted the “very thorough”
workshops Ms. Harris created for future leaders in WSA, including analysis of
body language, dress style, general grooming, language and diction, attitude,
general knowledge of the issues, and supporting data. W. McM. said: “My
dear, they look at everything, everything including what colors you wear.”
(Interviews, 1985)
An analysis of quotes from Dotty Harris in newspaper articles and in the
newsletter clearly shows that her vision of WSA and society is inclusive not
exclusive. Although she would “speak the truth” for the farmer and farm life,
she was always conciliatory. Repeatedly, she hit hard on misinformation
perpetuated by government or consumer groups but always ended by placing
those groups on the “same side” of an issue.
Ms. Harris characterized herself (February 1, 1991 telephone conversation) as
“radical but conciliatory.” For example, although Ms. Harris had fought for
recognition of farm women as co-partners and was consequently labeled a
“women’s libber” by the Globe and Mail, in the statement of WSA’s purpose
the first item reads: “1. To be aware and informed of all aspects of farming so
we can effectively support our men in agriculture,” (emphasis added, “WSA
plans...,” Winchester Press, May 1, 1985, no page number).
In responding to criticisms by consumer groups, Ms. Harris took the same
tough yet conciliatory approach. For example, in response to a newspaper
editorial criticizing subsidies to farmers in her March 9, 1976 Globe and Mail
article, Ms. Harris calls consumers a bunch of “spoiled brats” who benefit from
a cheap food policy in Canada. However, she concluded “Those subsidies
which you identify in your editorial are established for the benefit of lowincome consumers of this country,” (no page number). In other articles, she
returns to this theme and points out that low food costs help support a higher
93
IJCS / RIÉC
standard of living for Canadians. Ms. Harris was convinced that once people
understand an issue, they rally to the same side. “There are sympathetic people
out there — they just have to be reached.” (Newsletter, May 1978, no page
number)
I repeatedly saw Dotty Harris deal with people with skill and diplomacy. One
excellent example with far-reaching implications was the way she talked with
the Newfoundland delegation to the Second National Farm Woman’s
Conference in Charlottetown, PEI. The Newfoundlanders were attending for
the first time and having a hard time getting recognition for their unique farm
problems. Many other delegates took the attitude of “typical Newfies.”
Caroline Young, the provincial co-ordinator from Newfoundland, came to me
with her concerns because I had spent several days with her in Lethbridge,
Newfoundland the summer of 1985. I suggested that we discuss this with Ms.
Harris. At a breakfast meeting, Ms. Harris listened carefully to C.Y.’s farm
issues and her feelings of hurt. She then suggested that Newfoundland might
find some common ground with British Columbia and proceeded to point out
some commonalties to her. This became the foundation of a coalition between
British Columbia and Newfoundland that helped put C. Y. at the head of the
newly-formed National Farm Women’s Network in 1987.
Ms. Harris’ style worked well in gaining WSA the support of the community,
the media, other farm organizations and funding agencies. In the 1976 October
12th Globe and Mail, Ms. Harris is summed up as follows:
When [Dotty Harris] launched her Women for Survival of
Agriculture last year, reaction generally ranged from indifference to
irritation.
To some, [Dotty] and her association conjured up an image of
militant women’s libbers, marching to a well-intentioned but foolish
drummer.
Others saw her WSA as a real nuisance. They felt her association
would further fragment the farm voice.
Well, the skeptics can relax: (a) [Dotty] is no “libber.” And (b) She’s
not out to splinter the farm cause. (no page number)
Dede Morris’ Style
Dede Morris stresses: 1) mastery of formal knowledge, especially statistics, 2)
development of formal structure, and 3) adversarial argumentation based on
reason and logic. She is very skilled at gathering together data and building a
logical, rational argument as to why her position or that of her group is the only
possible position.
In her newspaper column Farm and Country, she tackled serious social,
economic and political issues relevant to the farm family. These included such
issues as husband and wife as co-owners and its impact on capital gains, the
impact of free trade on the Canadian farmer, federal funding and day care,
parity, and the need for lobbying a new agricultural minister. Nowhere does
Ms. Morris draw on stories either about her own farm and family or her
94
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
neighbours to stir our hearts. Her tone in print tends to be adversarial. For
example with regard to farm foreclosures:
Now bankers are no fools. They know they have been handed a
lollipop, and so unload they did. While the federal government went
on vacation, farm loans were called, and farmers were faced with
foreclosure...
Canadians have traditionally been naive in believing their
government will protect them.
(Farm and Country, Oct 22,1985 FL31)
or parity
We had parity. We had prosperity. From 1942 to 1952 we felt the
ripple effect of legislated parity in the U.S. In 1953, the legislation
was scuttled and the result is a horror story of borrowing and debt:
government, business, and personal debt. All this debt occurred
because farmers were denied a fair price for their product.
(Farm and Country, March 26, 1985 FL66)
or family violence
Family violence is on the upswing...None of the horrendous facts
includes the injuries and silent screams of the women and children
who are trapped with no money, no transportation and no means of
communicating with the authorities.
(Farm and Country, February 26, 1985 FL 43)
The reader is left with the feeling that there are unseen threats lurking
everywhere and that no one, especially not the government, is sharing the load.
Although Ms. Morris usually ends her column with a call to unity, a “we can do
it if we all pull together” that call rests on an “it’s us vs. everyone else”
argument.
The most overt example of this adversarial style perceived by the author was
Dede Morris’ handling of the political divisions at the Fourth National
Conference. At this time, she was the spearhead for the acceptance of the
constitution and she had enlisted C. Y. as her ally.
Once again, work groups at the conference were formed but along highly
political lines. Group leaders were not neutral facilitators but hand-picked to
lead the groups toward supporting the constitution. Several “problematic”
delegates were put together in the same groups where the lawyer, Ms. Morris
and C. Y. could “shout down” (their words) their opposition. In the work group
I attended, the lawyer fielded most of the questions, and disagreement with
ratifying the constitution was not tolerated. Critics were silenced which led to
the “political manoeuvres” with Robert’s Rules of Order. This approach was
totally different from the consensual work groups of the Second National
Conference.
C.Y. tended to reinforce Ms. Morris’ tactics of “shouting down” the
opposition. C.Y. still stung from the lack of recognition that Newfoundland
had gotten at the Second National Conference in 1985 confided to me her
feeling that the other provincial presidents were not taking her seriously. She
made it clear that now that she “had the whip hand” she was going “get back
95
IJCS / RIÉC
some of her own.” (Interview, 1989) Other women among the pro-ratification
delegates also voiced a “we’re going to show them” attitude. When the vice
president of the Ontario Farm Women’s Network urged a more benign view of
their “opponents,” she was accused of disloyalty. Dede Morris did not work
toward reconciliation but used loyalty issues and pressure to create a voting
block.
Dede Morris modeled her style at this conference after that of a “professional,”
the lawyer, whose behaviour suited her background, namely, the legalistic
adversarial structure of the courtroom and the corporate boardroom. She relied
on the lawyer to help strategize and orchestrate the ratification and used her to
field questions. The identities of both Dede Morris and C.Y. were closely
entwined in their recognition as the official head of their organizations and
therefore deserving of political loyalty. More than the final step in establishing
the network, ratification of the constitution reaffirmed their own self images as
leaders and powerful “professional” women.
Dotty Harris’ and Dede Morris’ “Way of Knowing”
Dotty Harris is a connected knower. Her whole style revolves around
acquiring information and being a “skillful” communicator. Ms. Harris is a
great believer in workshops for acquiring skills and encourages other women
to acquire these skills. She works on the assumption that all women are capable
and that it is simply a matter of finding the right technique to help them bloom.
Ms. Harris sought the help of “professionals” from time to time but she never
believed they had “all the answers” or that a formal education was necessary in
order to accomplish her goals. Ms. Harris has no university education but she
used the research techniques common to the term paper. In all her letters, she
backed up every opinion with solid information. She also tended to include
very personal stories which brought those statistics to life.
Ms. Harris is empathetic and willing to see all view points at the same time.
Perhaps one of her great strengths as founder of WSA was to value every
woman who came to the meetings and to treat each one in such a way that they,
too, believed in their value.
Dotty Harris gave the women of WSA a sense of worth and value that their
family and community had denied them. However, her “way of knowing” was
quite different from most. She clearly felt that she had never empowered the
women as fully as she could have. She mourned the fact that some women
would take up a cause and work for it as “long as it benefited their family farm”
but could not move beyond that.
Dede Morris presents a very different way of knowing. Ms. Morris is a clear
example of a separatist knower. Under her leadership as Education Coordinator and later as President of WSA (1984-1991), WSA took a different
direction. She developed greater dependence on paid professionals such as
lawyers, researchers and educators, and on statistics generated by
professionals. This approach worked well for her as co-ordinator of education
for WSA. Her courses at Kemptville College, where every winter she
96
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
organized formal courses specific to the needs of farm women, were excellent
and highly praised.
However, it did not work so well in empowering other women. As we have
seen, her approach was adversarial. She tended to use the rules in order to win.
This was very clear in the debate at the Fourth National Conference on who
could or could not vote. In this case, Robert’s Rules of Order were used not to
facilitate but to block debate, not to enfranchise everyone but to disenfranchise
those against the constitution.
In my discussions with Dede Morris (interviews, 1989), she clearly did not see
her strategy as disempowering and in fact seemed unaware that her style
differed from that of Dotty Harris. She was fulfilling Ms. Harris vision of a
National Farm Women’s network. That was what was important. In looking at
Dede Morris’ style, she seems to fit the management style developed by Elton
Mayo and described as a “masculine ethic” in the classic Men and Women of
the Corporation. (Kanter, 1977) This masculine ethic elevates the traits of
tough- mindedness, critical and analytic ability and cognitive superiority.
(Ibid., 22) As Belenky points out, the separatist knower is elitist in thinking and
would rather exclude someone who should be included than include someone
who should not, based on this criterion of tough-mindedness. (Op cit, 104)
Conclusion
From the perspective of resource mobilization, the creation of the Canadian
National Farm Women’s Network was a wise move since it maximized access
to resources. How Dede Morris managed this accomplishment was irrelevant.
In fact, some would argue that the ensuing dissent was empowering. (Flora and
Flora, 1992) However, in the process, women who were once empowered by a
less organized, centralized and legitimized organization were silenced and
excluded unless they changed their views and agreed with Dede Morris.
According to our definition of empowerment, they were no longer being
empowered. Our case study suggests that the leadership style of separatist
procedural knowers is not transforming.
However, the separatist knower is task-oriented, can make hard decisions and
can get the job done. Weber maintained that professionalizing, routinizing and
rationalizing of a charismatic movement is inevitable and the hallmark of a
modern formal organization. As an organization grows, someone like Dede
Morris would inevitably have to “take charge.” Our case study suggests that
“professionalizing” and “routinization and rationalization” tend to block
further empowerment and partly support the criticisms raised against
professionalism in The Neighborhood Women’s Sourcebook. We must ask the
following: does empowerment have to be sacrificed in order to formalize an
organization and thereby maximize access to resources?
It is the author’s belief that Ms. Harris and Ms. Morris made a good team when
they worked together. Without Ms. Morris, the highly successful educational
program would not have been developed. This program changed the lives of
many farm women, giving them knowledge and skills that they greatly needed
and deeply wanted. Dotty Harris needed Dede Morris to accomplish that goal.
97
IJCS / RIÉC
Without Ms. Harris, empowerment disappeared from WSA’s leadership
agenda and the voicing of women’s visions fell silent. When Ms. Harris and
Ms. Morris worked together, they complemented each other.
This leads to three further questions: 1) what style of leadership is most
appropriate for grassroots development, 2) must that style change as the
organization grows or is dual leadership possible, and 3) are women leaders
more typical of the empowering style of leading or is this style problematic for
both men and women in our routinized and rationalized andrologocentric
culture? More research on the way of knowing of leaders of other groups that
have moved from grassroots to national organizations, such as the National
Congress of Neighborhood Women and the National Coalition Building
Institute, is required to develop a workable model of development which
threads its way between formalization and the lives of empowered women.
Notes
1.
2.
3.
4.
An earlier version of this paper covering only the years 1974-1979 was presented at the Third
Triennial meeting of the Nordic Association of Canadian Studies in Turku, Finland, August
1993.
Funded by a grant from the Government of Canada, 1990 and a Radford University
Foundation Grant, 1990.
Funded by grants from the Government of Canada, 1984 and 1985. All interviews were
taped with the permission and knowledge of the interviewee. Due to the author’s long
association with this group the author’s research role tended to be forgotten. At national
conferences, the author tended to be seen in the outsider role although she was a dues paying
member of WSA. This article has been read and/or discussed with leaders of WSA.
Newspaper information came from clippings in the WSA Archives and usually had no page
number.
Bibliography
(Excluding articles written by “Dotty Harris” and “Dede Morris.”)
Belenky, Mary Field, et al. 1986. Women’s Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic Books).
bell hooks and West, Cornell. 1991. Breaking Bread. South End Press.
Bernards, Reena. 1993. “Forging Across the Borders of Conflict: in Women at the Center, ed. by
Gay Young et al., Kumarian Press
Biehl, Janet. 1991. Rethinking Ecofeminism, South End Press.
Braidotti, Rosi, et al. 1994. Women, the Environment and Sustainable Development, ZED Books.
Brecher, Jeremy and Tim Costello. 1994. Global Village or Global Pillage, South End Press.
Collins, Patricia Hill. 1990. Black Feminist Thought, Routledge.
ECOFEM@csf.colorado.edu. Archives, September 1994. Gopher to csf.colorado.edu or email to
Listerv@csf.colorado.edu and send message: get ecofem sep94.
“Farm Women through the Eyes of Their City Sisters.” 1985. Manitoba Co-operator, April 11.
Ferree, Myra Marx. 1992. “The Political Context of Rationality: Rational Choice Theory and
Resource Mobilization,” in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, ed. Aldon D. Morris and
Carol McClung Mueller, Yale University Press.
Flora, Jan and Cornelia Butler Flora. 1992. “Self-development: a viable rural development
option,” Policy Studies Journal, V20, n2, Spring.
Fox-Keller, Evelyn. 1985. Reflections on Gender and Science, Yale University Press.
Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Trans. Myra Bregman Ramos, Continuum
Books.
Gatt-fly. 1983. AH-HAH! A New Approach to Popular Education, Between the Lines Publishing,
427 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Canada, 1983.
Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Gilman, Robert. 1994. “Emerging Patterns in the Workplace,” in Mindfulness and Meaningful
Work, ed. by Claude Whitmyer, Parallax Press.
98
Women’s Leadership Styles and Empowerment
Greanleaf, Robert K. 1991. The Servant Leader. Paulist Press.
Harding, Sandra. 1986. The Science Question in Feminism, Cornell University Press.
Haraway, Donna. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, Free Association Press.
Hope, Anne and Sally Timmel. 1984. Training for Transformation V.I, II, III, Mambo Press.
Kantor, Rosabeth Moos. 1977. Men and Women of the Corporation, Basic Books.
Lederach, Jean Paul. 1992. “Beyond Prescription: A New Lense for Conflict Resolution Training
Across Cultures,” Working paper: Inter-racial and Cross-cultural Conflict Resolution
Project, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ontario.
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1985. “Canada and the United States: The Cultural Dimension,” in
Canada and the United States: Enduring Friendship, Persistent Stress, ed. by Charles F.
Doran and John H. Sigler, Prentice-Hall.
Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva. 1993. Ecofeminism. Zed Books.
Morgen, Sandra and Ann Bookman. 1988. “Rethinking Women and Politics,” in Women and the
Politics of Empowerment, ed. Ann Bookman and Sandra Morgen, Temple University Press.
Moser, Caroline. 1993. Gender Planning and Development, Routledge.
Muller, Carol McClung. 1992. “Building Social Movement Theory,” in Frontiers in Social
Movement Theory, ed. by Aldon D. Morris and Carol McClung Mueller, Yale University
Press.
The Neighborhood Women’s Sourcebook. 1993. National Congress of Neighborhood Women,
249 Manhatten Avenue, Brooklyn, NY.11211 USA.
Pearson, Nelda K. 1993. “The Story of Two Self-Help Organizations: Women for the Survival of
Agriculture and Farmworker’s Self-Help, Inc.,” in Women at the Center, ed. by Gay Young,
et al., Kumarian Press.
Rosenfeld, Rachel A. 1985. Farm Women: Work, Farm, and Family in the United States.
University of North Carolina Press.
Schaef, Anne Wilson. 1985. Women’s Reality, Harper and Row.
Shiva, Vandana. 1989. Staying Alive, ZED Books.
Vella, Jane K. 1993. “Popular Education in Practice: Lessons of the 1991 AWID Conference,” in
Women at the Center, ed. by Gay Young, et al., Kumarian Press.
99
Mimi Ajzenstadt
Cycles of Control: Alcohol Regulation and
the Construction of Gender Role,
British Columbia 1870-1925
Abstract
The paper analyzes the social processes involved in the construction of gender
role. The analysis locates the transition from a familistic view, relating to
women’s role, to a state-oriented approach within wider shifts in the relations
between state and society in British Columbia during the 19th and 20th
centuries. Through an historical study examining the formulation of women’s
role in relation to alcohol consumption between 1870 and 1925, the article
examines the changing images of women and their relations with state
institutions. These changes were historically and politically constructed and
form part of the state formation process which introduced new perceptions
about the community’s moral framework. This construction was an outcome of
dynamic social processes in which moral reformers, politicians and various
groups of professionals discussed the role of the state in regulating private
behaviour. Their perceptions about statehood and womanhood reflected their
responses to economic, political, and demographic events changing the
demographic landscape of Western Canada. Alcohol-related controls should
be understood in the wider context of the historical, specific realities of racial,
class and gender differences within the various hierarchies of power in British
Columbia between 1870 and 1925.
Résumé
L’article analyse les processus sociaux qui participent à la composition des
rôles basés sur les sexes. Selon l’analyse, durant le 19e et 20e siècle, le rôle des
femmes a subi, en Colombie-Britannique, une transition, qui partait d’une
perspective familiale pour arriver à une approche axée sur l’État, dans le
cadre de l’élargissement des relations entre l’État et la société. Une étude
historique, examinant l’élaboration du rôle des femmes en ce qui a trait à la
consommation d’alcool entre 1870 et 1925, permet d’étudier la
transformation de l’image de la femme et la relation de celle-ci avec l’État.
Cette transformation, effectuée par le politique et l’historique, faisait partie
du processus de formation de l’État, introduisant ainsi de nouvelles idées sur
les composantes morales de la communauté. Cette construction résultait d’un
processus social dynamique par lequel les réformistes de la morale, les
politiciens et divers groupes professionnels discutèrent du rôle de l’État dans
la réglementation du comportement des individus. Leurs perceptions
concernant l’État et les femmes reflétaient leurs réactions aux conjonctures
économiques, politiques et démographiques qui transformaient le paysage
démographique de l’Ouest du Canada. Les contrôles sur la consommation
d’alcool doivent être vus à la lumière du contexte des réalités historiques
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
particulières, c’est-à-dire les différences de races, de classes et de genres à
l’intérieur des diverses hiérarchies au pouvoir en Colombie-Britannique entre
1870 et 1925.
Various scholars have recently attempted to draft an analytical framework for
theorizing the complex relations between gender and the state. (Barrett and
Phillips 1992, Connell 1990, Peterson 1992) Two central points of departure
for such theorization are a critical examination of the relationships of women
to the “private” and the “public” spheres, and an investigation of the
construction of such spheres. While proponents of the liberal doctrine in the
nineteenth century claimed that the private and public spheres were separate
“but equally important and valuable” (cf. Pateman 1989:120), this separation
was not universal and gender-natural; rather, it reflected and reinforced
different assumptions about the attributes and characteristics ascribed to men
and women. (Pateman 1989, and Pateman and Shanley 1991) Free and rational
men, owners of property, belonged to the public sphere where they could
exercise their rights and opportunities. Dependent women belonged to the
private sphere outside state politics and concern: “manhood and politics go
hand in hand, and everything that stands in contrast to and opposed to political
life and the political virtues has been represented by women, their capacities
and the tasks seen as natural to their sex, especially their motherhood.”
(Pateman and Shanley 1991:3)
Analyzing the political dimensions of these spheres and their impact on men
and women and their relations to the state, scholars such as Barrett and Philips
(1992), Pateman (1989) and Reverby and Helly (1992) claim that these two
domains are convolutely interrelated and cannot be regarded as totally
separate. Moreover, over the years, numerous links connected them through a
network of educational, welfare, medical and legal policies and control
mechanisms. (Donzelot 1979, Edwards 1988) The process leading to the
construction of these domains was influenced by ideas of the dominant groups
in society about citizenship, and the “appropriate” social and moral order
which they believed should prevail in their society. The establishment of both
spheres created the categories of femininity and masculinity.
Claiming that these domains were culturally and politically constructed,
Reverby and Helly (1992) state that the concepts of “public” and “private”
spheres must be tempered by an awareness of their “origins, limitations and
complications.” (p.24) To understand the process by which the domains and
the complex relations between them and the state were constructed, Reverby
and Helly (1992) and Rosaldo (1980) call for the historicization of the notions
of “public” and “private” and link them to other hierarchies of power and
social relations in various regions. In particular, such an examination should be
grounded in the “material realities of class, race, sexuality, social structure,
and politics.” (Reverby and Helly 1992:20)
This article examines the relations between women and the private and public
spheres in British Columbia during the 19th and 20th centuries. It locates the
construction of these relations within a wider context of women’s role as
agents of social control and as guardians of their families’ morality and health.
It traces the complex social processes involved in these aspects of gender
102
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
construction through an historical examination of alcohol regulations in
British Columbia between 1870 and 1925. During these years, various acts
were passed regulating the production, distribution and consumption of
alcohol in the province. These acts resulted from intense debates among
politicians, reformers and members of professional groups negotiating
alcohol-related matters and other political and social issues, including the
relations between women, families and society in the new province. An
analysis of the discussions among those active in alcohol campaigns facilitates
an historical examination of certain factors at play in the construction of
women’s role.
Locating the debates within wider developments in Canada and other
countries, the following analysis draws on the works of Garland (1985, 1990),
Gusfield (1981) and Melossi (1990) who indicate that state regulations arise
from dynamic negotiations among various social actors aiming to achieve
various political, ideological and social goals. Moreover, such struggles exist
within changing demographic and social circumstances.
After reviewing relevant events in the history of the province of British
Columbia, the paper examines three main discourses promulgated in various
periods concerning the relations between women and the state as reflected in
debates about alcohol, paying particular attention to the race, gender and class
aspects embodied in these discussions.
British Columbia — Change and Moral Reform
The Western province of British Columbia was established in 1871, when it
joined the Canadian federation. More than two-thirds (70.8%) of the young
province’s residents were Natives, 23.7% European immigrants and only
4.3% Orientals. (Barman) The province’s economy was linked to natural
resources: minerals, timber and fish. A large proportion of non-Native males
(72.9%) sought employment in these industries.
The opening of the railway connecting the province to Eastern Canada, and the
later development of port facilities to serve ships sailing to Asia at the turn of
the 19th century, led to demographic change. (McDonald 1981:372) The
province’s population almost doubled from 98,173 in 1891 to 178,657 in 1911.
(Barman 1991:363) Newcomers who were not Protestant and who came from
rural places were depicted by church representatives as immoral and thus
requiring education and control over their behaviour, including their drinking
habits. Expressing such a view, Rev. Dr. Rowe explained that the increase in
alcohol consumption resulted from the “opening up of new territory and the
influx of settlers that had not been always in temperance sentiment.” (The
Western Methodist Recorder 1902:5)
Inspired by the doctrine of the social gospel, Protestant ministers and social
reformers mainly in Eastern Canada called for the purification of society in
keeping with Christian values. (Birrell 1977, Valverde 1992) In British
Columbia, the activities of reform movements were relatively limited.
However, various groups, such as the Royal Templers of Temperance, the
Temperance and Moral Reform League of Victoria and the Women’s
103
IJCS / RIÉC
Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in 1890, initiated
campaigns demanding that the authorities enact legislation regulating the
moral behaviour of individuals. (Mosher 1974)
Up until World War I, fishing, forestry and mining flourished as a result of
foreign investment in British Columbia. (Barman 1991:182) A steady flow of
immigrants poured into the province, increasing its population from 392,480
in 1911 to 524,582 in 1921. (Barman 1991:363) Many immigrants resided in
towns which grew into commercial and industrial centres. In the second
decade of the 20th century, British Columbia had the largest urban population
in Canada. (McDonald 1981:377)
Attitudes of reformers, politicians and the business elite in British Columbia
followed perceptions of the dominant groups in Eastern Canada. For these
groups, a pervasive social disorganization and crisis was articulated in
“overlapping discourses about rampant immorality, family breakdown, and
race suicide.” (Chunn 1992:28) Such concerns focused on the marginal —
racial minorities, members of the working class and dependent poor — who
were perceived as not adhering to the Anglo-Saxon, Christian, middle-class
values and thus ran the risk of becoming deviant and/or dependent on the state
welfare and medical institutions. To overcome such dangers, a wide range of
reform movements were established influenced by a combination of reform
spirit, social gospel ideas and scientific rationale. These social movements
demanded that the government introduce medical inspections, enact
immigration laws, introduce sexual regulations and establish educational and
welfare measurements as well as alcohol regulations to educate, discipline and
regulate members of the low orders to safeguard the “proper” working of the
nation. (McLaren 1986, Valverde 1992, Chunn 1992)
In British Columbia, representatives of the WCTU and other reform
movements, such as the People’s Prohibition Association (PPA), established
in 1915, initiated campaigns demanding the introduction of various reform
programs. Their activities were influenced by reform ideas generated in the
USA and Eastern Canada. In these early years, the province’s social and
administrative framework began to evolve, alcohol regulations were enacted,
and the various discourses focusing on women and the state along the axes of
gender, class and race were promulgated.
The State and the “Drunkard’s” Wife, 1870-1890
Between 1870 and 1890, various laws were introduced in British Columbia to
establish an administrative system for collecting revenues from the liquor
trade. (S.B.C. 1872, c.35 R.S.B.C. 1877. c.106, S.B.C. 1885, c.18) The
enactment of these laws was accompanied only by limited debates among
liquor entrepreneurs and civic officials who encouraged the state to grant the
alcohol trade a respectable image. Members of the British Columbia chapter of
the WCTU resisted this demand.
Influenced by a liberal philosophy of the state, members of these groups
believed that the state was not authorized to interfere in the private behaviour
of individuals. (Ajzenstadt 1994) Politicians and church representatives who
104
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
were active in debates about alcohol during this time portrayed an image of a
male family head supporting his family. This image of a husband is evident in
an article published in a Canadian monthly which calls upon the Canadian
government to punish “drunkards,” claiming that:
a man has no right to put himself in a condition in which he is disabled
from performing his duties to society, or driven by a fury within him
flagrantly to violate them, as in the case of the drunkard who disables
himself, temporarily or permanently, from maintaining his family by
his labor, or puts himself into a condition in which he brutally
maltreats them, nor even, to bring himself to a premature grave, and
leave society to support his children. (Fidels 1877:373)
In this family structure, women were portrayed as legally, socially and
financially dependent upon their husbands. Perceptions about women and
their relations with the state reflected Canadian and American attitudes,
depicting women as part of a family framework beyond state control,
regulation and intervention. (Chunn 1992, Zaretsky 1986, Messerschmidt
1987, Pateman 1989:123) Women’s exclusion from the public domain was
expressed in the denial of their right to vote. Similar to other jurisdictions (see
Gordon’s 1988:295), this perception was not universal but race-oriented.
Natives’ lives, including family practices and women’s behaviour were not
immune to legal and social regulation. For the representatives of the white
community of the province, the life of Native peoples was not perceived as
beyond state control. Indeed, politicians and church representatives called
upon the state institutions to regulate the behaviour of all Natives whom they
regarded as primitive, barbaric and immoral. During this period, restrictive
legislation exposed the religious practices, culture, education, occupation as
well as drinking habits of Natives to state control. (See for example 37 Vic,
chap 21 s.3(4), Woodcock 1990, Ajzenstadt and Burtch 1995)
The first challenge to the perception that the white women’s position was
totally embedded within their families started with the enactment of the 1887
Habitual Drunkards Act. This act empowered the wife of a “habitual
drunkard” to identify her husband as a “drunkard” and to report his behaviour
to an officer of the peace. (1887 Habitual Drunkards Act. S.B.C., c.11, s.3) On
the basis of this “private” identification, the legal institutions were authorized
to intervene in family life and punish the “drunkard” by prohibiting him to
“manage or dispose of any real or personal estate.” (ibid.)
This early alliance between the state and wife did not, however, grant the wife
state assistance to replace the husband’s support. By prohibiting the
“drunkard” from managing his estate, the state took control of his financial
affairs but state institutions did not assume his obligation to support his wife. In
this case, state intervention into family life required the wife to support herself
or to seek assistance from relatives or charitable institutions. Analyzing cases
of family violence between 1880 and 1960 in the USA, Gordon (1988)
observed a similar pattern where formal and informal controls further harmed
the women victims by removing husbands from the home. In those cases, the
“victims often had their `rights’ defined for them in a way that they did not
always recognize, let alone want.” (294) Similarly, Dubinsky (1992) claims
105
IJCS / RIÉC
that, in Ontario, women who complained about seduction were defined as
immoral and were regulated and disciplined.
In sum, the 1887 Habitual Drunkards Act created a minor thread of connection
between women and the state, defining women as reporters of their husbands’
failure to fulfil their social role to the state. This string of connection was onesided since the state did not oblige itself to support the reporter in place of the
husband. The Act did not emphasize the rights of drunkards’ wives to receive
assistance from the state, but shifted their dependency on their husbands to a
reliance on other private social institutions, relegating white women almost
entirely to the private sphere.
Women’s Morality and State Protection, 1890-1910
Between 1890 and 1910, representatives of the WCTU and other moral
reformers, most of them middle-class Anglo-Saxon residents of the province,
initiated campaigns to have provincial authorities restrict the distribution and
consumption of alcohol. The BC branch of the WCTU was part of a wider
European, North American and Canadian movement which attempted to
convince the various governments to pass legislation regulating the morality
of the citizens. (Bacchi 1985, Gough 1988, Pauly 1990, Sheehan 1986) At the
turn of the 20th century, most of their demands vis-à-vis alcohol had not yet
translated into actual legislation in British Columbia. The claims and rhetoric
in their discussions and debates indicate a mild shift in their perceptions about
the relationships between women and the state — a shift which was infused
with class, race and gender constructs.
Social gospellers, members of the WCTU and other moral reformers
envisioned a social framework based on the principles of the Protestant
doctrine to control moral behaviour. They considered the development of an
internalized, family-centered morality based on Christian principles as a first
step toward the formulation of a moral Christian framework, followed by the
Christianization of Canada in general and British Columbia in particular.
Reformers saw the family as a central foundation in this process. Such views
regarding the centrality of families and women emerged in the campaigns of
the WCTU and other reformers regarding the distribution and consumption of
alcohol. Reformers saw saloons and other liquor outlets as polluting the moral
environment of the city, families and mothers and as hindering mothers from
fulfilling their familial moral role. Describing alcohol as the “dreaded foe of
our sacred homes and institutions” (WCTU 1883), they claimed that it was the
state’s responsibility to engineer the proper conditions enabling mothers to
fulfil their social role. The enactment of regulations monitoring alcohol
distribution and immoral behaviour of husbands in the saloons would purify
the city environment.
State protection of women’s behaviour was legitimized on the basis of
women’s place within the family institution and not on the basis of their
entitlement to rights as free citizens of a certain state. Reformers demanded
that the minor, succinct thread connecting women to the state in the earlier
period develop in two interrelated ways. First, women would be considered as
agents of control transmitting public values of Christian morality to their
106
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
family members; women, according to the Declaration of Principles prepared
in 1884 by the BC branch of the WCTU, were the “natural conservator of the
home.” (cited in Gough 1988:3) Second, the state would be obliged and
required to protect women in order to allow them to fulfil their new role as
agents of control. This protection would take place by purifying the
atmosphere of the community through the regulation of saloons and drinking
behaviours, especially by restricting the hours and the days when alcohol was
sold. (WCTU 1883)
These ideas mark the establishment of an “entitlement-oriented culture” which
translated women’s relations to their families into political language,
legitimizing calls for state protection and public support. Employing
“maternal feminism” (cf. Chunn 1988), reformers grounded their demands for
state help in a familistic view and not in a perception emphasizing women’s
rights as free citizens. The rationale using family relations to support the
demand for state assistance reinforced a “feminine” model of the social order.
Women were entitled to state assistance only on the basis of their familial
position and not on the basis of equality granting civil rights. Women’s
inclusion in the state operated very differently from the original inclusion of
men. (Pateman 1989:14) It contributed to a specific, gendered order in which
women were connected to the public domain only as fulfilling their social role
which remained firmly within the private sphere itself. This connection to the
state remained partial because women of this time lacked full political
citizenship.
The images constructing a moral wife were reinforced through a classification
process distinguishing the moral “ideal” wife from “fallen” women. The
former was seen as deserving of state protection against immoral prostitutes
viewed as powerful women threatening the existence of the moral family and
thus to be punished and controlled. The prostitute was seen, mainly by
representatives of the church, as tempting men to waste their wages in the
saloons and thus neglect their social role as bread winners. This classification
scheme created hierarchies among women by defining a dichotomy of the
“pure” and “good” women who were entitled to be assisted by the state —
assistance expressed in the creation of a pure atmosphere. In both cases,
however, women were not considered as free, autonomous agents.
Changes in perceptions about the relations between women and the state were
race- and class-oriented. Examining the WCTU’s claims, reform planes and
sexual politics in Eastern Canada, Valverde (1992) points to racist ideas and
conceptions involved in their rhetoric and concepts. Racial dimensions can be
detected in the claims of the reformers active in campaigns demanding the
regulation of moral behaviour in British Columbia. The moral discourse
promulgated by reformers focused on the immorality of newcomers to the
province. Ideas stated by the WCTU about the creation of a moral framework
guiding the community’s behaviour reflected concerns of political, economic
and religious elites troubled by the waves of immigrants to the province at the
end of the 19th century. Non-Protestant immigrants and those who came from
rural places were depicted by reformers as contributing to the moral
degeneration of the community. Responding to this change and the resultant
107
IJCS / RIÉC
volatile social situation, the reformers aimed to preserve white, Christian,
middle-class values. Regulations protecting mothers from immorality were
presented as one step to safeguard the values of the white Protestant
community against the immorality of new immigrants. Women were seen as
playing a central role in the “preservation” task. In the programs of the WCTU,
this important assignment, however, did not grant women full citizenship.
Morality and women’s roles were differentially applied to racial and class
communities with “rigid social hierarchies, and... served to reproduce those
hierarchies in new ways.” (Dubinsky 1992:34)
During the 19th century, the WCTU did not succeed in implementing its
demands to control the saloons. Its opinions depicting wives as harmed by the
saloons, however, translated into legislation which totally exclude women
from the public sphere by prohibiting them from visiting saloons or
distributing alcohol. The 1910 Liquor Act protected women from immorality
by restricting their rights to distribute and consume alcohol. (the Liquor Act,
1910, S.B.C., c.30, s.57 (3).) The Act prohibited women from holding a license
to sell liquor. It automatically transferred a female’s license to her husband
upon her marriage. If the husband was not qualified to hold such a license, the
Act empowered the Superintendent of the Provincial Police to transfer or
cancel the license. The same Act prohibited license holders from selling or
serving alcohol to women. (ibid, s.66) This Act reinforced women’s economic
marginalization and dependence on their husbands by excluding them from
the liquor trade. It left women within the private sphere and subjected them to
some state regulation.
The Moral-Scientific Regulation of Women, 1911-1925
During the second decade of the 20th century, various regulations changed the
ways in which alcohol was produced and distributed in the province.
(Campbell 1988, 1991, 1993) Several acts legislated between 1901 and 1916
restricted the hours and days during which licensed premises were permitted to
sell alcoholic beverages (S.B.C., c.20, S.B.C., c. 37) The British Columbia
Prohibition Act of 1916 outlawed the sale of alcohol (S.B.C., c.49) The Act
was in force between 1917 and 1921 when it was replaced by the Government
Liquor Act which allowed alcohol distribution only through the provincial
government. Moreover, during this period, various educational and medical
regulations and policies were established, temperance courses taught, school
children inspected for alcoholism and mothers and future mothers warned of
the physical and moral damage inherent in alcohol consumption.
The enactment of the various regulations and policies resulted from intense
campaigns by representatives of the WCTU, moral reformers and the People’s
Prohibition Association, politicians, church representatives and various
groups of professionals established in Canada and British Columbia in the
second decade of the 20th century. Members of these groups primarily
consisted of middle-class, Anglo-Saxon families of Canadian society.
(Valverde 1991) Promulgating a moral-scientific discourse, these people
demanded that the state enact regulations supervising several aspects of
individuals’ behaviours, mainly families, children and women.
108
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
The new interventionist attitude was part of a general conceptual and
pragmatic process afoot in Canada and British Columbia during the first two
decades of the 20th century. During this time, elite groups of Canadian society
supported the state’s authority to regulate the family and women’s behaviour.
The state was seen further as entitled and even required to interfere in family
matters on behalf of women, children and the elderly, whereby state
institutions became directly involved in family relations. (Ursel 1986) Parents,
for example were prohibited from neglecting or perpetuating conditions of
immorality contributing to the criminality of minors. (cf. Chunn 1992:21,
Ursel 1986) The relations between state, family and women were redefined,
and various patterns of behaviours previously considered as private and
beyond state control gradually became matters of public concern. Women’s
role was reconstructed, and women were defined by the leading groups of
Canadian society as accountable for the creation of a healthy and moral
atmosphere at home. In this way, women became agents of control responsible
for transmitting values of morality and principles of health and hygiene to their
family members. This perception of gender role connected women and the
state in two ways. On the one hand, women were held responsible for
transmitting values upheld by members of the elite groups of the state. On the
other hand, the state was depicted as obliged to supervise women in the
appropriate ways to raise their families, exposing women to growing state
control over various aspects of their health and moral behaviour. Dialectic
relations arose between women and the state because women’s connection to
the public sphere perpetuated and intensified their position within the private
domain.
The new perceptions which defined women as accountable for biological and
cultural reproduction, and which depicted women’s health and morality as
indispensable to the healthy development of modern society, were supported
by a moral-scientific discourse promulgated by reformers and professional
groups in Canada and British Columbia. Mobilizing this discourse, reformers
and professionals grounded their calls for state control over a whole range of
behaviours on the basis of scientific developments. In particular, they
supported their claims through hereditarian theories attributing physical and
mental sickness, as well as immoral behaviours, such as prostitution, gambling
and heavy drinking, to the transmission of defective genes from parents to their
children. Employing a combination of hereditarian explanations and eugenic
ideas, politicians, moral and social reformers and professionals warned that
mothers could initiate multiplying chains of immorality, vice, criminality and
insanity in individuals and families leading to the destruction of the
foundations of democratic societies. (McLaren 1990, McLaren 1986:129)
This description redefined the mother’s health, especially her reproductive
traits and her moral behaviour as matters of state concern considering that
unnoticed, defective genes could threaten the community’s existence. Legal,
educational and medical institutions were recruited to protect the future of the
community, exposing women to a network of controls supervising their
behaviours and health.
Moreover, the family was regarded as the key element of social change leading
to the creation of a moral and healthy Canadian nation. Various professional
109
IJCS / RIÉC
mechanisms were established to strengthen the nuclear family. (Strong-Boag
1982) During the second decade of the 20th century, reformers may have used
the same general conceptions about the purity of women and their relations
with the state as did reformers in the previous decades. However, the content of
the discourses changed as the attitudes to a variety of health, social, welfare
problems were rationalized and grounded in professional knowledge. (Chunn
1988:92) The definition of women as responsible for the health of their
families is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, women had been assigned the task
of providing nursing care or midwifery assistance previously. However,
during the second decade of the 20th century, the content of and the
justification for such responsibility changed. With the professionalization of
knowledge, mothers and future mothers were called upon to follow
professional advice.
Campaigns for state intervention in the family as well as campaigns about
alcohol had very specific class, gender and racial/ethnic characteristics.
According to Chunn (1992), McLaren (1990), Mclaren (1986) and Valverde
(1991), the main focus of these new initiatives and the arena for state
intervention was the moral and political regulation of the marginal — racial
minorities, working class and dependent poor who were perceived as not
adhering to the Anglo-Saxon Christian middle-class values.
Such fears reflected the concerns of Canada’s dominant groups over the
massive demographic, social and political changes taking place. Canadian
society had started to move through the processes of industrialization and
urbanization, absorbing waves of immigrants. Members of professional and
reform movements demanded that immigrants and members of the lower
orders who resided mainly in the big cities be regulated to secure the “proper”
working of the nation. Employing concepts drawn from social Darwinism,
individuals active in the reform movements considered mothers as the
“mothers of the race” (cf. Valverde 1992:4), responsible for reproducing the
supreme white race. Representatives of the WCTU as well as most members of
groups active in various campaigns adopted an Euro-American approach (Said
1978, 1993) and differentiated between mothers from the middle-classes and
mothers from inferior races.
In particular, immigrant women who came to Canada from Asia and Eastern
Europe during the first and second decades of the 20th century were
considered by elite groups in the province and in Canada in general as
immoral, sick, primitive and barbaric and thus unfit to be mothers to the
Canadian race. A representative of the BC branch of the WCTU claimed at a
reception organized in Vancouver in February 1913 by the Political Equality
League (PEL) that “thousands of foreigners would come to the province. It was
time the government strengthened the hand of the Anglo-Saxon race.” (cited in
Gough 1988:149)
Temperance leaders warned that members of these “inferior races” would not
be able to resist the temptations of alcohol, would fall prey to the saloons, and
in turn, would spread physical and mental abnormality among the citizens of
the province. (Western Women’s Weekly 1918:10) The state was depicted as
required to supervise these immigrant mothers in order to “Canadianize” (cf.
110
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
Western Woman’s Weekly 1921:2) them by instructing them to adopt such
Christian values as thrift, industry, sobriety and certain principles of hygiene.
(Sheehan 1986) Various courses aimed to teach new immigrants moral,
mainly Christian, values required for a modern society. (Mitchinson 1987)
The British Columbia WCTU, for example, encouraged its members to
put before ... [immigrant mothers] the ideal of an educated, loyal,
Canadian citizenship, and what is most important, to bring them into
vital connection with the only kingdom which is eternal, the
Kingdom of Christ. In this way, these foreign peoples may become an
asset to our country, instead of the menace they will be if left in
ignorance to become a prey to the schemes of the liquor party or
political avarice. (Western Woman’s Weekly 1921:2)
These pedagogical initiatives originated in the creation of classification
schemes distinguishing between pure and educated Canadian Christian
women and barbaric, primitive and uneducated immigrant women. The
WCTU’s Eugenic explanations were interwoven with European ideologies of
race identifying Orientals, Africans and East Europeans as members of a dark,
barbaric and immoral culture in contrast to the identification of the Christian,
white community as part of the lightened and moral world. (Anderson 1991,
McLaren 1990, Valverde 1991, 1992) Both poles of stereotyping led
reformers to initiate various programs for educating and “civilizing” new
immigrants, to turn women into good mothers for the white race.
A combination between racial approach, gender and class was manifested in
the attitudes of various reformers towards the birth rate in Canada. During the
second decade of the 20th century, the birth rate among members of racial
minorities and the working-classes boomed while that of the Anglo-Saxon
middle-class steadily declined. (McLaren & McLaren 1986) Interpreting this
phenomenon as a danger to the white race, reforms urged the state to initiate
programs encouraging middle-class women to give birth to children in order to
fulfil their role to the nation, contributing to “an increase in the numbers of
their own kind and a decrease in those of the working class.” (McLaren and
McLaren 1986:141)
Reformers and professionals attempted to educate and enlighten the lower
orders by teaching them middle-class ideology and values. (Valverde
1992:19) This period was characterized by an unprecedented degree of state
intervention in the family, mainly in the working-class family, regulating
mothers’ experiences. (Chunn 1992:193, Ursel 1986) Such instruction served
to imbue members of the marginalized groups with middle-class values and at
the same time helped to reinforce the value system for the reformers
themselves. (Valverde 1991:29)
The classification scheme was further extended to include prostitutes who
were considered carriers of venereal diseases. This classification process
differentiated between moral, healthy mothers and immoral, sick prostitutes
who mainly came from the lower classes. (Boritch 1992, McLaren and
Lowman 1990) This classification extended the stigmatization of certain
women as immoral prostitutes threatening the morality of the community
during the 19th century. Now, prostitutes were represented to endanger the
111
IJCS / RIÉC
physical well-being of the modern state. (Cassel 1987) Promulgating a
scientific discourse, physicians and moral reformers announced that venereal
disease, which was transmitted by sick prostitutes to the entire community, had
reached epidemic proportions in Canada. Wives were depicted as victims of
the sickness which infected their husbands who had been tempted by sick
prostitutes. Moral reformers and physicians identified venereal disease as a
source of feeblemindedness, immorality and “lack of self criticism and of
sound judgement.” (The Public Health Journal 1919:335) They used
hereditarian notions to explain that venereal disease was transmitted in
families from one generation to another. (Yarros 1920:607)
Alcoholism was described by social reformers, doctors and police officers as
the consequence of venereal disease as well as one source of its infection. In
particular, they claimed that innocent, respected people fell prey to the disease.
Since it was believed that drinkers could not be held responsible for their
behaviour, temperance advocates argued that, under the influence of alcohol,
men were tempted by prostitutes suffering from venereal disease to engage in
sexual relations. The attribution of responsibility for infection with venereal
disease was gender specific. Males visiting saloons were described as innocent
victims of alcohol and licentious prostitutes. Prostitutes were portrayed as
responsible for their own pathology as well as for the male’s infection.
The notion that alcohol use can lead innocent people to become infected with
venereal disease was widely publicized by moral reformers and physicians
during World War I. (Buckley and McGinnis 1982:338) Claiming that
venereal disease was a threat and an obstacle to the “progress of the race”
(Cavers 1918:532), social and moral reformers motivated the state to control
its spread. Strategies to achieve this aim once again varied according to the
gender they targeted. Males, especially soldiers, were exposed to educational
programs instructing them that the best preventive method was “sexual
continence.” (Yarros 1920:608) The WCTU claimed that in order to protect
soldiers from the immoral behaviour of prostitutes, the men should not be
allowed to consume alcohol.
Prostitutes were exposed to a strict regime of legal and medical control which
forced them to undergo examination and treatment when found suffering from
the disease. These demands translated into legislation during World War I
under the Venereal Disease Suppression Act. (S.B.C., c.88) This Act
introduced compulsory examination and treatment of people suspected of
having the disease. Moral reformers demanded that prostitutes infected with
venereal disease be “segregated during the child-bearing period.” (Murphy
1920:1) These new classifications and their actual implementation constructed
a model of an “ideal” mother following certain principles of hygiene and
morality upheld by elite groups in the province. This construction confirmed
and elaborated the state’s role in the lives of women by exposing their
reproduction practices to the intervention of legal and medical state
institutions.
While the new programs focused on immigrants and segments of the working
classes, perceptions about the relations between mothers and the state
gradually expanded and depicted the state as an agency required to monitor the
112
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
behaviours of all members of the community. This interventionist position visà-vis women and family life was expressed in various ways by different social
groups. Members of the WCTU, for example, instructed women to be selective
when choosing their husbands and to avoid marrying a male who drank
alcoholic beverages: “never marry a man whose life has not always been as
pure as your own ... Many lives have been disrupted by suffering and sorrow
because of the early life of the father.” (Barber 1922:7) Health officers called
upon the state to prohibit a “drunkard or a drug-fiend, or an idiot or a
degenerate of any kind” from marrying. (Arthur 1917:G140)
During the second decade of the 20th century, educators, psychiatrists, public
health officers and medical practitioners considered the state responsible for
supervising mothers in order to teach them child rearing practices and other
techniques for raising healthy families which would be the cornerstone of
modern society. A health officer, for example, demanded that “the average
mother should have a certificate that she has the education to fit her for her
position.” (B.C. Sessional Papers 1918:G145) Emphasizing experts’ ability to
teach mothers how to raise their families, members of professional groups and
moral reform movements claimed that the state had a “parental authority.”
(Ernest, circa 1919) They mobilized the government to organize various
educational programs, teaching mothers techniques required for raising a
family. Medical health workers devised educational pamphlets which
supplied parents with details regarding daily child-rearing practices and
distributed them to mothers in Canada. (B.C. Sessional Papers 1918:G145)
Not only mothers were instructed in principles of “motherhood”; young girls
were exposed to scientific domestic classes teaching future mothers how to
build moral homes. At the same time, a compulsory system of physical and
mental examinations was established in the province to detect early signs of
sickness, such as feeblemindedness and alcoholism. While mothers and wives
in the 1870s were able to identify “drunkenness” among their family members,
in the second decade of the 20th century, this task was the exclusive domain of
experts.
Members of the WCTU combined medical/biological instruction regarding
the healthy family with moral supervision of mothers and future mothers. They
claimed that mothers should adopt Christian values in order to safeguard the
moral stability of the family and the nation. Expressing this idea, a
representative of the British Columbia WCTU said, for example: “If God is
exalted, if we teach and live high ideals of purity, temperance, patriotism and
brotherhood, tomorrow will be a brighter day than today.” (Armstrong 1921:3)
In order to achieve this goal, the WCTU called for mandatory temperance
teaching and other educational settings, instructing family members in
strategies of self-control over appetite for alcohol. Moral reformers designed
temperance courses emphasizing temperance principles and “principles of
Christianity as related to the human body and morality.” (Barnes 1968:18)
These courses mainly targeted school children to guide their moral
development and prepare them to resist the temptations awaiting them in
saloons, clubs or any other alcohol outlets.
113
IJCS / RIÉC
The various programs, initiatives and ideas concerning relations between
women and society fit within a totalizing tendency wherein the state was seen
as promoting the health and morality of its citizens. This new approach
depicted the state as playing an active and positive role in supporting the
morality, health and well-being of individuals, connecting women to various
control mechanisms. These controls transformed the family unit as a social
institution. They weaken the family’s structure by exposing it to a set of
mediatory agencies and state regulation. Furthermore, public health
regulations, domestic- science programs in the schools, and various advice
literature circulating “scientific” child-rearing techniques aimed to reproduce
the Anglo-Saxon, middle-class family model across social classes. (McLaren
1990, Chunn 1992, McLaren and McLaren 1986, Stong-Boag 1982)
In this disciplining and “normalization” process, mothers were defined as both
agents of change and as the main subject for change according to the specific
vision of society. The moral-scientific discourse and the welfare, educational
and medical programs reproduced the purity and health model of women,
granting them a central role in creating the social order bases on their
reproductive characteristics. This emphasis reinforced the gendered
categories of femininity in the gendered social order of this time.
Conclusion
This article has analyzed changes in the relations between women and the
private and public spheres between 1870 and 1925 in British Columbia. It
demonstrates that these transitions were closely related to changes in
perceptions about womanhood, statehood and the relations between state and
society. The relations between family and the state changed over the years. In
the 19th century, the behaviour of women members of the dominant groups
was considered to belong within the private sphere, beyond state control and
regulation. Toward the end of the 19th century, these perceptions were
challenged, among other things, by the enactment of a law empowering
women to report to the authorities their husbands’ failure to fulfil their social
duties. While granting a limited power to wives, this alliance between the state
and women did not empower women because the state did not assume the
husbands’ responsibilities for their families.
The perception of separate spheres was further challenged by the activities and
campaigns of social groups such as the WCTU which attempted to expand the
thin thread woven by the enactment of the 1887 Habitual Drunkards Act
linking women to the state. These groups called upon the state to assume some
of the husbands’ responsibilities by engineering the conditions which would
enable women to fulfil their familial role as the guardians of their family
morality. This new perception was transferred into regulation only twenty
years later, during the second decade of the 20th century, when the health and
moral behaviour of women were redefined as matters of public concern. This
definition led to the enactment of a range of regulations and policies exposing
women to ever-growing state controls.
In this way, women became connected to various state institutions and
exposed to diverse control mechanisms. Because these policies and their
114
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
justification were grounded within the family, these initiatives reinforced
women’s role within the private sphere leading to the institutionalization of
this marginalized arena — an arena which was now exposed to new
regulations and control over women’s behaviour and their biological
reproduction traits. While this period witnessed a transformation in relations
between the private and the public spheres, women remained tied to their
children and husbands, but in a new way which resulted in new constraints.
Females were separated in some ways from their husbands and gained more
autonomy but less in terms of their “rights” than their obligations.
The study demonstrates that the formulation of gender role and the complex
relations between the public and private domains and the state were
historically and politically constructed. They were part of the process of state
formation which generated new perceptions about the community’s moral
framework. This construction was an outcome of dynamic social processes in
which moral reformers, politicians and various groups of professionals
discussed the role of the state in the regulation of private behaviour. Their
attitudes were grounded in their wider world views about the “appropriate”
social and moral order which should prevail in Canada and British Columbia.
Their perceptions about morality as well as the relations between women,
families and the state reflected their responses to economic, political and
demographic events changing the demographic landscape of Canada and the
province of British Columbia.
The construction of women’s role was inextricably linked to the establishment
of the Canada’s industrialized, urban society, its structure, tactics and
procedures. In particular, this process was key to the creation of a gendered
social order embodied within the dynamic that created modern industrial
capitalism. Alcohol regulations and the discourses promulgated around them
constituted an arena for discussing and establishing various controls over
women’s behaviour. Alcohol-related controls should be understood within the
wider context of the historical, specific realities of racial, class, and gender
differences within the various hierarchies of power in Canada and British
Columbia between 1870 and 1925.
The impact of these regulations differed according to the population targeted
along social, gender and class lines. They reproduced a specific moral and
social order and defined the multiple links connecting state and society along
these lines of race, gender and class. While the new controls reinforced
women’s marginalized social and political position, they nevertheless
differentiated among women, creating systems of classifications between race
and gender associations.
The establishment of legal, educational and welfare controls regulating the use
of alcohol was part of a wider, totalizing process to regulate the lives of women
and other marginalized groups in the province of British Columbia in
particular and in Canada in general. These regulations however, did not
originate in a monolithic, “omnipresent, omniscient `total’ state that has no
limits and no vulnerability to reform or change” (Lowman, Menzies, and Palys
1987:6), but were triggered by a complex process and negotiations between
115
IJCS / RIÉC
various groups debating the state, its framework and its legitimation to
interfere.
While the state is the “central institutionalization of power [and] ... has a
considerable capacity to regulate gender relations in the society as a whole”
(Connell 1990:527), this power extends to other state-related social
institutions. The establishment of controls was an outcome of struggles by
various groups to discipline the population according to white, Christian,
middle-class values. Moreover, while the main focus of the various programs
and regulations subjected women, mainly from working-classes and racial
minorities, to an ever-increasing set of controls designed to enforce middleclass standards of femininity, these programs gradually expanded to bring the
entire female population within the scope of control.
The construction of gender and the establishment of social controls over
women cannot be explained as solely or even partly an effort to preserve male
supremacy by reinforcing the males’ powerful social position. As
demonstrated in this article, women themselves played an active role in
campaigns and public initiatives which reinforced their economic and social
marginality and confined them to the domestic sphere.
Gender construction was historically and politically grounded in a complex
process combining race, class and gender dimensions and conditioned by the
interplay of structure and human agency.
Note
I would like to thank the Editorial Board of the IJCS/RIEC, two anonymous reviewers, and
Shlomo Ketko for their suggestions and comments.
Bibliography
Ajzenstadt, M. (1994) “State Formation and Modes of Classification: Alcohol Regulations in
British Columbia, 1871-1925.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology. Vol. 19. No. 3:441-460.
Ajzenstadt M. and B. Burtch (1995) “The Idea of Alcoholism: Changing Perceptions of
Alcoholism and Treatment in British Columbia, 1870-1988.” Health and Canadian Society
Journal. (in press)
Anderson, K.J. (1991) “Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial Discourse” in Canada, 1875-1980.
Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Armstrong, B. (1921) “Scientific Temperance” Western Woman’s Weekly. September, 3:3.
Arthur, I. (1917) “Child Welfare” in The Reports of the Provincial Board of Health, B.C. Sessional
Papers. Victoria, British Columbia. Bacchi, C.L. (1985) Liberation Deferred?: The Ideas of
the English-Canadian Suffragists, 1877-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Barber, H.G. (1922) “Provincial WCTU News” in Western Woman’s Weekly. January, 21:7.
Barman, J. (1991) The West beyond the West: A History of British Columbia. Toronto: University
of Toronto Press.
Barnes, F.L. (1968) Beams from a Lighthouse: Women’s Christian Temperance Union of B.C.
British Columbia: Barnes.
Barrett, M. and A. Phillips (1992) “Introduction” in M. Barrett and A. Phillips (eds.) Destabilizing
Theory: Contemporary Feminist Debates. Oxford: Polity Press. Pp. 1-9.
Birrell, A.J. (1977) “D.I.K. Rine and the Gospel Temperance Movement in Canada” in Canadian
Historical Review. Vol. LVII. No. 1: 23-42.
Boritch, H. (1992) “Gender and Criminal Court Outcomes: An Historical Analysis” in
Criminology. Vol. 30. No. 3: 293-327.
British Columbia (1918) “The Report of the Provincial Board of Health” in British Columbia,
Sessional Papers. Victoria: British Columbia.
116
Alcohol Regulation and the Construction of Gender Role
Buckley, S. and J.D. McGinnis (1982) “Venereal Disease and Public Health Reform in Canada” in
The Canadian Historical Review. Vol. LXII. No. 3:337-354.
Campbell, R.A. (1991) Demon Rum or Easy Money: Government Control of Liquor in British
Columbia from Prohibition to Privatization. Ottawa, Carleton University Press, 1991.
Campbell, R.A. (1988) “Liquor and Liberals: Patronage and Government Control in British
Columbia, 1920-1928” in B.C. Studies. Spring, 77, 30-53.
Campbell, R.A. (1993) “`Profit was just a circumstance’: The Evolution of Government Liquor
Control in British Columbia, 1920-1988” in C.K. Warsh (ed.), Drink in Canada: Historical
Essays. Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Cassel, J. (1987) The Secret Plague: Venereal Disease in Canada 1838-1939. Toronto: University
of Toronto Press.
Cavers, C.W. (1918) “Vice and Venereal Disease in Montreal” in The Public Health Journal.
November. Vol. IX. No. II:530-532.
Chunn, D. (1992) From Punishment to Doing Good: Family Courts and Socialized Justice in
Ontario 1880-1940. Toronto: Toronto University Press.
Chunn, D. (1988) “Maternal Feminism, Legal Professionalism and Political Pragmatism: The
Rise and Fall of Magistrate Margaret Patterson” in W. Wesley Pue and Barry Wright (eds.)
Canadian Perspectives on Law & Society. Ottawa: Carleton University Press. Pp. 91-117.
Connell, R.W. (1990) “The State, Gender, and Sexual Politics: Theory and Appraisal” in Theory
and Society. Vol. 19: 507-544.
Donzelot, J. (1979) The Policing of Families. New York: Pantheon Books.
Dubinsky, K. (1992) “`Maidenly Girls’ or `Designing Women’: The Crime of Seduction in Turnof-the-Century Ontario” in Franca Iacovetta and Mariana Valverde (eds.) Gender Conflicts:
New Essays in Women’s History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 27-66.
Edwards, A. (1988) Regulation and Repression: The Study of Social Control. London: Allen &
Unwin.
Ernest, T. (circa 1919) Women of Canada: Defend your Homes. Toronto: The Department of
Evangelism and Social Service of the Methodist Church (No. 63).
Fidels (1877) “The Temperance Problem” in The Canadian Monthly. April:373.
Garland, D. (1990) Punishment and Modern Society: A Study in Social Theory. Chicago, the
University of Chicago Press.
Garland, D. (1985) Punishment and Welfare: A History of Penal Strategies. Gower, Vermont.
Gordon, L. (1988) Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence,
Boston 1880-1960. New York: Penguin Books.
Gough, L. (1988) As Wise as Serpents: Five Women and an Organization that Changed British
Columbia. Victoria: Swan Lake Publishing.
Gusfield, J.R. (1981) The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order.
Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.
Lowman, J., R. Menzies, and T. Palys (1987) Transcarceration: Essays in the Sociology of Social
Control. Aldershot: Gower.
McDonald, R. A.J. (1981) “Vancouver, and the Economic Development of British Columbia,
1886-1914” in W. Peter Ward and Robert A.J. McDonald (eds.) British Columbia:
Historical Readings. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.
McLaren, A. (1990) Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada. 1885-1945. Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart.
McLaren, A. and A.T. McLaren (1986) The Bedroom and the State: The Changing Practices and
Politics of Contraception and Abortion in Canada, 1880-1980. McClelland and Stewart
1986.
McLaren, J.P.S. (1986) “Chasing the Social Evil: Moral Fervour and the Evolution of Canada’s
Prostitution Laws” in Canadian Journal of Law and Society. Vol. 1:125-165.
McLaren, J. and J. Lowman (1990) “Enforcing Canada’s Prostitution Laws, 1892-1920” in M.L.
Friedland (ed.) Securing Compliance: Seven Case Studies. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press.
Melossi, D. The State of Social Control: A Sociological Study of Concepts of State and Social
Control in the Making of Democracy. New York, St. Martin’s Press.
Messerschmidt, J. (1987) “Feminism, Criminology and the Rise of the Female Sex `Delinquent’,
1880-1930” in Contemporary Crises. Vol. 11:243-263.
Mitchinson, W. (1987) “Early Women’s Organizations and Social Reform: Prelude to the Welfare
State” in Allan Moscovitch and Jim Albert (eds.) The Benevolent State: The Growth of
Welfare in Canada. Toronto: Garamond Press. Pp. 77-92.
Mosher, S.P. (1974) The Social Gospel in British Columbia: Social Reform as a Dimension of
Religion 1900-1920. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Victoria: University of Victoria.
Murphy, A. (1920) “What Knowledge Will Do Towards the Betterment of Social Conditions” in
Western Woman’s Weekly. July 10. Vol. 3. No. 31:1.
Pateman, C. (1989) The Disorder of Women: Democracy, Feminism and Political Theory.
California: Stanford University Press.
117
IJCS / RIÉC
Pateman, C. and M.L. Shanley (1991) “Introduction” in M.L. Shanley and C. Pateman (eds.)
Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory. Oxford: Polity Press. Pp. 1-10
Pauly, P.J. (1990) “The Struggle for Ignorance about Alcohol: American Physiologists, Wilbur
Olin Atwater and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union” in Bulletin of the History of
Medicine. Fall, Vol. 64(3):366-392.
Peterson, S.V. (1992) “Introduction” in V.S. Peterson (eds.) Gendered States: Feminist
(Re)Visions of International Relations Theory. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.
Phillips, A. (1992) “Universal Pretensions in Political Thought” in M. Barrett and A. Phillips
(eds.) Destabilizing Theory: Contemporary Feminist Debates. Oxford: Polity Press. Pp. 1030.
The Public Health Journal (1919) “Prohibition in Relation to Social Problem” in The Public
Health Journal. July. Vol. X. No.7:333-335.
Reverby, S.M. and D.O. Helly (1992) “Converging on History” in D.O. Helly and S.M. Reverby
(eds.) Gendered Domains: Rethinking Public and Private in Women’s History. Ithaca and
London: Cornell University Press. pp. 1-24.
Rosaldo, M.Z. (1980) “The Use and Abuse of Anthropology: Reflections on Feminism and CrossCultural Understanding” in Signs. Vol. 5. No. 3:389-417.
Said, E. (1993) Culture and Imperialism. London, Vintage.
Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. New York, Random House.
Sheehan, M. N. (1986) “The WCTU and Educational Strategies on the Canadian Prairie” in N.M.
Sheehan, J. D. Wilson and D.C. Jones. (eds.) Schools in the West: Essays in Canadian
Educational History. Calgary, Alberta: Detselig Enterprises.
Strong-Boag, V. (1982) “Intruders in the Nursery: Childcare Professionals Reshape the Years One
to Five, 1920-1940” in J. Parr (ed.) Childhood and Family in Canadian History. Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart. Pp. 160-178.
Ursel, J. (1986) “The State and the Maintenance of Patriarchy: A Case Study of Family, Labor and
Welfare Legislation in Canada” in J. Dickinson and B. Rusell (eds.) Family, Economy, and
State. Toronto: Garamond Press. Pp. 150-191.
Valverde, M. (1991) The Age of Light, Soap, and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada, 18851925. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Valverde, M. (1992) “`When the Mother of the Race is Free’: Race, Reproduction, and Sexuality
in First-Wave Feminism” in Franca Iacovetta and Mariana Valverde (eds.) Gender
Conflicts: New Essays in Women’s History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Pp. 3-26.
The Vancouver Daily World (1890) “The Social Evil” in The Vancouver Daily World. January
3:1.
WCTU (1883) “Petition of Women’s Temperance Union” in British Columbia Sessional Papers,
1883-1884: 387.
The Western Methodist Recorder (1902) “Temperance Secretary appointed” in The Western
Methodist Recorder. Vol. 4: No 4:5.
Western Women’s Weekly (1918) “Immigration and Assimilation After the War” in Western
Women’s Weekly. March 14, Vol. 1. no. 14:10.
Western Women’s Weekly (1921) “Provincial W.C.T.U. Urges High Ideals of Citizenship” in
Western Woman’s Weekly. July, 9:2.
Woodcock, G. (1990) British Columbia: A History of the Province. Vancouver: Douglas &
McIntyre.
Yarros, R.S. (1920) “The Prostitute as a Health and Social Problem” in The Public Health Journal.
January. Vol.X. No. 31:605-608.
Zaretsky, E. (1986) “Rethinking the Welfare State: Dependence, Economic Individualism and the
Family” in J. Dickinson and B. Russell (ed.) Family, Economy and State: The Social
Reproduction Process under Capitalism. Toronto: Garamond Press.
118
Helen Ralston
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women in Canada*
Abstract
Women’s empowerment implies a change from a state of powerlessness to one
in which women are self-consciously aware of their identity, have control over
their lives and resources and are self-reliant participants in processes of
development and change. It involves changes not only in individuals, but also
in institutions, structures and relations that perpetuate patriarchal relations
and oppression at all levels, from the family to religion and other institutions,
to the community and the larger society. The paper explores from a feminist
theoretical perspective the lived experience of South Asian immigrant women.
It operationalizes empowerment in terms of community organization. It
examines the various organizational activities which unite and empower
women. The data are drawn from original research among women of diverse
South Asian ethnoreligious and ethnocultural affiliations in specific regions of
Canada: Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and Alberta. The paper therefore
has a comparative component. The methodology used in all projects consists
of interviews and participant observation in organizational activities.The
research has suggested that South Asian immigrant women’s powerlessness is
experienced in family, community and society, where race, class and gender
intertwine to construct experiential differences which are not only “sites of
difference” but also “sites of the operations of power.” Women’s interests and
goals are different from those of men. Patriarchal relations of ruling in family
and other institutions and structures of society are a major factor in South
Asian women’s lived experience of subordination, powerlessness, violence
and other forms of oppression. Familial and religious values, practices and
racist ideologies serve to maintain, reproduce and reinforce their
powerlessness. Insofar as women recognize shared experiences of
powerlessness, exploitation and oppression, mobilize and organize
collectively to speak, act and advocate for change in their status and
experience, then they are moving towards empowerment, equity and justice.
Résumé
L’habilitation des femmes requiert que l’on passe d’un état d’impuissance à
un autre état où les femmes ont accédé à une pleine conscience de leur identité,
où elles ont assumé le contrôle de leurs vies et de leurs ressources et sont
devenues des participantes indépendantes à des processus d’évolution et de
changement. Ce passage exige que l’on procède à des changements non
seulement sur le plan individuel, mais aussi sur le plan des institutions et des
structures qui perpétuent les relations patriarcales et l’oppression à tous les
niveaux, de celui de la famille à celui de la religion et des autres institutions, la
communauté et la collectivité dans son ensemble. L’article étudie le vécu
d’immigrantes originaires du sud de l’Asie dans une perspective théorique
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
féministe. Il « opérationnalise » l’habilitation au plan de l’organisation
communautaire. Il se penche sur les diverses activités organisationnelles qui
unissent et habilitent les femmes. Les données ont été recueillies dans le cadre
d’une recherche originale menée auprès de Sud-Asiatiques dont les
affiliations ethnoreligieuses et ethnoculturelles sont très diverses et qui vivent
dans des régions spécifiques du pays : les provinces de l’Atlantique, la
Colombie-Britannique et l’Alberta. L’article a donc une composante
comparative. Tous les projets utilisent la même méthodologie : entrevues et
observations menées auprès des participantes dans le cadre de leurs activités
organisationnelles. Les résultats de la recherche suggèrent que les
immigrantes sud-asiatiques font l’expérience de leur impuissance dans leurs
familles, leur communauté et la société, partout où la race, la classe et le sexe
conspirent pour construire des différences expérientielles qui ne sont pas
seulement des « lieux de différence », mais aussi des « lieux du fonctionnement
du pouvoir. » Les intérêts et les objectifs des femmes sont différents de ceux des
hommes. Les relations patriarcales de pouvoir que l’on retrouve au sein de la
famille et dans les autres structures et institutions de la société constituent un
facteur important dans l’expérience de subordination, d’impuissance, de
violence et d’autres formes d’oppressions vécues par ces Sud-Asiatiques. Les
valeurs religieuses et familiales, les pratiques et les idéologies racistes servent
à maintenir, reproduire et renforcer leur impuissance. Dans la mesure où les
femmes reconnaissent les expériences d’impuissance, d’exploitation et
d’oppression qu’elles ont en commun, qu’elles se mobilisent et s’organisent
collectivement pour prendre la parole, agir et lutter pour changer leur statut et
leurs expériences, alors elles font un pas en avant dans la direction de
l’habilitation, de l’équité et de la justice.
Introduction
Women’s empowerment implies a change from a state of relative
powerlessness to one in which women are self-consciously aware of their
identity, have control over their lives and resources and are self-reliant
participants in processes of development, decision-making and change. It
involves changes not only in individuals, but also in family, religion and other
institutions as well as community, societal, economic and political structures
and practices that produce and perpetuate patriarchal relations of ruling.
The paper explores from a feminist theoretical perspective the lived
experience of South Asian immigrant women. It operationalizes
empowerment in terms of raised gender and race consciousness and
community organization. It argues that through the experience of
organizational activities women can become empowered personally,
familially and socially. They can speak on their own behalf, increase their selfesteem and self-confidence and learn skills which give them greater social,
economic and political power. The paper examines the various organizational
activities which unite and empower women. The data are drawn from original
research among immigrant women of diverse South Asian ethnoreligious and
ethnocultural affiliations in specific regions of Canada: Atlantic Canada,
British Columbia and Alberta.
122
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
Socio-demographic context
According to the 1991 census data,1 there were 420,295 self-identified people
of South Asian origin in Canada, representing 1.6% of a total Canadian
population of 26,994,045. They were unevenly distributed throughout
Canada: Ontario, 55%; British Columbia, 25%; Alberta, 10%; Quebec, 7%;
Manitoba, 2%; Atlantic provinces, 1%; with minuscule numbers in
Saskatchewan and the Yukon and North West territories. Although,
numerically, South Asians were settled predominantly in Ontario, they
represented only 1.6% of the Ontario population (the national average) as
compared to 3.2% of the British Columbia population.
For the purposes of this study, it is important to note that the Western provinces
of British Columbia and Alberta are very different from Atlantic Canada and
that the metropolitan centres of Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary are very
different from metropolitan Halifax — demographically, historically and
socially. In the 1991 census of Canada, the total population of the four Atlantic
provinces was just over two and a quarter million, with 4,175 of South Asian
origin; the province of Alberta had a total population of approximately two and
a half million, with 40,030 of South Asian origin; British Columbia, on the
other hand, has a rapidly growing population of over 3 million, with 103,545 of
South Asian origin.2 The census metropolitan area (CMA)3 Vancouver had a
population of almost one and a half million with approximately 80,000 of
South Asian ethnic origin (including Indo-Fijians); CMA Halifax had a
population of 317,630, with 1,825 of South Asian origin. Whereas 74 % of the
South Asians of British Columbia were concentrated in the large metropolitan
centre of Vancouver, and 93 % of the South Asians in Alberta were in the
CMAs Calgary and Edmonton, only 44 % of the South Asians in the Atlantic
region resided in the major metropolitan centre of Halifax. In other words, not
only was the total South Asian population twenty times greater in British
Columbia and ten times greater in Alberta than in the whole Atlantic region,
but South Asians were more scattered in the Atlantic region than in British
Columbia or Alberta. Furthermore, in the past decade, Halifax has received
relatively few internal or international migrants. Vancouver, on the other hand,
has become a principal city of destination for internal and international
migrants. Moreover, Vancouver was the port of entry for the initial South
Asian immigrants at the turn of this century. South Asians migrated to Atlantic
Canada only after World War II. Today, British Columbia has a large
population of diverse Asian ethnic origin; Atlantic Canada has relatively few
people of Asian origin.
From the demographic data, it is evident that women of South Asian origin in
Western Canada are not only much more concentrated in actual numbers than
they are in Atlantic Canada, but they are also largely settled in densely
populated highly industrialized metropolitan centres. South Asian immigrant
women in Atlantic Canada tend to be scattered geographically, residentially
and socially. In consequence, they have a different experience from women in
western Canada.
123
IJCS / RIÉC
Conceptual considerations
The term “South Asian” is sociologically problematic. It encompasses
distinctly different ethnocultural groups. Being South Asian refers not so
much to the personal qualities of individuals who come directly to Canada
from the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), or else
indirectly from East Africa, the Caribbean or Fiji through their ancestors, but
rather to social characteristics which have been constructed and reconstructed
in historical and ongoing social relations in specific social, economic and
political contexts. In the Census of Canada, “ethnic origin” is self-identified
and refers to the cultural origin of oneself or one’s ancestors in matrilineal and
patrilineal lineage (Statistics Canada 1993).4 South Asian is a relatively new
social construct in Canadian society,5 which has been shaped and reshaped by
the immigrants themselves and by other Canadians in their day-to-day
activities.6 Moreover, how women construct their identity and represent
themselves tends to vary in terms of whom they are addressing. In
conversations, few “South Asians” identify themselves as such. Some women,
particularly older women, have adopted the European designation of “East
Indian.” More commonly, particularly in British Columbia where there are
large concentrations of regional cultural groups, women will identify
themselves as Pakistani, Punjabi, Bengali, Indo-Canadian, and so on. IndoFijians call themselves “Fijian.” When an interviewer such as myself is
cognizant of regional and linguistic distinctions among people of the Indian
sub-continent and the diaspora, then South Asian women will be extremely
specific about representing their identity.
Similarly, the term “immigrant woman” refers not so much to legal status as to
processes of social construction in everyday life which describe some women,
who are visibly and audibly different in characteristics such as skin colour,
language or accent, religion, dress, food customs and so on, as immigrants. As
Pettman (1992:43) has observed “some overseas-born groups are presumed to
be more migrant than others.” In legal terms, the women may be Canadian
citizens who have been permanent Canadian residents for many years.
Community agencies often acknowledge distinctions between long-term
residents and recent immigrants by socially designating the latter as
“newcomers to Canada.”
I have drawn on Dorothy Smith’s (1987) insights for my conceptual
framework, methodology and analysis. She has pointed out (p. 2-4) that
“(e)stablished sociology has objectified a consciousness of society and social
relations that ‘knows’ them from the standpoint of their ruling and from the
standpoint of men who do that ruling.” When society and social relations were
known and understood solely from the perspective of men, then the “gender
subtext” of relations of ruling was largely invisible. For example, for a very
long time, “domestic violence” was known, understood and socially
constructed from the standpoint of men. It was indeed largely invisible and
inaudible. Wife abuse was not a socially acceptable part of feminine discourse
either in public or within the family.
The social construction of “difference” is crucial to understanding how
continent or country of origin represents and places immigrants in general, and
124
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
immigrant women, in particular, in Canadian society. Visible differences, like
skin colour, head dress and clothing, style of eating and food preferences, have
led to the social constitution of “visible minorities” by the dominant groups to
describe Aboriginal people and some immigrants. Belonging to an ethnic
category with specific “differences” implies being a certain kind of person.
Furthermore, “difference” in gender relations is significant within and among
ethnic categories. The meaning of “difference” has been much discussed in
feminist debates.7 In my study, the notion of “difference” emphasizes
experiential diversity in terms of the intersections of ethnicity, race, gender
and class, national and regional origin, region of settlement, religion, and so
on. It explores these experiential diversities not only as “sites of difference”
but also as “sites of the operation of power.” (Barrett 1989:42) Ethnic, gender
and class relations canalize social life and imply, on the one hand, a complexity
of shared understandings of social relations in various domains of a group’s
activities; and, on the other hand, a recognition of boundaries, of limitations in
shared understandings and of “differences” in social relations and in relations
of ruling with members of other groups.
Where ethnic categories of people are residentially dispersed, ethnic reference
groups can be constituted, maintained and activated by communication in
what Etzioni (1959:258) has called “limited social situations” and in the
activities of core institutions, such as temples, churches and synagogues and
ethnocultural groups. “Ethnicity” is a dynamic social construction not a static
entity. Through communication, activities and experienced differences in the
“limited social situations” of ethnocultural and ethnoreligious organizations,
South Asian immigrant women and men reconstruct and reproduce personal
and social identity consciousness. They reconstitute and reinforce
ethnocultural boundaries. Yancey, Ericksen and Juliani (1976), in their
discussion of the phenomenon of “emergent ethnicity,” have argued that the
development and persistence of ethnicity are dependent upon the structural
conditions of society and the position and relationships of groups within
society, rather than on the transplantation of a cultural heritage. They have
noted (p. 392) several structural conditions which tend to foster the emergence
and persistence of ethnicity. Among these were common occupational
positions, residential stability and concentration, and dependence on common
institutions, such as ethnic, cultural and religious organizations.
In his seminal research on interpersonal relations among immigrant men in
Montreal, Breton (1964) noted that ethnic communities can vary enormously
in their social organization and their degree of institutional completeness. He
identified a number of factors which contributed to the formation and
institutional completeness of ethnic community organization — prominent
among them being differentiating social and cultural attributes like language,
colour and religion “which can set it apart from the native community.” (p.
204) Breton found that “religious institutions had the greatest effect in keeping
the individual’s associations within the ethnic community.” (p. 200) He also
found that, where a large proportion of the members of an ethnic group had few
resources of their own, there was a tendency for other members to act as social
entrepreneurs and try to organize something for the other immigrants in need.
(p. 204)
125
IJCS / RIÉC
Like other immigrant groups, many people of South Asian origin in Canada
have formed organizations. Through ethnic organizational activities they
pursue their collective interests and goals and move towards empowerment.
Their organizational goals can be loosely categorized as service-oriented and
advocacy-oriented. (Agnew 1993) Service-oriented community organizations
can provide a forum for recreational, social, cultural and religious exchanges
and celebrations among members of a specific category of people of the same
national or ethnic origin. They may have the explicit purpose of education and
socialization of youth in the language, culture and religion of their parents.
Such organizational activities promote intra-group cohesion among the
members and integration within the host society, especially for newcomers.
They empower people by creating a self-conscious awareness of ethnic
identity and solidarity. Other service organizations provide information and
skills training which empower people by enhancing social and economic
opportunities. Advocacy is an important agent in bringing about change in
existing relations of ruling and in transforming structures that support
inequity. Advocacy-oriented organizations actively propound and lobby for
the interests of a particular group or of several cultural groups with a common
interest. Protest groups, such as anti-racist organizations, raise consciousness
and organize against the group’s position in and treatment by the receiving
society. Some protest groups struggle against discrimination within the
ethnocultural group. Advocacy organizations may be gender specific groups
which are organized to raise consciousness and address interests of women
within the ethnocultural group itself as well as within society as a whole.
Feminist immigrants organizing to combat the many forms of violence against
women and children constitute such advocacy-oriented groups. Advocacyoriented organizations aim to translate awareness and articulation of concerns
into legislation, policies, programs and actions that transform unequal and
unjust structures and relations of ruling in family and society.
Following Dorothy Smith (1987) and Roxana Ng (1981, 1984, 1986, 1989), in
my projects the concept “lived experience” of women is to be understood in
terms of practical activities of everyday life (such as visiting
temples/mosques/gurdwaras/churches/synagogues, working inside and
outside the home, participating in activities of ethnocultural, religious,
women’s and other organizations) rather than in the more conventional
connotation of people’s perceptions of and attitudes toward the situations in
which they find themselves. By exploring these activities, women’s lived
experience is made visible. Women are empowered when they are sensitized
to the gendered organization of relations of ruling in their lived experience and
when they become active subjects in transforming their lived world.
It is my argument that South Asian immigrant women’s collective activities in
organizations can raise gender and race consciousness, provide them with
needed services, and bring about change in their everyday lives in family,
community and society. Such effects are indicators of movement towards
empowerment.
126
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
Methodology and sampling
The methodology used in all projects has been a case study approach with indepth interviews and participant observation. Contacts previously made and
membership lists of various ethnic, religious and women’s organizations, as
well as workers at immigrant settlement and multicultural organizations have
been the starting-point for personal interviews with women of South Asian
origin. In the interviews, questions have addressed what the women actually
do rather than their perceptions and attitudes. For example, when a woman has
described a typical day, she has been asked who actually prepares the morning
cup of tea, cuts the lunches, drives the children to school, pays the bills, does
the accounts, washes the dishes, shovels the snow, phones organizational
members and so on.
My initial research with South Asian immigrant women was conducted
between 1988 and 1990 in the four Atlantic Canada provinces of
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.8
The non-probability sample for that study comprised 126 first-generation
South Asian immigrant women over the age of 15 years, one-tenth of the
estimated total population of South Asian women of that age in the Atlantic
region at the time.9 The sample was drawn from a directory in proportion to the
distribution in the four provinces. It comprised women of diverse national,
regional, cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds.10
The research with South Asian women in British Columbia and Alberta began
in December 1993. There, it has not been possible to draw a non-probability
sample. Rather, a snowballing method has been used, with a deliberate attempt
to select women of diverse ages, community backgrounds, countries of origin,
dates of entry to Canada, class. Again, the total sample of 100 women in British
Columbia has been drawn from first-generation immigrant women over the
age of 15 years in proportion to the distribution of South Asians in that
province.11 To date, 6 women in Alberta have been interviewed.12 The study
in Western Canada has also included Indo-Fijian women. Fijians in Canada
numbered 6,675 in the 1991 census.13 Of these, 4,945 (74 %) resided in British
Columbia and 1,300 (19 %) in Alberta — virtually all of them in the CMAs
Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, respectively.
Findings
Organizational activities in Atlantic Canada
In Atlantic Canada, South Asian organizational activities were predominantly
service-oriented. At the time of my field work in Atlantic Canada, I identified
no South Asian women’s organizations which were specifically advocacyoriented. Nor did I find in my interviews any women who were actively
working with other women’s advocacy-oriented organizations. Immigrants of
South Asian origin, though diverse in linguistic, cultural, religious and
regional origins, for the most part shared a middle-class background. Many of
them came to Atlantic Canada as a result of changes in the Canadian
Immigration Act in the 1960s and the 1970s which encouraged the flow of
highly educated and highly skilled South Asian professionals, especially
127
IJCS / RIÉC
South Asian men. South Asian immigrant middle-class men have provided an
articulate leadership for various ethnic community organizations. South Asian
women have become family members of these organizations with their
husbands. Occasionally women have become leaders of organizations. Some
also belonged to women’s groups which were a branch of the main
organization. In rare instances, South Asian women in Atlantic Canada have
collectively organized as autonomous, service-oriented women’s groups.
My findings supported Etzioni’s (1959:258) contention that, under conditions
of dispersion and relative isolation, ethnic and religious organizations
provided a social context where people could meet and reconstitute their
common identity, language, tradition, values and consciousness of ethnicity.
They served to establish boundaries not only between themselves, other
immigrants and other Canadians, but also among South Asian immigrants of
specific regional, cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds.
Where the Atlantic Canada women lived in settlements that are remote from
metropolitan centres of the region and where they were few in number and
isolated, they formed an informal network of interpersonal relations with
extended kin and friends who communicated largely by telephone. In Breton’s
(1964) conceptualization, they were the least socially organized type of ethnic
community. In their everyday life they had interpersonal relations with
members of the wider residential and work community through educational
and other social institutions of mainstream society. They came together as an
informal ethnocultural group on rare social occasions throughout the year or
joined a formal ethnic organization in a larger urban centre for the celebration
of a religious or cultural festival. In the three metropolitan centres of the region
(Halifax, St. John’s and Saint John), the ethnic community was large enough in
numbers to establish formal organizations with the primary purpose of
establishing a religious temple, gurdwara or mosque. Difference in religion
united them and set them apart from other Canadians; language and home
country regional differences created boundaries among themselves which
fostered the formation of specific religious groupings. In non-religious areas
of everyday life, their interpersonal relations and organizational activities
were much less culturally specific.
In the Atlantic Canada sample, 104 women (83 %) belonged to at least one
ethnic organization. Over half of the women (59) who belonged to an ethnic
organization were affiliated with the secular, service-oriented and overarching
Indo-Canadian Association of Nova Scotia (INCA), which has members in the
three other Atlantic Provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and
Newfoundland besides Nova Scotia. Moreover, when a woman belonged to
several ethnic organizations, in almost every case, the Indo-Canadian
Association was the first one named. INCA’s directory, which was readily
available in Indian grocery stores, listed both members and non-members of
Indian origin and thus provided a useful means for extended networking within
the region. The Yearbook and Directory (INCA 1988) outlines the aims and
objectives of INCA. Most of the activities of the organization’s committees
were concerned with providing services like social, cultural and entertainment
events, public relations, orientation and settlement of newcomers, goodwill
128
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
and multiculturalism, the establishment of a crematorium, and responding to
humanitarian causes. In addition, the Indo-Canadian Association raised funds
for various social needs in India. The elected leaders of INCA were
predominantly middle-class business and professional men. At the time of my
field work, only one woman served on the executive of INCA. Women worked
on some of the numerous committees of the association. A human rights
committee addressed advocacy-related issues. Human rights was conceived in
terms of possible cases of discrimination against individual members on the
basis of ethnicity and race. Women’s rights in family and society and violence
against women or “domestic violence” were not issues of concern for INCA.
General INCA celebrations were usually scheduled around the dates of Indian
secular holidays, such as Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day
(August 15), and Gandhi’s birth date (October 2). For these events, the women
were involved in organizing and participating in cultural activities like music
and dance of specific South Asian regions, in supervising children’s
performance of plays, in preparing meals of various regions for a common
supper. In other words, their activities involved women’s stereotypical
productive and reproductive work.
Some women of my study belonged to exclusively women’s organizations. In
metropolitan Halifax, four women belonged to a Women of India Auxiliary
Association, an organization which comprised about thirty-five members. The
sole purpose of the organization was to provide social services for needy
people. The group was actively engaged in raising large sums of money for
such projects as education of needy children in India and cancer-care facilities
in Halifax. The women thus worked for people of their original home country
as well as their new home in Canada.
In the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, I encountered the sole autonomous
women’s organization. The Asian Women’s Association was formed at the
end of the 1970s with the express purpose of transmitting South Asian culture
in its many varieties to their children.14 By the end of the 1980s, the group
comprised fifteen members, all South Asian women, principally of Indian
origin, but some of Pakistani and East African origin. The members met
monthly and paid a monthly fee of two dollars which financed their activities.
Although the association was a secular organization, religious festivals of the
various members were celebrated. Over the years, the service-orientation of
the association expanded beyond cultural education of the children to include
financial donations to meet needs in Nova Scotia, such as a battered women’s
society or educational toys for children in hospital, and in India for such
purposes as education of poor children or Mother Teresa’s care of the destitute.
In addition, the group organized a pot-luck supper about five times a year for
which South Asian meals were sometimes prepared by the husbands. The
women described their husbands as being “leaders in their professions” at a
provincial and national level. Being middle-class members of Canadian
society was a salient aspect of their social identity.
In Newfoundland, the Ethno-Cultural Association comprised in its
membership seventeen associations, including the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh
religious organizations and an overarching secular ethnocultural organization,
129
IJCS / RIÉC
the Friends of India Association. At the time of my field work, the Friends of
India Association had two women out of ten persons as office-bearers. As a
member of the Ethno-Cultural Association, it cooperated with other cultural
groups but there was no evidence of any advocacy-related activities — for
example, on behalf of abused women.
Overarching secular organizations, like the Indo-Canadian Association of
Nova Scotia and the Friends of India Association in Newfoundland, served not
only to unite South Asians of diverse cultural origins and to integrate
newcomers but also to link the ethnic community to interested Canadians of
other ethnic origins. The membership of the these organizations comprised
predominantly middle-class educated professional and business people.
The women in Atlantic Canada described religious institutions, like temples,
gurdwaras, mosques and churches, and the organizations associated with their
incorporation and ongoing life, as key elements in transmission to the next
generation of cultural symbols, activities and value-systems. In fact, one might
argue that such organizations are produced and reproduced precisely for the
purpose of reaffirming and transmitting a shared symbolic universe, a system
of counter-values and standards of behaviour which are “different” from those
of the dominant Canadian culture, especially in important areas like premarital
relations between boys and girls and in religiously prescribed dress codes.
Many women took their children to temple or mosque to communicate basic
value-orientations through instruction in beliefs, rituals and behavioural codes
and to promote their children’s interaction with other families and youth of
their own ethnoreligious background.
Metropolitan Halifax has the largest residential concentration of Sikh families
(reportedly, approximately fifty families). Participants in the study claimed
that there was a total of about one hundred and ten Sikh families in Atlantic
Canada. The only Sikh gurdwara in the region is located in metropolitan
Halifax. It was described as a social gathering-place as much as a place of
worship, where people not only shared in the traditional meal (langa) after the
religious ceremony, but where, above all, they met other Punjabi-speaking
people and taught their children about their religion and culture. Personal and
social ethnoreligious identity was reconstructed and reproduced through
membership in the ethnoreligious Maritime Sikh Society.
In the majority of ethnoreligious organizations, patriarchal gender roles and
structures prevailed. Men, not women, held the leadership roles in worship.
For example, although children and youths (both girls and boys) conducted the
rituals in the St. John’s Krishna Temple, men supervised their performance.
Women were responsible for preparing the meal which followed worship. The
Maritime Sikh Society is exceptional. Since the interviews were completed, it
has elected an all-woman executive, which is responsible for all temple-related
activities. These activities include managing society money, recruiting Indian
singers for special ceremonies, as well as organizing the meal (langa) after the
religious ceremonies. Among Hindu families, on the other hand, where a
regional style of temple worship was not available, it was the woman’s role to
provide it in the home.
130
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
Insofar as women participated in organizational activities in other areas of
their life — like their children’s education and recreation, their own work
outside the home — their participation and interpersonal relations were with
mainstream Canadian organizations such as a Parents and Friends Association
of the school or a professional or work association, respectively.
In sum, in Atlantic Canada, ethnocultural and ethnoreligious organizational
membership and activities reconstituted and reinforced ethnic identity among
these middle-class women of South Asian origin. In so doing, they contributed
to social cohesion and empowerment while providing needed social, cultural,
recreational and spiritual services. Advocacy and change in structures and
relations were not the goal. Critical gender issues were not the matter of
discourse or action. Two women whom I interviewed reported independently
that a South Asian woman who experienced sexual abuse would not discuss it
even with a close friend. There was no open discussion of violence against
women in ethnoreligious and ethnocultural groups and no advocacy-oriented
organizational activity to protest and combat violence against women.
Women’s experience of violence, if and when it existed, was invisible and
virtually inaudible. Only one woman, a Muslim, spoke with me of personal
experience of wife abuse. She lived in an isolated settlement of Atlantic
Canada. Although she maintained affiliation with a geographically remote
religious organization, practically speaking she was completely isolated. She
had no ethnic community networks. She had no mainstream support
organization in her area. At the time of the interview, the level of proactive
awareness of domestic violence was low in the region. A highly qualified,
articulate woman, she self-consciously criticized herself for remaining in an
abusive situation. To that extent, she might be considered as empowered.
Organizational activities in British Columbia
In British Columbia, by contrast, particularly in metropolitan Vancouver, a
city with a large population of ethnically and racially diverse immigrant
people, as well as a high concentration of women of South Asian origin, there
is a high level of gender and racial awareness. Many middle-class South Asian
immigrant women are actively organized in advocacy-oriented groups to
promote consciousness-raising, education, and change among men and among
working-class grass roots women in areas of specific concern: violence against
women, reproductive technology and amniocentesis clinics, racism, and
recognition of foreign credentials and experience. At the same time, there is a
large number of organizations which provide a vast array of services for
immigrant women. Such organizations also contributed to empowerment by
creating a self-conscious awareness of ethnic identity and solidarity and of
race difference among visible minority women.
Among the one hundred women who were interviewed, 82 % belonged to an
ethnocultural or ethnoreligious organization. Moreover, 40 % belonged to a
women’s organization. Whereas in Atlantic Canada I encountered only one
autonomous South Asian women’s organization, namely, the Annapolis
Valley Asian Women’s Association, in metropolitan Vancouver, six
associations had been organized by and for Canadian women of South Asian
131
IJCS / RIÉC
origin. Some women were actively involved in five or six South Asian,
multicultural and visible minority women’s organizations. The members of
many of these organizations tended to form a collective rather than create a
hierarchical organizational structure. The founders and most active members
of the organization collective were predominantly highly educated and middle
class.
For more than twenty years, some women of South Asian origin in
metropolitan Vancouver have been conscious of interacting gender, race and
class discrimination and have been actively organizing and strategizing
towards equity and empowerment. The founding members of groups such as
the India Mahila Association became aware that service organizations were
merely “a band-aid approach” to pressing problems and were doing little
preventative to improve the lived experience of women.15 Moreover, some
Sikh ethnoreligious organizations were highly politicized and thereby
constructed divisions and boundaries within the Sikh communities. In
particular, the male dominance of these organizations constructed gender
boundaries and contributed in part to the creation of feminist, advocacyoriented organizations. A variety of women’s organizations have been formed,
some explicitly for women of South Asian origins, some for immigrant and
visible minority women of diverse cultural origins. Many women’s
organizations have been working actively for a long time to educate, support,
network and strategize with other women to bring about legal and social
change.
The area of most acute concern, education and action for the past ten years has
been violence against women.16 In the British Columbia sample, thirty-six
women made some reference to violence and of these, five women (two
Muslim, two Hindu, one Christian) had personally experienced abuse. The
women spoke of physical and verbal abuse, of violence exacerbated by the
husband’s alcohol abuse, of a husband taking all the woman’s pay out of a joint
account, of taking other women out, and even of remarrying in another country
before divorce proceedings had been completed in Canada. Some women
experienced abuse as much from their in-laws as from their husbands. In the
extended family living situation, a mother-in-law expected one woman “to
work, to cook for five people... to do all the housework. I was treated like a
servant... Mothers-in-law are key to family. Women should not let themselves
be oppressed.” Women of Muslim affiliation experienced additional forms of
abuse; for example, “A divorced Muslim woman has no future in (my home
country), and here (in Canada), (Muslims) treat a divorced woman as very low.
Men treat me as so easy.”17 For this Muslim woman, at least, patriarchal
relations and ideologies, reinforced by religious ideologies, have constructed
specific representations and roles of what it means to be wife, mother, and,
above all, housewife. She is defined as property of the husband, and as
divorcee she becomes damaged property. The thirty-one other women who
spoke of violence against women raised similar concerns.
A little-recognized form of violence to which women have also addressed their
activities has been that against senior women which has occurred when adult
“children” do not respect their personal, social and emotional needs, use them
132
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
as nannies for their own children, and sometimes subject them to physical
abuse.18 Some senior women have become empowered through participation
in collectives organized explicitly among and for seniors.
In recent years, abuse of women and female foetuses through amniocentesis
testing in sex-selection clinics has become a particularly controversial issue.
An American doctor operates a clinic within short driving distance from the
U.S. border where he offers the dubious service (for the considerable sum of
US $1,000) of allegedly guaranteeing 100 percent accuracy as to whether the
mother is carrying “a healthy boy or a healthy girl.” Local South Asian
newspapers carry his advertisements.19 In response, a coalition of
representatives of South Asian women’s groups united against sex-selection
clinics and female foeticide and actively sought support from mainstream
women’s organizations. They have organized protest marches in South Asian
markets, criticized South Asian newspapers for publishing advertisements for
sex-selection clinics and gender-discriminatory articles, produced dramas and
information programs on television and radio, lobbied provincial and federal
members of parliament, and sought active support from mainstream women’s
organizations. In addition, South Asian women’s organizations have used
social situations like banquets, festival celebrations and temple gatherings for
weddings and birthdays to enlist the support of gender-conscious husbands in
the presentation of skits and dramas which raise consciousness to specific
aspects of violence against women. In these contexts, whole families are
educated to awareness that such abuses against women are reprehensible. For
these women of South Asian origin, at least, sex-selection clinics were
primarily an urgent women’s concern within the ethnocultural group itself.
Their strategizing was based on the premise that the root of the problem in the
use of such clinics lay in the reproduction of patriarchal ideologies and
relations of ruling within family and community.
The India Mahila Association (IMA), founded in 1973, is the oldest of the
South Asian women’s organizations.20 The women of IMA reflect a wide
diversity of South Asian religious, cultural, linguistic and national origins. It is
an autonomous collective of women with funding only from membership and
donations and no state funding. It has some twenty-five core members and
approximately 100 to 200 members who fluctuate in their participation in
activities. While most of the members are residents of Greater Vancouver,
some reside in Lower Mainland British Columbia and some on Vancouver
Island — regions close enough to Vancouver for networking. In terms of
issues and needs of a particular time, it has engaged in both service-oriented
and advocacy-oriented activities over its twenty-year history. It has organized
social and cultural events which provide a forum for dialogue, exchange and
celebration among women who share common origins and interests. It has also
conducted educational and advocacy work which raises consciousness and
addresses the rights of South Asian Canadian women. In addition, it has
produced and participated in proactive radio and television programs dealing
with issues of particular concern in the lived experience of South Asian
Canadian women — issues such as arranged marriages, dowry, sex selection,
violence against women, and challenges faced by young women of South
Asian origin. (IMA 1993:2)
133
IJCS / RIÉC
The IMA also conducts research. A recent activity over a three-year period has
been a major study of South Asian women’s needs and an assessment of
community agencies which attempt to address those needs. The results of the
study were released and presented to South Asian women at a two-day
workshop which was organized to plan future strategies, February 5-6, 1994.21
The participants included not only “the converted” — that is, women who have
become sensitized — but also grassroots working-class women who never go
to conferences. At the conference banquet, ten senior women of South Asian
origin were honoured for their consistent active contribution to the community
over a long period of residence in Vancouver.
The February conference included panels and workshops to address two
identified areas of major concern; namely, “Violence against Women:
Protection and Prevention” and “Education and Employment: Barriers and
Biases.” The expressed concern about “Violence against Women” led to an indepth, follow-up qualitative study by three IMA members during the summer
of 1994.22 One can expect and hope that the IMA research project will result in
proactive responses to violence and greater empowerment of women of South
Asian origin.
Women in CMA Vancouver have used various forms of communication
media as agents of empowerment. A key person in the promotion of gender and
race awareness among women has been Shushma Sardana, the owner of a
television production company and the producer of a radio talk-show in
Punjabi and Hindi languages.23 A Punjabi immigrant twenty-two years ago,
Shushma Sardana quickly became actively involved in activities to empower
women. She gives time on her programs to members of various ethnocultural
organizations to be interviewed about women’s issues of current concern. Her
leading questions allow them to give information about what a woman can do
to meet her needs for practical help with such things as language training,
health care for herself or her children, teenage drinking, as well as to address
more sensitive issues such as foetal sex selection, male child preference and
wife abuse. She has hosted programs where medical scientists and other
experts provided basic education on such matters as sex-determination by the
male’s and not the female’s gene. These programs have provoked tremendous
feedback and have provided impetus to women’s organization and
empowerment.
Other South Asian women’s organizations in metropolitan Vancouver include
Samantha and the South Asian Women’s Network. Samantha developed as an
offshoot of the IMA about ten years ago to deal explicitly with education of
men to awareness of violence against women.24 It was founded at a public
meeting of over four hundred people who gathered to protest the murder of
several women of South Asian origin. Initially, half the membership was men,
with some IMA members enlisting their own husbands’ cooperation in
conscientizing men to gender awareness and violence against women.
Samantha has now become an autonomous organization of about fifteen active
women members and has shifted its focus towards education and counselling
of abused women through periodic social gatherings and cultural programs.
134
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
The South Asian Women’s Action Network (SAWAN) is a feminist advocacy
group of young women who began meeting as a collective in 1991.25 It
comprises ten very active members and six to ten women who come and go. Its
major focus of attention from 1993 to 1994 was to initiate and plan a South
Asian women’s centre in Vancouver. The members met regularly every two
weeks to achieve their goal in April 1994, with funding assistance from the
government of British Columbia. The centre, located on Main Street,
Vancouver, the major South Asian commercial and residential area of the city,
serves as a drop-in place for women with the objective of being a place of
outreach and advocacy as needs arise.26
Some women in British Columbia were also actively involved as principal
office-bearers and workers for two important anti-racist women’s
organizations whose membership comprises a broad spectrum of immigrant
groups: the Vancouver Society of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women,
and the Association of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of British
Columbia, respectively.27 Their activities were both service-oriented and
advocacy-oriented. The Vancouver society started about ten years ago as an
advocacy group seeking recognition and equality for women. The group
found, however, the term “advocacy” did not help them to get government
funding; after eight years, they dropped the word from the constitution. Since
then they have focused on activities and programs directed towards obtaining
recognition of foreign credentials for both women and men. They have
targeted specific professions such as teaching, accountancy and social work —
with the cooperation of professional associations like the Teachers Federation
— provided workshops and produced booklets which help to overcome the
seemingly insurmountable hurdles immigrants meet in trying to get a job in
line with their qualifications and experience. Some women who were
interviewed reported of their experience applying for jobs in terms such as the
following: “As soon as they see the colour of your skin…you are looked upon
as if you don’t know anything, have a language problem or will not do the job
properly.”28 The Association of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of
British Columbia has as its explicit mandate to work for a more accessible and
equitable society for immigrant and visible minority women through
education, networking, and advocacy. Its activities include lobbying to
improve the status of immigrant and visible minority women and providing
workshops that communicate knowledge and skills for employment training,
for dealing with violence against women in the family, for language training. It
also produces a newsletter, conducts research and has initiated the
establishment of a Family Support Services Association. The Board has
representatives from the five major regions of British Columbia: Vancouver,
Lower Mainland British Columbia, Northern British Columbia, Central
British Columbia and Vancouver Island.
On Vancouver Island and in interior British Columbia, women tended to
associate actively with various intercultural, multicultural and immigrant
service and advocacy organizations which worked with and on behalf of
immigrants — men, women and youth — of diverse cultural origins. In
Vancouver Island, four years ago, three intercultural associations (the
Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria;29 the Cowichan Valley
135
IJCS / RIÉC
Intercultural and Immigrant Aid Society, located at Duncan, a small town to
the north of Victoria;30 and the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural
Society, located at the larger, more northerly town of Nanaimo31) formed a
Vancouver Island Immigrant Women’s Committee (called NA-DU-VIC) with
a paid coordinator.32 Its express purpose is outreach across cultural boundaries
to isolated immigrant women in remote and smaller settlements (Port Alberni,
Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Hardy). Intercultural groups are gradually
being formed throughout Vancouver Island. The coalition of associations
provides a structure for networking, dialogue and collective action among
widely-dispersed women of diverse cultural identities. The groups focus on
issues such as cross-cultural parenting, concerns of children of mixed
marriages or Canadian-born children of immigrants, as well as various cultural
and practical skills which enhance women’s opportunities and thus empower
them socially and economically. At the time of my visit to the women’s group
in Victoria on 27 May 1994, final plans were under discussion for free bus
transportation to an employment conference, scheduled one week later.
Nanaimo, a relatively remote centre, had been selected as the conference site in
an explicit attempt to reach outlying people on the island.
Immigrant women in interior British Columbia also experienced isolation.
Prince George, the largest city in interior British Columbia, had a population of
almost 70,000 in 1991, its rapid growth having occurred largely as a result of
expansion in the forest industry. It is located some 800 kilometres from each of
the large metropolitan centres of Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
Migrants to Prince George experience isolation because travel outside the
community is always expensive, and, in winter, very difficult. Kamloops, the
second largest city in interior British Columbia, is situated some 400
kilometres east of Vancouver, at the junction of two large rivers and the major
transportation routes which cross the Rocky Mountains to link Canada from
west to east. With a 1991 population of 67,000, it is somewhat smaller than
Prince George, but an older settlement. According to the women I interviewed,
it is a more conservative and racist community than Prince George. Both
Prince George and Kamloops have South Asian populations between 1,500
and 2,000.
The Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (IMMS) at Prince George
offers a very wide range of programs and services to immigrants and refugees
in northern communities.33 A multicultural women’s program organizes
workshops, seminars and programs, both educational and cultural, around
issues of concern to women, such as violence against women, selfemployment, employment training and employment equity. In addition,
women train as volunteers with other community social agencies and learn
leadership skills through participation in conferences and workshops in larger
centres. IMSS adopts a proactive stance towards violence against women and
collaborates closely with the Elizabeth Fry Society, which provides a full
range of shelter, support, counselling, education and awareness and referral
services. IMMS also promotes anti-racist education and activities. While the
executive director and many of the volunteers and participants in the activities
of the society are of South Asian ethnic origin,34 the emphasis is on mutual
136
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
understanding and full participation and contribution of all members of the
culturally and religiously diverse community of the Prince George area.
Like the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society at Prince George,
Kamloops Immigrant Services35 is an organization with the dual objective of
providing assistance necessary for immigrants of all ethnic origins to become
fully participating members of Canadian society and of promoting community
awareness, attitudes and behaviour which ensure that the multicultural and
multiracial character of Canadian society is acknowledged in discourse and
action. With a director, twelve full-time staff, and many volunteers, its
activities and services include interpretation and translation of forty-seven
languages, English-language classes at six levels, counselling and support
services, women’s support groups, advocacy, a work program, career
guidance, educational and race relations programs, a volunteer program, and
several others. Kamloops Immigrant Services designs programs, information
sessions, literature and activities to address spousal and child abuse and to
improve the quality of life of immigrant women. The organization also
collaborates with various other community agencies, institutions and
organizations which address specific concerns like racism, sexism and
violence against women.
One can speculate about the reasons why some women in British Columbia
tended to affiliate and organize themselves predominantly with women and
men of diverse cultural origins rather than with members of their own specific
group. In the first place, as I have observed above, women who are categorized
and socially constructed as being of South Asian origin may in fact be of
diverse ethnoreligious, ethnocultural, linguistic, national and regional origins.
The “differences” among them may be just as great as those among other
immigrant women. Being an “immigrant woman” with visible and audible
differences from those of native-born Canadian women, being “women of
colour” gives rise to common interests and goals which unite them in serviceoriented and advocacy-oriented organizations. For many immigrant women,
learning to speak Canadian English and getting the first job without Canadian
qualifications and experience were the primary goals. Some women
articulated the experience that being a woman of colour made it twice as hard.
Race and gender discrimination intertwined with “not being Canadian” to
disempower them. Organizational activities of intercultural associations
addressed these specific common needs in a practical and efficient manner. At
the same time, such organizations provided a context for interpersonal
relations across cultural boundaries as well as among the members of a specific
ethnocultural group. In Breton’s terms, the linguistically and culturally
specific ethnic community group was relatively low in its institutional
completeness. The intercultural group united and empowered them to address
issues of discrimination, inequality and inequity based on gender, race and
national origin.
Organizational activities in Alberta
Preliminary interviews in Alberta have indicated that there are relatively few
specifically South Asian women’s organizations.36 In Edmonton, a very active
137
IJCS / RIÉC
organization, the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association, is geographically
situated in a neighbourhood where immigrant women are de facto IndoCanadians.37 Founded in 1984 as a women’s organization, men have always
been encouraged to join the Indo-Canadian Women’s Association as associate
members. The group is an articulate advocate of women’s issues and women’s
rights. The founder and executive director regularly acts as a workshop
instructor on issues such as employment equity and sexual abuse, delivers
keynote remarks at conferences on racial and gender issues and rebuts on
public television gender and racially discriminatory statements by public
figures. In addition, the association has produced two videos through a private
television company,38 “Crossing the Line,” which deals with girls abused by
their parents because they want to be like every other Canadian-born girl; and
“The Bold Step,” in which one woman tells her own story of wife abuse and her
“success story” of empowerment and enrollment in a social work program.
The Indo-Canadian Women’s Association organized a conference, 26
February 1994, on “Effects of Fundamentalism on Women.”39 The conference
was directed towards the formation of a new coalition which would lobby
international organizations, like the United Nations and the World Council of
Churches, to start working for justice and equality of women and to repudiate
the misuse of religion to keep women in a subservient and oppressed condition
in family and society.
In Calgary, the India-Canada Association, a secular umbrella organization, has
individual, family and association members. It coordinates nine associations
which serve the interests and goals of specific regional and cultural groups.40
In the fall of 1993, it hosted the National Indo-Canadian Council conference,
which, through several workshops, addressed the common problems of
immigrants. One workshop focused on “women’s issues” and dealt with
“problems outside the family and within the family.” The former included
difficulties of adjustment to Canadian society; the latter, family violence and
wife abuse. The workshop revealed that women have a heightened awareness
of abuse and violence in the family and are able to talk about it. Nevertheless, a
South Asian Women’s Counselling Service, which had existed between 1986
and 1989 and drew five or six new cases each month, had to discontinue its
services because government funding ended.
As in British Columbia, women of South Asian origin in Alberta work actively
as members and provincial representatives of advocacy- oriented,
multicultural women’s organizations, such as the Alberta Network of
Immigrant Women, the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Society, a Calgary
family crisis centre called SEWA, and the National Organization of Immigrant
and Visible Minority Women.41 Again, similar sets of factors to those in
operation in British Columbia were probably at work to account for these
intercultural organizational activities.
Conclusion
The research has indicated some similarities as well as some marked
differences in the patterns of organizational activities among women of South
Asian origin in Atlantic Canada and in Western Canada, respectively. In both
138
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
regions, women participated in organizations which constructed their identity
as immigrant women different from mainstream, native-born Canadian
women. In Atlantic Canada, the women tended to be involved in ethnospecific
service organizations; in Western Canada, they tended to associate themselves
with immigrant women of diverse cultural origins. Such organizations
contributed to social cohesion and empowerment by providing needed social,
cultural, recreational and spiritual services. One can suggest some factors that
might account for these similarities and differences and draw some tentative
conclusions as to why South Asian women in Western Canada, particularly in
metropolitan Vancouver, engaged themselves in advocacy organizations to
combat race and gender discrimination, especially violence against women,
whereas advocacy goals were not a basis for organization in Atlantic Canada.
As I noted at the outset of this paper, the total population of South Asians in
Atlantic Canada is relatively small compared to that in Western Canada, and
South Asians represent a much smaller proportion of the total Atlantic Canada
population than they do in the Western provinces. Furthermore, virtually all
South Asian settlement in the Atlantic region has occurred as a result of
changes in immigration policies and regulations of the late 1960s and 1970s
which favoured the entrance to Canada of men who could successfully
promote and integrate into its economic development. Such men were
particularly attractive in rural and remote regions of the country — such as
Atlantic Canada — where native-born Canadians did not wish to work. Most
of the women in the Atlantic Canada sample were solidly middle-class in terms
of their family background, their own and their husbands’ educational and
occupational levels, and the family income. In fact, South Asians had higher
levels of education, occupation and income than the population of Atlantic
Canadians of all ethnic origins.42 Although an effort was made to ferret out
working-class women in Atlantic Canada, only a very few were found. Thus,
although class was one of the variables of interest, the range of class
represented in Atlantic Canada was narrow. Middle-class South Asian women
engaged in ethnoreligious and ethnocultural organizational activities to
reconstruct their own identity in the Canadian context, to foster the formation
of an ethnic group identity among their children, to share facets of that identity
with Canadians of other ethnic and racial origins but of a similar professional
or business class, and, in some instances, to provide services for those in need
in the home country or in mainstream Atlantic Canada society.
While South Asians also settled in large numbers in Western Canada as a result
of the post-1960s immigration policies, one difference was that there had been
a South Asian community in British Columbia since the early part of the
century with long-established religious and cultural institutions — dominated
by South Asian men — and a long history of experiencing racial and gender
discrimination on the part of white settlers. As Breton (1964:202) observed,
once a formal organization has developed within an ethnic community “it has
the effect of reinforcing the cohesiveness of already existing networks (of
informal relations) and of expanding these networks.” A vast array of South
Asian ethnocultural organizations has developed, and of intercultural
organizations as the flow of other visible minority migrants has increased. In
British Columbia, in contrast to Atlantic Canada, the range of class among
139
IJCS / RIÉC
South Asians is broader. There is a significant proportion of women (such as
non-English speaking grape pickers) with few resources. Middle-class women
have organized themselves as advocates to raise consciousness and struggle
against gender oppression within the community itself and gender, race and
class oppression from the larger society.
The migration and settlement experience of women has been affected by
immigrant recruitment patterns. While immigrant men as well as women
might experience powerlessness in the loss of educational and work status,
immigrant women have a different experience than that of immigrant men.
Most immigrant women are legally and socially constructed as dependants.
They usually enter Canada as dependent wives, daughters or mothers of men.
They experience dislocation and displacement in the migration process itself
and, upon settlement in Canada, lack a kin network and support system. Some
women lack knowledge of the English language. They experience
contradictions in gender and ethnic identity roles and in the sexual division of
labour in household and paid work world. For the majority of the women in my
study, migration to Canada was the result of an arranged marriage, a religiouslegal contract in which the woman theoretically and practically agreed to the
man’s control over gender relations in family and community. Culturally and
religiously defined relations of ruling which held sway in the home country
reproduced women’s gender status in Canada. Their place of settlement was
determined by the husband’s job opportunities and desires. As one interviewee
expressed it:
Live where your husband is. Give up your profession, your
job.…Men migrate either for professional or financial reasons.
Women may migrate for these reasons, but Indian women usually
migrate for marriage. And sometimes coming abroad is
romanticized.43
Where the women settled determined what job opportunities were available to
them and whether, indeed, any job was available. In remote rural settlements,
while the husband might have a well-paid, highly specialized professional
occupation with numerous professional colleagues, the woman might have no
women at all of her own cultural background for interpersonal relations,
networking, support or proactive response to her situation; her relations were
with immigrant women of other ethnic origins or with native-born Canadians.
Service and advocacy organizational activities addressed issues of common
concern to these categories. Her informal and formal networking with other
South Asian women was through long-distance communication either by
telephone or a journey by car or plane for specifically ethnoreligious and
ethnocultural organizational purposes. Such was the case for women living
outside the metropolitan centres of the Atlantic region and to a lesser extent for
those settled on Vancouver Island and in interior British Columbia. In the
metropolitan centre of Vancouver, with a high level of proactive awareness of
violence against women and of racial conflict in the larger society and a high
concentration of South Asians of diverse cultural and class identities,
networking and formal advocacy organizations became a reality. In the larger
centres of Atlantic Canada, on the other hand, where the level of proactive
awareness is lower than in the West and where South Asians are relatively few
140
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
in numbers and experience an affluent, middle-class lifestyle, there is little or
no support for advocacy goals.
The research has suggested that South Asian immigrant women’s
powerlessness is experienced in family, community and society, where race,
class and gender intertwine to construct experiential differences which are not
only “sites of difference” but also “sites of the operations of power.” Women’s
interests and goals are different from those of men. Patriarchal relations of
ruling in family and other institutions and structures of society are a major
factor in South Asian women’s lived experience of subordination,
powerlessness, violence and other forms of oppression. Familial and religious
values, practices and racist ideologies serve to maintain, reproduce and
reinforce their powerlessness. Insofar as women recognize shared experiences
of powerlessness, exploitation and oppression, mobilize and organize
collectively to speak, act and advocate for change in their status and
experience, then they are moving towards empowerment, equity and justice.
Notes
*
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the 7th Biennial Conference of the
Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand, La Trobe University,
Bundoora (Melbourne), Australia, February 16 to 18, 1995. I appreciate the comments and
suggestions of two anonymous reviewers. I gratefully acknowledge funding for the research
from three sources: grants #410-88-1347 and #410-93-1285 from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada and a Senate Research Grant from Saint Mary’s
University, Halifax. I also thank Emily Burton, who conducted 45 interviews of the sample
of 100 British Columbia women; Catherine Chandler, who was responsible for data input
and overall project management; Raminder Dosanjh, who gave me hours of her time as an
invaluable British Columbia informant.
The source of the following data is Statistics Canada (1993). Ethnic Origin: the Nation. 1991
Census of Canada. Catalogue number 93-315, Tables 1A and 1B, and Appendix 2. Ottawa:
Industry, Science and Technology Canada.
In proportion to the total population, South Asians numbered 0.2 % in Atlantic Canada, 3.2
% in British Columbia, and 1.6 % in Alberta, respectively.
“Census Metropolitan Area” (CMA) is a Statistics Canada term for a metropolitan region
with a population of 100,000 or more. A CMA comprises a large central city surrounded by
several smaller independent cities and towns. According to the 1991 Census, there are 25
CMAs in Canada. There are three CMAs in Atlantic Canada: Halifax, Nova Scotia, 317,630;
St. John’s, Newfoundland, 169,810; and Saint John, New Brunswick, 123,605. There are
two CMAs in British Columbia: Vancouver, 1,584,115; Victoria, the provincial capital,
located on Vancouver Island, with a much smaller population of 283,630. There are two
CMAs in Alberta: Calgary, 748,215; Edmonton, the capital, 832,155.
The source for the definition of ethnic origin and the data is Statistics Canada (1993)Ethnic
Origin: the Nation 1991 Census of Canada, Catalogue 93-315, Table 1A Ottawa: Industry,
Science and Technology Canada. Respondents can write in more than one ethnic origin.
The more familiar term “East Indian” is also a social construct of a colonial era and a
Eurocentric world view.
In much the same way, when I visit India I am socially defined as “European” along with
American, West German, Australian, English and other people whose ancestors originated
in the European continent. After all, “we all look the same.”
See, for example, Barrett (1989) and Spivak (1989) who have articulated this debate.
See Ralston (1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1993, 1994 and forthcoming).
141
IJCS / RIÉC
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
142
In the 1986 census there were approximately 3,800 South Asians scattered throughout the
four Atlantic provinces. About half the South Asian population resided in Nova Scotia, with
nearly 40% in the Halifax census metropolitan area.
The 126 women who participated in the Atlantic Canada study had been in Canada an
average of 17 years, the longest resident having immigrated in 1956, the most recent having
arrived in 1988, with the mode being 27 women between 1967 and 1969. The youngest
person interviewed was aged 20 years; the oldest, 74 years, with the mode being in the early
forties. They were born in India (82), present-day Pakistan (20), Bangladesh (6), Sri Lanka
(4), Burma (2), the Caribbean (2), Uganda/Kenya (7), Singapore (1), Indonesia (1), England
(1). Their religious affiliation was as follows: 69 Hindu (55 %), 19 Christian (15 %), 17 Sikh
(13.5 %), 17 Muslim (13.5 %), 3 Zoroastrian (2 %) and 1 Jewish (1 %).
In the 1991 census, the South Asian population in British Columbia had grown to 103,545
(from 69,250 in the 1986 census). Of these, 75,430 (73 %) resided in CMA Vancouver.
Because the present study has included Indo-Fijians, who numbered 4,945 in British
Columbia (with 4,640 of these in CMA Vancouver), 74 of the sample of 100 women have
been interviewed in CMA Vancouver; 26 proportionately drawn from other places in BC —
14 in Vancouver Island; 12 in interior BC). A research assistant, Emily Burton, has
interviewed 45 women in CMA Vancouver. I have conducted the remaining interviews
myself. The women were born in India (60), Fiji (21), Pakistan (8), Sri Lanka (2), Kenya (4),
Uganda (3), Tanzania (1), Malaysia (1). They ranged in age from 24 years to 73 years, with
the mode being in the mid- to late- forties. Their religious affiliation was as follows: Sikh
(40), Hindu (39), Muslim (9), Christian (8), Zoroastrian (3), and None (1). The earliest
immigrant to Canada came in 1949; the most recent, in 1994.
In the 1991 census, the total population of Alberta was 2,519,180, with 40,030 of South
Asian ethnic origin. South Asians in CMA Edmonton numbered 18,930 and in CMA
Calgary 18,350 (i.e., 93 % of the total South Asian population of Alberta). The religious
affiliation of the 6 Alberta women was: 4 Hindu, 1 Christian, 1 None.
Virtually all Fijians who enter Canada are Indo-Fijians, according to a personal
communication with Tom Ryan, the officer of Immigration Canada who processed all Fijian
applicants for entry to Canada, Sydney, Australia, January 6, 1993.
Information about the history, membership and activities of the association was obtained
from anonymous participants in my study.
Interviews with several members of IMA and other organizations, December 1993, April
and May, 1994.
In April 1994, thanks to Raminder Dosanjh, I viewed a series of films and home videos of
taped national, provincial and local television programs, dating back to the early 1980s,
which dealt with violence against women.
Interviews, April 15, 1994.
Interview, June 20, 1994.
A good summary report of the issue of sex selection, the clinic operated by Dr. John Stephens
at Blaine, Washington State, U.S.A., and proactive responses by South Asian women, is
presented by Sunera Thobani (1991).
Information about the activities of the India Mahila Association was obtained from the
following sources: (1) 3 face-to-face interviews and several telephone conversations with
Raminder Dosanjh, one of the founding members; (2) case interviews with members of the
association; (3) participation in a South Asian Women’s Conference, February 5-6, 1994;
(4) an interview, April 19, 1994, with Shushma Sardana, I.T. Productions, producer of a
radio talk show and a Multicultural Television program; (5) viewing taped records of
activities and events; (6) a Report by the India Mahila Association, Assessment of Needs and
Services to South Asian Women in the Lower Mainland Area, dated March 1993, but released
only at the February 1994 South Asian Women’s Conference.
The conference was called Mahila Milan, meaning “Meeting of Women.” I was invited to
participate in some of the workshops and planning sessions and at the banquet.
My informant about the study is Raminder Dosanjh, one of the interviewers and a founding
member of IMA. A random sample of 15 women was drawn for an interview of more than
two hours in which they told their story.
Organizational Empowerment Among South Asian
Immigrant Women
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
33.
34.
35.
36.
37.
38.
39.
40.
41.
42.
43.
Information about I.T. Productions, Vancouver, was obtained from interviews with
Raminder Dosanjh, especially April 12, 1994, and with Shushma Sardana, April 19, 1994, as
well as from viewing several home videotapes of Raminder Dosanjh’s.
Information about Samantha obtained from the president, Surjeet Kalsey, December 10,
1993, and Raminder Dosanjh, April 12, 1994.
Information about SAWAN obtained from a founding member, December 5, 1993. Sunera
Thobani, now president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC)
was a founding member of this group.
My research assistant, Emily Burton, visited the centre, June 22 and 23, 1994. She described
the centre as attractively and comfortably furnished. She spoke with a full-time staff
member, employed as a contract worker, and observed her counselling drop-ins. Another
woman is employed as a part-time book-keeper.
Information obtained in 9 interviews — 3 in CMA Vancouver, 6 elsewhere in BC —
December 8-9, 1993, April 17-18, 1994; and May 12 and June 20-22, 1994, respectively.
Interviews July 1994.
The Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) is staffed by at least four women of
South Asian origin who have paid work on a full- or part-time basis. Information about ICA
was obtained from interviewees, May 12, 16 and 27, 1994, and from various publications of
the association, including pamphlets, issues of the ICA Newsletter, and the magazine of ICA,
Tapestry, 3, 2(Summer 1993).
Information obtained from executive director, Hortensia Houle, and anonymous
interviewees, May 16-17, 1994.
Telephone interview with executive director, JoAnne Blackman, May 16, 1994.
Interviews with staff of all three associations, May 16, 17 and 27, 1994; visit with women’s
group, Victoria, May 27, 1994.
Information regarding Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society from executive
director, Baljit Sethi, June 20-22, 1994, from various publications of the society, from its
Annual Report, June 1994, and from anonymous interviewees during those same dates.
In 1993-1994, of the 252 new clients (214 new immigrants and 38 newcomers from other
places) who participated in its programs and activities, 78 % were of South Asian origin. In
all, IMSS had 2042 contacts during the year. (Annual Report, June 1994)
Information from executive director, Trudy Dirk, community support worker, Rajinder
Lotay, and anonymous interviewees, June 24-25, 1994.
I interviewed key informants, both men and women, and 6 individual women in Calgary and
Alberta, November 25-26, 1993, and June 12-16, 1994. As indicated above, by design the
fieldwork was limited to the CMAs, Calgary and Edmonton, where most women of South
Asian origin reside. A key informant made a distinction between the two cities. She
described Edmonton as a more diverse, open city, as compared to Calgary, where people are
“red-necked and very American big business people” (Interview, June 16, 1994). Her
observation was supported by a recent clip on national television regarding Calgary
automobile stickers: “Redneck and proud of it!”
Information obtained from the founder and executive director, Jayanti Negi, June 15, 1994. I
visited the offices of the association, which is housed in premises of the Millwoods Centre
for Immigrants.
SHAW Cable.
The conference was well publicized by the media. For example, an article in the Edmonton
Journal, B-2, February 27, 1994, reported that “Vancouver lawyer and women’s activist
Mobina Jaffer lauded Edmonton’s Indo-Canadian Women’s Association for showing that it
had `the guts’ to take on such intimidating forces (as religious fundamentalists).”
Information obtained in interview with former president, Calgary, June 12, 1994.
Information obtained from key informants and interviewees, November 26, 1993, and June
12 to 16, 1994.
Source: Statistics Canada. Special tabulations for population, age 15+, Census Canada 1986
South Asian Canadian woman interviewed in Atlantic Canada in 1988.
Bibliography
143
IJCS / RIÉC
Agnew, Vijay. 1993. “Community Groups: an Overview.” Paper presented at a session on “South
Asian Women’s Community Organizations” at the Biennial Conference of the Canadian
Ethnic Studies Association, Vancouver, November 27-30.
Barrett, Michele. 1989. “Some different meanings of the concept of `difference’: feminist theory
and the concept of ideology.” Pp. 37-48 in Elizabeth Meese and Alice Parker, (eds.), The
Difference Within: Feminism and Critical Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Breton, Raymond. 1964. “Institutional completeness of ethnic communities and the personal
relations of immigrants.” American Journal of Sociology 70:193-205.
Desai, Neera and Maithreyi Krishnaraj. 1990. Women and Society in India. 2nd Rev. Edn. New
Delhi: Ajanta.
Etzioni, Amitai. 1959. “The ghetto — a re-evaluation.” Social Forces 39:255-62.
India Mahila Association (IMA). 1993. A Report. Assessment of Needs and Services to South
Asian Women in the Lower Mainland Area. Vancouver, B.C.: India Mahila Association,
Indo-Canadian Association of Nova Scotia (INCA). 1988. Yearbook and Directory 1988. Halifax:
Indo-Canadian Association of Nova Scotia.
Ng, Roxana. 1981. “Constituting ethnic phenomenon: an account from the perspective of
immigrant women.” Canadian Ethnic Studies. 13 1:97-108.
Ng, Roxana. 1984. “Sex, ethnicity or class? Some methodological considerations.” Studies in
Sexual Politics 1:14-45.
Ng, Roxana. 1986. “The social construction of `immigrant women’ in Canada.” Pp. 269-86 in
Roberta Hamilton and Michelle Barrett, (eds.), The Politics of Diversity: Feminism,
Marxism and Nationalism. Montreal: The Book Centre Inc.
Ng, Roxana. 1989. “Sexism, racism and Canadian nationalism.” Pp. 10-25 in Jesse Vorst et al.,
(eds.), Race, Class, Gender: Bonds and Barriers. Socialist Studies/Études Socialistes A
Canadian Annual 5. Toronto: Between the Lines.
Pettman, Jan. 1992. Living in the Margins: Racism, Sexism and Feminism in Australia. North
Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Ralston, Helen. 1991. “Religious Movements and the Status of Women in India.” Social Compass
38(1):43-53.
Ralston, Helen. 1992a. “Issues of concern in the lived experience of South Asian immigrant
women in Atlantic Canada.” Pp. 91-104 in Ratna Ghosh and Rabindra Kanungo, (eds.),
South Asian Canadians: Current Issues in the Politics of Culture. India: Shastri IndoCanadian Institute.
Ralston, Helen. 1992b. “Religion in the life of South Asian immigrant women in Atlantic
Canada.” Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 4:245-60.
Ralston, Helen. 1993. “The work experience of educated women in India and educated Indian
immigrant women in Atlantic Canada: some comparisons.” Pp. 228-244 in Hugh Johnston,
(ed.), East and West: Perspectives on Canada and India. From the 1991 Shimla Conference
on Canada-India Relations. New Delhi: Sage.
Ralston, Helen. 1994. “Immigration policies and practices: their impact on South Asian women in
Canada and Australia.” Australian-Canadian Studies 12 (1):1-47.
Ralston, Helen. (forthcoming). South Asian Immigrant Women in Atlantic Canada. The Edwin
Mellen Press.
Smith, Dorothy E. 1987. The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Toronto:
The University of Toronto Press.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1989. “A response to `the difference within: feminism and critical
theory,’” Pp. 207-20 in Elizabeth Meese and Alice Parker, (eds.), The Difference Within:
Feminism and Critical Theory. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Statistics Canada. 1993. Ethnic Origin: the Nation 1991 Census of Canada. Catalogue 93-315.
Ottawa: Industry, Science and Technology Canada.
Thobani, Sunera. 1991. “More than sexist....” Health Sharing 12:110-13.
Yancey, William L., Eugene P. Ericksen and Richard N. Juliani. 1976. “Emergent ethnicity: a
review and reformulation.” American Sociological Review 41:391-403.
144
Verónica Vázquez García1
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and
Canada: A Comparative Study
Abstract
This paper examines the impact of colonialism on Native women in Mexico
and Canada. Two pieces of legislation are analyzed for this purpose: the
Agrarian Code of Mexico and the Indian Act of Canada. Both pieces were
influenced by a liberal tradition which defines civil rights as individual
property rights, where individuals are male. The paper shows that by relying
on the model of the nuclear, monogamous and male-headed family to legislate,
both pieces have limited Native women’s access to land in their own
communities and have placed them in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis their
male counterparts.
Résumé
Cet article examine l’impact du colonialisme sur les femmes autochtones du
Mexique et du Canada en analysant le Code agraire du Mexique et la Loi
canadienne sur les indiens. Ces deux lois ont été influencées par une tradition
libérale qui définissait les droits civils comme des droits individuels à la
propriété. Dans cette définition, les individus sont des hommes. L’article
démontre que ces deux lois, en se basant sur le modèle familial nucléaire,
monogame et patriarcal, limitent l’accès des femmes autochtones à la
propriété dans leurs propres communautés et les placent dans une position de
vulnérabilité face à leurs homologues mâles.
The impact of colonialism on women’s work and status in traditional
subsistence economies has been well documented. Scholars like Leacock
(1972; 1978), Brown (1970) and Bell (1983) have suggested that although men
and women in these societies have separate spheres of activities, they are
autonomous individuals with positions of equal power and prestige. Women
make a substantial contribution to the domestic economy and control the
access to resources and the conditions of their work. These authors postulate
that colonial structures have undermined women’s autonomy and decisionmaking power in their own communities.
Other scholars believe that women’s independence in pre-colonial societies
should not be overestimated. (Huntingdon, 1975; Afonja, 1981) As pointed
out by Moore (1988:32), ethnographies contain “many references to malefemale relations which are hard to fit in with this picture of autonomous
complementarity, especially accounts of male violence towards women.”
Sacks (1979:110) has suggested that kinship rules also play a role in
determining women’s control of resources in pre-colonial societies. In
patrilineal communities, women’s access to resources is derived through
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
marriage into another kin group rather than through women’s relationship with
their natal kin group. In other words, women cut themselves off from their
original kin group at marriage and have access to resources only through their
husbands’ kin group.
This paper will examine the impact of colonialism on Native women in
Mexico and Canada. Emphasis will be placed on the role of the Mexican and
the Canadian states in limiting women’s access to land in their own
communities. Two pieces of legislation will be analyzed for this purpose: the
Agrarian Code of Mexico and the Indian Act of Canada. Both pieces were
influenced by a liberal tradition which defines civil rights as individual
property rights, where individuals are male. This paper will show that by using
the model of the nuclear, monogamous and male-headed family, both pieces of
legislation have limited Native women’s access to land in their own
communities and have placed them in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis their
male counterparts.
The paper is divided into two sections. The first focuses on the ways in which
Native women’s access to land has changed historically in Mexico. Emphasis
is placed on changes in Native inheritance patterns and the emergence of state
legislation which regulates individual rights to property. This section
concludes with an examination of Native women’s land rights under the
Agrarian Code in contemporary Mexico.
The second section discusses Native women’s access to resources in Canada.
Emphasis is placed on Native women’s economic role and social status before
the arrival of Europeans and on the ways in which the Indian Act has
undermined this status. This section concludes with an analysis of women’s
property and civil rights under the Indian Act in contemporary Canada.
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico
The Land Tenure System of Tenochtitlan
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, what is now Mexico was inhabited by
various ethnic groups. Most of them were under the military rule of the Aztec
Empire. The Spaniards had to defeat militarily Tenochtitlan in order to found
New Spain in 1521. Most of the information on pre-hispanic land tenure
systems focuses on Tenochtitlan, the core of the Aztec Empire and what later
became Mexico City.
The unit of the land tenure system in Tenochtitlan was the calpulli, which was
associated with kinship groups and professions that were passed on from
parents to children. Members of households within each calpulli cultivated
collectively a common area and had rights to specific tillable plots which were
cultivated individually. At the time of the Spanish invasion, however, the
equivalence between kinship groups and calpullis was no longer
straightforward. (de Rojas, 1986:101) McBride (quoted in Chevalier and
Buckles, in press:12) suggests that by that time modifications were gradually
destroying “whatever equality had formerly existed in the distribution of the
land and in the social organization that was based upon it.” Evidence of this is
148
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
the existence of estates owned by the Aztec nobility where tenants cultivated
both subsistence plots and the fields of the nobility and provided personal
service at their households.
We know little about women’s involvement in agricultural work in calpullis.
According to Hellbom (1967:235-236), only women belonging to the
professional group of agricultural workers or female slaves performed all
agricultural tasks. Similarly, Cline (1986:112) concludes from her study of
early colonial Tenochtitlan that “generally in central Mexico, agricultural
work seems to have been in the hands of men, although there is some evidence
that women were involved in planting and harvesting.” Rodríguez (1991:99)
also notes that women who did not belong to the nobility occasionally helped
out in agricultural work.
Early colonial evidence shows that residence groups in late Tenochtitlan were
formed by units larger than the nuclear family groupings. They were based on a
parent-child or, more often, a sibling tie. Usually, more than one person,
typically siblings, received rights to residential sites, as well as other parental
property. Brothers and sisters inherited equivalent rights in parental estates.
However, there was a certain bias toward men in some contexts, especially
land inheritance. This reflects males’ overall higher status in society and their
tendency to manage estates, especially landed estates. (Kellogg, 1986:105)
Gender and Land Rights During the Colonial Period (1521-1821)
After the invasion, the ownership and management of land became vested in
the Spanish Crown, which could in turn grant land rights to private persons.
Two forms of land ownership were created: corregimientos and encomiendas.
The first were territories and tribute obligations on the Aboriginal population
controlled by the Spanish Crown, while encomiendas were designations to
Spanish soldiers who had aided in the invasion.
Hardship inflicted by excessive tributes and epidemic diseases devastated the
Aboriginal population in the decades following the invasion. The Spanish
Crown sought to “protect” its new subjects from abuse and replaced the
encomiendas by mercedes, or permanent land grants to Spanish soldiers that
did not involve tribute from the resident population. The Crown also called for
the concentration of Aboriginals into pueblos. The pueblo was composed of a
town site and an ejido comprised of individual agricultural plots and a common
untilled area of forest and pastures. (Chevalier and Buckles, in press:12-14)
In Culhuacan (Central Mexico), the decline of Native populations coupled
with a temporary abundance of resources increased Nahua women’s ability to
inherit and bequeath property. In her analysis of wills, Cline (1986) shows that
although patrimonial land (inherited land, “land that comes by right”) was
owned more frequently by men, women could receive all types of property,
land, houses, and movable goods from male and female donors, and likewise
pass it on to heirs of their choice. Similarly, in early colonial Mexico City
(1540-1600), Nahua men bequeathed much more rural, agricultural land than
their female counterparts, but Nahua women left a much higher proportion of
movable property — almost three times as much as men did. While women left
149
IJCS / RIÉC
land, houses and movable property primarily to their daughters and
granddaughters, men left land, houses and movable property to wives, siblings
and children in a more balanced manner. The pattern of preference for
daughters and granddaughters by women is not gratuitous; a careful reading of
women’s wills suggests that women consciously tried to protect their
daughters’ and granddaughters’ property rights. (Kellogg, 1986)
The sibling group continued to be a major unit of inheritance in other regions
inhabited by Nahua populations (i.e. Cuernavaca). Rights to residential sites in
Mexico City during the early colonial period “were rarely inherited by only
one person; instead, siblings, cousins, and sometimes other relatives were
given such rights to share.” (Kellogg, 1986:117)
However, monogamy and the nuclear family were gradually enforced among
the Aboriginal population through religious indoctrination and legal
sanctions. Tribute had to be paid by each (nuclear) family and Spanish officials
started to identify and name one male as head per household, despite the fact
that often more than one couple shared a household. Spanish inheritance
stressed lineal ties from parents to children rather than lateral ones to brothers
and sisters. Spanish inheritance rules also showed a far greater tendency to
choose one person, or a very small group, particularly the nuclear family, to
inherit. These changes resulted in the distinction between legitimate and
illegitimate children for inheritance purposes in communities where polygyny
was practised. Also, ties between siblings gradually weakened, making it
harder for Native women to inherit as someone’s sister.
Spanish laws are also responsible for the introduction of a legal system where
women could inherit land only as custodial heirs, that is, only if they had
children to support. Unlike the Indian Act of Canada, this system did not create
special categories of people based on their ethnic origin; in other words, the
new laws applied not only to Native women, but to all women living in New
Spain. However, the new laws shaped Native women’s relation to property.
Their access to land became increasingly limited to their roles as mothers and
grandmothers taking care of young children. Colonial courts particularly
benefited women who asserted land claims by making it clear that they had
children to support. Native women learned that they could maximize their
chances to receive land by emphasizing their roles as guardians of young
children.2
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, population pressures reasserted
themselves and the hacienda-latifundio3 became the predominant productive
unit in rural Mexico. In this context, it became more difficult for women to
assert land rights. In Calimaya and Tepemaxalco (state of Mexico), the number
of houses and the amount and extension of land bequeathed in wills diminished
from 1672 to 1821. According to Kanter (personal communication),4 Native
men (Nahua, Othomí and Mazahua) of the Toluca region held a much greater
share of land than Native women. Although women (both married and
widowed) tended to choose female descendants as heirs (daughters, sisters,
nieces and granddaughters), they had to fend off usurpations by male relatives,
the village or (if widows) in-laws. Widows inherited land in their capacity as
150
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
custodial heirs5 and were not considered owners in their own right, but
property mediators between a man and his children.
Gender and Land Rights During the Liberal Reform and the Porfiriato
(1821-1910)
The Mexican Independence and the liberal governments that followed brought
about a further commoditization and privatization of land in all parts of the
country. Legislation against collective ownership of land was introduced by
liberals inspired by laissez-faire and private property ideals. They believed
that private property and the integration of Aboriginal populations into the
wider society would result in economic development and “elevate the Indians
into useful citizens.” (Florescano Mayet quoted in Chevalier and Buckles, in
press:17) Like the Indian Act of Canada, the legislation of independent
Mexico equated civil rights with rights to private property, and attempted to
assimilate Native populations into the dominant society.
In this context, land became more and more attached to families rather than
communities. This was legalized in order to collect taxes and eliminate
corporate ownership. Once personal allotments were legally owned, land
acquired a commercial value and could be sold without regard to kin groups of
the community. Land and house sites were mostly acquired by inheritance, but
they could also be purchased or rented. This resulted in an erosion of
traditional patterns of property acquisition and residence (Olivera, 1976:72).
The laws that allowed land privatization of communal land by individual title
contributed to strengthen men’s position of dominance in the family and made
their right to inherit and bequeath land almost unquestionable. (Mallon, 1990)
The colonial judicial system through which women’s land rights as guardians
of young children were protected in courts also expired with Independence.
After 1821, women simply did not have the same defense (a sympathetic
judge) when they were challenged for their land holdings. As a result, female
land holding among the Nahua, Othomí and Mazahua populations of the
Toluca region declined. (Kanter, personal communication) During the
Porfiriato regime, widows in one district of the region continued to be entitled
to land, but they had to arm themselves and keep watch over it. (González
Montes and Iracheta, 1987:123) Women unwilling to go to such extremes
would stand to lose their land.
Gender and Land Rights after the Mexican Revolution
The Mexican Revolution joined the discontent of a rising class of professionals
and capitalists with the misery of the rural and urban poor. Francisco I.
Madero’s call for elections in 1910 forced dictator Porfirio Díaz to flee the
country and initiated ten years of social upheaval. In spite of women’s active
involvement in the Revolution,6 the new agrarian law did not increase their
chances to obtain land.
The New Agrarian Law
Article 27 of the Constitution of 1917 states that ownership of land and waters
within the national territory is vested in the nation. Like the Spanish Crown
151
IJCS / RIÉC
during colonial times, the state can transfer rights to private persons or
corporations. Ownership of property is subject to the requirements of public
interests.
This principle gave way to varied forms of land property. These are the ejido,
the agrarian community and private property. The first two are collective
forms of property. They represent close to 50 percent of the national territory.
However, 74 percent of these collective lands consist of natural pasture or
forest unsuitable for crop cultivation. (Chevalier and Buckles, in press:29)
The ejido is the most important form of collective land tenure. It is both a
specific territory and an association of independent producers with rights to
land. When the ejido is parcelled, these members have exclusive rights to
specific parcels of land and to common untilled lands (usually forests). About
92 percent of the 28,958 collective landholdings of Mexico (totalling
95,108,066 hectares) are ejidos. Virtually all have been divided into individual
parcels. Recent reforms to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution also permit
the conversion of ejido land into private property and facilitate private
investment in ejido lands. (Chevalier and Buckles, in press:29-30)
By contrast, the agrarian community is a regimen of communal land title
without any specified method of distribution or use. This system applies
mostly to Native communities that were not displaced from their land prior to
the Revolution and that had to apply to state authorities to obtain recognition of
their communal lands. Unlike ejidatarios, comuneros may use lands in any
part of their territory. The Mexican government has tended to favour the
granting of ejidos because they are subject to greater administrative control
than agrarian communities. (Chevalier and Buckles, in press:29-30)
Procedures regarding women’s land rights within ejidos and agrarian
communities have changed throughout the years. The first agrarian law
promulgated in 1915 made no reference to “individual land rights or to the size
of landholdings beneficiaries were to receive: land was either given or
returned, with legal title, to communities. The land right clauses in the 1917
constitution also made no reference to gender.” (Arizpe and Botey, 1987:70)
The Ejido Law of 1920 was the first to establish that land should be distributed
equitably among heads of households. Article 9 of the By-Laws, ratified in
1922, states that “wherever land is granted to ejidos, the heads of households or
individuals over the age of eighteen shall receive from three to five hectares of
irrigated or rainfed lands.” Article 97 of the 1927 law establishes that “ejido
members shall be Mexican nationals, males over the age of eighteen, or single
women or widows supporting a family.” (Arizpe and Botey, 1987:70) In other
words, men over the age of eighteen, regardless of their marital status, are
eligible for land rights, while women had to be responsible for young children
to receive land. As in colonial times, women in post-revolutionary Mexico
qualified for land rights only in their role as guardians of young children.
Women’s organizations asked for amendments to the law in the 1920s and
1930s, prior to and during the Cárdenas administration. At the first congress of
women workers and peasants organized in 1931 by the Partido Feminista
Revolucionario7 (which belonged to the Partido Nacional Revolucionario,8
152
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
the ruling party) and the Bloque Nacional de Mujeres Revolucionarias,9
activist Cuca García pointed out the male bias of the Agrarian Code:
Thousands of women work the land like peons for a small salary, or
work the miserable parcel of their husband, father, or brother,
because they are almost completely limited in their right to land. The
Agrarian Law states that they can obtain land [ejidos] only as the
female head of the family, [or] as adult campesinas who have suitable
needs. The young campesinas don’t have a right to the land; that is,
the agrarian legislation condemns them to always live at the poor
economic level of their father, their husband [or] their brother, and as
we have already said, economic independence is the base of political
independence among women. (Cuca García quoted in Soto,
1990:109)
The issue was raised again during a second congress held in 1933. Juana
Gutiérrez de Mendoza, a veteran of the Revolution, collaborator of the Partido
Liberal Mexicano,10 the Maderistas and the Zapatistas11 spoke of the need for
women peasants to have the same opportunities as men to receive land under
the Agrarian Reform program. (Soto, 1990:110) Women’s organizations first
asked for amendments to the Agrarian Code so that women could be eligible to
receive land in 1935 and again in 1937. (Tuñón, 1992)
During the 1940s the ruling party developed corporative control of women’s
organizations. Avila Camacho’s administration signals the beginning of
charity-like activities encouraged by the wives of consecutive Presidents. His
own wife promoted the idea that women’s role in society was to “love and help
those in need” and emphasized women’s caring responsibilities in public life.
The Agrarian Code was not modified until 1971, when Mexico City was
getting ready to host the first International Women’s Conference (held in
1975). President Echeverría wanted to take an active stand in defending
women’s rights in order to promote his image as a Third World leader and
reestablish his credibility after the Tlatelolco massacre.
The code was modified to give women equal rights to receive land. Article 200
states that Mexicans by birth, “male or female over sixteen years of age, or of
any age if with dependants” are eligible for land rights. Article 45 stipulates
that “women shall enjoy all the rights pertaining to ejido members, shall have
voice and vote in the General Assemblies, and shall be eligible for all positions
in the Committees and Vigilance Counsels.” (Arizpe and Botey, 1987:70-71)
Article 78 was also designed to favour ejidatarias. It states that women can
keep their individual rights to ejido lands if they marry. In any other
circumstances, only one right can be granted per household, and parents can
pass their right only to one child.
Equal Land Rights for Men and Women: Gender Equality?
Although changes to the Agrarian Law were necessary and welcomed, the
number of female land holders in rural Mexico did not increase significantly
after the amendments. In 1984, they accounted for only 15 percent of the total
ejido or community members. (Arizpe and Botey, 1987:71) This can be
attributed to two major elements. First, the monetarization of subsistence
153
IJCS / RIÉC
economies has displaced women from land. Many have been pushed to the
informal sector, mainly domestic work and petty trade, or are employed in
agro-industries. When land distribution processes occur, women are absent
from their communities or are not engaged in subsistence agriculture. This is
case of Pajapan, a Nahua community of southern Veracruz, where the land
distribution took place in 1981. Female land holders in this agrarian
community account for only 41 of the total number (905) of land holders. In the
land distribution process of 1981, many women were absent from the
community and did not receive land rights. Those who attempted to obtain
land were challenged on the grounds that they were not working the land but
rather were engaged in other kinds of income-generating activities and did not
need the land (i.e., petty trade or domestic work).12
Second, the male bias of the Agrarian Code persists. Although the Code was
changed in 1971 to grant equal rights to women and men, women continue to
receive land rights only in their roles as guardians of young children. In the
case of Pajapan, these children must include at least one son, in order to
guarantee the reproduction of local patrilineal inheritance patterns. In other
words, women continue to be considered eligible for land rights only as
property mediators between a father and his sons.
This situation is perpetrated both by the male government officials who visit
the communities to carry out land distribution processes and by maledominated local organizations. The government officials that visited Pajapan
to register eligible land holders only allowed widows with young sons to sign
up in the land census. Other female heads (women separated from their
husbands, wives of polygamous men, widows with sons above 16 or with no
sons) and other women were refused. Women were not informed about the
purpose of the census and local assemblies supported land claims by men
instead of women, unless these women were widows, had at least one young
son and were not living with another man.
Thus, Native women in contemporary Mexico still face numerous obstacles to
land rights. This is due to two elements. First, the monetarization of
subsistence economies has displaced women from the land. Many work in the
informal sector (i.e., domestic work, petty trade) or as seasonal labourers or
workers in the agro-industrial and export manufacturing sectors, where they
are always paid less than men.13 (Deere and León, 1987) Second, although the
Agrarian Code was modified to grant equal rights to women and men, male
bias persists. Government officials and male-dominated local organizations
only allow women to receive land rights when they are widows, have at least
one young son, and are not living with another man. Women in other
circumstances are not considered eligible.
Gender and Land Rights in Canada
Land Tenure Systems at the Time of European Contact
Two major linguistic groups occupied what later became Canada: the Iroquois
and the Algonkian. Iroquois society was matrifocal, matrilineal and
matrilocal. This means that “descent was traced through women and after
154
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
marriage, the husband went to live with his wife’s family. Each dwelling was
owned by a senior woman.” (Jamieson, 1978:113) An Iroquois household
“consisted of a woman, her female relations, their spouses and dependants.”
(Miller, 1989:9)
The economy of the Iroquois relied on corn and fish. The people stayed in one
place from ten to twelve years, until soil exhaustion forced them to move on.
Women were responsible for agricultural operations (except for clearing the
fields, which was men’s responsibility) and played a prominent social and
political role. Senior matrons had the power to elect and depose elders of the
highest political rank, and hereditary eligibility to this council descended
through the female. The matrons also had veto powers in questions of war and
peace, since the men were absent for long periods on military or hunting
expeditions. (Jamieson, 1986:113; Miller, 1989:8; Dickason, 1993:71)
The other major linguistic group in Canada, the Algonkians, were migratory
peoples that subsisted on hunting and gathering. An Algonkian band was a
group of male kin who hunted together, their spouses and their dependent
families. (Miller, 1989:6-9) Among the Montagnais-Naskapi, an Algonkian
speaking group, men and women filled complementary functions. Men hunted
and women brought home the game slain by their husbands, prepared the food,
tanned the skins and made them into clothing. They also fetched wood and
water, caught fish and gathered shellfish. Women controlled the
apportionment and distribution of meat as well as the assignment of living
space and the selection of campsites. The Montagnais-Naskapi practised
polygyny and sexual freedom for both men and women even after marriage.
They could also dissolve marriages at the desire of either partner. (Devens,
1986:464; Leacock, 1991:11-27)
Given their migratory condition, the notion of private property was foreign to
the Native people of Canada. The Kaianerakowa, the ancient constitution of
the Haudenosaunee Nations Iroquois Confederacy, states that land was and is
invested in the power of the women: “The lineal descent of the people of the
Five Nations shall run in the female line. Women shall be considered the
progenitors of the Nation. They shall own the land and the soil. Men and
Women shall follow the status of their mother.” (Quoted in Kahenrak
Goodleaf, 1993:227)
Native Land in the First Centuries of European Colonization
(1600-1867)
As opposed to Mexico, where the Aztecs were militarily defeated by the
Spaniards, the first centuries of European colonization in Canada were
distinguished by cooperation in expeditions, trade and war between European
powers (mainly French and British) and Aboriginal people. Natives were
interested in European technology, and exchanged fur for iron items.
During the seventeenth century, Europeans were few in number and New
France remained a commercial colony rather than an agricultural settlement.
As such, it did not represent a serious threat to the Aboriginal people. (Miller,
1989:41-58) However, women’s social status was undermined by their
155
IJCS / RIÉC
increasing involvement in fur trade transactions. This was particularly true
among nomadic, hunting-gathering groups which settled in villages near
French missions for protection from enemy groups or to recuperate from the
devastation of epidemics. In these groups, the significance of women’s
contribution to the economy declined. French merchants were mainly
interested in the furs obtained by Native men, and they gave European clothing
in exchange. As Devens (1986:472) points out, “the orientation of many
female tasks began to shift from the creation of an useful end product, such as
clothing or tools, to assistance in the preparation of furs.”
The eighteenth century was distinguished by military alliances between
Native people and European powers where Aboriginals were the dominant
partner. During the war between France and Britain for control of North
America, Native alliances with the French were vital. (Miller, 1989:59-80) As
a result, the British Crown tried to maintain peace and “protect” Aboriginal
people. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 establishes that Native people are
subject to the “paternal care” of the British Crown. Native land is under royal
“sovereignty, protection and dominion, for the use of the said Indians,” and
cannot be granted to new settlers. Like the Spanish Crown in Mexico, the
British Crown usurped the power to regulate land grants and to “protect” its
Native subjects from white settlers.
Aboriginal land was gradually colonized through the signing of treaties in
most parts of Canada, with the exception of Quebec. Since the sixteenth
century, the idea developed that Native people had no rights over the land.
Treaties were viewed as a “moral,” not a legal obligation, and as a means to
avoid conflict. In these treaties, land was surrendered to the Crown in
exchange for lump-sum payments or annuities. Native people retained hunting
and fishing privileges. (Miller, 1989:92; Dickason, 1992:254;273) According
to Wotherspoon and Satzewich (1993:21-28), these treaties signal the
beginning of primitive accumulation in Canada. As a transfer of land from
government and then to settler control, the treaties cleared away the politicallegal obstacles to the development of capitalism in Canada.
Moreover, fur trade was gradually replaced by agriculture in eastern Canada.
Once Native peoples were not needed as economic or military allies, the civil
government attempted to concentrate them in settled areas and to subject them
to agriculture and Christian education in residential schools. Reserves were
first established during the 1830s and residential schools during the 1840s.
(Jamieson, 1986:115; Miller, 1989:99-108)
As for western Canada, the fur trade remained an important activity in which
Aboriginal people were major players for nearly 200 years, from the founding
of the Hudson Bay Company in 1670 until the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the
newly created Dominion of Canada in 1870. Europeans relied heavily on
Aboriginals for fur pelts. Native populations also provided a good market for
European goods. (Van Kirk, 1991:74)
Women played a pivotal role in expeditions and fur trade. They were
invaluable interpreters, diplomats and peacemakers during expeditions, and
actively promoted the fur trade. Intermarriage between incoming traders and
156
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
Native women contributed to the success of fur trade operations and became an
accepted practice in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. However,
in the 1830s and 1840s the fur-trade order gave way to agrarian settlements and
newly arrived British women became models for morality and wifely virtues.
(Van Kirk, 1972:21; 1991:74-77; Brown, 1976a:68; 1976b:96) As in eastern
Canada, Native peoples in the western part of the country became immersed in
a process of territorial confinement.
Gender and Land Rights after Confederation: The Indian Act of 1876
Section 91.24 of the British North America Act of 1867 states that the federal
government has exclusive legislative authority for “Indians and lands reserved
for the Indians.” (quoted in Jamieson, 1986:117) In this sense, Confederation
did not mean the birth of a new nation for Aboriginal people. Rather, it meant
the extension of the paternalistic policy of the British Crown. Like the Crown,
the federal government of the new nation granted itself the right over Native
people and land, the authority to set up borders and to define people’s
identities.
At the time of Confederation, legislation concerning Native people had three
major functions: 1) “civilizing” the Aboriginal populations — assimilating
them (and their lands) into Euro-Canadian citizenry; 2) achieving a “better
management” of Natives and their lands — controlling expenditures and
resources; 3) to accomplish these goals, it became important to define who was
an “Indian” and who was not. (Jamieson, 1986:117) This legislation triggered
a process of differentiation within communities which disadvantaged women
vis-à-vis their male counterparts.
Legislation promulgated in 1850 attempted to determine who was entitled to
live on Native land in Lower Canada. This Act included the first definition of
an “Indian.” Significantly, all persons, both male and female, who were
intermarried with individuals otherwise qualifying as “Indians” and living
with them were entitled to Indian status, as were their descendants. This
legislation did not make distinctions between male and female Natives.
(Jamieson, 1986:116)
Attitudes towards Native peoples hardened with the increasing pressures of
European settlement. The problems with Aboriginals were viewed not as a
result of their territorial confinement, but of their inability to “progress.” One
year later, the Act was amended to restrict the membership provisions further.
The provision granting Indian status to all persons intermarried with Natives
was withdrawn and a new section was added permitting only women (and their
descendants but not the women’s spouses) who married non-Natives to be
considered “Indian.” (Jamieson, 1986:116)
In 1857, the Gradual Civilization Act was applied to both Upper and Lower
Canada. Its purpose was to remove all legal distinctions between Aboriginals
and other Canadians by forcing Native people to assimilate within the
dominant society. As Richardson puts it, “the 1857 Act spelled out in detail
how Aboriginal people could be detached from their community ... and
become honourary whites.” (1993:61) As in the case of Mexico, civil rights
157
IJCS / RIÉC
were equated with rights to property, and enfranchisement was seen as a
mechanism to facilitate the acquisition of property and the attendant rights for
Native people.
The requirements to become enfranchised included “the ability to speak, read
and write English or French, good moral character, and freedom from debt.”
(Richardson, 1993:61) The law offered fifty acres on reserve land and a sum of
money to encourage enfranchisement. Only males could be enfranchised, and
their dependants were enfranchised with the male automatically. (Jamieson,
1986:116)
In a similar vein, the Act of 1869 provided that on the death of a Native man,
his goods and land rights were to be passed on to his children. His wife was not
considered an eligible heir because she was considered her children’s
dependent. Section 6 provided that any Native woman marrying “any other
than an Indian shall cease to be an Indian within the meaning of this Act.” Her
children in such a marriage would also lose their status, and a Native woman
marrying a Native man from another band would become (along with their
children) a member of the husband’s band and lose her band membership.
The first Act to bear the name of “Indian Act” was passed in 1876. It elaborated
on the definition of an Indian by emphasizing descent through the male line:
Indian was “any male person of Indian blood reputed to belong to a particular
band.” It restated that any woman who marries a non-Native loses her status
but may retain her right to annuities. Yet, the Act also gave the SuperintendentGeneral the power “to stop the payment of the annuity and interest money of
any woman having no children who deserts her husband and lives immorally
with another man.”
As in the case of Mexico, this legislation failed to account for the great
diversity in the social and political organization of Native peoples. The
legislation emphasized private property, a notion alien to Aboriginal peoples.
It made the nuclear, monogamous, male-headed family the model by which
private property was acquired and civil rights granted. In doing so, the
legislation placed Native women in a no-win situation. Those who married
non-Natives lost their Indian status and became totally dependent on their
husbands. Indeed, the Indian Act of 1876 states that these women did not have
to be educated or “civilized” to prove that they could survive in the white
world, since the responsibility for them was transferred from the government
to their husband. If a woman deserted her husband or was deserted by him and
started to live with another man, she would lose her right to an annuity and be
condemned for her “immoral” behaviour.
On the other hand, women who married Native men also became dependent on
them, because they had no access to their husbands’ property even after his
death. They also had to leave the reserve if their husbands so wanted. Women’s
previous economic role and political influence, which were determined by
their control of resources and the products of their labour, were drastically
undermined. Native women in Canada, like Native women in Mexico, became
subject to patriarchal controls over resources, marriage and reproduction.
158
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
Modifications to the Indian Act (1951)
The first three decades of the twentieth century signal the beginning of
political activism among the Native peoples of Canada. Aboriginal
organizations asserted land claims and demanded respect for treaties, a better
school system, agricultural assistance as well as the right to perform traditional
rituals. The 1930s were characterized by inactivity on the side of the federal
government, but World War II made Canadians question their country’s policy
on Native peoples. A joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons
was appointed in 1946 to investigate Indian Affairs and the Indian Act.
Representatives from Native associations (the North American Indian
Brotherhood and other Native associations from British Columbia, Alberta,
Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec) submitted briefs and testified before the
committee. Some called for the abolition of the Act, while others stated that
women who had lost their status through marriage and were deserted or
widowed should be allowed to rejoin their communities. However, the
committee ignored Aboriginal people’s recommendations, and the Indian Act
did not change substantially. While the most obnoxious features such as
compulsory enfranchisement, bans on the potlatch and the Sun Dance, and
prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol were deleted, the general
outlines of the policy remained unchanged after the consultations. (Miller,
1989:220-222)
Furthermore, new clauses affecting Native women who married non-Natives
were inserted. Prior to 1951, these women had to some extent a dual status as
Indian and ordinary Canadian citizens in that they could retain the right to
annuities and band moneys, stay on the band list and enjoy some benefits as
well as treaty rights (if their band had entered a treaty) even though they were
deprived of their legal rights to hold land on the reserve. As of 1951, however,
they were automatically deprived of any band rights from the date of marriage
and deleted from the band list. Any property that they held on the reserve had to
be sold or otherwise disposed of within thirty days. In exchange they would be
given twenty years of treaty money (if the band took treaty) plus one per capita
share of the capital and revenue moneys held by Her Majesty on behalf of the
band. In short, these women were subject to involuntary enfranchisement.14
(Jamieson, 1978:60-62).
The Lavell-Bedard Case
The post-war decolonization movement throughout the world raised questions
about how long Canada could go on treating Native peoples as internal
colonies. During the sixties, surveys of the conditions in which Aboriginal
people lived provided proof that the implemented policies did not work. The
Liberal government committed itself to revise the Indian Act and carried out
several consultations with Native organizations. The result was the Statement
of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy of 1969, which proposed the
extinction of Native people’s separate legal status as a step towards their
economic and social recovery. The statement reflected Trudeau’s views of a
“just society” where it was inappropriate to recognize ethnic and racial groups
as collectivities. The statement was overwhelmingly rejected by Native
leaders who argued that Native peoples were not mere citizens, as Trudeau
159
IJCS / RIÉC
regarded them, “but a distinct category of people within Canada who had
special rights.” (Miller, 1989:230) The proposal ignored the issues raised by
Aboriginal leaders during the consultation process and embittered Nativegovernment relations during the 1970s.
In this context, Native women attempted to change the Indian Act to end
gender discrimination. In 1970, Jeanette Lavell, an Ojibwa woman who had
married a non-Native, contested the deletion of her name from the band list by
arguing that such deletion constituted discrimination on the basis of race and
sex and, as such, contradicted the Canadian Bill of Rights. Lavell was joined in
her case by Yvonne Bedard, a Native woman who had married out and then
separated from her husband. She was fighting the Six Nations band council’s
attempts to evict her from the house on the reserve willed to her by her mother.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Lavell and Bedard in a
controversial five-to-four decision. It was decided that the Bill of Rights could
not take precedence over the Indian Act. (Jamieson, 1986:126)
The National Indian Brotherhood took a stand against Lavell and Bedard. The
federal Liberal government and the NIB agreed that a process of full
consultation was required before any modifications to the Indian Act.
However, the NIB withdrew from the joint committee in April 1978 and the
issue of gender discrimination in the Act remained unresolved. While male
Native leaders phrased the issue as one of individual rights versus collective
rights, the government had defined the Native women’s problem as a Native
problem and had locked its resolution into the policy commitments vis-à-vis
Native people. Moreover, Native women were not yet participants in the
political process. This was a time “when the status of Indian women is being
decided by everyone but Indian women — including the courts, the politicians,
the lawyers and Indian men.” (Anonymous journalist quoted in Weaver,
1993:100)
Modifications of the Indian Act (1985)
In 1981, Canada’s human rights reputation was questioned when the United
Nations Human Rights Committee announced that Canadian law had violated
the human rights of Sandra Lovelace, a Maliseet woman from the Tobique
Reserve in New Brunswick, who had been denied the right to live in her natal
reserve. The Canadian government agreed to make a commitment to the UN to
introduce legislative changes. As a result, a special parliamentary committee
recommended in 1982 that discriminatory sections be eliminated from the Act
and that women who had lost status, and their first-generation children, be
reinstated. In mid-1984, during the last days of the short-lived government of
John Turner, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-47, which passed
quickly through the House of Commons but was defeated in the Senate.
The implementation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibited
discrimination on the basis of sex, obliged the new federal Conservative
government to change to the Act accordingly. In February 1985, the
government introduced Bill C-31, which was passed four months later.
(Jamieson, 1986:130; Miller, 1989:241-242) Under the amended Act, no one
would lose status through marriage. Women who had lost their Indian status
160
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
before these changes were eligible for reinstatement to band membership and
for re-registration as Indians under the Act. Their first-generation children and
all people enfranchised for any reason, and their children, could also apply for
registered Indian status, but were not entitled to band membership. Secondgeneration children of restored persons were not granted legal status or band
membership. In the future, Indian status would be granted to those with at least
one parent having status. (Jamieson, 1978:131; Weaver, 1993:116)
As can be seen, the bill formally and legally separated Indian status from band
membership. While the federal government reserved the right to determine
Indian status, both band membership and reserve residency were to be
determined by bands. The bill was considered by its proponent, Minister of
Indian Affairs David Crombie, a compromise between women’s rights to
equality and the interest of male-dominated Native organizations in selfgovernment. Two broad categories of Indians were created with the changes to
the Indian Act:
1) a group of those who had band membership on April 17, 1985,
their children, and the reinstated women (minus their children); 2) a
group who have registered Indian status but not band membership
and thus, unlike those in the first category, do not have the right to live
on an Indian reserve, share in resources, or take part in band politics.
(Jamieson, 1986:131)
As a compromise between two strong positions, the new law pleased few
Native groups. While the Native Women’s Association liked the bill’s
reinstatement of women, the abolition of enfranchisement and the bill’s
explicit recognition of band control over band membership, the organization
also believed that the bill failed to restore the rights of all persons of Native
ancestry, in a full and equal manner. Faults of the bill include:
discriminatory treatment of women and children under the secondgeneration cut-off rule and other provisions, its divisiveness in
creating new categories of First Nations people due to its separation
of status and membership, its long-range effect of limiting the size of
the status population through the “half-descent rule,” and its failure to
ensure a role for reinstated women in developing band membership
codes. (Weaver, 1993:121)
On the other hand, the Assembly of First Nations (the new name for the NIB)
welcomed the bill’s recognition of band control, but remained hostile to the
notion of automatic reinstatement of women to band membership. The official
explanation was that compulsory reinstatement violated the selfdetermination of citizenship. (Weaver, 1993:121)
Bill C-31: A Change Towards Gender Equality?
According to the Department of Indian Affairs, about 16,000 women and
20,000 other individuals would be entitled to membership in Canada’s almost
600 bands after the changes. The Department calculated that the total number
of those eligible to regain status, though not necessarily band membership,
ranged from 76,000 to 86,000. (Jamieson, 1986:132)
161
IJCS / RIÉC
Indian Affairs underestimated the number of applicants. Since the
amendment, 95,153 of 153,903 Natives who applied for status have been
reinstated. By December 1991, the population with Indian status had increased
by nearly 16 percent. Unprepared for such an influx of applicants, the
Department was ineffective in implementing the new policy. Critics pointed
out new forms of inequality resulting from this implementation. (Weaver,
1993:122-123)
The starting point for examining these new forms is the separation of legal
status from band membership. For example, if a woman is reinstated to legal
status, she has no guarantee of access to the benefits of band membership
because she may still be denied residence on the reserve. She has, however,
access to the benefits of programs for off-reserve Indians, like post-secondary
education grants, uninsured health benefits and certain economic programs.
For most women, band membership without reserve residence satisfied their
personal aims because they had established themselves in the cities. The
majority of Native women reinstated since 1985 fell into this category.
(Weaver, 1993:125)
But women who wanted the full benefits of membership had to live on the
reserve to obtain them. The “on-reserve package”15 was extremely costly to
the federal government and to bands. By not providing appropriate funds, the
policy forced women into hostile political climates with the local reserve.
(Weaver, 1993:126)
Attitudes towards returning women and their children varied regionally, from
liberal postures in British Columbia and southern Ontario to the more
intolerant Prairies. (Weaver, 1993) In Alberta, where 10,026 of 21,137
applicants have won back status, male Native leaders have challenged the
amendment, claiming that bands and not Ottawa have the right to determine
their own membership. Many of the bands, such as the Tsuu T’ina Nation on
Calgary’s southwest limits, claim they have insufficient funds to
accommodate new members. Band councils passed strict membership codes
excluding Bill C-31, while others have accepted the women and their children
back with restrictions, like being placed on probation, paying a fee or not being
allowed to open a business. (Dudley, 1993) The National Aboriginal Inquiry
on Bill C-31 reported in 1990 several charges of blatant discrimination against
women by bands. According to the report, a new category of persons with
diminished social status, the returning “C-31,” had been created. They had
become scapegoats for the wider ills which characterize some communities.
(Weaver, 1993:127)
Activist Susan Huskey believes that wealthy bands have resisted taking the
reinstated people back because they “don’t want to split the pie into small
pieces,” and fear new voters could upset those in power. Such is the case of the
Sawridge band, Canada’s wealthiest reserve per capita. The oil-rich tribe of
less than 100 members has assets in excess of $30 million. (Dudley, 1993)
However, other reserves, even if they do want to take the people back, simply
lack enough resources to accommodate them. As pointed out by Fiske, the land
base of some reserves is either inadequate or impoverished in natural
resources, so “the majority of Native communities suffer chronic
162
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
unemployment, impoverishment, and dependency on state-controlled
welfare.” (1990:131) Although Crombie assured at the time of the changes that
“no band would be worse off” because of the revised Indian Act, the funds
committed by the federal government to cover the needs of reinstated people
have proven insufficient. (Dudley, 1993) Thus, the Canadian government has
granted Native women equality within its own structure of internal
colonialism, while leaving the bands to cope with the financial and land-base
problems brought about by the reinstatement of those who had previously lost
their status. The result is that “while the Canadian government has sought to
correct its past sins of patriarchal control of Native women, the government is
making the First Nations pay the cost of expiating those sins.” (Green quoted in
Emberley, 1993:90)
Women’s reinstatement has not been easy. In wealthy reserves, they face many
restrictions or may not even be admitted; others lack resources to
accommodate them. The result is the reproduction of women’s poverty. Native
women are often single mothers who lack the benefits of appropriate child care
programs. A disproportionately large number of them live on social assistance
with the constant and well-founded fear that their children will be apprehended
by child-care authorities and put into permanent foster care. They and their
children are often the subjects of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They are
disproportionately overrepresented in correctional institutions and still do not
have matrimonial property rights on reserves if their marriages break down.
Native women still live ten years less than other Canadian women. (Jamieson,
1986:134; Weaver, 1993:128)
Conclusions
Various state formations throughout Mexican history have played an active
role in the distribution of resources between the wealthy and the poor and
between women and men. The colonial state is responsible for the introduction
of a new legal system which shaped Native women’s relationships to land.
This system established the model of the nuclear, monogamous and maleheaded family as the only valid pattern for land distribution. In doing so, the
system undermined the preference of siblings over children as heirs and the
equivalence of male and female siblings of the pre-hispanic period. The new
laws also reduced women’s ability to own land by restricting their rights to
land to their roles as guardians of children or grandchildren.
Women’s rights to land have not increased significantly despite radical
changes in the country — a war of Independence, liberal programs in the
nineteenth century, and a social Revolution in the first half of the twentieth
century. The colonial judicial system, in which women’s land rights as
guardians of children were protected, expired with the Independence from
Spain in 1821. Liberal programs implemented during the nineteenth century
attached land to families rather than communities, in order to make tax
collection and land transactions effective. These new policies contributed to
strengthen men’s position of dominance within the family. Finally, the
Agrarian Code introduced after the Revolution of 1910 acknowledged various
forms of communal ownership of land, but did not ensure women’s equality.
163
IJCS / RIÉC
Changes to ensure gender equality under the Agrarian Code were not made
until 1971. However, female land holders still account for a minority in both
ejidos and agrarian communities. This is mainly due to two factors: 1) the
monetarization of subsistence economies has resulted in the displacement of
women from land; 2) the prevalence (in practice) of the male bias in the
Agrarian Code. Even though women have the same legal opportunities as men
to become land holders, government officials and male-dominated Native
organizations only support women’s land claims if they are widows, have
young children and are not living with another man. Women’s roles as
guardians of young children, established by the colonial legal system, still
determine Native women’s access to land in contemporary Mexico.
In Canada, something similar has occurred. Prior to the arrival of the
Europeans, Aboriginals had no sense of private property. Women in these
societies played a major economic role and retained control over the product of
their labour, which translated into social and political influence. In the first
centuries of European colonization Native women continued to play a pivotal
role in expeditions and fur trade activities, although their political influence
was undermined by the emphasis on fur trade activities and the deterioration of
pre-contact subsistence economies. Aboriginal people were gradually
confined within a particular territory and subject to segregational practices.
These practices were legitimized through the Indian Act, which triggered a
process of legal differentiation within communities and disadvantaged women
vis-à-vis their male counterparts.
In the Indian Act, Native women were denied the legal opportunity to hold
property and enjoy civil rights. They were also denied the rights of status
Indians. As Krosenbrink-Gelissen puts it, Native women have been
“marginalized in their own country and in their own community.” (1993:335)
Women who married men without Indian status became legally dependent on
their husbands and had to leave the reserve; those who married men with
Indian status and stayed on the reserve were also denied the right to own
property and whether or not they stayed on the reserve depended on their
husbands’ will. Property and civil rights were modelled on the male-headed,
nuclear and monogamous family in which women and children are considered
the male’s property.
The changes of 1985 to end gender discrimination left many unsolved
problems. While some wealthy reserves do not want to share their riches with
the reinstated women, others lack resources to accommodate them. Although
women are allowed back, their living conditions are often inadequate.
Both the Agrarian Code and the Indian Act were influenced by a liberal
tradition that defines civil rights as individual and property rights. Within this
tradition, the individual is male and has as his dependents a wife and children.
This notion conflicted with the diverse forms of social organization in both
pre-hispanic Mexico and pre-contact Canada. While in pre-hispanic Mexico
siblings were an important grouping for inheritance purposes and women
could inherit in their own right, women in pre-contact societies in Canada
controlled their access to resources and enjoyed social status and political
power. Even today, people living in extended families and women living in
164
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
polygamous relations do not fit the model of the male-headed, nuclear and
monogamous family on which land rights have been based and civil rights
granted.
Both pieces of legislation were created in the period of nation-state building of
each country. The Spanish and British Crowns launched a policy of
paternalism which the independent nation-states pursued. In both countries,
these nation-states assumed the right to rule over Aboriginal territory, set up
borders and define people’s identities.
Although they claimed to “protect” Native peoples and land, both pieces of
legislation were state mechanisms aimed at controlling Native land and
resources and policing Aboriginal populations. In Canada, “Indians” had to be
defined in order to manage their lands and turn them into citizens and private
property owners. In Mexico, communal forms of land ownership were
incorporated into the legislation due to the communal tradition of the
Tenochtitlan land tenure system, the semi-feudal heritage of incoming
Spaniards and the social character of the Revolution. However, both the
Agrarian Code and the Indian Act worked against women when membership
codes in Canada and forms of land tenure in Mexico were established. Both
reproduced the model of the male-headed, monogamous and nuclear family to
regulate access to land. In doing so, the legislation made women legally
dependent on men and limited their access to land in their own communities.
Notes
1.
PhD Candidate in Sociology, Carleton University. This paper was produced during a oneyear contract with the Centre for Research on North America, National University of
Mexico, Mexico City.
2.
See Kellogg (1984) for examples on Nahua women’s land claims in colonial courts.
3.
The hacienda-latifundios were large estates owned by one family (typically of Spanish
origin) where landless peasants had access to a small plot of land to cultivate for selfconsumption in exchange of free labour. Native populations living in isolated areas claimed
by hacienda owners were forced to pay exorbitant rents to farm the land, or face deportation.
Native populations were also forced to buy products not grown by themselves at the local
store. Those who could not pay with money had to pay with agricultural produce or labour.
Since they were constantly in debt with the owners of the hacienda, they had to continue
working for free and were unable to leave.
4.
Deborah Kanter, PhD Candidate in History, University of Virginia. Thesis title: “Hijos del
Pueblo: Family, Gender and Community in Rural Mexico, the Toluca Region, 1733-1840.”
5.
A widow’s rights were usually specified as “use rights” during the course of her lifetime.
Wills stated that she should use the inherited property to fulfil her obligations as a parent visà-vis her children and that the property should be transferred to them at the time of her death
or when children reached adulthood. (Loera y Chávez, 1977)
6.
See Soto (1990) for a discussion of the participation of women of different social classes and
ethnic backgrounds in the Mexican Revolution.
7.
Revolutionary Feminist Party.
8.
National Revolutionary Party.
9.
National Bloc of Revolutionary Women.
10. Mexican Liberal Party.
11. Different factions in the Mexican Revolution.
165
IJCS / RIÉC
12.
13.
14.
15.
The data on this community was gathered in 1993 and 1994 while doing fieldwork for my
doctoral dissertation. The tentative title is “Gender, Cattle and Land: Women’s Responses to
Capitalist Development in the Gulf Nahua.”
According to the census of 1990, one in ten economically active women in Mexico is a
domestic worker. By the late 1970s, one-third of the 5.4 million people working in agroindustries were women. (González Montes, 1994) Although the figures do not indicate
ethnic origin, it can be assumed that many of these are Native women.
These compensations have proved inadequate in most cases. For example, between 1966
and 1977, payments averaged $261.80 per person enfranchised. Other benefits lost by these
women include access to educational services and allowances, off-reserve and on-reserve
financial assistance for housing, loans to start businesses and free medicines, plus those
enjoyed by people living on the reserve (i.e., hunting, fishing, animal grazing and trapping
rights; exemption from taxation; cash distributions derived from the sale of band assets or
moneys surplus to band needs). (Jamieson, 1986:125)
This package consists of tax exemptions, a share in the band’s assets and revenues, right to
vote, inherit and own property on the reserve, access to education, housing and economic
development programs and the right to be buried on the reserve.
Bibliography
General
Afonja, Simi. 1981. “Changing Modes of Production and the Sexual Division of Labour among
the Yoruba.” Signs 7(2).
Bell, Diane. 1983. Daughters of the Dreaming. Melbourne: McPhee Gribble.
Brown, Judith. 1970. “A Note on the Division of Labour by Sex.” American Anthropologist 72(5).
Huntingdon, Suellen. 1975. “Issues in women’s role in economic development: critique and
alternatives.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 37.
Leacock, Eleanor. 1972. Introduction to F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and
the State. New York: International Publishers.
_____. 1978. “Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution,”
Current Anthropology (19)2.
Moore, Henrietta L. 1988. Feminism and Anthropology. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis
Press.
Sacks, Karen. 1979. Sisters and Wives: The Past and Future of Sexual Equality. Westport, Conn.:
Greenwood Press.
Mexico
Arizpe, Lourdes and Carlota Botey. 1987. “Mexican Agricultural Development Policy and Its
Impact on Rural Women” in C.D. Deere and M. León (eds.) Rural Women and State Policy
in Latin America. Colorado: Westview Press.
Chevalier, Jacques and D. Buckles. In press. Power and Destruction in the Mexican Tropics: The
Gulf Nahua. London: Zed Books.
Cline, S.L. 1986. Colonial Culhuacan, 1580-1600. A Social History of an Aztec Town.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Deere, C. and M. León de Leal (eds.). 1987. Rural Women and State Policy. Colorado: West View
Press.
De Rojas, José Luis. 1986. México Tenochtitlan: Economía y Sociedad en el Siglo XVI. Mexico
City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
González Montes, S. and P. Iracheta. 1987. “La violencia en la vida de las mujeres campesinas: el
Distrito de Tenango, 1880-1910” in Presencia y Transparencia: la mujer en la historia de
México. Mexico City: Colegio de México.
González Montes, Soledad. 1994. “Mujeres, trabajo y pobreza en el campo mexicano: una
revisión crítica de la bibliografía reciente” in J. Alatorre et. al (eds.) Las mujeres en la
pobreza. Mexico City: Colegio de México.
Hellbom, Anna-Britta. 1967. La participación cultural de las mujeres Indias y Mestizas en el
México precortesiano y postrevolucionario. Stockholm: The Ethnographical Museum.
Kanter, Deborah. Personal letter dated May 17, 1992.
Kellogg, Susan M. 1984. “Aztec Women in Early Colonial Courts: Structure and Strategy in a
Legal Context” in R. Spores and R. Hassig (eds.), Five Centuries of Law and Politics in
Central Mexico. Nashville: Vanderbilt Publications. Publications in Anthropology #30.
166
Gender and Land Rights in Mexico and Canada
_____. 1986. “Kinship and Social Organization in Early Colonial Tenochtitlan” in R. Spores and
P. Andrews (eds.) Handbook of Middle American Indians Volume 4. Austin: University of
Texas Press.
Loera y Chávez, Margarita. 1977. Calimaya y Tepamaxalco. Tenencia y trasmisión hereditaria de
la tierra en dos comunidades indígenas. Epoca colonial. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de
Antropología e Historia.
Mallon, Florencia. 1990. The Conflictual Construction of Community: Gender, Ethnicity and
Hegemony in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. Unpublished manuscript.
Olivera, Mercedes. 1976. “The Barrios of San Andrés Cholula” in H. Nutini, P. Carrasco and J.
Taggart (eds.) Essays on Mexican Kinship. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Rodríguez, Ma. de Jesús. 1991. La mujer azteca. Toluca: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de
México.
Soto, Shirlene. 1990. Emergence of the Modern Mexican Woman. Her Participation in Revolution
and Struggle for Equality. Denver: Arden Press.
Tuñón Pablos, Esperanza. 1992. Mujeres que se organizan. El FUPDM, 1935-1938. Mexico City:
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México – Porrúa.
Canada
Documents
The Royal Proclamation. London, 1763.
Indian Acts and Amendments, 1868-1950. Treaties and Historical Research Centre & Department
of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 2nd Edition, 1981.
Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969. Presented by the Honourable Jean
Chrétien, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Secondary Sources
Brown, Jennifer. 1976a. “A Demographic Transition in the Fur Trade Country: Family Sizes and
Fertility of Company Officers and Country Wives, Ca. 1759-1850” in The Western
Canadian Journal of Anthropology 6(1).
_____. 1976b. “Changing Views of Fur Trade Marriage and Domesticity: James Hargrave, His
Colleagues, and `The Sex’” in The Western Canadian Journal of Anthropology 6(3).
Devens, Carol. 1986. “Separate Confrontations: Gender as a factor in Indian Adaptation to
European Colonization in New France,” American Quarterly 38(3).
Dickason, Olive P. 1992. Canada’s First Nations. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Dudley, Wendy. 1993. “Native Rights: Bill C-31 has Indians battling each other” in Calgary
Herald, August 17, 1993.
Emberley, Julia V. 1993. Thresholds of Difference: Feminist Critique, Native Women’s Writings,
Postcolonial Theory. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fiske, Jo-Anne. 1990. “Native Women in Reserve Politics: Strategies and Struggles” in Roxana
Ng, J. Mueller and G. Walker (eds.) Community Organization and the Canadian State.
Toronto: Garmond Press.
Jamieson, Kathleen. 1978. Indian Women and the Law in Canada: Citizen Minus. Ottawa:
Minister of Supply Services.
_____. 1986. “Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act” in J.R. Ponting (ed.) Arduous Journey.
Canadian Indians and Decolonization. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Kahenrakwas Goodleaf, Donna. 1993. “Under Military Occupation. Indigenous Women, State
Violence and Community Resistance,” in L. Carty (ed.) And Still We Rise: Feminist Political
Mobilizing in Contemporary Canada. Canada: Women’s Press.
Krosenbrink-Gelissen, Lillian E. and J.S. Friederes. 1993. Native Peoples in Canada.
Scarborough: Prentice-Hall.
Leacock, Eleonor. 1991. “Montagnais Women and the Jesuit Program for Colonization” in V.
Strong-Boag and A.C. Fellman (eds.) Rethinking Canada. The Promise of Women’s History.
Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman.
Miller, J.R. 1989. Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens. A History of Indian-White Relations in Canada.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Richardson, Boyce. 1993. People of Terra Nullius. Betrayal and Rebirth in Aboriginal Canada.
Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre.
Van Kirk, Sylvia. 1972. “Women and the Fur Trade” in The Beaver (Winter).
______. 1991. “The Role of Native Women in the Fur Trade Society of Western Canada, 16701830” in V. Strong-Boag and A.C. Fellman (eds.) Rethinking Canada. The Promise of
Women’s History. Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman.
Weaver, Sally. 1993. “First Nations Women and Government Policy, 1970-1972: Discrimination
and Conflict” in S. Burt, L. Code and L. Dorney (eds.) Changing Patterns. Women in
Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Wotherspoon, T. and V. Satzewich. 1993. First Nations: Race, Class and Gender Relations.
Scarborough: Nelson Canada.
167
Ruth Panofsky
“Don’t let me do it!”: Mazo de la Roche and
Her Publishers*
Abstract
This paper considers the writing and publishing career of Mazo de la Roche,
with a focus on her relationships with her three publishers: Hugh Eayrs,
president of the Macmillan Company of Canada; Edward Weeks, editor with
the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown of Boston; and Daniel Macmillan of
the Macmillan Company of London. Primary evidence is cited to support the
argument that de la Roche was initially marginalized by these three men who
profited by her work but hoped to deny her authorial power as creator of the
Jalna series. As de la Roche’s own letters show, however, she became a shrewd
negotiator with a keen understanding of the author-publisher relationship,
and she soon secured her place as a professional among her male colleagues.
Résumé
Cet article examine la carrière de l’écrivaine Mazo de la Roche et, plus
particulièrement, sa relation avec ses trois éditeurs : Hugh Eayrs, président de
la Macmillan Company of Canada; Edward Weeks, éditeur au Atlantic
Monthly Press/Little, Brown of Boston; et Daniel Macmillan de la Macmillan
Company of London. Il présente des preuves démontrant que ces trois hommes
ont au début marginalisé de la Roche et ont tiré profit de ses écrits tout en
essayant de lui usurper son pouvoir de créatrice de la série des Jalna. Or,
comme l’indique sa correspondance, de la Roche est devenue une négociatrice
habile, dotée d’une compréhension aiguë de la relation auteur-éditeur et a su
rapidement prendre rang parmi ses homologues mâles.
The name Mazo de la Roche is synonymous with Jalna, a series of sixteen
novels that spanned 1927 to 1960 and chronicled the lives of the irrepressible
Whiteoak family members. To date, de la Roche’s achievement as a popular
author and her writing and publishing career have been largely overlooked by
literary scholars.1 In fact, her success was exceptional, indisputable and due
primarily to her own ingenuity as a professional who understood fully the
nature of her connections with readers and publishers alike. Throughout her
career, for example, she retained her audience by writing precisely those books
it wanted to read. De la Roche’s literary success is best understood, however,
in terms of her relationships with her publishers with whom she negotiated and
maintained important friendships throughout her writing life.
This paper is concerned with three of the most influential men in the novelist’s
life: Hugh Eayrs, president of the Macmillan Company of Canada; Edward
Weeks, editor with the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown of Boston; and
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS/RIÉC
Daniel Macmillan of the Macmillan Company of London. Each of these men
shaped the life of the writer and her books, while their own lives were greatly
affected by her. Her achievement as a popular author must be considered in
terms of her connections with these men, which this paper attempts to chart.
The years 1927 and 1940 form the perimeters of this study, dates which
marked monumental changes in the writer’s life. In 1927, Jalna won the
Atlantic Monthly’s novel contest which brought immediate fame for the
author, publication of her manuscript, and a prize of $10,000 US, while 1940
saw the untimely death of Hugh Eayrs and an irrevocable change in de la
Roche’s professional relationships.
In the early years of de la Roche’s writing career, Canada lacked an indigenous
publishing industry. The majority of Canadian publishing houses had been
established as agents for either British or American firms. In exchange for
access to an underdeveloped market, foreign publishers had agreed not to sell
their books in Canada, except through their exclusive agents. Initially, this
arrangement suited British, American and Canadian houses alike. Canadian
agents promoted the books of foreign publishers, which saved the latter
significant costs. At the same time, Canadian firms gained access to the vast
number of books available in English, without having to publish them
themselves. Moreover, Canadian books — relatively few titles were issued
during the first half of this century — could be promoted alongside foreign
books at no additional cost. Faulty as the agency system later proved to be,2 it
fostered a sense of legitimacy among Canadian publishing houses as they
sought to establish a book trade in this country.
The links between foreign and Canadian publishing firms necessitated the
close ties that soon developed among key individuals. Hugh Eayrs, president
of the Macmillan Company of Canada, for example, was in regular contact
with Daniel Macmillan of the Macmillan Company of London. Since Eayrs
conducted business in Toronto under the aegis of the British firm, his own
success was dependent largely on the agency system. Despite the distance that
separated them, Eayrs and Macmillan always maintained a close working
relationship. Macmillan of Canada, however, was not an agent for the Atlantic
Monthly Press/Little, Brown of Boston, which published de la Roche’s works
in the United States. Regardless, Hugh Eayrs and Edward Weeks were closely
connected through their mutual association with de la Roche. For the most
part, this publishing triad served the interests of publishers and author alike.
Problems arose only when the publishers dealt unprofessionally with de la
Roche, as this paper will show.
When Jalna first appeared, de la Roche was already an accomplished author
with a growing list of published works including Explorers of the Dawn, a
collection of linked short stories; two novels, Possession and Delight; and two
one-act plays, Low Life: A Comedy in One Act and Come True.3 With the
exception of the short stories, de la Roche’s first works were marketed by the
Macmillan Company; its New York and London houses published the novels
and its Toronto branch issued the plays. Although her work had produced little
revenue, she nonetheless enjoyed a congenial connection with the three houses
of Macmillan, each of which showed a respect for her writing and a willingness
172
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
to continue as her publisher. De la Roche also had a past affiliation with the
Atlantic Monthly which had published two of her early stories,4 and whose
editor, Ellery Sedgwick, had become a particular friend and mentor, offering
advice and encouragement in letters that dated from 1914.
When the Atlantic Monthly Press and its joint publisher, Little, Brown of
Boston, decided to issue Jalna, they allowed de la Roche to remain with
Macmillan of Toronto for Canadian publication, but they granted British rights
to Hodder & Stoughton rather than Macmillan. Having expressed an earlier
wish to place Jalna with Macmillan of London, de la Roche felt obliged to
offer Daniel Macmillan the following explanation in a letter dated 20 May
1927:
It was one of the conditions of the Award that the novel should be
handled in the States by Little Brown & Co. of Boston. I made a
strong effort to retain Jalna for the Macmillan Co. in Canada and
England. It was agreed that I should remain with my Canadian
publisher but Hodder & Stoughton are to bring it out in England.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am to be obliged to leave you with this
book. Perhaps some future time will find me under your imprint
again.5
In May 1927, de la Roche could not have known how soon she would again
become a Macmillan author. Two years later, Hodder & Stoughton gave their
rights in Jalna to Macmillan on the understanding that the latter take over their
remaining stock of the novel and reimburse them £140 in royalties paid to
Little, Brown. Except for this brief interlude, throughout her long career de la
Roche remained loyal to the Macmillan Company in Britain and Canada, and
to the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown in the United States.
This is not to suggest, however, that she never wavered in her fidelity to her
publishers. In fact, the opposite is true. A shrewd negotiator, de la Roche
always sought the best possible arrangements for herself and her family, and
she was not loath to adopt manipulative tactics to serve her purpose. Moreover,
she understood that, as a woman, she was positioned outside the patriarchal
world of publishing which nonetheless afforded her and her publishers
comfortable livings. With the exception of Daniel Macmillan, for example, the
extant letters between publishers and author revealed a warm and amiable
exchange but also a reluctance to trust in the other’s good faith. Furthermore,
various letters between Hugh Eayrs and Edward Weeks unveiled their
orchestrated efforts to undermine the author’s autonomy and their deliberate
exclusion of her from their male coterie. De la Roche’s grasp of her own
potentially fragile situation and her ability to mitigate it through astute
negotiations forms a significant subtext in this consideration of her
professional relationships.
De la Roche had not always been self-assured and independent, however. Prior
to the publication of her award-winning novel, the author had looked to her
publishers as mentors and friends, placing her trust in their experience and
knowledge. As a woman and a little-known writer, she had felt vulnerable and
frustrated but she had never been passive. Rather than submit to defeat when
her short stories were rejected repeatedly, for instance, she remained
173
IJCS/RIÉC
committed to her craft and often sought the advice of Hugh Eayrs and Ellery
Sedgwick. When her books earned her scant critical attention and even less
income, she did not consider giving up writing; instead, she gave herself over
to her work with impressive vigour, always remaining faithful to the vision
that finally produced Jalna and brought her much deserved happiness at the
late age of forty-eight.
Following the publication of Jalna — the terms of which satisfied de la Roche6
— the author was comfortable in her new role as literary celebrity and with her
publishers, who shared the joy and profit of her triumph. Little more than two
years after Jalna appeared in book form, however, de la Roche deliberately
initiated a period of disquiet during which her Boston publishers grew fearful
that she would leave them for a rival house. In fact, of her three publishers, the
Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown received the largest share of de la
Roche’s provocations during their many years of association, perhaps in
response to Edward Weeks’ committed and careful editing of her novels,
which she found particularly irksome.
In a letter dated 30 January 1930, one of several similar instances, the author
wrote the following to Weeks:
Well, it was about time you wrote! A little longer, and I should have
inevitably succumbed to the wiles of the New York gentleman who
so far as I can make out, crossed the Atlantic with no other purpose in
view but my seduction. That is, to his new publishing house.7
Whenever she felt neglected by her publishers, de la Roche grew peevish. She
relied on their letters, as well as the countless letters from readers which she
received throughout her career, to foster her sense of professional
connectedness. This casual, apparently lighthearted reference to a publishing
scout probably sounded a cautionary note in Weeks’ reading of her letter,
exactly the effect de la Roche would have sought. Moreover, this brief
comment implied the superior position of the writer in the author-publisher
hierarchy and constituted de la Roche’s first strategic move toward true power
with her publishers.
Impressed by the significant sales of the first Jalna novels, several other
publishers attempted to woo de la Roche to their respective firms. One such
company, the Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, made an offer that the author
considered seriously. Although she used the rival firm’s offer as leverage in
subsequent contract negotiations with the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little,
Brown, her letters at this time revealed that she had changed significantly from
the cautious, self-effacing author of pre-Jalna days. On 24 June 1930, she
wrote to Edward Weeks, by now a friend whom she addressed as Ted:
If only other publishers would let me alone! So far I have refused to
consider a change. But yesterday I had a letter from Elizabeth
Marbury with quite a dazzling offer. The Cosmopolitan Book
Corporation is the publisher in this case. She gives pages of details of
a tremendous advertising campaign. They offer me $3000. as a
present. I am simply to “forget about it.”...
174
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
I can’t tell you how repellant the thought of changing my publisher is
to me. But I want to make all the money I can. I have relatives I like to
help.... Please write to me as a friend.8
Despite her protestation of loyalty to Weeks, this letter showed de la Roche’s
preoccupation with the Cosmopolitan offer. Her growing self-confidence, as
well as her determination to establish economic security for her family, was
evident in this and subsequent letters. With the success of Jalna, de la Roche
had become a professional. She soon acknowledged her ability to write novels
that would please millions of readers, and she did not hesitate to point out this
fact to her publishers when the need arose.
De la Roche’s letter of 24 June sent the offices of the Atlantic Monthly Press
and Little, Brown into a flurry. When he learned of the possible defection of his
prize author, Alfred McIntyre, president of Little, Brown, responded
immediately to Edward Weeks in a letter that reiterated the terms of their
publishing arrangements. As early as 20 September 1928, prior to the
publication of the second novel in the series, Whiteoaks of Jalna (1929),
McIntyre had countered a similar problem in a letter to de la Roche when he
was “rather disturbed”9 to hear that she had been approached by a New York
publishing company. It was decided that the current situation, however,
required a more aggressive response than the pen, and Weeks prepared
personally to meet de la Roche’s ship upon her return from a trip to England.
“[D]etermined to have an early and friendly word with” the author, he cabled
her care of the London Bank: “Will meet your ship’s arrival Quebec or
Montreal. Cable time and place. Imperative you reserve decision. Cabling as
friend.”10
The meeting between Weeks and de la Roche never took place and the author
declined her editor’s offer to visit Toronto where they could discuss business
matters. Instead, she urged Weeks to write and gave the following information
as incentive:
[Hugh Eayrs] came to Southampton to see us off looking well and
very happy. We talked over the Cosmopolitan offer. He would like
me to stay with the Little Brown’s but thinks I should have a 20%
royalty. Do you think Mr. McIntyre would give me this? All my
desire is to remain with you but, as Miss Marbury points out,
serialization in one of their magazines would mean a great deal. The
difference between $5000 and $25000....
It would be a sad day for me when I should leave the House of which
you are a member. Don’t let me do it!11
Since he had great respect and fellow feeling for the president of Macmillan of
Canada, de la Roche understood that having Eayrs as an ally would strengthen
her position in Weeks’ mind. From early in her career, she could adopt the
strategy of playing the two men off one another — perhaps the only recourse
available to the author who was regularly excluded from her publishers’
private communications, a vital point which shall be examined shortly.
Moreover, her final beseeching words, however coyly written and playful in
tone, underscored the gravity of her purpose and her increasing authority
among her publishers.
175
IJCS/RIÉC
De la Roche’s letter evoked a four-page response from Weeks, in which he
detailed the reasons why she ought not to accept Cosmopolitan’s offer and
remain with the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown. He urged her to consider
her reputation as a serious novelist, which would be tarnished if her work were
associated with the popular publications issued by Cosmopolitan. Today, the
irony in Weeks’ argument is evident, given de la Roche’s lasting reputation as
a purely popular writer. As to royalties, he agreed “to the 20% which you feel
and I feel has come to be your due,”12 although he qualified the offer by
explaining that fewer funds may be allocated to the future advertising of her
books.
In concluding his letter, however, Weeks appealed to the psychological
connection between de la Roche and his firm, hoping to convince the author
that to remain with the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown was proper and
moral:
In all of this I have not touched on the spirit of loyalty which I think
has been mutually derived from our association. I believe that you
appreciate the efforts which we have made in your behalf, and for our
part, I hardly need tell you that we regard you as one of our best and
most valued authors. We have dealt with you with explicit honesty in
the past;... I sincerely hope that nothing will arise to disturb the
friendly and mutally [sic] beneficial association which has existed
between us in the past.13
As this letter indicated, Weeks could not afford to alienate de la Roche, whose
work generated a vast revenue. Writing in 1930, during the Depression, he
understood that to lose the novelist to a rival firm would have dire financial
consequences for the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown. He wrote in
earnest to prevent such a disaster from taking place.
Although de la Roche was convinced and relieved by the tone of Weeks’ letter
and his decision to agree to the 20% royalty she had requested, on 25 August
1930, when the contract for Finch’s Fortune (1931), the third Jalna novel, had
yet to be signed, she reiterated to Alfred McIntyre that “the agent who
approached me, still continues to write urging me to reconsider my
decision.”14 This incident marked the first real struggle for power between
author and publisher and it altered their future relationship. Never again could
either Weeks or McIntyre assume that de la Roche was a naive and acquiescent
writer. Intelligently, she had manipulated the outcome of this particular
conflict so that her best interests were served and, in the process, she had
disrupted the hierarchy of writer and publisher. From 1930 onward, the
Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown had only to provoke de la Roche and her
response — the threat to leave them for another firm — would silence them
into submission.
This did not prevent Eayrs and Weeks, who by 1931 shared a fast friendship,
from discussing de la Roche among themselves. As their letters revealed,
during their association with the author, they attempted to influence her and to
shape the course of her career to suit their requirements. Moreover, they were
aware that often de la Roche did not favour their counsel — which called into
question their respective claims that they always acted in her best interests.
176
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
Today we understand from their correspondence that the two men aimed to
retain as much control as possible over Jalna’s destiny by undermining de la
Roche’s position as the creator of the series. If they treated the author as “a
good girl”15 — Eayrs and Weeks’ term — in need of guidance, perhaps she
would remain their subordinate. This would not prove to be the case, however.
The issue of whether or not the Jalna series ought to continue became a
pressing one early in 1931 when Eayrs wrote the following to Weeks, in a
private letter dated 30 January:
... I know that I can write confidentially to you, I am not sure that she
[i.e. de la Roche] should go on with a fourth volume in the JALNA
series, but if she does — and she seems to be bent on it — I think it
really ought to be the last.... You and I are both fond of her and are
always anxious to see that she makes a precisely right move each
time, and not a wrong one.... If you would like me to write to her, and
say so I will be glad to do so and send you a carbon-copy of my
letter.16
Eayrs and Weeks regularly consolidated their efforts in their communications
with de la Roche. She was as much a commodity as an individual to these men
whose livelihood she partly ensured. As a result, they were uneasy lest she
pursue her own desires — which she eventually did — and they used their
professional skills to guide her toward the course of action they hoped she
would adopt. Significantly, she was not party to their private discussions;
rather they coaxed her along deftly, with their inimitable paternalistic flair, to
convince her of their united position. More often that not, however, she
maintained the upper hand either by remaining intolerably silent or by
suggesting that they part company.
Although Eayrs later complained to Weeks, “I always feel between the threeway publishing that if I make a suggestion it is likely to be misconstrued,”17 it
was more usual for the two men to share similar views. In fact, as the previous
letter indicated, they were allies in the publishing triad. Ironically, Daniel
Macmillan played a relatively small part in this alliance. Macmillan published
de la Roche’s work, with little editorial intervention, to an enormous audience
that anxiously awaited each Jalna volume and willingly ignored its flaws. As a
result, his relations with the author were always cordial. Further, situated
across the Atlantic and serving a separate market, Macmillan of London had a
relatively minor connection with de la Roche’s North American publishers,
who communicated regularly with one another and co-arranged the
publication dates of the Jalna series in the United States and Canada.
One letter in particular showed the duplicity of Eayrs and Weeks in their
treatment of de la Roche. The most striking features of the following letter
were Eayrs’ tone of resentment and his hostility toward the author upon her
return to Canada from an extended stay in England. On 5 September 1933, he
wrote to Weeks:
... I think they [i.e. de la Roche and her cousin, Caroline Clement]
expected a much warmer welcome and a great deal of shouting about
their returning, and they have not improved the situation themselves
by being rather high hat as Canadians see it since their stay in
177
IJCS/RIÉC
England.... Relations are a little strained simply because of this
extraordinary Queen Victoria attitude, and you know Ted, there is
more than one novelist extant. I am fond of the girls as ever but I think
it a great mistake for them, in their own interests, to high hat
everybody in the immediate vicinity.
I write very confidentially to you as an old friend, of course.18
Ironically, in public both men pandered to what Eayrs described above as de la
Roche’s “Queen Victoria attitude.” Unwilling, however, to provoke an author
whose writing provided a large portion of his income, he felt obliged to keep
his resentment private and expressed it in a confidential letter to Weeks. In
fact, Lovat Dickson, who succeeded Daniel Macmillan as de la Roche’s
British editor and long-time friend, noted “[t]he fun H. S. E. [i.e. Hugh
Smithfield Eayrs] privately made to me about Mazo and her snobbisms.”19 In
this case, Eayrs would not consider that de la Roche genuinely may have felt
slighted by the Canadian media which, throughout her career, reviewed her
books poorly, diminished her international success, and celebrated her as a
native-born author only when she was lauded in the United States. The
disingenuous treatment of de la Roche by her publishers, of which this is a
lesser instance, became pronounced in 1934 during the writing of Young
Renny (1935), a crucial period in this history of the author’s professional
relationships, to be considered presently.
In the interim, de la Roche successfully maintained her authorial
independence. A misunderstanding which took place early in 1934 could not
have failed to convince Weeks — if, in fact, he required further convincing —
that de la Roche was a self-assured author who would not tolerate attempts to
deny her autonomy. When she was asked by Queen Mary’s secretary to
provide Her Majesty with a signed copy of The Master of Jalna (1933), the
fourth novel in the series, the author was flattered and only too pleased to
oblige. De la Roche was a great admirer of the royal family and she regarded it
as a rare privilege to count its members among her fans. As a gift to Queen
Mary, she commissioned a tooled-leather binding for the novel. In a tribute to
the novelist in the Atlantic Monthly,20 however, Weeks implied that
Macmillan of Canada were responsible for the presentation volume.
In a rousing letter, dated 15 March 1934, de la Roche reprimanded her
editor:
[W]hat the hell do you mean by giving the Macmillan Co. of Canada
the credit for the book? I have been so furious about that that I have
refrained from writing. The Macmillan Co. had absolutely nothing to
do with it beyond suggesting the name of the man who did the work. I
interviewed him, chose the design and paid forty dollars for the book.
What annoys me is that to the readers of The Atlantic the incident
should be presented as a commercial one whereas it was a purely
personal one between her Majesty and myself. If Hugh saw the proof
of the page how could he let it pass? Only by design — I swear! Well
— the more I think of it, the more I...21
The veiled threat to depart the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown which
concluded this letter brought home to Weeks the seriousness of his offense.
178
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
Fortunately for Weeks, de la Roche’s anger was assuaged by his elegant
apology which soon followed in the mail and which also blamed Eayrs for the
entire misunderstanding. This apparent lack of loyalty to one’s friend and
colleague should not come as a surprise: the two men regularly shifted the
blame to one another in difficult situations, particularly when they were faced
with de la Roche’s rage. Their mutual desire to foster the author’s good will
allowed for fleeting personal betrayals that pacified the novelist but had little
lasting effect on their own relationship.
Greater diplomatic efforts were required of Weeks, however, in the dispute
which arose subsequently over Young Renny, initially titled “Cousin
Malahide.” In fact, this conflict proved to be the turning point in de la Roche’s
relationship with her Boston publishers. At Weeks’ own earlier suggestion,
“Cousin Malahide” was set back in time in the Jalna saga and featured a distant
relative from Ireland. On 9 April 1934, however, in a letter to Eayrs, Weeks
noted his concern over the novel’s time frame. Although Eayrs felt a similar
apprehension, he counselled his friend to use caution in his correspondence
with de la Roche and not to provoke her ire.
In late May 1934, the author sent several early chapters of “Cousin Malahide”
to the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown and was obliged to wait three
months for her editor’s response to the fifth novel in the Jalna series. When
Weeks’ letter finally arrived on 27 August — having been delayed by much inhouse discussion of the manuscript — it infuriated the author:
We all realized from the first, of course, that it was audacious, even
risky to turn the clock back in Jalna... new danger has manifested
itself in the first ninety pages of the new script. Renny, Maurice and
Meg are in their immaturity somewhat more watered [sic] than we
like to think, but what is worse, is to remark in the new characters
which you have introduced a tendency to be quaint and bizarre
beyond the reader’s credulity. Cousin Malahide with his simper and
his highly artificial ejaculations, Philip with his annoying lisp, the
wooden Mary and the almost absurd fainting fit of Maurice’s
father.22
Upon receipt of this letter, de la Roche took some time to consider it seriously.
She was not so much offended by its contents — by 1934 she was accustomed
to receiving Weeks’ criticism of her work — as by its blunt delivery and
callous tone. Moreover, to have had to wait three months for such news was
unacceptable to the novelist. She felt ill-used by her American publishers, who
treated her in this instance with apparent disregard.
A writer of note and of great value to her publishers, de la Roche would not take
such treatment lightly. In a feeble attempt to deflect the serious damage done
by Weeks’ letter, Alfred McIntyre cabled the author at her home in Devon,
England:
Do not offer Malahide to another publisher. We expect to carry out
contract for its publication as it stands or as revised by you unless
upon reading complete manuscript majority feeling here is against
publication and we are able to convince you that our attitude is
correct.23
179
IJCS/RIÉC
Notwithstanding McIntyre’s appeal, de la Roche’s considered response to his
cable and Week’ earlier letter was unambiguous. On 18 September 1934, she
wrote the following to McIntyre:
I am of a migratory nature. I left Knopf to go to Macmillans. I left
Macmillans to go to you. I have changed publishers once or twice in
England. I am capable of biting off not only my nose but my whole
head, to spite my face. I confess that I have never felt more like a
migration than when the combined criticism of MALAHIDE reached
me. Not because it was adverse criticism but because of the manner in
which it was dealt out to me.24
De la Roche could not have been more honest or more forthright. Her intention
to leave the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown over their poor handling of
“Cousin Malahide” was genuine. She wrote calmly and clearly, as one
professional to another. In fact, she conducted herself as the equal of Weeks
and McIntyre, entitled to the kind of courtesy she regularly showed them. No
longer would she be content to occupy the marginal position of a female writer
among male publishers, nor would she tolerate being ignored by them. That
was evident from the frank statements and measured tone of her letter, which
convinced her Boston publishers that this time her threat to sever their ties was
authentic indeed.
As was generally the case, the conflict was eventually resolved, but not until de
la Roche had successfully reestablished new grounds for the relationship
between herself and the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown. Since
McIntyre’s connection with de la Roche was always primarily professional —
which differed from the more familiar association of de la Roche and Weeks
— he paid the author a personal visit, especially important during this time of
crisis. They discussed the revisions to “Cousin Malahide” and reconfirmed
their commitment to one another and the Jalna series. Soon afterward, Weeks
wrote a heartfelt letter of apology, dated 3 October, 1934, in which he assured
the author that his “actions which may have proved to be ill-judged... were
planned with the very opposite intention.”25 One month following, the
Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown received the completed manuscript of
the novel and Weeks cabled to de la Roche: “Humble pie consumed. Malahide
Philip and family circle could not be better. Splendid work.”26 The author was
mollified and cabled her response: “Your humble pie my tonic. Bless you.”27
In light of his extreme reaction to the earlier version, Weeks’ avowed
satisfaction with the revised work may now appear overstated. There can be no
doubt, however, that de la Roche had improved the novel’s coherence. Nor did
Young Renny — the work’s title upon publication — disappoint her audience.
As Weeks later informed the author:
You know, don’t you, what a remarkable send-off YOUNG RENNY
had, for all the drear conditions this spring. An advance sale (with no
copies on consignment!) of 22,000 is something to write home about.
We have printed 30,000 copies altogether to make sure that we had a
surplus for the reorders which are now coming in on the footsteps of
the highly favorable reviews.28
180
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
Despite the novel’s success and the restored good will between de la Roche
and her Boston publishers, the dispute over Young Renny permanently altered
their relationship. Weeks and McIntyre always remembered the devastating
impact of this incident and, as a result, relinquished control of the Whiteoaks of
Jalna to their creator. From this point forward, her publishers questioned
neither de la Roche’s authorial autonomy nor her position of power among
them. Although she welcomed minor editorial suggestions, she would not
accept outright criticism of her work — and her publishers bore this in mind
throughout their subsequent negotiations. Moreover, henceforth Daniel
Macmillan rather than Edward Weeks received the first manuscript of her
work. Although this decision may have been partly one of convenience — the
author was living in England at the time — it nonetheless confirmed de la
Roche’s authority. Since its members found little in her work to criticize and
always treated her with admiration and respect, she felt more comfortable with
the British firm. In fact, she was wise to place her trust in Macmillan, for
Weeks and Eayrs remained duplicitous toward the author to the end. On 24
January 1935, for example, following this most difficult crisis of their
relationship, Weeks informed de la Roche that he had not told Eayrs “what
humble pie tastes like”29 — an apparent lie since the two men had exchanged
letters throughout the Young Renny affair. Ironically, the unthoughtful
treatment of de la Roche by the Atlantic Monthly Press/Little, Brown resulted
in the author’s professional development and the firm’s loss of favour in her
eyes — precisely those circumstances that Weeks had always hoped to
forestall.
Throughout the latter 1930s, little conflict arose between the writer and her
publishers. The difficulty over Young Renny had convinced the Atlantic
Monthly Press/Little, Brown that de la Roche controlled her destiny as well as
her writing. As a result, when issues arose that required serious discussion, it
generally took place among the men themselves, in an exchange of
confidential letters that would never reach the author and possibly provoke her
anger. In 1937, for example, Weeks sought Eayrs’ advice: he hoped to
convince de la Roche of the need to rearrange her publication schedule to
accommodate a Jalna novel in 1938.30 Although he was unsuccessful in his
attempt to have the publication dates altered, de la Roche did not learn of his
extreme concern and Weeks simply acquiesced in this instance — as he did in
later situations when the novelist’s will prevailed.
In fact, from mid-decade onward the association between de la Roche, Eayrs
and Weeks was a friendly one, largely free of the difficulties they had
previously experienced. Their earlier clashes of will were the product of all
three parties striving to assert an individual hold on the Jalna series. As the
years passed and conflicts were resolved, de la Roche matured as a writer who
enjoyed international success and as a professional among her male
colleagues. Gradually she removed herself from the margins of the publishing
world, from which initially she had negotiated rather timidly with Eayrs and
Weeks. Soon she had persuaded both men of her serious commitment to her
craft, her authorial autonomy, as well as her professional shrewdness, and
there could be no doubt as to the rightful possessor of the Jalna saga.
181
IJCS/RIÉC
In 1940, however, the bonds that united de la Roche and her three publishers
were severed by the untimely death of Hugh Eayrs. As Weeks himself wrote to
the author: “The news was stunning in its suddenness, and I am not yet ready to
live with it.”31 While Macmillan and Weeks felt the blow keenly, de la Roche
was devastated by the loss of Eayrs as a friend, colleague and former mentor
who early on had been aware of her talents. She described his “mind of wit, a
soul of generosity and a heart overflowing with sympathy to those who were
his friends. In the lives of his immediate friends his going leaves a blank that
can never be filled.”32 Eventually, Eayrs’ position with the Macmillan
Company of Canada was filled by John Gray, who also came to share a close
association with de la Roche, but he could never replace the friend she had lost
in Eayrs. Further, Daniel Macmillan’s primary connection with the author
altered when Lovat Dickson became the editor of the Jalna books in England
and a dear friend of the novelist. Hence, the death of Eayrs marked a turning
point in de la Roche’s career. From 1940 onward, with international success
and her status as a professional firmly established, the author negotiated with
her publishers from a well-earned and undisputed position of power after a
trying apprenticeship.
Notes
*
Preparation of this essay was assisted by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada. Also, I am grateful to Esmée Rees, Mazo de la Roche’s literary
executor, who has permitted me to quote from the unpublished papers.
1.
Joan Givner’s fine biography of de la Roche is an exception. See Joan Givner, Mazo de la
Roche: The Hidden Life (Toronto: Oxford UP, 1989).
2.
Delores Broten and Peter Birdsall describe the agency system as follows: “The book trade [in
Canada], importing from Britain and then from the United States, fed upon its own negation.
The agency system...made indigenous publishing appear unnecessary. Agencies ensured the
continuing lack of profitability of Canadian trade books. One can posit that the agency
system contributed to the underdevelopment of retail bookstores in Canada, through poor
service and extra mark-ups.” Paper Phoenix: A History of Book Publishing in English
Canada (Victoria, BC: CANLIT, 1980) 80.
3. See Mazo de la Roche, Explorers of the Dawn (New York: Knopf, 1922; London: Cassell,
1924); Possession (New York, London, Toronto: Macmillan, 1923); Low Life: A Comedy in
One Act (Toronto: Macmillan, 1925); Delight (New York, Toronto: Macmillan, 1926); and
Come True (Toronto: 1927).
4.
See Mazo de la Roche, “Buried Treasure,” Atlantic Monthly 116 (Aug. 1915): 192-204; and
“Explorers of the Dawn,” Atlantic Monthly 124 (Oct. 1919): 532-40.
5.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Daniel Macmillan, 20 May 1927, Macmillan Papers, British
Library.
6.
For an examination of the publication of Jalna, see Ruth Panofsky, “`Go My Own Way?’:
The Publication of Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna,” Epilogue 17 (Spring 1994): 1-13.
7.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Edward Weeks, 30 Jan. 1930, Edward Weeks Papers, University
of Texas at Austin.
8.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Edward Weeks, 24 June 1930, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
9.
Alfred McIntyre, letter to Edward Weeks, 9 July 1930, Weeks Papers, University of Texas at
Austin.
10. Edward Weeks, cable to Mazo de la Roche, 17 July 1930, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
11. Mazo de la Roche, letter to Edward Weeks, 22 July 1930, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
182
Mazo de la Roche and Her Publishers
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
19.
20.
21.
22.
23.
24.
25.
26.
27.
28.
29.
30.
31.
32.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 29 July 1930, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
Ibid.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Alfred McIntyre, 25 Aug. 1930, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 2 Mar. 1951, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
Hugh Eayrs, letter to Edward Weeks, 30 Jan. 1931, Weeks Papers, University of Texas at
Austin.
Hugh Eayrs, letter to Edward Weeks, 12 Apr. 1937, Weeks Papers, University of Texas at
Austin.
Hugh Eayrs, letter to Edward Weeks, 5 Sept. 1933, Weeks Papers, University of Texas at
Austin.
Horatio Lovat Dickson, undated note, Horatio Lovat Dickson Papers, National Archives of
Canada, MG 30 D 237.
See Atlantic Monthly Mar. 1934.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Edward Weeks, 15 Mar. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 27 Aug. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Alfred McIntyre, cable to Mazo de la Roche, 6 Sept. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Mazo de la Roche, letter to Alfred McIntyre, 18 Sept. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 3 Oct. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
Edward Weeks, cable to Mazo de la Roche, 10 Nov. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Mazo de la Roche, cable to Edward Weeks, 13 Nov. 1934, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 24 May 1935, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 24 Jan. 1935, Weeks Papers, University of Texas
at Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Hugh Eayrs, 30 Mar. 1937, Weeks Papers, University of Texas at
Austin.
Edward Weeks, letter to Mazo de la Roche, 14 June 1940, Weeks Papers, University of
Texas at Austin.
“Hugh Eayrs, in Memoriam,” Globe and Mail 4 May 1940: 10.
183
Frances Rooney
Edith S. Watson:
Photographing Women in Rural Canada
Abstract
Professional photographer and wanderer Edith S. Watson (1861-1943)
produced a rich visual document of rural Canadians at work between c.1890
and 1930. She travelled coast to coast, at first alone, then with her partner in
work and life, Victoria Hayward, producing art photographs for independent
sale and commission photographs for numerous companies, magazines,
newspapers and books. Her seemingly serendipitous way of life allowed her to
support herself and at times her parents and sister while living among other
women and in an independent manner seldom recorded in social history.
Résumé
Edith S. Watson (1861-1943), photographe professionnelle et voyageuse, a
laissé, entre 1890 et 1930, un riche témoignage visuel sur la vie et le travail des
Canadiennes. Voyageant seule d’un bout à l’autre du pays au début et avec sa
partenaire dans son travail et dans la vie, Victoria Hayward, par la suite, elle
produisit des photographies pour la vente privée et sur commande pour
plusieurs compagnies, revues, journaux et livres. Même si Edith S. Watson
semblait mener une vie de bohème, son style de vie lui permettait de subvenir à
ses besoins et, à l’occasion, à ceux de ses parents et sa sœur, tout en vivant
parmi d’autres femmes de façon indépendante et rarement attesté en histoire
sociale.
Edith Watson was born in Connecticut in 1861. From the 1890s until the
1930s, she spent several months each year wandering around Canada
photographing rural people, often women, usually at work. Her hundreds of
published photographs show women carrying water on hoops and drying cod
on fish flakes in Newfoundland, digging clams in Cape Breton, weaving and
making soap in Quebec, harvesting wheat, flax, beets and rhubarb on the
prairies, mending nets and drying fish on the west coast. She photographed
established rural communities, First Nations people and groups of New
Canadians, including Mennonites, Hungarians, Doukhobours and Japanese
Canadians. She carried her equipment with her. While at first she used heavy
cameras and carried 8x10 inch glass plate negatives with her, she later
preferred simple cameras which she sometimes gave away when she left an
area. Composition was the strong point of her gentle portraits, and she would
frequently wait several days for the right light or grouping of people or
animals. Much of her developing was done in streams at night as she travelled;
the rest she did at home at the pump in her kitchen.
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
Carrying hay in homemade pieced quilts, outport Newfoundland,
c. 1900
This was no leisure project. Edith supported herself, and at times her aging
parents and sister Amelia, with her photography throughout her adult life,
selling prints for between $.50 and $2.00 all over North America and
exchanging photographs for equipment, accommodation and travel. Her work
appeared in such diverse places as the Toronto Star, Saturday Night, The
Canadian Magazine, The Halifax Chronicle Herald, The Vancouver Sun, The
Detroit Free Press, The New York Times, National Geographic, Hygeia (the
journal of the American Medical Association), Vogue and Yachting. She
compiled the photographs for several travel brochures and books for the
provincial governments of Nova Scotia and Ontario and for the colonial
186
Edith S. Watson: Photographing Women
government of the then Crown Colony of Newfoundland and Labrador. Her
corporate commissions included publicity photographs for the Canadian
Pacific Railway, the Cunard Line, several rope and cartage companies, Ginn
educational publishers, and the Methodist Church in Canada and the U.S. The
subjects of these photographs were sometimes specifically commissioned, for
example, her shots of the Chateau Laurier and the Banff Springs Hotel. Others
she chose to accompany articles; still others, notably those for the rope and
cartage companies, portrayed the company’s product in a setting of her choice.
She also sold and gave away prints as she travelled. Although, according to the
Digging potatoes, Path End, Newfoundland, c. 1900
187
IJCS / RIÉC
Working the fish flakes, outport Newfoundland, c. 1900
1891 and 1892 censuses in the U.S. and Canada, 15 percent of professional
photographers in both countries were women, Edith’s work differed from that
of most other professionals — of either sex — in that she wandered across
thousands of miles with her camera taking both art and commission
photographs rather than working from a studio and producing primarily
portrait prints.
For many years, Edith worked in winter in a studio in Bermuda where she
showed and sold her work through the Bermudiana and other major hotels. It
was there in 1911 that she met Victoria Hayward, a 35-year-old Bermudian
journalist. The next year Victoria, or Queenie as she was called, joined Edith
on her travels to Canada. The two lived and worked together in a true Boston
marriage until Edith’s death.
Eastman Kodak commissioned a show of Edith’s work for the 1915 Panama
Exhibition. The photographs were in crates at the Hartford train station when
Kodak backed out in order to demonstrate instead its latest accomplishment:
easy-to-use colour film.
Macmillan published Romantic Canada, Edith and Queenie’s major
collaboration in 1921. At over 250 pages, it was the most lavish travel book
published in Canada to that time, and it is perhaps best remembered as the
place where Hayward coined the phrase “Canadian mosaic.” Macmillan
commissioned two further books, Romantic Bermuda and The Islands of
Canada, but both were cancelled because of financial difficulties.
188
Edith S. Watson: Photographing Women
Edith and Queenie never really retired, but life became slower and more
relaxed as they aged and as Edith finally achieved financial security. Her
scrapbooks indicate an avid interest, although no apparent activity, in the “Is
Photography Art?” controversy, and while she does not seem to have
participated in the struggle for voting rights for women (whether because of
lack of interest or the need to focus on making a living is not clear, though the
latter seems most likely), she was interested in politics, registered as a
Democrat and voted faithfully. Her addiction to travel lasted for the rest of her
life.
Edith died on a trip to Florida in 1943; Queenie arrived back in Connecticut
with the coffin on Christmas morning. The first time she saw Edith’s grave
after the stone marker had been installed, she wrote in her diary: “Went down
to see Edith’s tombstone ... It looks very nice and just like the others, her
father’s, mother’s and Minnie’s, which was what she wished. A rabbit ran
away from eating the grass on the grave as I came near. She would have liked
that touch.” Edith’s marker was not quite like the others: hers includes the
inscription “They seek a country.”
Watson was a very self-conscious artist who had no “proper” late-Victorian
qualms about seeing her name in print. At a time when publishers did not
consider photographers worthy of much note, she insisted on — and got — top
prices and credits for her work. Without the prices, she would have had to do
some other kind of work, perhaps teach painting as her sister did all her life.
Without the credits, Edith would have been impossible to trace.
Carrying water from the well with pails and hoops, outport
Newfoundland, c. 1900
189
IJCS / RIÉC
Milking the cow, Cape Breton, c. 1900
She was also a pack rat who came from a family that did and does preserve its
history as well as space and the demands of expanding families allow. Lois
Watson, Edith’s cousin by marriage and, with her husband Bob the inheritor of
Edith’s belongings after Victoria Hayward’s death, admitted to me that her
first impulse when she and Bob saw the photographs was to throw everything
away. “But as we went through all those photographs and negatives, it quickly
became obvious that here was something special. We had to keep it. Those two
women loved that country so damned much.” Another time, Lois
shamefacedly said that she and Bob had thrown away bushel baskets of
negatives when they cleaned out Edith’s house. But they kept every print, and
even after loss and gifts and Edith’s sales to dozens of publishers,
manufacturers, railroad companies and steamship lines, a considerable
collection remained.
Victoria Hayward wrote articles, collaborated on books, shared her life with
Edith Watson and left intimate word pictures to accompany Watson’s
photographs. If Watson kept diaries (as did most middle-class women of her
time — or did she consider the photographs her diaries?) they have not
survived. A few of Hayward’s diaries remain, and they are charming; although
they cover less than a year in all, they are wonderfully informative.
190
Edith S. Watson: Photographing Women
The diaries describe the domestic routine of the Watson-Hayward household:
chores, visits, repairing furniture, preferences in food, decoration, travel. They
chronicle evening backgammon games, Edith’s bouts with indigestion and
their accompanying bad temper, Victoria Hayward’s patience with her and the
arguments when that patience ran out.
Edith and Victoria lived and worked intensely. They established extended,
largely female, personal and professional networks which intersected with
similar groups across North America and beyond. They relished their own and
their friends’ fertile activities, and were anything but the brittle, bitter “old
maids” single women have so often been painted to be. Their story provides a
Native woman and baby, French River, Ontario, c. 1910
191
IJCS / RIÉC
Hungarian women harvesting rhubarb, Saskatchewan, c. 1913
challenge to preconceptions concerning the lives of our predecessors and a
door to the exploration of those lives as well as a rich, vivid, dignified and
respectful look at the lives of turn-of-the-century rural Canadians.
192
Edith S. Watson: Photographing Women
Doukhobour women plastering a ceiling, Brilliant, B.C., 1919 or 1920
193
IJCS / RIÉC
Bibliography
“Another Mrs. Gainsborough on sale.” Toronto Star. June 11, 1983, E27.
Hayward, Victoria. Manuscript diaries, 1927-44.
Hayward, Victoria and Edith S. Watson. Romantic Canada. Toronto, Macmillan, 1920.
Jones, Laura. Rediscovery: Canadian Women Photographers, 1841-1941. Exhibition catalogue.
London: London Regional Art Gallery, 1983.
Rooney, Frances. “Finding Edith S. Watson.” Blatant Image I (1981):86.
—— “Edith S. Watson, Photographer, and Victoria Hayward, Writer.” Fireweed 13 (1982):60-8.
—— “Finding Edith Watson.” Resources for Feminist Research 12:1 (March 1983):26-8.
—— “Edith S. Watson: A Photoessay.” Canadian Woman Studies 7:3 (Fall 1986):48-9.
—— Edith S. Watson: Rural Canadians at Work, 1890-1920. Exhibition catalogue. Sackville,
NB: Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University, 1991.
—— My Dear, Dear Edith. Exhibition catalogue. Galiano Island: Nuse Gallery, 1994.
—— Working Light: The Wandering Life of Photographer Edith S. Watson. Ottawa, Carleton
University Press, forthcoming (fall 1995).
Watson, Amelia M. Manuscript diaries, 1880-1933.
Watson, Edith S. Scrapbooks and photograph albums, 1880--1930.
194
M. Jeanne Yardley and Linda J. Kenyon
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing
Women’s Lives
Abstract
The article points out both the fundamental role of narrative in community
identity and the complex relations that develop among historical narratives of
the same event. It shows how contemporary newspaper accounts of two
murder cases almost a century apart illustrate the process of shaping that
occurs in journalism. William Chadwick’s play “Exposures” and Linda
Kenyon’s short story “Anna Weber Has Made This” then allow us to explore
the complex ways in which creative writers respond to the questions posed by
earlier narratives and rework historical fact to suit the ideological needs of
their own time. From this comparison, the authors suggest the importance of
such events as an access for both readers and writers to otherwise buried
aspects of ordinary women’s lives.
Résumé
L’article souligne à la fois le rôle fondamental que joue le récit dans l’identité
d’une communauté et la relation complexe qui se développe au fil des années
entre les récits d’un même événement. En utilisant deux reportages de deux
meurtres qui ont eu lieu à plus d’un siècle d’intervalle, les auteures illustrent
comment le journalisme crée un processus de construction. Par ailleurs, la
pièce de théâtre de William Chadwick « Exposure » et la nouvelle de Linda
Kenyon « Anna Weber Has Made This » nous permettent d’explorer la façon
dont les écrivains répondent aux questions engendrées par les récits
antérieurs et la façon dont ils retravaillent des événements historiques afin de
satisfaire aux manques idéologiques de leurs temps. Par l’entremise de cette
comparaison, les auteures font ressortir l’importance de tels événements et
ainsi livrent, tant aux lecteurs qu’aux écrivains, des aspects de la vie de
femmes de tous les jours, aspects qui resteraient autrement à tous jamais
cachés.
We wish to begin by acknowledging the sensitivity of the material covered in
this paper. It is all too easy, as the narratives we will discuss amply
demonstrate, to banalize, sensationalize or rationalize stories of women’s
murders or any stories about violence — to make the horrible act that inspires
them appear trivial, entertaining, or (and to far worse effect) culturally
legitimate. It has been particularly difficult for us to justify our work on the
more recent of the two cases, which remains fresh in local memory and still
looms large in the daily lives of family members. Yet the narrativization of
murder is a means to protest against and heal from the trauma of domestic
violence. Throughout our analysis of narratives retelling the stories of these
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
women’s murders, we hope that readers will hear a clear subtext insisting upon
the appalling and utterly unacceptable fact of murder.
We begin with two women, two deaths:
Berlin News-Record, Wed August 11, 1897
ALLEGED SUICIDE
Mrs Anthony Orr, wife of a respectable farmer living about a mile
from town, disappeared yesterday afternoon. A shot-gun is missing
from the house, and grave fears are entertained that she may have
committed suicide. A search party of thirty men have been scouring
the district all day, but no clue has been found.
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Sat March 29, 1986
BODY FOUND IN ROSEVILLE,
MURDER PROBE LAUNCHED
Residents of this quiet hamlet are in shock as police try to unravel the
mystery surrounding the discovery Thursday of an unidentified
female’s body in a snowbank behind Roseville Country Restaurant
and General Store.
Waterloo regional police are treating it as a homicide, the region’s
first this year. Police are releasing few details and have little to go on
because the semi-clad body was badly decomposed and there was no
identification on the body.
The two cases open with contrasting scenarios: in the first, the woman is
missing and a week later turns up dead, buried in her own corn patch; in the
second, a body is found in a public parking lot and is finally identified after
three months of police work. The murder of Emma Orr is the first case in the
history of Waterloo county to result in a conviction and hanging, while the
death of Danuta Czapor eighty-nine years later joins a continuing series of
local tragedies, the first in an expected sequence of homicides in the area that
year. Yet as they develop, these two scandalous events share a number of
features. Both are set in the area of Roseville, Ontario, a little to the west of
Cambridge; in fact, both women are buried in the same cemetery. Both
concern mature women with children, married to men considerably older than
themselves, and killed by a member of their own household. Both receive a
wealth of detailed newspaper reporting during the period of mystery, before an
arrest and conviction bring closure to the case. And both inspire creative
rewritings that take off from the “facts” and proceed in their own directions.
The narratives arising from these two cases provide us with an opportunity to
explore both the fundamental role of narrative in community identity and the
complex relations that develop among historical narratives of the same event.
Through an analysis, first, of the newspaper narratives of the Orr and Czapor
murders and, then, of a play and short story that return to these events in fiction,
we can examine the ways in which different narratives either conceal or
question the issues underlying these events.
196
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing Women’s Lives
The reports published in contemporary newspapers about each of these cases
provide us with an initial set of narratives, a first attempt by members of the
community to find meaning in the events, although the language and length of
excerpts differs. The coverage of the nineteenth-century case is voluminous
and wordy; in addition, the mandate of the paper at the time of the Orr murder
was clearly to cover local events. Along with four columns of advertisements,
the Orr case is joined on the front page in August 1897 by items with these
headlines:
ALDERMAN BROWN THE LUCKY MAN
GETS CONTRACT FOR BUILDING THE NEW G.T.R. DEPOT
and
THE SINGING SOCIETIES ARE WITH US
GOOD WEATHER, JOLLY CROWDS, EXCELLENT MUSIC
In contrast, the Czapor case shares the front page with contemporary national
and world events, with headlines like these:
KHADAFY CLAIMING VICTORY OVER U.S.
and
OTTAWA TAX CREDITS GO TO U.S. COMPANY
FOR DAIRY RESEARCH
10-YEAR PROJECT TO COST MILLIONS
and rapidly moves to the back pages of the paper as it becomes old news. We
wonder if the world was just a busier place in 1986 than it was in 1897, or if
over the years murder has become less noteworthy. The articles also reflect the
easier access reporters had to court and other official records in the nineteenthcentury, as well as the willingness of journalists to speculate and develop
theories independent of “reliable sources.”
Despite these superficial differences, the newspaper coverage of these two
cases, although they occur almost a century apart, is strikingly similar in style
and substance because the overall role of news media has not changed. If we
recognize murder as a community trauma, then we must acknowledge the
narratives arising from it as part of a process the community uses to assimilate
and recover from such trauma. Newspaper narratives of both periods fulfill
this task through repeated retellings, revelling in detail that would normally
offend readers but here serves to, in the words of historiographer Hayden
White, “familiarize the unfamiliar” (49).
Berlin News-Record, August 19, 1897
Dr. J.M. Cameron, one of the physicians who made the post mortem
examination, testified that he had made a thorough examination of
the body which was that of a well-nourished woman about 5 feet 4
inches in height, and weighing 140 lbs. The tongue protruded from
the face and the eyeballs protruded from their sockets. On the face,
neck, chest and abdomen were large, diffused, livid patches. The
skull was fractured in three places.... The brain was too much
decomposed to admit of an examination. The heart, lungs and other
197
IJCS / RIÉC
organs were in a healthy and normal condition. In the stomach was
partly digested food, in which pieces of meat and eggs were found.
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 8, 1986
The photos show front and side views of the body, with her face
apparently bruised, her hair disheveled, and her eyes closed in
death....
The woman was probably in her 30s. She had brown eyes and
medium brown collar-length hair, with what appeared to be natural
grey streaking. She had a scar on the lower right side of her abdomen,
a surgical scar inside her right ankle, and a mark from where a wart
had been removed from the sole of her right foot, near the toes.
Hayden White suggests the therapeutic effect of narrative in his comparison of
the rewriting of historical events to the personal process of “rewriting” one’s
past that takes place during psychotherapy (50-1). This refamiliarization or
normalization begins with an exploration of memory, an obsessive retelling of
every aspect of the story.
For the community, the therapeutic need is to heal the breach that the murder
has introduced into the apparently seamless structure of daily life. Fear, the
awareness of everyone’s vulnerability, creates an overwhelming stress that
can be relieved only by the legal resolution of the case. The newspaper
narratives about both Emma Orr and Danuta Czapor take part in the
normalizing effort to determine “whodunnit”:
Berlin News-Record, August 17, 1897
The latest theory is that whoever fired at the woman chased her
through the garden to the lane and shot at her as she was trying to get
through the fence, but, not hitting her, used the butt end of the gun
with which to fell her, and from there dragged the body the few yards
to where it was found buried in the corn patch. Whether the woman
fired at an assailant and missed or whether the assailant fired at the
woman is still a matter of mystery. It is more probable, however, that
the gun was in the hands of the woman, because a man, being more
dextrous in the use of such arms, would not likely miss his mark, and
some shots would be found in the woman’s legs, which is about the
elevation of the bullets in the fence...
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 8, 1986
... She may not have been reported missing because the person who
would normally do this — a husband, for instance — might have been
the one who killed her...
But that is just guessing. Staff Sergeant Hunter declined to speculate
whether she was killed where her body was found, or brought to
Roseville and dumped. He also declined to guess why she was
wearing only a blue track suit in early spring with snow still on the
ground.
198
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing Women’s Lives
Although nowadays reputable publications resist open speculation — in the
1986 excerpt, we are told the police are “declining to guess” — clearly both
reporters are quite prepared to do so.
In one sense, the identification of Orr and Czapor murder suspects
immediately eases the community’s fear, because — as the last excerpt
speculates — both turn out to be victims of domestic violence. In fact, the
people charged and convicted were both trusted young men, in the first case the
hired farm boy and in the second the woman’s own son. Even with these
resolutions, however, the cases serve as a reminder of the vulnerability of all
women. To function well in the world of our culture, we need to believe that
our homes are places of safety, that members of our household honour our
lives, and that we can carry out our daily tasks without risk. And when this is
not true, we want to know that the ensuing violence happens only to other
people. Newspaper reporting of the cases thus responds to the question which
remains largely unexpressed but nevertheless echoes in every narration:
“could this happen to me?” The narratives answer this fear by offering the
reassuring description of the victim as someone markedly different from the
stereotypical wife and mother:
Berlin News-Record, Aug 11, 1897
This is the woman who ran away with a young man some years ago
and it is currently reported that she has killed herself.
***
Berlin News-Record, Aug 16, 1897
... It will be remembered by readers of the Reporter that on Friday it
rejected the elopement theory as the solution of Mrs Orr’s sudden
disappearance.... Still, ninety out of every hundred persons in Galt
regarded the case as one of a woman’s illicit passions and desire for a
life apart from her husband.
...It appears that the Sunday before, the father of Anthony Orr was
buried. He and his wife were at the funeral. Mrs Orr was not in very
good odor with the rest of the family and was very cooly treated, in
fact she was not recognized at all by the female members of the
family.
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 11, 1986
Staff Inspector Dara Landry said Mrs Czapor had never been reported
missing by her husband, Stanley, or any other members of her family
or friends because of her lifestyle where she would often live away
from home for a while.
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 12, 1986
Neighbours and family interviewed Friday described 37 year-old
Czapor as a quiet woman who kept to herself and never smiled or
talked to people she passed on the sidewalk. She had no friends, but
199
IJCS / RIÉC
seemed devoted to her young daughter Trudy, eight or nine years
old....
“She would never say hello,” said Alison Thomas of 57 Berkley
Road. “She would just walk with a distant look in her eyes.”
Explicitly, these reports establish the eccentricities of the victim and her
situation, implicitly arguing that she herself was the cause of her own violent
death. The theory is this: if we can prove that the victim deserved what
happened to her, then we know what steps to take to avoid being like her and
becoming a victim ourselves.
In the course of their narration, these newspapers deliberately invade the
privacy of the individuals concerned, revealing details of day-to-day life that
would otherwise remain unavailable and probably uninteresting:
Berlin News-Record, Aug, 16 1897
As gleaned from [Tony Orr’s] story, on the day of her disappearance,
Mrs Orr arose early, ate her breakfast and went about her usual
work.... He left, at 7 o’clock in company with his 10 year-old son,
Norman, and took a sow to Mr Andrew Orr’s farm on the 12th
concession. When he left, his wife was milking the cows in the lane
just at the north side of the house. The hired boy, James Allison, went
away half an hour afterwards and took two cows to Mr George R
Barrie’s farm, about one mile east.
... The farm upon which this terrible tragedy took place is situated off
the Blenheim Road in North Dumfries, about two miles from Galt. A
long lane leads up to the house, which is a very substantial, and a very
well kept, comfortable home. Everything about the house points to
the cleanliness and aesthetic taste of the deceased lady. Flowers
adorn the ground in close proximity to the house and altogether the
surroundings were of a most cheerful nature. The dairy and
outhouses were scrupulously clean and everything was arranged in
the best possible order. The inside was in the same condition as the
exterior and was really a model country home.
***
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 12, 1986
... For one month last summer, [Danuta Czapor] worked as a waitress
at the Swiss Chalet restaurant at 510 Hespeler Rd. “She was a
pleasant woman, but she liked doing things her way. She was a little
pushy,” said head waitress Dorothy Rooth.
Rooth said Mrs Czapor didn’t pass her employment trial. Her
application said she had worked as a cashier at a Becker Milk store in
1982 and at Domco Food Services in 1983.
... The Czapor house in the Galt area of Cambridge is a tiny stucco
bungalow with five rooms. The living room with a pull-out couch is
Gregory’s bedroom, furnished with a desk, a dresser and a portable
television. Bare light bulbs hang from the ceiling.
The back bedroom, where Mrs Czapor slept, is pink with green trim
and the musty gold-colored curtains hang haphazardly from the rods.
200
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing Women’s Lives
The window looks out on neat rows of staked tomatoes, beans, squash
and onions, the ground meticulously weeded and cultivated.
Although neighbors depict Stanley Czapor Sr as a solitary man who
was given to loud outbursts of anger, this neatly-tended garden is his
exclusive domain.
In spite of the striking contrast between the two homes and lives we glimpse
here, the newspaper narratives engage in very similar kinds of prying in their
attempts to make the murder comprehensible to their readers.
The murder of a wife and mother is one of those events that shocks a
community, as well as individuals who are not at all involved. The challenge
that such a murder offers to our personal and community identity is clear in the
extensive media coverage that invariably appears immediately after the event.
It is evident that the newspaper narratives of the murders of Emma Orr and
Danuta Czapor go far beyond the mere reporting of objective facts, if such a
thing is possible. As the first response to the murder, each narrative takes a
fundamental role in providing a shape for the chaos of experience by detailing
stomach contents, wart scars, daily routines and employment records;
assigning causes such as adultery and anti-social behavior; attributing
significance to the tidiness of houses and gardens; and suggesting routes
toward closure by way of the specific peculiarities of the characters involved.
As time goes on, however, the case is normalized, even if not solved, and
relegated to the back pages as the threat it poses to community identity loses
immediacy, and finally it is omitted altogether in favour of current happenings.
Although the trauma remains painfully real for people closely involved, it
recedes for everyone else and is presumably forgotten. In the end, these
newspaper narratives actually fulfill their normalizing function for the
community by distracting it from and essentially concealing the real issues
underlying domestic violence.
But as Paul Ricoeur reminds us, every narrative is not only an answer to an
earlier question, but is itself a source of new questions (Vol. 3, p. 172). And so
the stories of women’s murders raise questions among creative writers with no
connection other than geography with the original case, sometimes many years
after the actual historical situation. Waterloo playwright William Chadwick’s
play “Exposures,” first produced as “Emma Orr” in 1980, works with the
relations among the characters of the Orr case, while Kitchener writer Linda
Kenyon’s short story “Anna Weber Has Made This,” written in 1986,
incorporates the narrator’s response to the discovery of Czapor’s body. These
are narratives which extend the process of assimilating the outrage associated
with murder and which, in doing so, can be seen in relationship to the
newspaper reporting that began that process. But, equally importantly, these
later narratives make use of the real story of the murder for their own purposes,
to create a world according to their own need to ask questions about issues too
dangerous to conceal. The murder, for these writers, becomes a point of access
to aspects of life that would, otherwise, remain dead and buried.
The Chadwick play shows us how a dramatic narrative makes use of such
material. This is a two-act work presenting little physical action, relying rather
on the strength of dialogue to develop an atmosphere of almost stifling tension
201
IJCS / RIÉC
and impending doom. The play’s chronology builds upon two occurrences that
we may recall from the newspaper narratives of the Emma Orr case — the
morning of the murder itself and, just one day before, the burial of Tony Orr’s
father. In doing so, it makes a significant revision of this story. Stage
directions tell us that the play opens in August, around the turn of the century.
During an early scene, a fictional young photographer visits the Orr farm
looking for business and meets Emma for the first time. During the course of
conversation, it becomes clear that Tony’s father’s funeral is to be the next day.
Ensuing scenes take place after the funeral, recounting the background of
Emma’s past extramarital affairs and her quarrel with Tony’s family, as well as
illustrating the development of a relationship between Emma and the
photographer. But the several scenes which present this new romance would
realistically take place over a period of days or perhaps even weeks, so the time
between the father-in-law’s funeral and Emma’s murder, which “in fact”
occurred on subsequent days, is thus greatly expanded. The time introduced
into this point of the story’s chronology allows the play to build upon what the
newspaper narratives revealed of Emma’s difficulty with Tony’s family, and
her “illicit passions and desire for a life apart from her husband,” exposing in
detail the tensions in the marriage and the family.
The final scene in the play occurs early in the morning and follows closely
what the newspapers have told us about the pattern of activities on the Orr farm
the morning Emma was murdered, except that in this narrative there is no
murder. There is a murder weapon, hired boy Jim Allison’s gun which Emma
asks him to show her during the penultimate scene and which then is left in
Tony’s control at the end of that scene. And there is certainly a strong
undercurrent of violence. On stage, we observe Jim, who is at other times a
paragon of gentleness, spearing rats with a pitchfork and half strangling
Emma’s daughter after she teasingly flirts with him. Off stage, the
photographer’s legs are broken as a warning to stay away from Emma, and an
unnamed “someone” stands at the farmhouse door to prevent Emma herself
from leaving during the last evening. But there is no hint that Emma’s life is
about to end. An audience watching this play with no previous knowledge of
the Emma Orr story would thus have no sense that it describes events leading
up to a murder. This, then, is not a play “about” a murder; rather, it is a play that
borrows the details of a real situation and a set of real characters from history,
and uses them to explore the troubled relations in a family.
In Linda Kenyon’s fiction, in contrast, the action takes place after the murder,
and the historical murder acts as a catalyst for an important epiphany in the
character’s life. In this short story, the narrator and protagonist is a farm wife,
frustrated with the limitations and deprivations imposed by her rigid husband,
facing the temptation to try to make a life of her own in a city apartment. As her
decision about leaving her marriage slowly reveals itself both to her and to the
reader, she incorporates her reactions to a poster describing a murdered
woman found in a snowbank behind the Roseville store, obviously the
unidentified Danuta Czapor. After visualizing the freedom of life on her own
in contrast to the constraints of existence with her husband, she ponders the
idea of murder:
202
Dead and Buried: Murder and Writing Women’s Lives
How did that woman end up in the snowbank, that’s what I need to
know. Did she and her husband pull into the store for something on
their way from somewhere, say from her parents’ place, and as they
walked back to the car did they start arguing about something, say
about how every time she gets talking with her mother and sisters he
can never get her away at a reasonable hour, and does she for once not
start apologizing, does she just stand there and look him straight in the
eye, and does he get that cold look on his face but this time something
snaps and his fist comes crashing....
What probably happened was this. She had just pulled down the
blind, switched off the light, and was pulling up the covers when she
heard someone at the door to her apartment. Suddenly a strange man
appeared in the bedroom doorway, and before she could scream, hit
her hard in the face, kept hitting her. I hope she blacked out then.
When he’s done, she isn’t breathing any more, though blood still
trickles from the cut above her eye. Is he scared then? Do his hands
tremble as he pulls her track suit on her, or is he mad at her for dying,
does he stuff her arms and legs in any-which-way. He shuts her
apartment door carefully, hopes she won’t be missed for days, maybe
even weeks (he’s been watching her: he knows she lives alone)....
Then what. Does he drive blindly around, not sure what to do, where
to go, or does he have it all planned out, does he say to himself “I’ll go
to Roseville. The parking lot behind the store is nice and dark and the
snowbanks big enough that if we don’t have a thaw, maybe they
won’t find her until spring.” Does he scoop the snow away with his
bare hands, or has he thought to put a shovel in the car. What does he
do, lay her gently in the hole or just stuff her in, maybe give her one
last kick, the way the boy on the television commercial does when he
finally gets the bag of garbage to the curb.
By working through her fear of these two opposing scenarios for the murder,
the protagonist in this short story reconciles herself to a continuation of life on
the farm. In doing so, the narrator reminds us of the pervasiveness of the threat
of violence in women’s lives. Rather than helping the culture to heal and
smooth over the disruption caused by the Czapor murder, this narrative insists
upon keeping the wound open, refusing to allow us to forget what has
happened, and does happen.
Moreover, as a symbol of the lack of security the character feels, the murder
facilitates her choice between two extremely limited options. It is ironic, from
our perspective, that the Czapor murder was committed by a family member
rather than a stranger; that any woman statistically has more to fear from her
husband than from any unknown mad man — ironic, but perfectly appropriate.
The unnamed narrator in this tale, like William Chadwick’s Emma Orr, is
trapped in a life where no real possibility exists for creative development or
transformation. In addition, the woman’s husband is perhaps equally trapped
in his passionate rejection of an emotional life as part of his rebellion against
his family’s tradition. Likewise, the whole family in Chadwick’s play is
troubled and unhappy: Jim longs to be back with his father, the daughter
fantasizes about growing up to be a lady, Emma dreams of leisurely ocean
cruises and apparently sees the young men with whom she becomes involved
as ways to escape the doldrums of rural existence. Both of these rewritings,
203
IJCS / RIÉC
enact a theme of entrapment, the violence of the actual murder serving to
sharpen the contrast between what the characters desire and what is available
to them. As Carolyn Heilbrun puts it in Writing a Woman’s Life, these
characters suffer the “absence of any narrative that could take [them] past their
moment of revelation and support their bid for freedom from [their] assigned
script” (42). In writing narratives about the place of murder in these women’s
lives, these two writers point to what is perhaps the greatest violence against
women in our culture: the denial of a meaningful story of their own.
Notes
Jeanne Yardley gratefully acknowledges the support of a SSHRCC Post-Doctoral Fellowship
during the research and writing of this paper.
Bibliography
Berlin News-Record. 11 August 1897 through 19 August 1897.
Chadwick, William. “Exposures.” Toronto: Playwrights Union of Canada, n.d.
Heilbrun, Carolyn. Writing a Woman’s Life. New York: Ballantyne, 1988.
Kenyon, Linda. “Anna Weber Has Made This.” Unpublished story, 1986.
Kitchener-Waterloo Record. 29 March 1986 through 12 July 1986.
Ricoeur, Paul. Time and Narrative. Trans. Kathleen McLaughlin & David Pellauer. 3 vols.
Chicago: Chicago UP, 1984-5.
White, Hayden. “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact.” The Writing of History: Literary Form
and Historical Understanding. Eds Robert H. Canary & Henry Kozicki. Madison:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1978. 41-62.
204
Jenny Horsman
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives:
Proposal for Research and Practice
Abstract
This article focuses on the links between the violence in women’s lives and
illiteracy. The author argues that the exploration of these links is crucial and
that theorists and practioners alike must break the silence about violence and
question what impact experiences of violence have on literacy learning and
how learning can be effectively carried out. The silence concerning the links
between literacy and violence obscures the nature of the literacy learning
process and the complexity of the work in literacy programs. Literacy work
with one survivor of abuse is described in detail in order to illustrate this
complex literacy interaction in the context of abuse.
Résumé
L’article porte sur les liens entre la violence contre les femmes et
l’analphabétisme. L’auteure soutient qu’il est crucial d’explorer ces liens et
que les théoriciens et les praticiens ne doivent plus passer sous silence la
question de la violence. Ces deux derniers doivent examiner l’impact de la
violence sur l’apprentissage et les façons d’améliorer les techniques de
formation. En passant sous silence les liens entre la violence et
l’analphabétisme, on cache la nature du processus d’apprentissage chez
l’analphabète et la complexité du travail qui s’effectue dans les programmes
d’alphabétisation. L’auteure décrit en détail le cas d’une victime d’abus pour
illustrer l’interaction complexe qui se développe lors de l’alphabétisation
dans un tel contexte.
How does severe abuse, either sexual, emotional or physical, affect a girl’s
experience of learning to read? To survive, to bury the abuse even from her
own consciousness, to cry out for help in a myriad of direct or indirect ways,
and to continually monitor her world for her safety requires enormous energy.
While the experience of abuse may prompt some to work even harder at
school, the erosion of sense of self, self-esteem and self-confidence can
prevent others from becoming successful learners.1 I have worked with many
women in adult literacy programs and interviewed many more who have
spoken of their abusive childhoods.2 Many white3 women who grew up in
Canada in urban and rural settings tell stories of childhoods of violence,
poverty and abuse of all kinds. These women speak of misbehaving in school,
of being unable to concentrate, of being desperately shy. Some became wards
of the Children’s Aid Society. They were removed from their families,
sometimes temporarily, only to return to the same violence or be placed in
other abusive families or institutions. As children, some were labelled
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
mentally handicapped and placed in institutions. As teenagers, some were
sterilized without their consent. I have repeatedly heard harrowing stories of
childhood experiences from women who did not learn to read as children and
who, as adults, are struggling to improve their reading and writing skills.
Several years ago, a participant from a women’s literacy group I was
facilitating called after the workshop to apologize for having mentioned,
during a discussion, that her childhood had been difficult. I said she had no
need to apologize. This was the beginning of my realization of how
unspeakable the experience of abuse as a child, or an adult, remains for many.
For many adults, that silence is central to issues of illiteracy and to their
attempts to improve their reading and writing skills and become “literate.”
Since the mid 1970s, people unable to read and write well, have been termed
illiterate or functionally illiterate, in Canada and in other “industrialized”
countries. In the last twenty years, increasing media attention has focused on
people labelled in this way. The attention was especially intense in 1990,
International Literacy Year, they were commonly portrayed as people
“chained in prison,” “disabled,” “caged and blinded,” victims experiencing
only “death in life.”4 The readers of such articles, perhaps highly literate
themselves, might heartily agree that not reading and writing well means a
person is illiterate which is an intolerable condition that must be remedied.
Few, however, consider the social circumstances of those labelled illiterate, or
the purpose of such labelling and its effect on those labelled. Little
examination centres on why people are illiterate. The assumption is that
illiterate adults either did not go to school or, if they did, are stupid. The
attitude seems to be, then, that having been given one opportunity to learn to
read, only the bare minimum should be spent on adults to have a “second
chance.” However, questions about why these adults could not learn as
children and what approaches and programs are appropriate need to be asked.
If these adults are to have a genuine chance to learn to read, the links between
illiteracy and violence cannot be ignored.
As I talked to both women and men in literacy programs I learned about the
centrality of violence in the lives of people who were unable to learn to read
and write well as children. Stories frequently evoke the violence of families
stressed to the limits in poverty; the violence of the educational system that set
them apart, labelled them and said they could not learn; the violence of the
system supposed to help them — Children’s Aid, welfare — that judged and
too often placed them at further risk. This information suggests that sexual,
physical, psychological and economic abuse was a common reality for many
adults unable to read and write well, including many of those who find their
way to adult literacy programs. A major research study by the Canadian
Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women (CCLOW) (Lloyd, 1991,
1994a, 1994b) explored women’s experience of literacy programs and
identified violence as one barrier to women’s literacy learning. Women
involved in the research talked “about the pervasiveness and magnitude of
violence against women.” (1994a p.107) Three women involved in the
research taught literacy classes in which every woman present had been
sexually abused. One “woman-positive” activity carried out as part of the
208
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
study involved a house-to-house survey in Rabbittown, Newfoundland. The
violence in the women’s lives as adults was often made apparent by the men’s
refusal to even allow them to answer the questions. At the end of the study, one
interviewer summed up what they had learned:
On every page of every questionnaire we see violence, poverty, and
loneliness. The despair in the young women especially is loud and
clear. They are in situations that make life seem hopeless. They either
don’t know they have choices or they don’t want to leave the situation
— we don’t really know. Or do they really have choices? (1994b
p.81)
In spite of this important study, considerable silence shrouds the links between
violence and literacy. Media reports fail to connect issues of abuse to adult
illiteracy. While the media describes illiteracy with images of sickness, the
true sickness in society, which I believe often leads to illiteracy — violence —
is not addressed.
Very little research is available to ground methodologies for teaching reading
and writing to adults who have experienced abuse.5 In 1987, I wrote:
In most of literacy discourse “illiterates” are not differentiated by
gender, but the reader can usually infer that “people” are actually
men. In this way women become “other” in relation to men as the
norm. (Horsman 1988 p.123)
This criticism still applies in 1995. Even in the 1990s, the absence of literature
on literacy that addresses women’s literacy needs is striking. Over the years,
however, a series of feminist critiques have argued for programming which is
relevant for women.6 Several of these writers have also critiqued that when
women are considered as the recipients of literacy, the focus centres
exclusively on their roles as wife and mother. Kazemak (1988) argues that the
absence of studies on the relationship between women and literacy suggests:
...at the best a naivete or ignorance on our part as literacy scholars
and, at the worst, a conscious or unconscious disdain for the specific
literacy needs of women within a patriarchal society. (p.23)
Given the rarity of studies that acknowledge women’s specific literacy needs it
is not surprising that there is also little work carried out on the impact of abuse
on women’s literacy learning. However, one study that does illustrate the
impact of abuse on learning is by Belenky et al. (1986) It identified as silent a
group of women who had experienced abusive childhoods. Unfortunately,
several shortcomings limit the study’s usefulness for workers seeking
information on how to help women learn in the aftermath of abuse. Although it
identifies the “demeaning,” violent and isolated childhoods of these women, it
does not appear to ascribe this silence to the power of others who have forced
them to see their voices as dangerous. Belenky et al. describe the women as
“worried that they would be punished just for using words — any words,”
(p.24) but they fail to recognize that this silence may be rooted in fear because
they have been punished for using any words. The suggestion that these
“silent” women lack voice because they are “isolated from the self” fails to
convey the materiality of the unequal power dynamic within which many have
lived. The description of the women: “like puppets moving with the jiggle of a
209
IJCS / RIÉC
thread. To hear is to obey,” (p.28) suggests they are less than human and does
not recognize the power of the authorities they may be forced to obey. The
danger of this study is that we may be inclined to blame the women for their
lack of voice and to see them as inferior, with an inadequate “way of knowing.”
The need for women’s safety is not recognized as a political problem. Instead,
the research suggests that women learn in different ways than men and so
require a different type of education. Though I would agree that safe spaces are
needed for women’s learning, I am dubious of simplistic divisions between
men’s and women’s ways of learning. We must examine the power
dimensions of men’s and women’s experience in a raced, classed society in
general and in the classroom in particular. Rockhill’s work on literacy
acknowledges the context of power, or lack of it, for women and explores how
literacy “poses the potential of a change and is experienced as both a threat and
a desire.” (1987c p.330) She explains that literacy for women carries the
potential for violence: “that is, the desire of women for literacy and the threat
of violence, subtle or overt, posed to them by the men in their lives if they
actually act on it by attending programs.” (1988 p.8)
Literacy programming is not usually designed with women’s needs in mind or
with an acknowledgement of the tension inherent in many women’s attempts
to develop literacy skills. Although some programs do run women-only
groups, these are regularly contested by men in the programs.7 When women’s
groups do take place, these frequently allow women the space to begin voicing
their experiences of violence. Such groups are rare, however, given the acute
shortage of funds for literacy programs. Generally, programming is not
designed with attention to the impact of abuse on literacy learning. Although
most literacy workers have heard many horrific stories, little is said or written
about how this life experience affects literacy learning. This shortcoming is
particularly serious considering that much literacy teaching is carried out by
volunteers ill-equipped to cope with this situation.8 An exciting publication
just released by CCLOW (1995) offers suggestions on how to “make learning
safer,” and may begin to address this need. Drawing material from a series of
workshops on the links between violence and education, the book offers
practical suggestions for removing the educational barriers created by
violence. This collection is an important step in breaking the silence by
practitioners about the links between violence and education. Theorists and
practitioners alike must continue to break the silence about violence and
question how this silence affects the work that can be done in literacy
programs. Only then will literacy programs be able to adequately support and
teach adult9 survivors of abuse.
Some Toronto-based literacy programs workers and administrators insist that
issues of abuse are too difficult and specialized to be addressed in literacy
programs. Literacy workers, they argue, are not therapists or trained
counsellors. However, if literacy workers try to avoid touching on violent
experiences in women’s lives and do not recognize connections between
illiteracy and violence then I think many women will be unable to improve
their reading and writing skills. Alice Miller repeatedly mentions (eg. 1993)
the crucial importance of a sympathetic “witness” to make it possible for
survivors of childhood abuse to begin unearthing buried memories and
210
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
addressing the consequences of abuse. Anne-Louise Brookes (1992) captures
the importance of writing about experiences of abuse when she says: “In
writing the words I was sexually abused as a child, I began to shift their
importance by making conscious the abuse.” (p.30)
The mainstay of much literacy work is learners telling their stories through the
language experience approach, where the learners speak and the tutor writes
down what they say, and in the publication of learner writing. But what stories
remain untold? If literacy learning includes ideas of empowerment and finding
a voice, then learners speaking about their lives must be part of literacy work.
Literacy workers must be prepared to respond to the truths which learners want
or need to write and speak about, and to offer relevant reading material. How
can workers in literacy programs exclude certain realities of a learner’s life as
inappropriate to the literacy program without silencing learners and
confirming for survivors of abuse that their experiences are “unspeakable”?
For literacy workers to take on work that does recognize the violence in many
women’s lives there must be recognition of the challenging and complex
dynamic of this work. Workers need varied supports and places where they can
learn about working with women who have been abused. They must prepare
themselves to hear these stories without rescuing or inadvertently revictimizing the learners.
Many women may not ask to work on memories of abuse. Yet literacy
programs still have an obligation to “make the space.” Workers need to allow
the possibility of focusing on such experiences, to show that it is OK to talk
about them and to remove the taboos. Women who have been conditioned to
remain silent and deny the realities of their lives are unlikely to ask to work on
their memories. Furthermore, literacy workers must not presume that a
woman’s childhood was abusive or that self-disclosure is an obligation. The
survivor must retain control over her own stories, and when and how much she
tells of them.
When women do speak out, literacy workers must be extremely sensitive to the
consequences; they must ensure safety and support for women who may have
little experience of safety. In mixed classes, the presence of men may silence
all possibility that women will speak out. If they do speak out, the men in the
class may respond abusively. Literacy workers must know about resources and
services to which they can refer these women. However, referrals alone are not
an adequate means for literacy programs to deal with the problems of
memories of abuse. The teaching or tutoring relationship may have evolved a
trust which enables a woman to tell her story to that person, but not necessarily
to a therapist. This sort of relationship, in which the survivor feels valued, is
essential to preserving sanity and building the self-esteem vital to learning. Pat
Capponi describes the importance of one teacher who was the first person to
treat her respectfully:
Before that man... no one had ever looked at me or spoken to me as
though I had value. For me, that’s the key. Otherwise, I probably
would have gone on believing that I was intrinsically bad, with
nothing to offer. (1992, p.207)
211
IJCS / RIÉC
For literacy workers to support the women they work with, they must explore a
variety of ways of collaborating with women who work with survivors in other
settings. For example, literacy workers can learn from the experience of
women counsellors in women’s shelters, or feminist therapists, how to deal
sensitively with the issues and relationships that develop. Ultimately, the
quality of the relationship is crucial for survivors; it teaches them a new way of
relating to others and creates new possibilities for learning content. Literacy
workers can also learn from these resource people how to take care of
themselves while working with such difficult issues and demanding
relationships.
If the experiences of abuse in women’s lives were recognized, I believe it
would ultimately challenge the isolating separation between literacy and
counselling. The healing and literacy learning processes are too
interconnected to be addressed separately through organizations with little or
no contact. The literacy field would benefit from new possibilities of
combining literacy work with services for women who have experienced
violence, and from new ways of conceptualizing the problem of illiteracy.
Research is needed to examine how the experience of abuse may influence
various approaches to literacy learning.
The unspoken connections between literacy and violence obscure the
interaction involved in the literacy process and the complexity of the work
carried on in literacy programs. The next part of this paper details one tutoring
situation which focuses directly on the learner’s experience of severe abuse.
The aim is not to offer any prescriptions, but to encourage practitioners and
theorists to explore appropriate ways of teaching and supporting women
survivors of abuse through literacy programs. I want to illustrate the challenge
of this work and to show the need for collaboration among women who
provide services for abused women and women who work in the literacy field.
This particular tutoring relationship began with the telephone call mentioned
earlier in which Mary apologized for commenting that her childhood had been
unhappy. She had never told anybody about her childhood. This first telling,
and my reassurance that she could speak of it, launched a difficult process. At
first, she wanted to tell me many of the horrors of her childhood, demanding
more and more of my time and support. I would then retreat, guiltily, afraid that
she was asking more than I could give, but unwilling to let her down. Finally, I
suggested we schedule a regular meeting where she could speak, read and
write about her memories of childhood and her experience of abuse. We then
began a long process of negotiating how we would work together. The more I
backed away, the more she clung. But once I clearly stated what I could offer
however limited, she demanded less. Literacy workers often feel
overwhelmed by the support they are asked to provide. We need to learn how
to respond to these needs in ways that value ourselves too, so that we do not
overstretch our resources. As I have begun speaking of this history with other
literacy workers I have heard their stories of the demands made on them as they
recognized a learner’s experience in any small way.
At the start of this tutoring situation, I felt ill-equipped to cope. A counsellor
who worked on issues of violence at the local health centre listened to me
212
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
describe how Mary and I were working, and express my fears about how to
deal with the intensity of the emerging relationship. She offered me support
and invited me to meet with her whenever necessary — a form of peer support
which therapists offer each other. This support was invaluable10 and should be
available to other literacy workers as a recognized part of literacy work.
This tutoring relationship with Mary has taken me through many highs and
lows. I had to learn the difference between support and rescuing, and how to
avoid giving advice or “answers.” I had to learn how to encourage Mary to
meet her own challenges and recognize her own strength, rather than lean on
me as her saviour. Once, I overheard another tutor take over and “solve”
Mary’s problem; the consequence of not meeting the challenge to help a
survivor recognize her own strength was clear: Mary seemed to “shrink” in an
image of herself as less capable and less adult. Gradually, I learned that what
she most wants is to be “heard.” She tells me her problems not so that I will try
to solve them, but so that I will hear what has happened and how she feels, and
acknowledge that she does have a right to feel as she does. Women
experienced in working with survivors have suggested that the speaking is a
way of testing whether a story is bearable. If someone else can bear it, perhaps
the woman can too.
I also had to learn to set my own boundaries, place clear limits on my role, and
understand that I was not responsible for her. I had to keep a reign on the
amount of time I could give her and on the type of support I felt able and
qualified to offer. Frequently, I would let these limits slip and again have to
reestablish them clearly. I have told some of my horror stories about not
maintaining boundaries to other literacy workers. At the time, I did not
understand that it was a crucial model to offer someone who had very few
boundaries herself. I was fascinated to hear other stories from literacy workers
who recognized that they had not maintained boundaries either. Some had
invited learners to stay in their homes, had looked after their children, or
regularly received calls at home, even in the middle of the night. Several said
they were usually too ashamed to tell these stories. Yet many literacy workers
consider it unacceptable to set limits. In a workshop on working with
survivors, one literacy worker found it unimaginable that she could set limits
for her own sake. The one compelling reason she could accept to justify
considering her own needs and setting her own limits was the idea that
maintaining boundaries was important for the learners. For people who had
their boundaries violated as children, and therefore have difficulty maintaining
their own boundaries as adults, the literacy worker’s ability to set boundaries
serves as a crucial model.
The empathy of many women who endeavour to respond to the demands of
survivors may relate to their own experiences of abuse. My work with Mary
forced me to explore my own difficult childhood memories and to find my own
sources of support for this work. The work on abuse may trigger the worker’s
own memories, and their behaviour — such as the inability to set boundaries
— the product of their own experiences, may create problems when working
with survivors. Tutors who are survivors may be ideal people to work with
213
IJCS / RIÉC
other survivors but only if they can find a place to do their own emotional work
and establish the necessary supports.
My relationship with Mary is complicated and sometimes filled with tension. I
struggle to focus on the therapeutic nature of the relationship without losing
sight of my limits as a literacy worker — not a therapist. The line between
literacy learning and therapy often becomes blurred, making it difficult to
judge what we can appropriately work on together. Trust is especially hard for
her, and she frequently pushes my limits to test my reaction. By making her
emotionally-charged memories the content for our literacy work, a very
particular form of tutor-student relationship has gradually developed. Though
it often seems immensely difficult, this tutoring has also been my most
exciting experience of literacy learning. I have often spoken about the value of
literacy as making it possible for a person to read about the experience of others
and write about her own experience.11 In this way, a person can see the
commonality of her own situation with others and get a distance from her own
experience, as she sees it in writing outside herself and can assess it
differently.12 But I have never seen this value of literacy so powerfully as in
tutoring that focuses on experiences of violence and abuse hidden as a
shameful secret. When Mary and I first began to read other stories of women’s
experiences of abuse, from Newfoundland, Toronto, England and Australia,13
the commonality of experience was key in helping to normalize and decrease
her shame about what she had lived through. Her writing became an essential
element of every session — to get the memories out and, in a symbolic sense,
leave them behind.
The mainstay of our work over the past several years has been The Courage to
Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, by Ellen Bass and
Laura Davis, and The Courage to Heal Workbook, by Laura Davis. When we
first began to read these books, Mary could hardly believe they were not
written specifically for her and from her experiences, so apt were their
questions and observations. This helped her believe that her experiences were
not so different from other women’s: how else could the authors be so right?
The books were equally crucial for me because they provided a framework and
reassured me that I did not require experience with other survivors or training
as a therapist to work with her. When we first started our sessions together,
these books provided guidelines for creating safety and setting ground rules
that would ensure we both felt comfortable. THey taught me that I did not have
to set the pace of our work. Every so often, we look at the table of contents and
mark the sections she would like to work on in the near future. The books also
offer advice from those listening to stories of abuse, such as the need to leave
the pain behind at the end of each session. The author takes a shower and thinks
of what she hopes for each person she has worked with, symbolically washing
away the pain. This idea helped me to recognize my own need and create a
process to meet it. A colleague once pointed me towards a plain language
rewrite of The Courage to Heal, entitled Beginning to Heal. We worked with it
regularly for a while, but we were drawn back by the greater complexity of the
original book.
214
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
At intervals, Mary and I discuss our progress and plan the issues she wants to
focus on over the next few months. We sometimes digress from these plans to
follow new directions suggested by her experiences between sessions. Some
sections she may need to read many times. “Understanding that it wasn’t your
fault” was one example — we read it over and over. One day she phoned to say,
“It wasn’t my fault.” It took me a moment to realize what she was talking
about. It was an incredible moment. Although, I feared this insight would fade
and we would have to go back to reading the section again, it stayed with her a
long time. Eventually, with much embarrassment, she asked to read the
chapter again. We both learned to accept doubt, not as failure, but as the next
phase of our work. She has also learned to spell and write the word “know,”
always a stubborn problem for her, which I suspect relates to her struggle to
trust herself enough to believe she does know. This raises questions about
emotional barriers to word recognition and strategies to overcome them.
Another routine that we follow as unfailingly as our use of The Courage to
Heal is to end with some poems. I look for women’s poems written in
straightforward English which capture complicated ideas about women’s
lives.14 This time of reading poetry together provides us with a sense of
closure, a way of pushing back the past a little and leaving the rawness of the
session behind as we both return to our respective lives. This approach helps us
both feel ready to face the world again. Indeed, women who work with
survivors commonly divide a session into thirds, using only the middle third to
address the issues, while the last third prepares for the return to everyday life.
Clearly, literacy workers could avoid much trial and error if there were more
communication between literacy workers and others who work with survivors.
As Mary continues to read about other women’s experiences and about theory
on the impact of abuse in a woman’s life, her self-esteem, confidence in
expressing herself, and her literacy skills improve. She does not yet read
easily; she may never achieve the confidence to assume she can make sense of
what she reads on her own. Her experience raises questions about how abuse
complicates the process of learning to read as an adult. Over the years, we have
both recognized many points of growing confidence, including the point at
which she first recognized that the abuse was not her fault. She has struggled to
build a sense of herself as someone who can demand respect, continually relearning that she has the right to make this demand. She has become a vocal
spokesperson for learners’ rights. By recognizing the depth of her anger at all
those who have abused her, she is better equipped to separate that well of past
anger from her irritation over present problems. Many learners, especially
when they first begin speaking out, are extremely angry, and this anger is
usually directed at the very literacy workers offering them support. Some of
the intense anger may arise from past unrecognized or unacknowledged
experiences of abuse and neglect. This anger is then projected on the most
available, sympathetic person with whom the learner feels safest in
experimenting with these new feelings. The ending of Marge Piercy’s poem
“A Just Anger,” one of the poems we often read, reminds me of the importance
of addressing issues of memories of abuse:
215
IJCS / RIÉC
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots of blood
to slime. (1969 p.22)
To work on memories of abuse is a hard and painful process; but it is also
beautiful and full of power. To leave the memories unspoken and hidden is to
leave them to fester and limit potential.
Memories of abuse cannot be left unacknowledged, particularly in literacy
programs, which aim to encourage people to develop their literacy skills in
order tell their own truths.15 The particular approach to working with
memories of abuse that Mary and I have followed is one way to address these
memories. As we work, I continually question whether the approach is
adequate: Is it responsible for both of us? Is it useful? Is it enough? How does
her experience of abuse affect her ability to decipher print, to read and write
emotionally-loaded words, to put her own thoughts, ideas and experiences in
writing and to become literate? What comes next? Will we know when it is
time to move on? Much more exploration of ways to work directly with
individuals and groups on the issues of the violence in their lives is needed.
Whether a woman is working directly on her experiences of abuse, or reading
and writing about other topics, the abuse will have some impact. We also need
more understanding of ways to teach reading and writing more effectively to
women living with the impact of abuse.
The silence surrounding the connections between violence and illiteracy needs
to be broken. Literacy workers and researchers must understand more about
those connections. Theorists need to explore the impact of abuse on learning to
read. Programs must be developed with an awareness that many learners are
survivors and need supportive learning conditions for the literacy learning
process to be empowering. A wide variety of strategies for teaching literacy
learners who are survivors of abuse must be developed so that learners can
work directly on issues of abuse in their lives, but also so that those who do not
choose to work directly can also learn effectively. A greater understanding of
the connections between literacy and violence could lead literacy workers to
establish contacts with those working on issues of violence and to learn from
them how to take care of themselves, set their own boundaries, and obtain the
other supports they need. An understanding of the connections between
literacy and violence could lead to acknowledgement of the complexity of the
literacy learning interaction. This recognition is crucial for both learners and
workers.
Acknowledgements
This article has benefitted greatly from the expertise of Moon Joyce who read many drafts
and repeatedly discussed the issues with me. I also want to acknowledge Mary, whose
profound embarrassment about both her illiteracy and the abuse she experienced makes it
216
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
impossible to acknowledge her by her real name. Though she would not recognize herself as
my teacher, she has taught me much of what I have learned about issues of abuse.
Notes
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
Numerous writers have described this pattern of school experience. Handbooks on dealing
with abuse such as Bass and Davis (1988), and Gil (1983), as well as accounts of personal
experience such as Spring (1987), Capponi (1992) and Brookes’ (1992) theoretical and
autobiographical exploration all focus on the feeling of being “different” after experiencing
abuse and describe similar experiences with schooling.
Research carried out in Nova Scotia in 1986 (published 1989a, 1990) and conversations with
women in literacy programs in Toronto from 1982 to the present.
Many of the women of colour I have worked with have been immigrants and their experience
of family and schooling, or the lack of it, seem to fall in many different patterns. I do not want
to claim the same experience as for the white women who went through the Canadian school
system and experienced the social service and medical systems in Canada. The main focus
of this paper is therefore the experience of white women.
These quotes are from Callwood (1990) but they are typical of numerous writers at the time.
The work of Kathleen Rockhill (eg. 1987a, 1987b, 1987c) is a valuable exception to this
silence as she explores women’s experience in relation to literacy and English as a Second
Language and considers the silences around violence in our society.
Researchers such as MacKeracher (1987), DeCoito (1984), Carmack (1992) and Kazemark
(1988) in the United States, Thompson (1983a, 1983b) and McCaffery (1985) in England,
Bhasin (1984) and Ramdas (1985) in India, and myself in Canada (Horsman 1990) have all
addressed the question of relevant programming for women.
In one program in Toronto which serves street people, women began a women’s group, but
men continually interrupted their sessions. Staff decided that rather than give up on the
group sessions they would close the program to men on that evening so that women could
have uninterrupted time to meet together. Men still disturbed the sessions, so supportive men
were enlisted as “bouncers” to preserve the space which women needed to meet free from the
intervention of men. The program staff took extremely seriously the need for women to have
a safe place to meet. Some programs might have stopped the women’s group when men first
began to make it almost impossible to run and to complain that it was unfair that they were
excluded.
The writing of McBeth and Stollmeyer (1988) describing their work in a women’s literacy
group at East End Literacy is a rare example where the stories are shared and the implications
for literacy work considered.
Although this article focuses on women’s experience, I do not intend to suggest that men do
not also experience abuse. Work seeking to understand the place of childhood abuse in the
lives of illiterate men and the implications for literacy teaching is also badly needed.
I want to recognize the contribution Lois Heitner, who died tragically in 1993, has made to
my practical work and thinking about issues of women and violence. She was a gifted
therapist and counsellor on issues of violence. She encouraged me to continue this tutoring
work when I became scared that I was out of my depth, offered me regular support, and
created plans with me to start a literacy group for women to write and speak about the abuse
they experienced.
I have also written about this understanting of literacy elsewhere, eg. 1988 (with GaberKatz), 1989b.
I believe it is not enough for women to simply tell their stories in literacy programs. Literacy
programs must also identify ways to offer women support in developing a critical analysis of
how their lives came to be that way, how they come to tell some stories and not others, and
support in creating changes if they choose to seek them.
See student autobiography references.
See poetry references for a selection of the poets we read.
I read an earlier version of this article with Mary and discussed whether she was comfortable
with my perspective on our history together and with my making it public. She decided she
was happy with my account and its publication, and hoped it would encourage more women
with experiences of abuse to seek support in literacy programs. We are also taking part in a
217
IJCS / RIÉC
project, sponsored by the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, to
write curriculum for women in literacy programs.
Bibliography
Bass, E. & Davis, L. (1993). Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.
New York: Harper Collins.
Bass, E. & Davis, L. (1988). The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual
Abuse. New York: Harper & Row.
Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, C.M., Goldberger, N.R. and Tarule, J.M. (1986). Women’s Ways of
Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind. New York: Basic Books.
Bhasin, K. (1984). “The Why and How of Literacy for Women: Some Thoughts in the Indian
Context,” Convergence, 17(4), 1984, 37-43.
Brookes, A.L. (1992). Feminist Pedagogy: An Autobiographical Approach. Halifax: Fernwood
Publishing.
Callwood, June (1990). “Reading: The Road to Freedom,” in Canadian Living (p. 39-41).
Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women (1995). Isolating the Barriers and
Strategies for Prevention: A Kit about Violence and Women’s Education for Adult
Educators and Adult Learners. Toronto: Author.
Capponi, P. (1992). Upstairs in the Crazy House: The Life of a Psychiatric Survivor. Toronto:
Viking/Penguin Books.
Carmack, N.A. (1992). “Women and Illiteracy: The Need for Gender Specific Programming in
Literacy Education,” in Adult Basic Education. 2, (3).
Davis, L. (1990). The Courage to Heal Workbook: For Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual
Abuse. New York: Harper & Row.
De Coito, P. (1984). Women and Adult Basic Education in Canada: An Exploratory Study,
Toronto: CCLOW.
Gaber-Katz, E. & Horsman, J. (1988). “Is It Her Voice if She Speaks their Words?” in Canadian
Woman Studies, 9, (3 & 4).
Gil, E. (1983). Outgrowing the Pain: A Book for and about Adults Abused as Children. New York:
Dell Books.
Horsman, J. (1988). “Discourses of Il/literacy: A Literature Review,” in Canadian Woman
Studies, 9, (3 & 4).
Horsman, J. (1989a). “Something in My Mind Besides the Everyday:” Il/literacy in Women’s
Lives in a Nova Scotian County. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto,
Toronto.
Horsman, J. [project coordinator] (1989b). Lifeline to Literacy: People with Disabilities Speak
Out. Toronto, Ontario: TVOntario.
Horsman, J. (1990). Something in My Mind Besides the Everyday: Women and Literacy. Toronto:
Women’s Press.
Kazemak, F.E. (1988). “Women and Adult Literacy: Considering the Other Half of the House,” in
Lifelong Learning: An Omnibus of Practice and Research, 11 (4), pp. 23, 24 & 15.
Lloyd, B.A. (1991). Discovering the Strength of our Voices: Women and Literacy Programs.
Toronto: CCLOW.
Lloyd, B. A. (1994a). The Power of Woman-Positive Literacy Work: Program-Based Action
Research. Halifax: Fernwood & Toronto: CCLOW.
Lloyd, B. A. (1994b). Women in Literacy Speak: The Power of Woman-Positive Literacy Work.
Halifax: Fernwood & Toronto: CCLOW.
MacKeracher, D. (1989). “Women and Basic Education,” in J. Draper and M. Taylor (eds.), Adult
Literacy Perspectives. Toronto: Culture Concepts.
McBeth, S. & Stollmeyer V. (1988) “East End Literacy: A Women’s Discussion Group,” in
Canadian Woman Studies, 9 (3 & 4)
McCaffery, J. (1985). “Women in Literacy and Adult Basic Education: Barriers to Access,” in M.
Hughes and M. Kennedy (eds.) New Futures. Changing Women’s Education. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Miller, A. (1993). Breaking Down the Wall of Silence. New York: Meridian Books.
Ramdas, L. (1985). “Illiteracy, Women and Development,” in Adult Education and Development,
24, pp. 95-105.
Rockhill, K. (1987a). “Gender, Language and the Politics of Literacy,” in British Journal of
Sociology of Education, Vol. 8 no. 2.
Rockhill, K. (1987b) “Violence against Wives,” presentation, Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education, Toronto, March.
Rockhill, K. (1987c) “Literacy as threat/desire: Longing to be SOMEBODY,” in Women and
Education: A Canadian Perspective. Edited by J. Gaskell and A. McLaren. Calgary:
Detselig.
218
Violence and Illiteracy in Women’s Lives
Rockhill, K. (1988). “The Other City... Where No One Reads,” in Canadian Woman Studies, 9, (3
& 4).
Spring, J. (1987). Cry Hard and Swim: The Story of an Incest Survivor. London: Virago.
Thompson, J.L. (1983a). Learning Liberation: Women’s Response to Men’s Education. London:
Croom Helm.
Thompson, J.L. (1983b). “Women and Adult Education,” in M. Tight (ed.) Education for Adults,
Vol. II Educational Opportunities for Adult Education. (pp. 145-158). London: Croom
Helm.
Student autobiography
Byrnes, Josie (1977). Never in a Loving Way. Manchester: Gatehouse Books. (Order from:
Gatehouse, St. Luke’s, Sawley Road, Miles Platting, Manchester, M10 8DB, England.)
Doiron, Rose (1987). My Name is Rose. Toronto: East End Literacy Press. (Order from: Dominie
Press, 2362 Huntingwood Drive, Unit 7, Agincourt, Ontario, M1S 3J1.)
Fay. Listen to Me: Talking Survival. Manchester: Gatehouse Books. (Order from: Gatehouse, St.
Luke’s, Sawley Road, Miles Platting, Manchester, M10 8DB, England.)
Green, A.K. (1990). Coming Out of My Shell. St. John’s, Newfoundland: Distance Education
Program for Literacy Providers. (Order from: Educational Planning and Design Associates
Limited, 18 Leslie Street, St. John’s, NF. A1E 2V6.)
Women’s Writing Project (1990). Belles’ Letters. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Homefront Belles.
(Order from: Homefront Belles, PO Box 64, Civic Square, ACT 2608, Australia.)
Poetry
Braid, Kate (1991). Covering Rough Ground. Vancouver: Polestar Books.
Brandt, Di (1992). Mother, Not Mother. Stratford, Ontario: Mercury Press.
Piercy, Marge (1969). To Be of Use. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Tynes, Maxine (1990). Woman Talking Woman. Nova Scotia: Pottersfield Press.
Tynes, Maxine (1987). Borrowed Beauty. Nova Scotia: Pottersfield Press.
Wallace, B. (1992). The Stubborn Particulars of Grace. Toronto: Mclelland and Stewart.
219
Neil B. Bishop
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et
sociolinguistique dans Dis-moi que je vis et
Veuillez agréer... de Michèle Mailhot et
They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That de
Lois Simmie
Résumé
La condition féminine, et la quête par la femme mariée de sa libération,
constituent la dyade thématique principale des trois romans étudiés. Elle s’y
manifeste par les thèmes de la solitude et de l’incommunicabilité, ainsi que par
celui de l’adultère tantôt subi, tantôt employé durant la quête de la libération.
La dimension régionale de ces romans interagit avec la dyade thématique
principale; le voyage y constituant un geste spatial particulièrement
significatif. La dimension sociolinguistique dans les deux romans de M.
Mailhot s’avère liée à leur dimension régionale, alors que, chez Simmie, elle
est liée à la lutte de la libération féminine. Tant les ressemblances que les
différences du traitement des thématiques retenues sont d’un intérêt que
rehausse la provenance régionale fort différente des romans dont deux furent
publiés au Québec, qui leur sert aussi de référent, et dont le troisième a comme
référent sa ville de publication : Saskatoon.
Abstract
Women’s lives, and the quest, by married women, for their liberation
constitute the main thematic dyad of the three novels studied. It is expressed
through the themes of solitude and lack of communication, and adultery
committed either by the husband or by the wife herself during her quest for
liberation. The regional dimension of these fictitious worlds interacts with the
main thematic, the journey being an especially significant spatial act. The
sociolinguistic dimension is linked to the regional dimension of Mailhot’s
novels, but with the struggle for woman’s liberation in Simmie’s. Both the
similarities and differences between the treatments these novels give their
thematic material are interesting, all the more so given the very different
regional origins of the novels: two were published in Montreal which is also
the referent of their fictional space, while the other’s referent is its city of
publication: Saskatoon.
Dis-moi que je vis (1965), Veuillez agréer... (1975) et They Shouldn’t Make
You Promise That (1981) ont tous pour thèmes principaux une condition
féminine aliénante (surtout celle de la femme mariée), et la quête, par une
femme, de son autonomie. Cette quête aboutit à l’échec dans Dis-moi que je
vis, mais, dans les deux autres romans, aboutit sinon à la réussite, du moins à sa
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
possibilité, voire son début. Les trois romans thématisent le recours, par la
femme en quête d’autonomie, à la relation extra-conjugale, mais traitent ce
thème fort différemment. Le référent du cadre spatial des romans de Mailhot
est Montréal, alors que celui du roman de Simmie est Saskatoon. Par contre, si
les trois romans offrent un cadre spatial urbain, le voyage vers l’extérieur de
cet espace urbain fictif les marque, revêtant toutefois des fonctions différentes
dans Dis-moi que je vis, d’une part, et dans Veuillez agréer... et They Shouldn’t
Make You Promise That, d’autre part. La moyenne bourgeoisie constitue le
cadre socio-économique de ces trois récits, mais d’importantes divergences
démarquent l’univers sociolinguis- tique des romans de Mailhot de celui du
roman de Simmie. Cette différence sociolinguistique comprend une
composante ethno- linguistique. La marginalité de la condition féminine
forme la plus importante des diverses marginalités que nous venons
d’évoquer. Or, l’interaction entre celles-ci est telle, qu’il s’avère utile de
joindre à l’étude de la marginalité sexuelle celle des problématiques régionale
et sociolinguistique.
Si certaines ressemblances réunissent les trois romans de notre corpus,
d’autres ne caractérisent que deux des trois; quelques-unes réunissent non pas
les deux romans de Mailhot pour les distinguer de They Shouldn’t Make You
Promise That de Simmie, mais rapprochent plutôt celui-ci et Veuillez agréer...,
opposés ainsi à Dis-moi que je vis.
Sur le plan du discours romanesque, l’emploi massif de l’ironie et du sarcasme
allie encore Veuillez agréer... et They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That,
tandis que le ton de l’héroïne de Dis-moi que je vis — en partie peut-être en
raison de son âge (la trentaine, soit dix ans de moins que les deux autres
héroïnes) — semble plus « doux » (et donc elle paraît plus aliénée). Toutefois,
cette question du ton découle de celle de la voix narrative. Or, la voix narrative
rapproche, cette fois-ci, Dis-moi que je vis et They Shouldn’t Make You
Promise That, tous deux narrés à la première personne par le personnage
principal. À cette narratrice autodiégétique fait contraste la narration à la
troisième personne de Veuillez agréer... Cette opposition est atténuée par les
nombreuses indications de quasi-fusion entre le personnage de Judith et
l’instance narrante : marques de la situation d’énonciation, dont surtout
l’univers axiologique des deux instances, celle du personnage et celle de la
voix narrative, puisqu’elles partagent les mêmes valeurs et réactions.
Ces marginalités sexuelle, régionale et linguistique se trouvent partiellement
compensées par des facteurs mélioratifs. Désavantagées socialement par leur
sexe, membres d’un groupe linguistique minoritaire à l’échelle du Canada et
décentrées par rapport à la principale région économique du pays, les héroïnes
de Mailhot n’en appartiennent pas moins à la majorité francophone, blanche et
(naguère) catholique du Québec et à une classe socio-économique privilégiée.
L’héroïne de They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That subit une condition
féminine problématique, mais comme les protagonistes de Mailhot, appartient
à la moyenne bourgeoisie. Et si sa ville — Saskatoon — se trouve isolée des
grands centres de la culture occidentale, elle est en prise directe avec la culture
dominante de son époque, comme en témoignent les nombreuses références au
cinéma, à la télévision et à la peinture américaines. Malgré ces avantages
222
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique
apparents, les facteurs marginalisants l’emportent dans ces vies de femme qui
correspondent pourtant au mythe et à la doxa du bonheur tel que nos sociétés le
définissent le plus souvent.
Les trois romans thématisent surtout la condition dysphorique de la femme
mariée (mais évoquent aussi l’éducation des jeunes filles, qui, à la maison, à
l’école et à l’église, multipliait les embûches entre la femme et son autonomie),
mais aussi la lutte du personnage féminin pour rejeter cette condition et la
remplacer par une vie plus autonome et plus épanouissante. Condition et lutte
féminines (avec ce que toute lutte suppose de révolte, de réflexion et d’action)
constituent une dyade thématique.
Dans Dis-moi que je vis, Josée ouvre le roman en nous annonçant son bonheur
grâce à une relation extra-conjugale :
Banal, voilà, nous [Josée et son mari] sommes un couple banal. Du
moins nous l’étions, car maintenant l’un de nous est heureux. [...] Oui
je suis heureuse et je ne veux pas savoir pourquoi. [...] C’est cela le
bonheur, une minute d’oubli. (DM 12)
Le roman consistera ensuite en une longue analepse complexe. La narratrice
autodiégétique remonte le temps pour s’expliquer à elle- même (la véritable
narrataire) ce qui lui est arrivé. Elle raconte une vie conjugale marquée de
solitude et d’incommunicabilité, elle qui pourtant semblait tout avoir pour être
heureuse selon son mari, homme d’affaires prospère, et selon la société. Elle
aurait pu lui crier, à l’instar de l’héroïne de Veuillez agréer..., « J’étais trop
seule avec toi ». Solitude et incommunicabilité : quand Pierre, son mari, lisant
à côté d’elle, lui demande, « Tu ne lis pas? », et qu’elle répond, « Mais si, je
réfléchissais sur une phrase », la narratrice observe qu’« [i]l ne me demande
pas laquelle et retourne entre sa parenthèse, entre les bornes de sa parenthèse
[...] » (DM 10). Au restaurant, nous dit-elle,
[j]e le vois s’enfouir dans l’immédiat d’un plaisir qui cerne tout son
être. Happé corps et âme par un bifteck. Et il m’apparaît combien sera
longue et triste ma station en marge de la vie. (DM 117)
Cette vision accablante de la condition de la femme mariée hante tout notre
corpus (mais They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That offre l’espoir qu’une
union épanouissante entre femme et homme serait possible). Josée sait que
pour son mari, elle a le devoir d’être heureuse dans sa vie de femme au foyer. Il
lui interdit de travailler à l’extérieur pour mieux signaler sa propre réussite
(DM 64). Elle estime que son amie Jeanine a mis le doigt sur la plaie collective
dont elles souffrent toutes :
Il a fallu Jeanine (dix ans de mariage, cinq enfants, des rideaux, des
confitures et trois martinis) pour rompre l’hypocrisie.
« Et bien moi, jeta-t-elle brusquement, j’en ai assez de tout cela!
Savez-vous ce que j’aimerais dans ma maison? UN HOMME! [...] Le
mien ou un autre, peu importe, pourvu que j’aie quelqu’un. À quoi ça
sert tout ce travail s’il n’y a jamais personne pour l’apprécier? Paul
est toujours absent. Il soigne les moribonds, jour et nuit, sous prétexte
de me faire vivre. Et je crève! » (DM 94-95).
223
IJCS / RIÉC
L’écriture recourt ici à la juxtaposition de termes dont les sens respectifs sont
sans lien, dans une construction qui suggère pourtant une ressemblance
sémantique. Si « mariage et « enfants » ont un lien sémantique évident,
« rideaux » et « confitures » ont un lien moins évident avec les deux premiers
termes et tendent à réduire le sens de ceux-ci à leur sens propre pour suggérer
que mariage et vie de famille se sont réduits à n’être que « rideaux » et
« confitures ». L’expression « trois martinis » rompt encore plus les liens
sémantiques puisqu’elle ne relève pas ici du continu (l’état d’être une femme
mariée, une femme au foyer, une mère de famille), mais du ponctuel (Jeanine
vient de boire trois martinis, d’où sa rupture avec l’hypocrisie). En même
temps, cette juxtaposition produit une contamination sémantique à deux sens,
suggérant ainsi qu’en raison de sa vie de femme mariée (état continu) Jeanine
boit de façon non pas ponctuelle mais continue : le mariage la pousserait vers
l’alcoolisme (comme il pousse Josée vers l’adultère et comme il semble
pousser Eleanor dans They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That vers le
tabagisme).
Mais si Jeanine et la narratrice croient que la plaie, c’est la solitude, elles
méconnaissent la racine du mal. L’axe comportemental révèle que cette
racine, c’est la dépendance, l’attente que le sens de sa vie lui soit livré par
autrui : Josée se jettera dans les bras de Jean, bellâtre donjuanesque, qui n’aura
cure des tentatives d’approfondissement que Josée voudra donner à leur
relation. Certes, celle-ci sera fort agréable pour la femme sur le plan physique,
même son mari en profitera sous forme des caresses plus savantes et de
l’ardeur sexuelle renouvelée de son épouse, sous forme aussi (sentiment de
culpabilité chez Josée aidant) de trois tartes au sucre par semaine! Mais Josée
découvre que :
[l]e gouffre entre deux êtres ne se mesure jamais si bien qu’à l’instant
où ils sont collés l’un à l’autre, de la tête aux pieds, qu’au moment
précis où justement, ils semblent le mieux unis. (DM 156)
Si la majeure partie de Dis-moi que je vis forme une longue analepse
mémorielle et explicative, le récit étant constamment coupé par des réflexions
au présent, le roman se termine sur un présent qui diffère de celui du début. Le
présent du point de départ correspondait à un moment où la narratrice
autodiégétique se sentait heureuse; le présent du point d’arrivée correspond à
un moment ultérieur où la narratrice, déçue du vide de la relation qu’elle a eue
en dehors des liens du mariage, se retourne vers son mari :
Me reste le souvenir de Jean, tendre et frivole, qui m’apprenait la
saveur des moindres gestes.
Me reste toi, Pierre, endormi dans ta longue patience.
[...] Le jour se lève... Pierre, réveille-toi. (DM 159)
Échec désolant : Josée, être irrémédiablement relatif, cherche toujours son
bonheur et le sens de sa vie dans sa relation avec autrui. Rappelons le refus de
l’analyse et de la lucidité dont témoignait sa phrase au début du roman, « C’est
cela le bonheur, un moment d’oubli » (DM 12). Ainsi, ce présent final qui
marque un moment ultérieur au présent liminaire du récit constitue, sur le plan
psychodiégétique, un retour au passé (évolution régressive du personnage en
224
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique
termes de maturité et d’autonomie). Et la dernière phrase du roman, qui, au
niveau d’une sémantique de surface, semble déboucher sur l’avenir, traduit à
un niveau plus profond le repli actantiel d’un personnage-narratrice qui n’aura
jamais su accéder au statut de sujet dont elle avait rêvé. En demandant à son
mari de se faire l’adjuvant de sa quête, elle lui confère le monopole de la
fonction actantielle de sujet.
Dans Veuillez agréer..., Judith, comme Josée dans Dis-moi que je vis, est
emprisonnée dans la solitude et l’incommunicabilité conjugales. La narration
à la troisième personne crée une distance nécessitée par le caractère encore
plus pénible de la souffrance subie; la création de cette distance protectrice est
aussi la fonction de l’ironie, de l’humour et du sarcasme qui foisonnent chez
Mailhot. Claude, mari de Judith, est encore pire que Pierre (DM) puisqu’il
joint à l’absence, à la gloutonnerie abrutissante et au travail survalorisé aux
dépens de la vie conjugale et familiale, ces incartades de Claude signalées par
Judith lorsqu’elle refuse de coucher avec lui :
Claude prit très mal la chose. Lui qui ne désemparait pas du devoir
conjugal malgré les extras qu’il fournissait vaillamment à gauche et à
droite, se sentit lésé, bafoué, rejeté. Il refusa de quitter la chambre, sa
chambre que sa qualité de propriétaire lui accordait de plein droit
même s’il ne l’occupait plus qu’à temps partiel à cause de son horaire
nocturne surchargé. (VA 31) [...] Après un compte suffisant de nuits
inconfortables dans le salon [...] et de levers à cinq heures pour que les
enfants ne la voient pas camper d’aussi ridicule façon, Judith jugea
avoir purgé la peine encourue par Claude et réintégra sa chambre.
(VA 38)
Plusieurs procédés stylistiques mettent en relief le caractère négatif du
mariage que subit Judith : emploi ironique de termes normalement valorisants
(« ne désemparait pas », « vaillamment », « horaire surchargé »); accumulation
adjectivale (« lésé, bafoué, rejeté »); antithèse (« Judith jugea avoir purgé la
peine encourue par Claude »).
Judith s’est mariée pour les mêmes raisons que Josée et Eleanor : pression
sociale qui définit comme ratée toute femme non mariée et désir de vivre la
sexualité, ce que la société de sa jeunesse ne permettait que dans le mariage.
Mais Judith évoluera différemment de Josée. Comme l’a signalé Maïr Verthuy
dans Michèle Mailhot: A Cautionary Tale, Judith « has rejected what she
perceives to be the now-traditional haven of the forty-year-old woman: the
nervous breakdown, the last-chance sleeping-around syndrome, a life centered
on the Church » (134). Judith, en réaction contre les abus et la solitude que lui
inflige son mari, conquiert son autonomie économique en prenant un emploi.
Brièvement, ce travail dans une maison d’édition lui vaut une certaine
satisfaction :
[...] on lui donnait plus cher pour son esprit que pour son corps,
preuve que sa démarche était vertueuse et droite.
Ses débuts de femme de carrière se firent donc sous les plus heureux
auspices. (VA 30)
Toutefois, le mythe de l’emploi-qui-résoud-tout volera en éclats. Le travail à la
maison d’édition (que Judith surnomme « le Tube » en raison de sa
225
IJCS / RIÉC
ressemblance avec le tube digestif, y compris ses produits de sortie!) s’avère
une amère désillusion. La direction supérieure ne prise guère la littérature, et
les littérateurs sont de prétentieux écrivailleurs pique-assiette (« Judith règle
l’addition du repas auquel il l’a invitée. Il paiera la prochaine fois, avec ses
droits d’auteur », VA 23) qui ne maîtrisent ni l’orthographe ni la grammaire
(« “Je crois devoire vous informez” lui écrit un auteur qui menace de retirer son
manuscrit », VA 23). Judith prendra conscience de combien un emploi, aimé
au début, peut devenir aliénant. Judith finira par démissionner de ce deuxième
emploi, guère plus épanouissant que son joug conjugal, pour partir à la
campagne.
Certes, cette fin de roman contraste avec celle de Dis-moi que je vis qui revient
à la case/cage de départ. Mais Veuillez agréer..., en finissant sur le départ à la
campagne, se rapproche de ces contes de fée dont Jennifer Waelti-Walters,
dans Fairy Tales and the Female Imagination, a démontré le caractère aliénant
pour les femmes. Judith y vivra-t-elle d’amour et d’eau claire? Ce manque de
réalisme tend à rendre encore plus ténue une libération tout optative, à peine
inchoative.
They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That de Lois Simmie offre beaucoup de
ressemblances avec les deux romans de Mailhot. Le récit, à la première
personne et au présent, comporte une diégèse dans laquelle Eleanor prend
conscience de l’aliénation où la laisse son mariage, quitte mari, enfants et
Saskatoon afin de rejoindre sa mère à Victoria, puis rebrousse chemin dans les
Rocheuses pour revenir à Saskatoon, entamer une relation amoureuse, prendre
un logement et se mettre à la recherche d’un travail. Elle reproche à son mari et
à son mariage ce que Judith et Josée reprochaient aux leurs :
l’incommunicabilité. Que Hugh soit amateur de roses ne l’empêche pas de
disparaître derrière le journal dès la fin de son repas. Repas dont Hugh ne
rompt le silence conjugal que par les reproches qu’il adresse à sa femme et qui
portent, tantôt sur la qualité de la cuisine, tantôt sur le fait qu’elle fume à la
table, tantôt encore sur ses énoncés qui seront longtemps le moyen par lequel
Eleanor exprimera sa révolte. Pour Hugh, comptable aisé, c’est à son épouse de
s’occuper de tous les travaux ménagers; ni lui ni leurs trois enfants ne se
donnent la peine de jeter leur linge sale dans les chutes à lessive dont la maison
est abondamment pourvue. Comme Claude (Veuillez agréer...), Hugh estime
que son épouse devrait se sentir heureuse de ne pas travailler à l’extérieur et y
voit la marque de sa propre réussite et de sa générosité.
On se rappellera que Veuillez agréer... a thématisé la dépression en précisant
que, même si Judith en est frappée, elle refuse d’y succomber. Dans They
Shouldn’t Make You Promise That, Eleanor nous informe que « Hugh has
decided to send me to a psychiatrist just because I wouldn’t get out of bed to
make his supper » (TS 26). Eleanor est alitée à l’heure du repas du soir parce
qu’elle est malade — état de santé qui relève du psychologique, certes —; mais
aussi, ce que Hugh ignore, à cause de la prison conjugale :
The weekend had been long and depressing [...]. I prepared meals and
picked up after the kids [...] to circumvent Hugh’s why don’t-thesekids-do-anything-around-the-house lecture. [...]
226
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique
I was down in the laundry room smoking a cigarette and staring at a
load of jeans going round and round in the washer [...] when it came to
me with crystal clarity that my life wasn’t going to change for the
better. [...]
[...] Hugh called down the stairs. He wanted his supper, poor dear,
he’d had a hard day watching two hockey games and rereading the
week’s papers and Time magazine in case he missed any depressing
news the first time around. (TS 26-27)
Hugh fait donc partie de ceux qui définiraient comme folle toute femme qui
régimberait à se couler dans le moule défini et dénoncé dans Veuillez agréer... :
« Servante, servilité, services, servitudes » (VA 51).
Le thème de l’infidélité marque les trois romans. Dans Dis-moi que je vis,
Josée se sert de l’infidélité comme moyen de se libérer. Dans la mesure où elle
tente de se transformer en sujet de sa quête et d’écrire son histoire au lieu de la
subir, elle se livre à l’adultère en espérant inscrire dans son histoire la
provocation (au sens narratologique) : l’événement qui ferait progresser sa
diégèse d’un état initial de dysphories 1 vers un état amélioré 2. Cette
démarche échouera, car Josée confirme son statut d’être relatif dans un récit
social que prescrit et écrit l’instance masculine. Dans Veuillez agréer...,
l’infidélité conjugale est le fait du seul mari, mais donne lieu à ce tour de force
ironique, la lettre que Judith adresse à une maîtresse de son mari, rappelant
ainsi que le plus souvent la femme « trompée » a affaire aussi à une autre
femme (VA 75-84). Judith reprochera à la jeune femme son manque
d’autonomie et de solidarité féminine, indiquant que l’adultère n’est pas la
voie d’une véritable libération de la femme (VA 81). Dans They Shouldn’t
Make You Promise That, Eleanor désire Harold, un vieil ami de son village
natal de Fairmont (Saskatchewan) dès qu’il ressurgit dans sa vie en tant
qu’amoureux de la meilleure amie d’Eleanor, Gena. C’est seulement après le
décès de Gena et le départ vers l’ouest d’Eleanor que celle-ci, revenue à
Calgary, initie une relation intime avec Harold. Eleanor redevient ainsi sujet
par rapport à sa propre sexualité; ses rapports physiques avec son mari étaient
aliénants puisqu’ils figuraient pour Hugh parmi les tâches ménagères qu’il se
sentait en droit d’imposer à son épouse. Toutefois, la relation avec Harold n’est
qu’une étape; elle ne sera pas la cause de la dépendance qui vicia la relation
entre Josée et son amant, puisqu’Eleanor entreprend des démarches pour se
construire comme sujet autonome : prise d’un logement et recherche d’un
emploi. Eleanor et Judith savent qu’elles devront se débrouiller « par leurs
propres forces », sans le soutien de quiconque, afin de découvrir ce que Judith,
dans Veuillez agréer..., a appelé « Ma vie enfin, ma mienne » (VA 54). Mais
Veuillez agréer... nous rappelle que ni un logement ni un emploi ne sont des
panacées. M. Jean Anderson a bien démontré que l’œuvre de Mailhot, si elle
privilégie la problématique féminine, présente la société industrielle
capitaliste, y compris son obsession de la consommation et ses appareils
ménagers qui « robotisent » la femme, comme inacceptable pour tous. Or, la
mise en cause de la vie de la femme-du-médecin par le discours de Jeanine,
déjà cité, et celle de la vie de femme-de-l’homme-d’affaires-prospère dans
Dis-moi que je vis reflètent la dévalorisation de cette même vie de confort
bourgeois qui est décrite dans They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That. Un
227
IJCS / RIÉC
contraste apparaît toutefois entre Veuillez agréer... et They Shouldn’t Make
You Promise That, car Eleanor, à la fin du roman, vient d’atteindre une étape
que Judith a vécue il y a des années : séparation, divorce, prise d’un emploi;
Simmie critique la vie de la femme au foyer, celui-ci fût-il des plus
confortables, mais ne met pas en cause le système économique, laissant
entendre que si Eleanor trouve un emploi, sa vie en sera plus épanouie.
Dans Dis-moi que je vis, l’adultère pose donc le geste de l’épouse aliénée, mais
loin de se constituer en acte de révolte, celui-ci reste la saisie désespérée d’une
bouée de sauvetage (illusoire), le geste d’un personnage dépendant, encore
prisonnier du statut actantiel d’objet. Dans Veuillez agréer..., le mari commet
l’adultère. Les remarques cinglantes de la voix narrative, voire du personnage
de Judith parfois, signifieraient que l’infidélité du mari constitue l’un des
aspects douloureux de la condition conjugale contre laquelle Judith se révolte.
Toutefois, cette interprétation se heurte à des énoncés, que la voix narrative
attribue à Judith et selon lesquels Judith attacherait peu d’importance à
l’infidélité de son mari :
– Mais Claude, je t’avais dit n’importe qui, sauf la gardienne. Il me
semble qu’il en restait encore assez. (VA 39)
L’avocat [...] s’était jeté sur le flagrant adultère comme sur le motif.
Judith avait essayé d’expliquer que ce n’était pas si important, que
Claude avait peut-être exagéré en ce sens mais qu’elle souhaitait une
séparation pour de tout autres raisons. [...] « Madame, petite madame,
rassurez-vous, votre dignité est protégée, dignité qui tient tout entière
dans l’activité légale du membre viril de l’époux. » [...] Quelques
gouttes du précieux liquide sont dispersées et voilà qu’aussitôt
l’épouse se dessèche, comme privée de vie, la pauvre mignonne.
Comment accepter que sa vie, son honneur, sa sécurité dépendent
directement des aventurettes glandulaires de Claude? Comment
Judith, reine du foyer, pouvait-elle être déchue par la seule
insubordination d’un petit groupe de chromosomes qui veut aller
mourir hors de son royaume? Non, monsieur maître avocat, je ne vais
pas pousser les cris conventionnels des femmes trompées et me jeter,
défaite, aux pieds du magistrat en invoquant mon droit sacré à
l’exclusivité d’un petit pénis. [...] mon sens de la propriété n’est pas
assez vif pour me faire revendiquer en si haute instance un si commun
objet. [...] C’est un constat de décès que je veux signer, celui de notre
couple et non pas une plainte pour offense bénigne. (VA 43-44)
Dans le dernier paragraphe de cet extrait, on remarquera le passage de la voix
narrative à celle de Judith elle-même, de la troisième personne à la première; le
paragraphe suivant comportera le retour à la voix narrative et à la troisième
personne. Ces faits confirment la quasi-fusion entre l’instance narrative et le
personnage de Judith, comme si ce roman à narrateur hétérodiégétique était un
roman autodiégétique qui se cache ou une variante fictive de l’autobiographie
à la troisième personne. L’atténuation de l’importance affective et sociale de
l’adultère va jusqu’à la déclaration que celui-ci (fût-il multiple) constitue une
« offense bénigne ». Ce processus d’atténuation recourt aussi à la
dévalorisation du sexe masculin et de ses attributs (« petit groupe de
chromosomes », « petit pénis », le diminutif « aventurette » et l’ironique
228
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique
« précieux liquide »). Nier ainsi l’importance de l’adultère est ici un moyen
d’affirmer l’importance de la femme, qui réside d’abord en la femme ellemême et non dans le type de relation qu’elle aurait avec tel ou tel homme. Le
point de vue de Judith semble en évolution marquée par rapport à celui de Josée
dans Dis-moi que je vis où la protagoniste dépendait de sa relation avec
l’homme pour se sentir valorisée. En même temps, la suppression de
l’importance attachée à l’adultère, dans Veuillez agréer..., va de pair avec
l’affirmation que toute relation entre deux personnes comporte d’autres
dimensions, autrement plus significatives, que la seule dimension sexuelle.
Revenons à l’utilisation, dans Veuillez agréer... et dans They Shouldn’t Make
You Promise That, du personnage de la femme négative. Dans celui-là, il s’agit
de la maîtresse, la femme complice du mari adultère puisqu’elle couche avec
celui-ci dans le lit même de l’épouse. Chez Simmie, il s’agit de l’ironiquement
nommé Mrs. Ducharme, dame âgée dont Eleanor s’occupe une fois par
semaine et dont elle dit,
[...] Mrs. D.C. [...] has criticized me for being Protestant, for having
two cars in the family (this while riding in mine), and for wearing eye
shadow — hideous brown grease, makes me look cheap. [...]
Of course she never says thank you for anything. I have bought a book
on assertiveness training in the faint hope that it may help me deal
with Mrs. Ducharme. Yelling “You’re welcome, you old bitch” when
I am three blocks away from her place, with the car window rolled up,
is not the answer. (TS 28)
On assiste ainsi à la révolte d’Eleanor contre le rôle de servante et de donneuse
de soins non rémunérés traditionnellement dévolu aux femmes. Le personnage
de Mrs. Ducharme appartient à cette lignée de personnages fréquents dans
l’œuvre de Michèle Mailhot et qui atteint son apogée avec le personnageéponyme de Béatrice vue d’en bas (1988), une femme ayant introjecté les
valeurs phallocrates au point de les servir constamment, surtout en y
asservissant d’autres femmes.
Quant à la dimension régionale de notre corpus et de ses marginalités,
constatons d’abord qu’il y a région, et puis région dans la région. Au Québec, il
y a Montréal, la « métropole », et puis la province. Dans Dis-moi que je vis, le
séjour de Josée en Floride avec une amie annonce, par l’aliénation de celle-ci
(malgré ses multiples aventures), que l’adultère ne permettra ni la libération, ni
l’épanouissement dans cet univers romanesque. Quant à l’espace romanesque
renvoyant au référent québécois, la région extra-métropolitaine est (hormis un
bref répit au chalet) quasi absente. Il en va essentiellement ainsi dans Veuillez
agréer..., bien qu’à la dernière page du roman, Judith parte avec ses « enfants »
pour la campagne : c’est donc « en région » que résiderait son épanouissement
et son salut (comme le laissait prévoir le bonheur qu’éprouvait Josée pendant
son séjour au chalet). La problématique régionale se manifeste encore sous
forme de l’importance de la religion dans le vécu de la jeune Judith comme de
la jeune Josée, et celle du vocabulaire religieux (fût-il d’un emploi ironique).
Ce Québec fictif est présenté comme lieu où sévissait une culture répressive
(des femmes surtout), conformément au discours habituel à propos de la
« Grande Noirceur ».
229
IJCS / RIÉC
D’autre part, la problématique régionale se manifeste, toujours au niveau
sociolinguistique, par la rareté des québécismes chez Mailhot. Ce corpus
romanesque, qui souscrit à la prédominance de la métropole montréalaise dans
son Québec fictif, privilégie une autre métropole linguistique, puisque s’y
pratique un français hexagonal. C’est peut-être en partie ce qu’a voulu signaler
André Vanasse en attribuant à Mailhot « une écriture sophistiquée », « des
mots lisses sur lesquels on glisse » (Vanasse, 45). Le régional ici peut être
qualifié de composante ethos-linguistique exclue, dans la mesure où il s’agit de
l’exclusion textuelle de caractéristiques verbales typiques du parler des
Canadiens d’expression française. Cette absence confirme, certes, tout comme
ce feu d’artifice de jeux de mots et de procédés stylistiques à effet ironique ou
sarcastique, à quel point les textes de Mailhot relèvent de l’écrit et de l’écriture.
Ce rejet du régional, jusque dans les dialogues, va de pair avec le rejet culturel
visant la religion et les rapports entre femmes et hommes : Judith et sa
narratrice repoussent un certain Québec culturel d’antan dans son ensemble.
Dans They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That, le statut régional découle
beaucoup moins de la dimension linguistique que de la toponymie et de la
description des espaces. Saskatoon et la Saskatchewan y sont explicitement
nommées, tout comme Victoria, Winnipeg, Drumheller, Kindersley et
Calgary. Frappante est l’absence de la traditionnelle dichotomie, chère aux
éditorialistes comme aux politiciens, entre la Saskatchewan ou les Plaines
d’une part, et « the East », d’autre part; cet « East » par lequel les
Saskatchewanais entendent d’habitude l’Ontario et le Québec. L’espace, chez
Simmie, tend à avoir pour extrémité orientale Winnipeg, se terminant à l’ouest
à Victoria. Mais la pulsion régionale est encore plus centripète chez Simmie,
puisque la région tend à se réduire à la seule Saskatchewan, voire à Saskatoon
et à sa région opposés non à « the East » mais à la côte du Pacifique. À mesure
qu’Eleanor avance vers l’ouest, vers les Rocheuses lors de son voyage pour
rejoindre sa mère à Victoria, le paysage et la météo deviennent toujours plus
hostiles. Elle se rappelle avec nostalgie des voyages en sens inverse, et la
sensation de respiration plus épanouie éprouvée au moment de quitter les
montagnes « étouffantes » pour regagner les Plaines. Lors du trajet de l’est vers
l’ouest que relate ce roman, déjà l’Alberta apparaît comme un espace étranger,
voire hostile.
L’isolement géographique n’empêche pas l’univers culturel de Saskatoon et
du personnage d’Eleanor d’être richement branché sur la culture étatsunienne, comme en témoigne une riche intertextualité intersémiotique
recourant à la peinture, au cinéma et à la télévision. Branchage troublant
puisque — Eleanor en est bien consciente — les jouissances que procure cet
accès vont de pair avec des réclames publicitaires qui dévalorisent et aliènent
la femme. Du reste, ce branchage est à polarité unique; sa puissance réside
entre les mains riches et masculines de Hollywood et de Madison Avenue. Ce
qui n’empêchera pas Eleanor de se prononcer en faveur des « soaps » en tant
qu’émissions qui parlent aux femmes d’aspects importants de leur réalité.
They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That retient l’intérêt au niveau
sociolinguistique, car la guerre des sexes s’y livre sur le terrain linguistique
aussi. Et si ce roman est remarquablement écrit, si son feu d’artifice verbal
230
Marginalités sexuelle, régionale et sociolinguistique
comporte les mêmes procédés que Veuillez agréer... (ironie et sarcasme), il
diffère des romans de Mailhot en se constituant comme une tentative de
transcrire par écrit la langue parlée (d’où des dialogues bien plus nombreux
que chez Mailhot). Hugh emploie un anglais guindé et reproche à Eleanor son
anglais plus populaire, voire « vulgaire ». Ce reproche pousse Eleanor à s’en
servir plus rageusement que jamais. Hugh voudrait obliger Eleanor à se
conformer à l’image de l’épouse bourgeoise parfaite en matière de langue
comme en tout. Eleanor elle-même doit en arriver à se libérer de certaines
inhibitions à ce propos. Elle raconte que, contre l’irritation de Hugh de voir sa
femme lire tant, elle s’est mise à lire en cachette jusqu’à ce que « [...] the
absurdity of it hit me and I told Prince Machiavelli to fuck off, though not in
those words of course » (TS 18). Plus tard, Eleanor le lui dira dans précisément
« those words »!
Il y a encore ce moment où Eleanor, en route vers Victoria, est prise en même
temps que sa chienne d’un appel de la nature :
Jude nudges my arm with her nose and rolls her wimpy eyes at me.
[...] Christ, she has to pee and the rain is coming down in buckets.
You’ll have to wait, I tell her, good dog. Jesus, it’s catching, now I
have to go, too. [...] We should have gone in Calgary when we
stopped for gas. God, that truck was close! Shit! Shit! On a glistening
black rock, the word “REPENT” gleams in fluorescent red. Maybe
Hugh is going ahead of me with a bucket of paint. (TS 129)
Passage qui donne lieu à une forte association du religieux et du scatologique.
Le lien exprime la révolte d’Eleanor contre cette dimension du patriarcat
qu’est la religion chrétienne dans ses formes prédominantes, révolte que
précise l’association du religieux à Hugh. La mise en cause de la religion et de
l’Église est fréquente dans l’œuvre de Michèle Mailhot, mais elle recourt au
sexuel plutôt qu’au scatologique.
Tant les ressemblances que les différences dans la présentation des
problématiques des marginalités féminine, régionale et sociolinguistique
retiennent l’attention. Les héroïnes de Mailhot ne semblent pas se sentir
vraiment chez elles, ni pouvoir espérer trouver le bonheur, à Montréal; celle de
Simmie se meut dans ce qu’elle semble vivre comme un rassurant centre du
monde, même quand elle y souffre. L’aliénation des héroïnes et des narratrices
de Mailhot se traduirait-elle par leur refus du langage qui se pratique
couramment chez elles? Cet élan vers un langage, perçu comme le leur plus
que le québécois courant, peut constituer le rejet d’un parler vécu comme
l’imposition d’une sorte de grossièreté ou de manque de raffinement masculin.
La problématique fondamentale, commune aux deux œuvres, est bien la
problématique féminine. Les deux œuvres montrent les épreuves multiples
d’une condition féminine traditionnelle, mais expriment aussi l’espoir d’une
libération féminine tant personnelle que collective. La libération chez Mailhot
reste plus hypothétique que chez Simmie puisqu’elle ne semble pas pouvoir
s’atteindre dans le milieu urbain ni dans la société (post?) industrielle et
capitaliste qui a servi de cadre (de cause?) à leur aliénation. Dans They
Shouldn’t Make You Promise That, par contre, la libération épanouissante
semble possible, en ville et dans la société industrialo-capitaliste. Mais peut-
231
IJCS / RIÉC
être Judith, dans Veuillez agréer... répondrait-elle aux espoirs de Eleanor :
« Je connais la chanson... et ne la chante plus. »
Bibliographie
I. Textes littéraires
Mailhot, Michèle, Dis-moi que je vis, Ottawa, Cercle du livre de France, 1964, 159 p.
_____, Veuillez agréer..., (préface d’André Major), Montréal, vlb éditeur, 1990 (1re éd., Éditions
La Presse, 1975), 114 p.
Simmie, Lois, They Shouldn’t Make You Promise That, Saskatoon, Fifth House, 1987 (1re éd., New
American Library of Canada, 1981), 148 p.
II. Corpus critique
Anderson, M. Jean, « Fuir pour survivre: aliénation et identité chez Michèle Mailhot », Voix et
images, X:1, automne 1984, 93-105.
Audet, Noël, « Fôte d’amour », Lettres québécoises, 50, été 1988, 24.
Beaudoin, Réjean, « Le roman raturé » (c.r. de Passé composé), Liberté, 195, juin 1991, 92-100.
Brown, Anne, « La haine de soi: le cas du roman féminin québécois », Studies in Canadian
Literature, 14:1, 1989, 108-126.
Champagne, Christine, « Le passé composé de Michèle Mailhot », Lettres québécoises, 61,
printemps 1991, 21-22.
Chassay, Jean-François, « Portrait d’époque. Béatrice vue d’en bas » Le Devoir, 20 fév. 1988, D3.
Ducrocq-Poirier, Madeline M., « Les romancières québécoises contemporaines et la condition
féminine », L’esprit créateur, 23:3, automne 1983, 40-47.
Elder, JoAnne, « Droit d’auteur(e) », Canadian Literature, 134, Autumn 1992, 181-182.
Gilbert, Paula Ruth, « The Daughter Below: Double Parody of Mother-Daughter Bonding in
Michèle Mailhot’s Béatrice vue d’en bas », The American Review of Canadian Studies,
22:4, winter 1992, 511-532.
Gould, Karen, « Setting Words Free: Feminist Writing in Quebec », Signs, 6:4, été 1981, 617-642.
Lafuste, France, « Écrire pour que rien ne se perde », Le Devoir, 20 fév. 1988, D1.
Leblanc, Julie, « Le langage figuré et la problématique de l’énonciation », Texte. La rhétorique du
texte, 8/9, 1989.
Marcotte, Gilles, « La preuve d’un joli talent d’écrivain », L’Actualité, 9:6, juin 1984, 132.
_____, « Deux romancières règlent leurs comptes », L’Actualité, 13:5, mai 1988, 169.
Paradis, Suzanne, « Michèle Mailhot: Laure, Josée », Femme fictive, femme réelle. Le personnage
féminin dans le roman féminin canadien-français (1884-1966), Québec: Garneau, 1966,
312-317.
Parmentier, Francis, « Dis-moi que je vis de Michèle Mailhot », Livres et auteurs canadiens 1964,
34-35.
Pascal, Gabrielle, « Dis-moi que je vis, roman de Michèle Mailhot (née Asselin) », dans Maurice
Lemire et alii, Dictionnaire des œuvres littéraires du Québec, tome IV, Montréal, Fides,
1984, 262-263.
Pawliez, Mireille Inès Victoire, « Béatrice vue d’en bas de Michèle Mailhot. Une étude
narratologique féministe », mémoire de M.Ph., Massey University (Australie), 1993, vi +
175 p.
Perron, Gilles, « Le passé composé », Québec français, 81, printemps 1991, 16.
Ross, Catherine, « Rites of Passage », Canadian Literature, 130, Autumn 1991, 138-139.
Stary, Sonja G., « La Mort de l’araignée », The French Review, 48:3, fév. 1975, 666-667.
Trudel, Louise, « Le fou de la reine », Livres et auteurs québécois 1969, 46-48.
Vanasse, André, « Michèle Mailhot, Veuillez agréer... », Livres et auteurs québécois 1975, 45.
Verthuy, Maïr, « Michèle Mailhot A Cautionary Tale », dans Gynocritics. Feminist Approaches to
Canadian and Quebec Women’s Writing / Gynocritiques. Démarches féministes à l’écriture
des Canadiennes et Québécoises, Toronto, ECW Press, 1987, 131-141.
___, « Veuillez agréer..., roman de Michèle Mailhot », dans M. Lemire et alii, Dictionnaire des
œuvres littéraires du Québec, tome V, Montréal, Fides, 1987, 933-934.
Waelti--Walters, Jennifer, Fairy Tales and the Female Imagination, Montréal, Eden Press, 1982.
232
Shirin Kudchedkar
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s
Space: Yolande Villemaire’s
La Vie en prose1
Abstract
Yolande Villemaire’s La Vie en prose can be seen as a celebration of women’s
language and women’s space. A group of women who run a publishing house
edit and write manuscripts where the glimpses of women’s lives are not as
significant as the writers’ efforts to give them expression. Who writes what,
who does what, does not matter — attempts to unravel this only lead to
confusion. Together, the women create a space in which “la vie en prose” is
found to embrace “la vie en rose.” The paper begins with a brief account of
what the novel is about and then proceeds to demonstrate how women create a
space for themselves. The foregrounded terms “prose” and “rose” are
studied. The women are not allured by the glamour of “la vie en rose”; rather,
by discovering “le fun” in the seemingly prosaic trivialities of day-to-day
living, they discover their own version of “la vie en rose.” The image of “la
dame en rose,” which highlights this theme, is discussed. The issue of
language is next considered, together with the manner in which the text
continually investigates the relationship of the feminine subject to language
and to reality. The fact that the actual process of writing and the implements of
writing are constantly to the fore is examined. Intertextual and intratextual
resonances are analysed, focusing particularly on the “ring,” the “dance”
and the “bridge.” The novel’s treatment of extraterrestrial experience and of
romantic love are discussed. The paper concludes with relating Villemaire’s
project to the Quebec women’s enterprise of writing a women’s language,
inscribing themselves in the body of language and creating women’s space.
Résumé
La Vie en prose de Yolande Villemaire peut apparaître comme une célébration
de la langue et de l’espace des femmes. Un groupe de femmes qui gèrent une
maison d’édition révisent et rédigent des manuscrits où les aperçus de vies de
femmes ne sont pas aussi importants que les efforts déployés par leurs
auteures pour leur donner une expression littéraire. Qui écrit quoi, qui fait
quoi, cela n’a pas d’importance — toute tentative pour déméler cet écheveau
ne saurait qu’engendrer la confusion. Ensemble, les femmes créent un espace
où « la vie en prose » embrasse « la vie en rose ». L’article commence par un
bref compte rendu du thème du roman, puis l’auteure s’emploie à montrer
comment les femmes se créent un espace. On étudie les termes de « prose » et
« rose », qui sont à l’avant-plan du discours. Les femmes ne sont pas séduites
par l’éclat de « la vie en rose », mais plutôt en découvrant ce qu’elles appellent
« le fun » au cœur des banalités apparentes de la vie vécue au jour le jour,
elles découvrent leur propre version de « la vie en rose ». Il s’ensuit une
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
discussion de l’image de « la dame en rose », qui fait ressortir ce thème. Puis il
est question du langage de même que de la façon dont le texte ne cesse
d’explorer la relation entre le sujet féminin, le langage et la réalité. On se
penche sur le fait que les processus d’écriture et les instruments de l’écriture
sont constamment à l’avant-plan. On analyse les résonances inter- et
intratextuelles en se concentrant particulièrement sur « l’anneau », la « dance
» et le « pont ». Le traitement par le roman de l’expérience extraterrestre et de
l’amour romantique font l’objet d’une discussion. Dans la conclusion, on
établit un lien entre le projet de Villemaire et l’entreprise des femmes
québécoises, qui est d’écrire dans une langue de femme, de s’inscrire dans le
corps du langage et de créer l’espace des femmes.
Women’s struggle to make a space for themselves within patriarchal social
structures has been of long duration and has received much impetus as a result
of the feminist movement of the second half of this century. The literary
project termed “écriture au féminin” (“writing in the feminine”) could be
construed as one of the most radical aspects of this effort. Women have felt
excluded by the male language which, although termed a mother tongue, has
not been a nurturing mother tongue for them, for it does not express their
experience and their meanings. Hence, they have sought a language in which
they can “write themselves” and have evolved literary forms in which they can
explore this process of discovery.
As far as Canada is concerned, the first to formulate this imperative were
Francophone women writers in Quebec influenced by French feminist theory:
Nicole Brossard, Madeleine Gagnon, France Théoret, Louky Bersianik,
Louise Dupré and many others. The paper discusses one such text, Yolande
Villemaire’s La Vie en prose, a novel in which women engaged in writing
scrutinize the process involved. The scrutiny is not solemn. Rather, it takes the
form of lighthearted play, which nonetheless raises searching questions.
A brief introduction to the novel is followed by a discussion of the major issue
on which it dwells — “la vie en rose,” which offers women space to be
themselves, a “vie en rose” which is not contrasted to a banal, prosaic
experience but achieved through a zestful embrace of the seemingly mundane
aspects of every-day life. “Life in prose” is celebrated; by doing so, women
enjoy “life in rose.”
The next section of the paper examines the continual foregrounding of the act
of enunciation. The process of composition fascinates the writers, as syntactic
lapses or defects in the typewriter lead off in unexpected directions. The novel
in process of composition appears to be La Vie en prose itself. But
characteristic of Villemaire is the doubt as to which of the women is
composing it or whether all are not, through their own compositions,
contributing to a collective enterprise.
Intertextuality and intratextuality form the very fabric of the novel. The
pervasive allusions to the ring, the dance and the bridge, associated with the
well-known song “Sur le pont d’Avignon,” are extensively discussed.
A short excursus on the treatment of extraterrestrial experience and one on
romantic love precede the conclusion which relates Villemaire’s novel to the
236
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
Quebec women’s enterprise of writing a women’s language and creating
women’s space. To turn then to the novel.
A group of women run a publishing house. They scrutinize the manuscripts
submitted to them, singly, together. Most of them are themselves writers. The
novel is divided into sections with enigmatic titles like “Delta/echo,
sierra/tango” or “L’écriture rouge.” There are no clear links between sections,
often no links within sections. The characters are constantly on the move —
one visits Urbino, another Provence, yet another Los Angeles — apart from
trips into the superterrestrial. Sometimes first-person narration is employed,
less often third person. In the latter case, the protagonist is almost always “elle”
(Lotte is an exception). In the first-person narration, the novelist determinedly
avoids using the speaker’s name. No other character addresses her by name.
Very rarely does she address herself: “Ne t’adresse pas à Lexa, Vava” (347);
“Laure est-tu d’Avignon ou de la Malbaie?” (128) (Do not address Lexa,
Vava.” “Laura do you come from Avignon or Malbaie?”) It is difficult to
puzzle out which sections are by the same narrator, difficult to decide whether
the narration concerns the main characters or characters invented by them and
whether we are not in fact reading one of the manuscripts they are engaged in
writing. One looks for references to the places they visit, their interests,
childhood memories, names of children, lovers, even cats, in one’s desperate
search for clues. Finally one concludes that, if one were meant to know, one
would know.
The successive sections may take the form of narration, letters, manuscripts
written or submitted, accounts of trips (in more than one sense), of evenings
spent in the company of friends. We move from childhood memories to the
trivia of daily living, to writing, to fantasizing, to “le fun.” The women struggle
with the first sentence of a manuscript, they discuss problems of play
production, they travel, they enjoy ecstatic unions with lovers, so ecstatic as to
be perhaps enacted in fantasy. We are immersed in the reality of women’s
lives, yet the mode is not that of realism. We do not ask ourselves: what kind of
person is Rose, is Valva, how are they contrasted? We do not speculate about
motivation. Rather, the character is the motive or starting-point for the novel,
as one of the women writers says when she has just created the character Nane
Yelle and is getting tired of her. What is to the fore is a collective female voice
and collective female experience. As Janet Paterson puts it: “...the inscription
of the feminine I in the discourse produces an enunciative plurality...a
polyphony of feminine voices...calls into question the myths of the unitary
subject and of a homogenous collective voice.2” (317) Suzanne Lamy in her
article on the novel3 speaks only of “la dame en rose” (the woman in pink)
rather than any of the women by name.
Who does what, who writes what, does not matter. Together the women create
a space in which “la vie en prose” is found to embrace “la vie en rose,” together
they explore how “words” relate to “things,” how one crosses the bridge from
reality into fiction, how the female subject makes her own, through a process
of transformation, literary modes that were controlled by a literary institution
not her own. Both Janet Paterson and Suzanne Lamy have provided perceptive
accounts of how the leitmotif of rose runs through the novel; this is so much
237
IJCS / RIÉC
foregrounded that any discussion of the novel would remain incomplete
without it. If “la vie en rose” is life blooming rose pink, romantic, alluring, “la
vie en prose” is the prosaic life of every day, life as it really is. The novel then
would seem to represent the prosaic reality of life, composed of trivia,
inconsequential, drifting. Characters relax discussing a film, they amuse
themselves with plans for starting a café, they go off at a tangent. A character
travels to California, it is hot, she puts the air conditioning at the maximum, she
takes off her shoes, lights a cigarette, misplaces it. Someone else is in the
process of typing her book; she struggles with the uncooperative typewriter,
watches a spider, recollects the story of Arachne. Even the detective novel one
of them is writing proceeds at a leisurely pace, noting trivia. This is what life is,
far removed from the glamour of Hollywood or the dream world of women’s
magazines.
Yet “la vie en prose” and “la vie en rose” are not polar opposites. While the
novelist is opting for the world of mundane reality as the material for fiction
and rejecting the decorative, romantic model of femininity which is conjured
by the phrase “la vie en rose,” reality is not as mundane as would appear from
the account just given. After all, the word “prose” contains within itself the
word “rose.” “Rose” and “prose” are opposites yet “rose” is encompassed
within “prose.” A distinctly festive, ludic air permeates the whole enterprise.
The characters liven up their existence constantly. They have “le fun.” And
one does not require glamour to have “le fun.” One may sing a song from a
Hollywood movie but one may also sing a jingle made up by oneself. The
woman in California referred to above has arrived in the middle of the night in
an unfamiliar town. She tramps along, making the maximum noise, enjoys the
sound her boots make, sings a soldier’s marching song, “These boots are made
for marching,” tap-dances. The women don fancy dress; they improvise
playlets.
The word “rose” appears constantly in the text, together with an endless
succession of rose-coloured objects.4 Within the first four pages we find a
character named Rose, a film “Pink Lady,” a character in it who wears pink
pyjamas, a character in another film who thinks she is Rosa Luxemburg. The
characters wear pink dresses, salmon-coloured pants. (74) They eat
watermelon and a salad consisting of radishes, cantaloup, strawberries and
yogurt with cherries. (74) The Godot one awaits is a lady in rose in a carriage.
(39) Indeed the whole world of the novel is drenched, steeped, bathed in rose.
Suzanne Lamy emphasizes this when she speaks of
...la présence du rose qui colore toute La Vie en prose, donne sa
tonalité à ce texte de prolifération où tout se passe au niveau des
courants, des attitudes, avec tout l’inattendu de la vie... Il est le
leitmotiv, l’object transitionnel en qui fusionnent les douceurs de
l’enfance, les robes claires et les sucreries. (114)
(the presence of that rose tinge which colours the whole of La Vie en
prose gives a kind of tonality to this proliferating text where
everything takes place on the level of flow, of attitudes, with all the
unexepectedness of life... It is the leitmotif, the transitional object in
which are fused the joys of chilhood, the light dresses and the sweets.)
238
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
For her, all the characters are one character: la dame en rose.
Her presence is pervasive — this lady in rose. She represents all the positive
values of the novel. Her appearance is sometimes unexpected, sometimes the
culmination of a joyous experience. The text foregrounds its writing in her
presence: “La femme en rose qui descendait l’escalier de ce texte...” (188)
(The woman in rose who descends the stairs of this text.) “Il y a toujours une
femme en rose dans le paysage de ce roman comme il y a toujours du rose
depuis que j’en ai entendu la chanson...” (188) (There is always a woman in
rose since I heard the song about it.) A lyrical vision of her is undercut by a
reflection that she is ultimately the creation of a novelist.
Dans le ciel, ce soir, il y avait une spirale de nuages roses qui montait
du soleil couchant. De la terrasse, on voyait la brume lever entre les
collines et des strates pastelles de jaune et de mauve et les
effilochures roses bougeaient dans le ciel. J’ai demandé à X s’il
voyait ce personnage qui volait, là, dans la spirale. Il a dit: “Oui, la
femme en rose...,” ça parait qu’il lit le roman à mesure. Et c’était, oui,
une femme en rose qui planait dans le ciel...(223)
(In the sky that evening was a spiral of rosy clouds that ascended from
the setting sun. From the terrace one saw the mist rising between the
hillocks and bands of pastel yellows and mauves and ravelled strands
of rose swayed in the sky. I asked X if he could see that being, flying
there in the spiral. He said: “Yes, the woman in rose...,” it appeared he
is reading the instalments of the novel. And it was indeed a woman in
rose who hovered in the sky.)
However, the narrator is not disturbed if the vision does not materialize; if it
sometimes exists, in a sense, it, always exists.
Je n’ai pas vu passer de dame en rose en carosse sur un aquaduc
romain. C’était moi qui parcourait l’oasis de Gabès en fiacre... Et je
n’étais qu’une dame en blanc... Et je trouvais que cela avait peu
d’importance. (232)
(I have not seen any lady in rose passing in a carriage over a Roman
aqueduct. It is I who was crossing the oasis of Gabès in a carriage...
And I was only a woman in white... And I found that this was a matter
of little importance.)
Janet Paterson is thus led to conclude that “the quest for `la vie en rose’ is
valorized in spite of the banality of the cliché.” (319) I am not sure that I would
see it in terms of a quest. Rather, by embracing “la vie en prose” in a spirit of
jouissance one finds oneself plunged in “la vie en rose.” It is as when a match
lands on the typewriter, jamming the key for “p.” (85) The issue is explicitly
discussed in the novel; there is/is not a distinction between the two. “La vie en
prose, parce que la distinction n’existe pas. C’est l’univers du rose : entre le
rouge de la révolution et la blanche de la fête.” (129) “La vie en prose parce que
la distinction n’existe pas...Si elle n’existe pas, elle existe, pourtant,
simultanément.” (194) (La vie en prose because there is no distinction. It is the
universe of rose between the red of revolution and the white of festival.) (La
vie en prose because the distinction does not exist...If it does not exist, it exists,
however, simultaneously.)
239
IJCS / RIÉC
Prose and rose employ a different language; prose spells out its meanings
through similes whereas rose metaphorizes itself, not dependent on an
observer to interpose with a “like.” Prose can constrain. “La vie l’avait à ce
point emporté sur la prose qu’aucun texte ne pourra jamais rendre compte de
tout ce qu’il y avait dans cet instant-là.” (221) (Life had, to such an extent,
prevailed over prose that no text could ever comprehend all that the moment
contained.) Yet even prose in its attempt to grasp the fleeting moment moves
beyond the literal. “La vie, même en prose, va trop vite pour être prise au pied
de la lettre.” (83) (Life, even in prose, passes too swiftly to be taken literally.)
Imprisoned within prose one can yet call up rose divinities. “Je manque peutêtre un peu de vie depuis que je me suis enfermée à double tour dans la prose.
Mais ce n’est que le temps d’une tsampa, le temps de faire lever ces divinités
roses comme le font ces lamas qui méditent pendant des années sur une déité de
sorte que cette déité prend réalité.” (194-195) (Something of life is missing for
me since I am double-locked in prose. But it is only the time of a “tsampa” the
time to call up those rose divinities as do the lamas who meditate for years on a
deity with the result that deity takes on reality.) Even if it corresponds to a
utopian ideal, the vision of rose enables women to create a space for
themselves, to live and move joyously and freely in that space. “Je veux voir la
vie en rose et croire aux utopies.” (197) The rose that one discovers in the life of
prose is not the conventional glamour of “la vie en rose” but is no less a festive,
celebratory rose.
The themes of rose and of women’s space are foregrounded by the cover page.
A woman in a short, loose-fitting pink dress appears to be jumping; the fact that
her knees and thighs are firmly pressed together, though one foot is behind the
other, suggests that this is what she is doing rather than running or stepping
forward. She is in an aperture framed by pinkish brown walls with a similar
wall in the rear. In the foreground is what could be a floor, towards the side are
two tall objects, one of which could be either a drum or a cask. The picture then
is suffused with pink and the woman is acting freely in her own space,
unconcerned about any observer. She is far from the sleek, curvaceous models
associated with the glamour of “la vie en rose” but lives “la vie en rose”
nonetheless.
However, it is most specifically through the act of writing that the women
create a space for themselves. The text continually investigates the
relationship of the feminine subject to language and to reality. Since the
women are writers, Paterson argues that “...the enunciated is modified in its
linear progression by the systematic thematizing of the enunciation...The
enunciative situation directly affects the text by projecting upon it the presence
of the feminine subjects who are writing.” (320) In each section of the text (the
enunciated), the reader is conscious of a writer producing this section, what it
means to her to be writing it, the situation in which she is writing, the search for
expression. The act of enunciation is thus “thematized”; it is as much the
subject of the novel as anything the women may be doing.
The actual process of writing is constantly foregrounded as is the fact that we
are reading a novel and that sections of it are manuscripts composed by women
characters in that novel. Several references to the novel “La Vie en prose” itself
240
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
indicate that it is in process of composition. One can scarcely speak of a frame
narrative and inset narratives, as one does with a novel like Hubert Aquin’s
Prochain Épisode, since not only is there scarcely any narrative which forms
the outer core, but even the manuscripts rarely tell a “story” of an imaginary
character; rather, they show us a woman writing — it could be Rose or Laure or
Nane herself or a first person voice in her manuscript. We even find a writer
showing us another writer at work. Yolande Villemaire gives us a text
composed by “Noémie Artaud,” probably the pen name of Nane, which shows
us a woman (is it Nane Yelle?) watching a girl in a café scribbling as if
terrorized, and herself buying a notebook in which to write her journal. “Le
Livre-Sphinx” which purports to be by “Gloria Olivetti” is more obviously a
text composed by Nane, whose identity is betrayed by the heavy thump of her
un-cooperative typewriter.
Attention constantly focuses on the implements of writing: the pens, the paper,
the notebooks that the women buy and use. Most prominent of these is Nane’s
typewriter; its antics determine the actual course of her writing. She puts its
shortcomings to advantage: if it types only semi-colons, rather than blot them
out, she adds idle details to entangle further. The defects in her machine force
her to branch out, generate paragraphs. Literary criticism of a traditional kind
used to speak of how a character “ran away’ with the author, assumed
proportions and occcupied a space far from the author’s original plan. More
recent criticism demonstrates how words assume control, and we shall turn
presently to instances of this in the novel. But here is a case where the purely
mechanical process of writing takes over and determines the style and the
actual content.
The play of language, the play of words, syntactic lapses which gender new
meanings, all such processes which go beyond the author’s volition, serve as
means by which the woman writer encourages language to lead her into new
spaces. Meanings proliferate to a point where it is useless to call to mind the
literal sense of words (or of things)....“le sens prolifère à ce point que de me
rappeler le sens littéral des mots et des choses ne m’est plus d’aucun secours.”
(191)
Sheer play is evident in a short letter signed by “Lisle”:
Je t’écris dans le vide et c’est comme écrire un roman; et dans “La Vie
en prose” il y a “lives near Poe,” ce qui s’écrit sur un air de chat-chatchat et de mystère. (101)
(I write in the void and it is like writing a novel; and in La Vie en prose
there is “lives near Poe,” which writes itself with an air of chat-chatchat [a play on cha-cha-cha and the French for cat] and mystery.)
One form that the game takes is to launch into a sentence which continues
indefinitely with relative clauses and adverbial clauses leading us far from the
original topic of discourse. The game sometimes reinforces the themes of the
text; an instance already discussed at length is the play on “rose” and “prose”.
Another instance is the reinforcement of the presence of a collectivity of
women in the novel by inventing names ending in the same sound as “elle”
(she), such as Rose Vel, Nane Yelle, Laure de son nom d’Aurel, Yvelle. The
241
IJCS / RIÉC
invented character Rose Vel employs such play herself when she says she has
adopted this name because, though it sounds beautiful, it is actually the name
of a washing soap and the life of women is a combination of looking pretty and
doing the washing — “faire la belle et faire la vaisselle.” (70)
A point to which stylisticians direct attention is “syntactic foregrounding,” the
manner in which syntax is either indicative of a “mind style” or else “enacts”
the theme. Here, on the other hand, it is the unexpected syntactic lapses that
suddenly open up new vistas.
Je commence à être si habile à détecter mes lapsus syntagmatiques
que ça risque de n’avoir bientôt plus aucun intérêt. C’est très jaunescab ces mots qu’on imagine neutres; ils passent leur temps à
traverser les piquets de grève et se mettent le cœur joyeusement à
l’ouvrage pendant que le boss, tout content, s’empresse de faire
fusiller les grévistes de Five Roses. (198)
(I have begun to be so skillful in detecting my syntactic lapses that I
run the risk of losing all interest in this soon. These words that one
imagines to be neutral, are really scab-yellow, spending their time
slipping through the picket lines of the strikers and setting to work
joyfully while the boss, fully satisfied, engages himself in having the
strikers of “Five Roses” gunned down.)
The reversal of values implied here is clever and unexpected for the strikers are
the monitors of language conventions and norms of discourse rather than
rebels and the scabs are not disloyal to a cause but rather set to work
undermining such conventions and norms. The analogy leads off to an actual
event when the boss had the strikers fired on, after which, speaking of this
analogy, the writer once again makes words responsible for approximating a
personal story to the regional, national or international reality. “Ce sont les
mots qui ont tendance à confondre l’histoire personnelle à l’actualité
régionale, nationale ou internationale.” (199)
The writers puzzle over the relation between reality and fiction. For them
fiction is not a straightforward transcript of reality, though they do at times tell
stories which are little more than a transcription of the trivial, prosaic minutiae
of day-to-day living. There are times when the fiction transports the writer to
an alien world where the colours are brighter, sensations keener,
contradictions sharper than in our world. After one such hallucinatory
experience, the writer is terrified. “...[j]’ai compris que j’étais...dans le lieu de
mon roman. Peut-être aussi de l’autre côté de ce pont que j’ai si peur de
traverser et que je franchis pourtant, toutes les nuits, dans mes rêves.” (119) (I
realized that I was in the world of my novel. Perhaps also on the other side of
that bridge which I so fear to cross and which I traverse so speedily
nevertheless every night in my dreams). Yet if strange and comical things can
happen in life, why may they not in fiction? “Elle se dit que, puisqu’il arrive de
drôles de choses au temps dans la vie...il pourrait bien en arriver dans les
romans.” (105) Not for these women however is there a post-modern doubting
of reality itself. “Rien ne vaut l’expérimentation quand on se met à douter du
réel, ce qui revient, assez paradoxalement, au même qu’à douter de la fiction.”
242
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
(160) (Experimentation is of no value if one starts to doubt reality, which
amounts, rather paradoxically, to doubting fiction.)
The struggle for words, either to capture the essence of the real, or to compose a
fiction, is a constant preoccupation. “Elle se rappelle...que la langue, même
maternelle, ne peut pas tout dire d’un coup...” (86) (She recollects that
language, even the mother tongue, cannot say everything at one go.) She has
recourse to varied strategies.
Elle imagine de n’écrire qu’au présent pour retenir le cours des choses
et renverser le courant. Ce qui se pose là comme dilemme effrayant,
c’est la question des mots et des choses et de ce qui a priorité pour éviter
les chicanes et les accidents. (87)
(She imagines writing only in the present tense to maintain the flow
of things and reverse the current. What poses itself as a frightful
dilemma is the issue of words and things and of which should have
priority in order to avoid trickery and accidents.)
She comes to the realization that it is the silences that one must hear and then
somehow write if one is to comprehend and communicate what life has to say.
Words appear sometimes too weak, a moment later too strong as they impose
themselves. She is not afraid of such contradictions.
Les mots sont fort hélas et ont tendance à s’imposer contre
l’hémisphère du silence: j’aimerais arriver à écrire des silences qui
s’entendent. Mais les mots tendent à la détente: les mots jasent et le
texte est ravi par l’anecdote. (129)
(Words are strong alas and have a tendency to impose themselves
against the hemisphere of silence. I would like to reach the point
when I can write the silences which listen to themselves. But words
tend to slacken: words jabber and the text is ravished by anecdote.)
As everywhere in this text, ideas are not set forth systematically or
dogmatically; they are, as it were, spun off by the play on words.
Intertextual as well as intratextual references are integral to the enunciation.
We have echoes of innumerable writers — Proust, Brossard, Aquin, of popular
songs, of films and comics — Minnie Mouse and Bionic Woman. At one level
this is sheer play, at another it sets up resonances, the words of the text
absorbing into themselves associations set up by the original text and, in their
turn, reflecting back upon the original, meanings which will henceforth attach
themselves to it. According to Paterson, the frequency of allusions and echoes
relating to women writers and to Quebec writers, on the one hand celebrates
the plurality and heterogeneity of women writers and, on the other hand,
presents the literature of Quebec as a culture available to all.
I would like to expand on one instance of intertextuality as well as
intratextuality which brings together many of the most significant meanings in
the text. This is the reference to the French song:
Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse, on y danse.
Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse tout en rond.
243
IJCS / RIÉC
(On the bridge at Avignon one dances in a ring.)
The ring is central to the text. The women who write and edit are friends who
share their experiences, advise, suggest, never compete. They form a ring,
complete and self-sufficent. The structure of the novel could also be said to
form a ring, as it closes in on itself, though the image of a web or spiral might be
more appropriate. (There is an article on the structure by Lise Potvin but I have
not been able to see it in her terms.)5
The dance is also central to this festive text. The women quite often literally
dance joyously, dancing right through the night. In an episode which we are
later told is set on the moon, “il” and “elle,” he and she, dance for hours,
absorbed in their dance. In another fantasy sequence, Mata Hari and her
partner dance without touching, in perfect synchrony and could so dance even
if one of them were at the Atlantic, the other at the North Pole. For the
thousandth fraction of a second, Nane has glimpsed the sacred dance of Shiva,
the “lila.” She dances to the sound of a flute on the stairs at Urbino where she is
supposed to be attending a course of lectures by Todorov. She can dance for
hours, alone or with others. But it is always with the lover, the “angel,”
addressed as “you” that she dances “la vie en rose.” “Je peux danser, toute
seule, ou avec d’autres, pendant des heures. Mais c’est toujours avec toi quand
je danse la vie en rose.” (227)
If the dance represents the “jouissance” or ecstacy that the novel celebrates, the
bridge suggests sometimes union, sometimes its impossibility (how
characteristic of Villemaire that it should do both), sometimes a passage, while
sometimes it is simply the locale for the dance. There are bridges between
fiction and reality, between the known and the unknown. There are bridges
which both unite and separate lovers. “La dame en rose” is seen crossing the
bridge. That the bridge, the dance and the colour “rose” are highly significant
in the novel is highlighted by the fact that frequently all three or at least two of
them appear in conjunction. A shop near the bridge at Avignon on which Laure
has danced sells curios which are blue in sunshine, pink when it rains, and
mauve when the weather is uncertain. Later, following a passage where she
writes of love-making so ecstatic that it carries her to the Milky Way and to the
womb, she asks herself: “Qu’est-ce que c’est que cette danse que tu danses en
rond sur le pont, au bout du quai, sur le traversier?” (128) (What is this dance
that you dance in a ring, on the bridge, at the end of the quay, on the crossing?)
One reference seems to shed light on the rather puzzling setting in which the
woman in pink is situated on the cover page: “Je ne sais qu’y sauter à pieds
joints pour les défoncer ou n’y danser qu’en rond?”(117) (I do not know
whether one jumps there [on bridges] with feet together in order to smash them
or only to dance there in a ring.) Is it a bridge on which the woman in the picture
is placed or which she is approaching? It certainly does not appear to be so and
there is nothing destructive about her stance, but this is one of only two
references we have to jumping as against dancing. The second reference gives
us a clue to a fresh interpretation:
Je suis encore paralysée, assise à une extrémité du pont pendant que
toi, assis à l’autre extrémité, tu me fais signe de la tête que oui, oui, il
244
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
existe, le pont. Est-ce que c’est avant ou après que je l’ai défoncé en
sautant dessus à pieds joints, je ne sais plus...(225-226)
Un jour, je vais m’arrêter, je vais sortir ma vieille robe rose et je vais
m’avancer sur ce pont. J’avance déjà...Pourquoi c’est si difficile de
marcher sur ce pont-là? Ce ne sont que des cordes...Où est-ce que
j’allais, est-ce que je n’y vais pas encore? Comment un pont que l’on
a déjà défoncé peut-il ne l’être pas? C’était le pont de l’étage audessus, c’est ça? (226)
( I am again paralysed, seated at one extremity of the bridge, while
you, seated at the other extremity, make a sign with your head to say
that yes, yes, it exists, the bridge. Is this before or after I have smashed
it, leaping on it with feet together, I don’t know any more...
One day I am going to stop, I am going to get out my old rosecoloured dress and I am going to advance along that bridge. I am
advancing already...why is it so difficult to walk on this bridge?
There are only ropes. Where was it I went? Am I not going there
again? How can a bridge still be there when one has already destroyed
it? It’s the bridge leading to the stage above, is it?)
While the world of the novel is very much our world, there are repeated forays
into other worlds, other dimensions. In many cases, the writers are trying their
hand at space fiction, in some they are trying to find metaphors to convey the
ecstasy of love-making. Sometimes they might be drug-induced
hallucinations. But Yolande Villemaire herself is seriously interested in Indian
philosophy and religion, and one concludes that some of these episodes are
intended to describe genuine transcendental experiences. The bridge then is
perhaps the bridge to the next stage, the stage that follows earthly existence.
“La vie en rose,” entrancing though it is, though it was eminently worthwhile
to have lived it, must ultimately be abandoned if one is to advance along this
bridge. Paradoxically this bridge must be destroyed, the ties with the world
must be severed yet having broken it one still needs it to move on. The bridge
opens up new spaces for women.
The bridge also extends between lovers. A digression on the role of romantic
love in women’s space is called for here; writing on a text which is a tissue of
digressions, one need hardly apologize for making one oneself. Several of the
first-person narrators describe a state of yearning, abandonment, ecstacy quite
in keeping with the tradition of romantic love, an explicitly physical love
culminating in physical union. The floating signifiers — rose, the dance, the
bridge — are often associated with these experiences or states of mind. One or
two of them have already been quoted: “C’est toujours avec toi que je danse la
vie en rose.”
Is love then one of the positives in this world of women, love conceived not
very differently from what is traditionally expected in the man-woman
relationship? Unlike some other Quebec women writers, such as Nicole
Brossard, Villemaire does not valorize lesbian relationships as an alternative
which offers more space, more authenticity. Is the relationship shown as
constricting, as well as fulfilling? Are the writers simply practising their craft?
Is there an element of parody? In the beginning one feels this may be so when
the protagonist in the manuscript by Noémie Artaud longs for her lover,
245
IJCS / RIÉC
recollects the feel of his skin, but has forgotten his name and declares: “Je n’ai
pas envie de cette passion.” (13, 33) (I have no desire for this passion.) But how
is the reader meant to respond to the intensity of the passion experienced by an
unidentifiable narrator with an angel (75), of Laure with “toi” (127), of Nane
with Djinny (whom she calls her twin), of Vava with Lexa (which is the name
of a character in a novel by Nicole Brossard)? Is it in imagination or in reality
that “le souffle chaud de l’huître de ta bouche dissipe le goût du métal et la rose
de ton sexe contre le mien fleurit dans une nappe d’eau noire et lisse poudrée
d’or.” (297) (The warm breath of the oyster of your mouth dissipates the taste
of metal and the rose of your sex against mine flowers in a sheet of water,
black, smooth, powdered with gold.)
Extending the realm of experience and expression, enjoying in imagination
what she may never have known in reality, the woman writer claims for herself
the right to live and to express herself as a sexual being.
In an issue of the journal Tessera, the Quebec writer and critic Louise Dupré
speaks of the need to discover a women’s language.
To affirm our women’s language, de-centred, eccentric in relation to
the symbolic, changeable, passionate, and linked to the semiotic
chora. As in the subversion of the norm, as in prosody, as in the
language of gentle madness, as in laughter. Where women talk
among themselves in open and in-finite communications, where they
write in the feminine in their fictions, where they talk nonsense in
relation to the law, to power, to the forces of power, so as to
undermine them. (35)6
Barbara Godard, writing on the Quebec women’s enterprise, lays stress on
their relation to language.7 For them, there is no pre-existing reality which they
seek to translate into language. Rather, they inscribe themselves in the body of
language. Writing, for them, is not transcription, but inscription, a means of
resisting language through a foregrounding of process.
La Vie en prose demonstrates the woman writer finding her own language, decentred, drawing from the semiotic chora though not altogether abandoning
the symbolic, talking nonsense, laughing, subverting. Woman inscribes
herself and experiences herself as subject, breaking from the tradition which
treated her as object. The women in the novel have entered what was
traditionally men’s sphere, the world of work. They take it seriously, but also it
is “le fun.” Publishing brings them to texts both as writers and readers.
Through producing women’s texts they create space for women.
Notes
1.
2.
246
Yolande Villemaire, La Vie en prose (Montréal: Les herbes rouges, 1980). Page references
indicated in the body of the text.
Janet Paterson, “A Poetics of Transformation: Yolande Villemaire’s La Vie en prose,” in
Amazing Space eds. Shirley Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli (Edmonton: Longspoon and
NeWest, 1986), pp. 315-323. Page references indicated in the body of the text. A French
version of the same article, “Le postmoderne au féminin: La Vie en prose” is to be found in
her book Moments Postmodernes dans le roman Québéçois (Ottawa: Les Presses de
l’Université d’Ottawa, 1990) pp. 83-93.
Celebrating Women’s Language and Women’s Space
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Suzanne Lamy, “Subversion en rose” in Féminité, Subversion, Écriture eds. Suzanne Lamy
and Irène Pagès (Les éditions du remue-ménage, 1983), pp. 107-118.
The French term “rose” means “pink.” I preferred to retain the term “rose” though it may
conjure up for an English-speaking reader a rose-red rather than a rose-pink. This is partly for
reasons of euphony, partly because Indian pinks are sometimes rather garish. But more
importantly, the prose-rose dichotomy is lost if one translates the term, as is the link with the
phrase “la vie en rose.” Lamy also points out that rose is an anagram for “Eros” and for “oser”
(to dare).
Lise Potvin, “L’Ourobouros est un serpent qui se mord la queue XZ,” Voix et images 33,
Printemps 1986.
Louise Dupré, “The Doubly Complicit Memory,” Tessera 1, Jan 1984 (Published as Room of
One’s Own Vol 8, No. 4).
Barbara Godard, “Writing and difference: Women writers of Quebec and English-Canada,”
in the feminine, proceedings of conference Women and Words 1983 (Longspoon Press,
1985).
247
Gillian Whitlock
The Silent Scribe:
Susanna and “Black Mary”
Abstract
In January 1831, in the house of Thomas Pringle, Susanna Strickland was the
amanuensis of the first autobiography published by a slave woman in Britain,
The History of Mary Prince. Here, this connection is used to reflect upon the
nature of the relationship between two post-colonial subjects, the pioneer and
the emancipated slave, and to place Moodie’s autobiographical writings in the
context of recent debates about white femininity in the Empire.
Résumé
En janvier 1831, chez Thomas Pringle, Susanna Strickland est la copiste de la
première autobiographie publiée par une esclave en Grande-Bretagne, The
History of Mary Prince. Ce lien servira de réflexion sur la nature de la relation
entre deux sujets post-coloniaux, la pionnière et l’esclave affranchie, et sur la
place de l’écriture autobiographique de Moodie dans le contexte des débats
récents eu égard à la fémininité de la race blanche dans l’Empire britannique.
In the November 1971 edition of Canadian Notes and Queries, Carl Ballstadt
noted Susanna Moodie’s earlier interest in the abolition movement. Few
people are aware that she was the amanuensis of the first autobiography
published by a slave woman in Britain, The History of Mary Prince. Ballstadt’s
discussion of this is brief, a “note” as the title suggests. It reappears in his coedited volume Susanna Moodie. Letters of a Lifetime (1985), for in late
January 1831, Susanna Strickland wrote to her friends James and Emma Bird:
I have been writing Mr Pringle’s black Mary’s life from her own
dictation and for her benefit adhering to her own simple story and
language without deviating to the paths of flourish or romance. It is a
pathetic little history and is now printing in the form of a pamphlet to
be laid before the Houses of Parliament. Of course my name does not
appear. Mr Pringle has added a very interesting appendix and I hope
the work will do much good... (Ballstadt et al., 1985, 57)
Despite some ten years of Moodie scholarship this incident had entirely
escaped my attention. Its revelation finally came not through Canadian
materials, but via a recent edition of the autobiography edited by Moira
Ferguson. In her “Introduction,” Ferguson notes:
In London in 1827, when [Mary Prince] escaped, she was employed
as a domestic servant by Thomas Pringle, the Methodist secretary of
the Anti-Slavery Society and the editory of her History. Pringle’s
friend, Susanna Strickland, recently a Methodist convert, had
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
transcribed Mary Prince’s narrative while she lived as a guest in
Pringle’s home sometime during 1829 or 1830.
In a footnote, Ferguson observes that she has found no evidence that Susanna
Strickland Moodie ever referred to her transcription of two stories, that of
Mary Prince and of another slave, Ashton Warner. She did however include a
poem entitled “An Appeal to the Free” in Enthusiasm; and Other Poems
(1831).
The impact of finding Strickland’s hand in the Prince autobiography remains
with me still, and it was perceptibly a revelation to many when I first related the
story of Strickland and Prince to a Canadian audience in 1992. This paper does
not aim to present more detail or to recover any later references by Moodie to
the episode. Rather, it explores how this fragment, this glimpse of the younger
woman, might infect our thinking about her later work, beyond Ballstadt’s
observation of it as an interesting footnote or embellishment upon what we
already know. We will approach it as an episode which causes us to reflect
upon how we know Moodie, and how we read the later texts. As Ballstadt
suggests, the Mary Prince episode offers an insight into Susanna Strickland’s
humanitarianism. However, it also gives us a text to compare to Roughing it in
the Bush, a glimpse prior to that moment of arrival, which provides a different
context for thinking about that moment in terms of race, gender and
colonialism.
For most readers, the fascination with Moodie begins with the very first
glimpse of the young immigrant in Roughing it in the Bush: her account of the
gradual progress up the St.Lawrence to Grosse Isle and beyond into the
backwoods. This sketch dramatises all the confusion and false expectations of
arrival by perpetually deconstructing the cultural baggage brought by the
middle-class wife and mother; this text is frequently used to anchor
interpretations of Moodie’s autobiographical writing. Recently, feminist
readings of this sketch in particular have placed its narrator as a figure of
mothering, a narrator who uses her “mother tongue”: “Moodie not only brings
into textual existence a universe populated by mothers and their offspring, but
is always also ... marked herself/marks herself as a figure of mothering.”
(Freiwald, 1990: 156) The originating moment of Moodie’s story, the decision
to emigrate, is presented as a specifically maternal moment by Moodie herself.
In Freiwald’s analysis, the maternal gaze is a primary constituent of Moodie’s
narrative perspective. There is always a child at Moodie’s side — how many
critics have noticed this?
Most recently, Helen Buss developed this approach further in her study of
Canadian women’s autobiographical writing. Buss laments that the “desiring,
suffering, yearning, nurturing, loving body of a woman, a body Moodie spoke
of to her husband in their private letters, has always been left out of our
readings of Roughing.” (Buss, 1993: 85) In turn, Buss desires to return to
Roughing it in the Bush and find that woman’s body, along with the
subjectivity radicalized, the agency created, by the suffering and loving of that
body. Like Freiwald, Buss also focusses on “A Visit to Grosse Isle” as our first
glimpse of “the narrating Susanna,” “a woman who is herself physically
performing a very gendered nursing function, a woman who is quite literally a
250
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary”
connective tissue, a plural self who cannot help but find identity in alterity.”
(Buss, 1993:88)
Reading Moodie in terms of gender and maternity in particular, as Buss and
Freiwald contend, opens some new possibilities for considering a number of
the Roughing it sketches as autobiography. However, work remains to
articulate this maternity in historical and political terms, and to understand the
function of mothering beyond the psychoanalytic perspectives which have
guided work in this area to date. As Helen Buss points out, psychoanalytic
models can infer essential and ahistorical truths which fail to recognise the
configurations of different gender constructions in different times. This is our
point of departure: by bringing together Susanna Strickland and Mary Prince,
we will explore the different voices available to women autobiographers at a
precise point in time — during the surge in abolitionist and early feminist
discourses of the 1820s and 1830s and into the early Victorian cult of
domesticity — and to understand their subjectivities in terms of post-colonial
perspectives. The earlier incarnation of Susanna Strickland as the silent
amanuensis in the household of Thomas Pringle, the means by which another,
quite different, autobiographical text emerges, is not only intriguing but also
relevant to our view of the young mother who landed — ever so briefly — at
Grosse Isle.
The “other” autobiography here, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian
Slave, Related By Herself, is an unlikely document which made Prince the first
black, British spokeswoman for general emancipation. You may well ask how
we came by an autobiography of a woman born into slavery in the Crown
Colony of Bermuda in 1788. Prince’s History tells us that she was first sold as
an infant, then again in 1805 as an adolescent, and again as a woman in her
twenties. Each time, her History records experiences of degradation and
brutality which reach their depths on the salt ponds of Turks Island. She was
sold for a fourth and final time to a merchant in Antigua, who took her to
England in 1828 as his laundress. Here, at the height of the anti-slavery
campaign, Mary Prince’s plight came to the attention of the Anti-Slavery
Society and she took refuge as a maid in the Claremont Square house of
Thomas Pringle, the Secretary of the Society, mentor to Susanna Strickland
and close friend of John Dunbar Moodie, whom he had known in South Africa.
So it was that a Caribbean slave came to tell her story: “I was born in BrackishPond, in Bermuda, on a farm belonging to Mr Charles Myners. My mother was
a household slave; and my father, whose name was Prince, was a sawyer...”
Prince, 1986:47).
As Susanna Strickland points out in her letter to James and Emma Bird, “Of
course my name does not appear.” In his “Preface to the first edition,” written
at Claremont Square in January 1831, Thomas Pringle also reserves
Strickland’s anonymity:
The narrative was taken down from Mary’s own lips by a lady who
happened to be at the time residing in my family as a visitor. It was
written out fully, with all the narrator’s repetitions and prolixities,
and afterwards pruned to its present shape; retaining, as far as was
251
IJCS / RIÉC
practicable, Mary’s exact expressions and peculiar phraseology.
(Prince, 1986:45)
The authenticity of the History was vital, and the issue of verification is
addressed in the Preface quoted above and in the Appendices which
proliferated with each further edition of the History, which went into three
editions within months of its initial publication in 1831. In the third edition, the
source of the 1986 reprint, Prince’s History is encrusted with prefatory text,
footnotes added by Thomas Pringle, several postscripts and an editorial
supplement, all of which in some ways address Prince’s veracity and moral
character. Indeed, the unlikeliness of an autobiographical document of this
kind is evidenced by the labour of the Pringle circle to stress Mary Prince’s
agency in the making of the text, and to assert her status as autobiographer with
all the attendant claims to truth and authorship. Mary Prince assists herself as a
speaking, acting, thinking subject with an identity separate from AngloAfricanist constructions of her past and present reality (Ferguson, 1992:282),
yet her address to the British public is mediated by the interests and concerns of
her patron and his Society’s campaign for abolition. Prince’s History alerts us
to the conditions and the limits of autobiography, and how these parameters
are shaped by cultural, political and historical factors.
Strickland’s role is vital. Prince herself addresses the role of the amanuensis in
the conclusion to the History: “I will say the truth to English people who may
read this history that my good friend, Miss S- , is now writing down for me.”
(Prince, 1986:84) As Moira Ferguson suggests in her recent lengthy discussion
of the History, by way of thanking Strickland, Mary Prince affirms her own
status as interlocutor, claiming her narrative before the very eyes of Pringle
and her transcriber, her public mediators and guarantors as it were: “In another
emphatic power reversal, the amanuensis has become an archetypal slaveother who takes orders and generates wealth (in this case textual wealth)
simultaneously, an embodiment of Mary Prince’s literacy.” (1992: 292)
Mary Prince’s History stands as a representative account; she speaks of and for
all slaves: “I know what slaves feel — I can tell by myself what other slaves
feel...” (1986: 84). Yet her right to speak results from her position as an
emancipated slave able to authenticate the anti-slavery case at a particular
juncture of this campaign in Britain in 1831. The History is filtered via the pen
of the amanuensis and the scrutiny of the editor, Pringle, who is her first reader.
Both of these intermediaries render her life and character “intelligible” to the
British public by drawing on the religious and political discourses of the antislavery campaign. An overwhelming sense of readership, of audience,
pervades the History: the character of the narrative is shaped generically
according to the form of the British slave narrative which, in 1830, prescribed a
particularly limited sense of the intersections between gender and race in the
life history of slave women. And yet, the text, as Ferguson alleges, is riddled
with the marks of “double discourse,” of Mary Prince’s refusal to be the silent,
fictive object of colonial discourse. Like the later pioneering sketches of her
amanuensis, Prince’s autobiography has multiple voices which speak of the
post-colonial body in various and duplicitious ways.
252
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary”
However, Susanna Strickland’s role went beyond that of the silent scribe. The
anonymous amanuensis, the “lady visitor” Miss S-, becomes an identified and
authoritative spectator in a scene described in an Appendix to the third edition
of the History. This Appendix was added by Pringle following inquiries “from
various quarters respecting the existence of marks of severe punishment on
Mary Prince’s body.” Pringle, 1986: 119) So Mary Pringle writes to Mrs
Townsend, one of the secretaries of the Birmingham Ladies’ Society for Relief
of Negro Slaves, from Claremont Square on March 28, 1831:
In order to put you in possession of such full and authentic evidence,
respecting the marks on Mary Prince’s person... I beg to add to my
own testimony that of Miss Strickland (the lady who wrote down in
this house the narratives of Mary Prince and Ashton Warner),
together with the testimonies of my sister Susan and my friend Miss
Martha Browne — all of whom were present and assisted me this day
in a second inspection of Mary’s body. (1986:120)
The women provide a testimonial, “full and authentic evidence,” that “the
whole back part of her body is severely scarred, and, as it were, chequered,
with the vestiges of severe floggings.” “[T] here are many large scars on other
parts of her person, exhibiting an appearance as if the flesh had been deeply
cut, or lacerated with gashes, by some instrument wielded by most unmerciful
hands.” (1986:119)
From the body viewed at the end of Mary Prince’s History, gender and the
sexuality of the female body are visible only in particular ways of knowing.
For the purposes of this autobiography, Prince’s body is viewed in terms of her
race and status. Ferguson has argued that the British slave narrative makes it
axiomatic that Mary Prince’s personhood and her soul be seen to prevail over
her gender and her flesh. These are the terms in which she can speak and be
recognised in this time and place. Here, as is so often the case, the body is seen
to represent truth, flesh cannot lie; however, the markings which are read are
no less culturally specific than the narrative copied in the main body of the
History. The women attest to the marks of flogging on Mary Prince’s body.
Flogging had become a critical issue in provincial women’s anti-slavery
propaganda campaigns throughout the 1820s:
In fact, flogging was one of the worst punishments evangelical
women could imagine — especially, but not only, in the case of
females — since it combined absolute control and remorseless abuse
of the female body by males.... Flogging, in a word, was antiChristian. Worst of all, it was a public act, involving an exposed
nakedness and an unsolicited male gaze, sometimes even attracting
spectators and enthusiasts. (Ferguson, 1992: 293)
The scene described by Mrs Pringle in the Appendix can be read as the obverse
of this public spectacle in terms of the male gaze; the context here is private and
benevolent, for only women view the scars. Ferguson points out that Prince
would have operated well within her rights (as evangelicals conceived of
them) to refuse their request to view her body on the grounds of modesty. She
not only permits but probably desires her body to be used in this way, as a space
of inscription, for it offers a rare opportunity to speak her history corporeally to
the world. (Ferguson, 1992: 295)
253
IJCS / RIÉC
The increasingly complex relationship between Mary Prince and her
amanuensis, Susanna Strickland, which developed at Claremont Square in
1831 is intriguing. At a critical conjuncture in debates about race and property,
gender and class, the emancipated slave woman recites a text located
somewhere between biography and autobiography as they are traditionally
conceived. Physically, these women are adjacent and yet worlds apart.
Ultimately, the inscriptions of flogging upon the body of the Caribbean
woman, a body made grotesque by abuse, are what speaks authentically to the
British public. However, these marks are not mentioned by Mary herself, but
by the woman who is auditor and spectator, Susanna Strickland.
No simple equation can be made between these women on the basis of their
gender. Nor can we establish a relationship by recourse to terms of doubled,
tripled colonisations of women. Race, gender, class and nation have imprinted
these bodies in very different ways. Their different locations alert us to the
appropriateness of Denise Riley’s description of women as a “volatile
collectivity.” Female persons, she says, “can be very differently positioned so
that the apparent continuity of the subject `women’ isn’t to be relied on;
`women’ is both synchronically and diachronically erratic as a collectivity ...
for the individual `being a woman’ is also inconstant.” (Riley, 1988: 2) Riley’s
idea of the volatile collectivity of women alerts us to instability and change not
only across the range of women’s experiences but also within the life of the
individual. Characterisations of women vary historically and socially between
women and within the life history of one woman. Mary Prince and her
amanuensis are a forceful example of how women are positioned very
differently synchronically, and how different are the voices which allow them
access to the public at any one time. They also remind us that, as critics of
autobiography, women’s access to the status of autobiographer is negotiated
through a kind of middle passage, from which subjectivity emerges bearing the
imprints of experience and culture, self and society. The body is embedded in
history.
The relationship between Mary Prince and Susanna Strickland alerts us to the
radically different positionings of women synchronically, but also to the
variations of gender and sexuality experienced in a single life. Susanna
Strickland Moodie, no less than Mary Prince, should be read as a post-colonial
subject. Silent as she is in Prince’s History, she neverthless becomes acutely
aware of her own voice during the time at Claremont Square.
The testimony of Mrs Pringle, Susanna Strickland, Susan Brown and Martha
A. Browne asserts that on “this day” — March 28, 1831 — they were present
and assisted in the inspection of Mary Prince’s body. Within a week of this
incident, the relationship between the amanuensis and her friend took a
different turn. Here, Mary Prince becomes the spectator, and the amanuensis
becomes the autobiographical subject. A letter written by Mrs Moodie on
April 9, 1831 reads:
I was on the 4th instant at St Pancras Church made the happiest girl on
earth, in being united to the beloved being in whom I have long
centred all my affections. Mr Pringle “gave me” away, and Black
Mary, who had treated herself with a complete new suit upon the
254
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary”
occasion, went on the coach box, to see her dear Missie and
Biographer wed. I assure you, that instead of feeling the least regret at
the step I was taking, if a tear trembled in my eyes, it was one of joy,
and I pronounced the fatal obey, with a firm determination to keep it.
My blue stockings, since became a wife, have turned so pale that I
think they will soon be quite white....
I send you twenty copies of Mary’s History, and 2 of Ashton Warner.
If you can in the way of trade dispose of them, I should feel obliged. I
have begun the pudding and dumpling discussions, and now find, that
the noble art of housewifery is more to be desired than all the
accomplishments, which are to be retailed by the literary and damsels
who frequent these envied circles... (Ballstadt et al.,eds, 1985:61)
This glimpse of Mary Prince as “Black Mary,” resplendent in a new suit and
perched on the coach box of the bridal carriage, is our last view of her.
However, the end of Prince’s story is the beginning of Mrs Moodie’s. The
fragment from the bride’s letter alerts us to Moodie’s sense of her changed
status. We can only conjecture why Moodie refers to “the fatal obey.” The
earliest women’s organizations centered on the campaign for abolition. In fact,
the Ladies’ Society in Birmingham, which requested the inspection of Mary
Prince’s body, is one example. Race, class and gender intersected in this
period, which saw the emergence of separate women’s committees and
auxiliaries and female anti-slavery associations by the mid 1820s. At the same
time, socialist arguments about the oppression of all women in marriage made
explicit comparisons between the wife and the slave. William Thompson and
Anna Wheeler, for example, specifically focussed on the requirement to
“obey” : “No female slave is obliged, for the sake of existence, to vow
obedience to all the despotic commands of a male slave...” (Ware, 1992: 103)
Given her familiarity with abolitionist discourses, Strickland was surely aware
of the emergence of these feminist ideas within and alongside abolitionist
rhetoric and organisations.
The metaphor of the fading blue stockings is also self-conscious and revealing.
The stockings suggest a connection between female sexuality and improper
female speech, such as the profession of writing and intellectual ambitions
alien to the conventional view of a gentlewoman. Misao Dean (1992) relates
this to the constant denial of authority and the cultivation of the stereotype of
feminine intellectual superficiality in Moodie’s autobiographical writing. The
change in colour of hose is, metaphorically speaking, a sign of selfsurveillance and discipline, a physical, bodily inscription of the changed status
to wife and, within a year, to motherhood with the birth of her daughter
Catherine. The following year’s emigration to Upper Canada completed Mrs
Moodie’s transformation to settler gentlewoman.
Other identifications emerge from this letter. A whole range of names have
been attributed to Mary Prince. We note in the Supplement to the History of
Mary Prince by the Editor (Pringle) that her last owner, Mr John Wood, refers
to her as “the woman Molly.” In the parliamentary petition (Appendix One),
“A Petition of Mary Prince or James, commonly called Molly Wood, was
presented...” Pringle himself, and the women at Claremont Square in their
testament, use the name Mary Prince. The title “Black Mary” (or “Mr Pringle’s
255
IJCS / RIÉC
black Mary” cited earlier) in Moodie’s letters is unprecedented, and almost
certainly restricted to her private correspondence.
In the bridal letter, Strickland appears in Mary Prince’s view as “her dear
Missie and Biographer.” The letter undoubtedly infers a close relationship and
mutual affection between the women, however, it should also be remarked that
a form of the title “Missie” appears in the History when Mary Prince refers to
Miss Betsey, the little girl for whom Mary Prince was purchased as a “pet”:
“She used to lead me about by the hand, and call me her little nigger. This was
the happiest period in my life; for I was too young to understand rightly my
condition as a slave...” (1986:47) Even in a very different time and place, the
title “Missie” carries connotations of possession and racial “other” similar to
“Mr Pringle’s black Mary.”
This also appears to be the only place where Moodie claims the title of
biographer for The History of Mary Prince. Ferguson speculates that Susannah
(sic) Strickland Moodie seems never to have mentioned the transcription
because: “[s]he simply may have wanted to keep her name out of the
controversy. On the other hand, it could indicate the extent to which the
narrative was indeed (Pringle’s disclaimers to the contrary) Mary Prince’s
own.” (1992: f/n 379) Of interest to us here is that these names circulate in a
letter in which Moodie is intensely aware of the shifts and oppositions in
identities concerning her new status and new name. Furthermore these
identities are all implicated with notions of appropriate gendered, racial and
class behaviours. Perhaps the disposal of copies of the two slave narratives she
transcribed marks the end of earlier pursuits, with new accomplishments to
emerge from the “pudding and dumpling discussions” of the next sentence.
She will learn to practice housewifery and speak the “mother tongue” quite
self-consciously.
Much more could be said about the relationship between Prince and
Strickland/Moodie, and their acquaintance at Claremont Square during the
height of the anti-slavery debates. Its interest for our purposes is to trigger a
stronger sense of how ideas about race and gender can coalesce to produce that
role of British gentlewoman which Moodie self-consciously begins to assume
in her letter. That Moodie would always occupy this position with
ambivalence allows us to see the contours of the role in her autobiographical
writing more clearly. That she had a hand in such different autobiographical
narratives as The History of Mary Prince and Roughing it in the Bush allows us
to locate discourses available to women autobiographers with an eye to very
precise historical and cultural contexts.
We need to question not only the “naturalness” of Moodie’s “mother tongue”
but also to remark that the mother tongue is entirely absent from Prince’s
History. We know that Prince married, but we know no details of her married
life or whether she had children. Ferguson suggests that Prince enciphers
motherhood obliquely and in association with violence. Although explicit
statements linking violence with sterilization would have made her text
unsuitable evangelical material, she infers that the floggings, kicking and
punching caused irreversible damage to her body:
256
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary”
On the other hand, Mary Prince tries to communicate an alternate
profile of her own domestic “fitness” (in all senses) in the absence of
motherhood. She takes pleasure in working as a nursemaid, in
visiting with her own mother, siblings and other children. Weightly
silence, as much as anything, speaks to the grim, damaging sexual
coercion of female slaves and her discursive power in
circumnavigating evangelical taboos. (Ferguson, 1992: 289)
Prince’s silence casts Moodie’s mother tongue into new relief, and displaces
any overarching construction of motherhood and maternity. It also alerts us to
consider carefully the conditions under which a maternal language appears in
women’s autobiographical writing, and how this language is coded. In the case
of Moodie and Prince, motherhood and domesticity need to be read not only in
terms of the individual life history but also the politics of marriage and
motherhood in the Empire.
The journey which Moodie began with Mary Prince as observer on the coach
box and continued as a new mother on the voyage to Upper Canada was
presented quite differently in 1909 by Cicely Hamilton in her first wave
feminist polemic Marriage as Trade. Throughout Hamilton’s brutally
rationalist discussion of marriage as trade in which the currency is women’s
bodies, we see the influence of imperialism upon her thinking about marriage.
The reproduction of British values and the British race depended on the
passage of the bridal ships; the close association of marriage, emigration and
motherhood was central to nineteenth-century British sexual politics.
In thinking about settler gentlewomen in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and
South Africa, we need to grasp precisely the location of this role in the imperial
organisation of gender and race. For it was in the settler colonies that
nineteenth-century pro-natalist discourses would assume particular
importance. The dissemination of British institutions and society depended
upon its emigrants. In colonies of occupation — India, West Africa, East
Africa — women were seen as wives, not mothers. They were expected to send
their children “Home” to school. However, in settlement colonies, the fertility
of European women and the welfare of mothers and children were vital to the
colonising project. This concern assumed different forms in the Empire
throughout the nineteenth century. The British Women’s Emigration
Association, for example, used marriage as one of its incentives to encourage
women to emigrate. They also stressed the opportunity to civilize the world
and secure British values in the settler colonies. As homemakers and as
mothers, white women helped to maintain and promote the Empire through the
daily and biological reproduction of the settler population. (Strobel, 1991: 46)
The uterus was singled out not only as the most important female organ, but the
most important organ of the Race. As one imperialist opined: “the uterus is to
the Race what the heart is to the individual.” (Gallagher & Laqueur, 1987: x)
Since the mid eighteenth century a large body of child rearing books targeted
the newly literate and largely bourgeois female audience and identified
women as managers of their children and of domestic space more generally.
Many books and periodicals directed at the mother and her particular problems
appeared in Britain in the 1830s — marriage and motherhood were to become
257
IJCS / RIÉC
women’s work and her total sexuality. (Allen, 1989: 228) This much is clear
from Moodie’s bridal letter, as we have seen. The cult of domesticity assumed
broader significance in the colonies overseas. The growth of the second British
Empire was such that the birth rate and the health of the British race at home
and abroad came to be seen as a matter of supreme national and imperial
importance. In 1858, Charles Kingsley argued that over-population was
impossible “in a country that has the greatest colonial empire that the world has
ever seen.” (Davin, 1978: 10) Kingsley believed that “since about four fifths of
the globe cannot be said to be as yet in any wise inhabited or cultivated,” “it
was a duty, one of the noblest of duties, to help the increase of the English race
as much as possible,” and he urged the members of the Ladies’ Sanitary
Association (whom he was addressing) to fight against infant mortality.
(Davin, 1978: 10) The fear was that if the British population did not expand
rapidly enough to fill the empty spaces of Empire, others would. The cohesion
of the Empire, and its control by the Mother Country, depended upon the
vigour, size and racial identification of the white population.
As the nineteenth century progressed, motherhood was given increasing
dignity and importance; it was the duty, destiny and reward of British women
to be mothers of an imperial race. The process of rearing racially and nationally
identified children assumed particular valency in the settler colonies;
discourses of maternalism characterise the writings of settler women from the
beginnings. Their gender and status as wife and mother were crucial to the
politics of imperialism. These very general comments demand almost
immediately how the precise formulations of white maternity occurred at
different sites and different times within the Empire, such as Upper Canada,
for example. The child at Moodie’s breast in her sketches, that fusion of
emigration and maternity, is crucial to our understanding of the historically
specific context of settler writings by and about women. Discourses of
imperialism and maternity coalesced to produce that collective identity of
emigrant gentlewoman which Moodie and her kind embodied and, through
their writings, reproduced — with varying degrees of success.
This approach takes us back to the Grosse Isle sketch with a sense of how “the
mother’s tongue” related to the reproduction of Englishness in settler colonies,
a feature of both political and personal significance. It reminds us of the
readership for these writings from the colonies in the years when the cult of
domesticity waxed strong. It suggests that in place of seeking a “body of a
woman” we seek to present women’s autobiographical writings in terms of
socially, culturally and historically specific locations. Post-colonial critics
may be politically unwise to court a corporeal feminism which pursues “an
underlying continuity of real women, above whose constant bodies aerial
descriptions dance.” (Riley, 1988: 6) The body is not above, or below, history.
There is no constant body, maternal or otherwise, beneath that volatile
collectivity of women mentioned earlier. Biology is always overlaid and
mediated by culture, and the ways in which women experience their own
bodies is largely a product of social and political processes.
By coming to the maternal body in Moodie’s sketches via Mary Prince, for
whom motherhood is associated with violence and estrangement, whose body
258
The Silent Scribe: Susanna and “Black Mary”
in represented in terms of race rather than gender, we confront the challenge
made by Vron Ware when she remarks that feminist scholarship rarely
perceives white femininity as an historically constructed concept. The
relationship between Strickland/Moodie and Prince is as fundamental a
revelation to our thinking about Moodie’s identity as the presence of the child
is for Freiwald’s interpretation of the sketches, or as the need to restore the
desiring body is for Buss’ reading. There is no simple binary opposition
between Susanna and “Black Mary,” rather a reminder that blackness and
whiteness are both gendered categories whose meanings are historically
derived. (Ware, 1992: xvii) In their role as wives, mothers and daughters in
settler cultures, white women have been and continue to be inextricably caught
in the web of colonising processes and relations. Ironically, they played a
crucial role in the propagation of cultures which cast them as subordinate even
whilst it required their labour. As post-colonial subjects, both pioneer and
emancipated slave, Susanna Moodie and Mary Prince, left texts which require
careful historical attention to how social constructions of femininity and of
race in the Empire are annealed upon autobiographical writings, glazing the
artifact with a deceptively natural effect.
Notes
Thanks to Professor Michael Peterman for locating material relevant to Prince in Moodie’s
correspondence.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the “Colonization and Women’s Texts”
seminar at the University of Calgary in 1992. I would like to thank Professor van Herk and
the University for their sponsorship.
Bibliography
Allen, Judith (1989), “From Women’s History to a History of the Sexes” in James Walter ed.,
Australian Studies. A Survey. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Ballstadt, Carl et. al., (1985) Susanna Moodie. Letters of a Lifetime. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press.
__________. (1971) “Susanna Moodie: Early Humanitarian Works,” Canadian Notes and
Queries, no. 8 (November 1971), pp. 9-10.
Buss, Helen (1993) Mapping Our Selves. Canadian Women’s Autobiography in English.
Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Davin, Anna (1978), “Imperialism and Motherhood,” History Workshop 5 (spring 1978), pp. 9-66.
Dean, Misao (1992), “Concealing her bluestockings: Femininity and Self-Representation in
Susanna Moodie’s autobiographical works” in Gillian Whitlock & Helen Tiffin, eds., ReSiting Queen’s English. Text and Tradition in Post- Colonial Literatures. Amsterdam:
Rodopi.
Ferguson, Moira (1992), Subject to Others. British Women Writers and Colonial Slavery, 16701834. London: Routledge.
__________. ed (1986) The History of Mary Prince A West Indian Slave. Related By Herself.
London: Pandora.
Freiwald, Bina (1989), “`The tongue of woman’: The Language of the Self in Moodie’s Roughing
it in the Bush” in Lorraine McMullen ed., Re(Dis)covering Our Foremothers. Ottawa:
University of Ottawa Press.
Gallagher, Catherine & Laqueur, Thomas. The Making of the Modern Body. Sexuality and Society
in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Hamilton, Cicely (1984), Marriage as a Trade. London: The Women’s Press.
Riley, Denise (1988), “Am I That Name?” London: Macmillan.
Ware, Vron (1992), Beyond the Pale. White Women, Racism and History. London: Verso.
259
Coomi S. Vevaina
Black, Woman, “Righter” and
the Anguish of English
Abstract
The process of reading is an integral part of the process of writing. The first
section of the paper briefly deals with my personal response to Canadian
Black women writers in light of my own cultural history. The rest of the text
examines the relationship between Black women writers and Canadian
society, and illustrates Canada’s “flirtation” with multiculturalism. It
discusses the doubly oppressed condition of Black women in Canadian
society, and emphasizes that their writers are in fact “righters” for they see
their work as a legitimate way of participating in the struggle for a better
society. By writing from a proactive rather than a reactive position, most Black
women writers refuse to respond to the agenda of their colonizers. Since
language creates identity, their quest for Black authentication starts with
language. These writers attempt to decolonize English and make the language
truly theirs. The final section illustrates some of the postmodern techniques
used by Black women writers to subvert and deconstruct the master discourse.
By writing the body and the mother-daughter relationship into existence and
by refusing to feel at all constrained by the rules that govern language, poetic
diction and style, these writers lead both their own people and their colonizers
along the spiritual path of healing and change.
Résumé
L’acte de lire fait partie intégrante de l’acte d’écrire. La première partie de cet
article constitue une brève réaction aux écrivaines canadiennes de race noire
à la lumière de ma propre culture et de mon propre passé. La deuxième partie
examine la relation entre les écrivaines de race noire et la société canadienne,
et illustre le « flirt » du Canada avec le multiculturalisme. Elle traite de la
condition des femmes de race noire qui sont doublement opprimées et souligne
l’engagement de leurs écrivaines qui considèrent leur travail comme une
façon légitime de participer à lutte pour une société meilleure. En adoptant
une écriture plutôt « proactive » que « réactive », la plupart des écrivaines de
race noire refuse de participer au projet du colonisateur. Puisqu’elle
engendre l’identité, la langue constitue le point de départ de leur quête en vue
d’établir leur authenticité en tant que femmes de race noire. Ces écrivaines
essaient de décoloniser la langue anglaise et de rendre celle-ci la leur. La
dernière partie donne des exemples de techniques postmodernes utilisées par
les écrivaines de race noire afin de subvertir et de déconstruire le discours du
colonisateur. En écrivant et en engendrant le corps et la relation mère-fille et
en refusant de se sentir contrainte par les règles qui gouvernent la langue, le
langage poétique et le style, ces écrivaines mènent leur race et les
colonisateurs vers la guérison et le changement.
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS / RIÉC
___________________
If no one listens and cries
is it still poetry.
M. Nourbese Philip
Frontiers
All texts, particularly those which employ postmodern techniques,
deliberately foreground the role of the reader in the construction of meaning. In
her article “An End to Audience,” Margaret Atwood underlines the dynamic
relationship between reader and text with the words: “It is my contention that
the process of reading is part of the process of writing, the necessary
completion without which writing can hardly be said to exist.” (345) This
recognition “displaces the concepts of writerly authority and absolute meaning
in favour of a more open and pluralistic approach to the availability of fiction”
and gives rise to an “endless process of revisionary readings.” (Howells 53-54)
What follows is my personal response as a reader in India to the works of Black
women writers in Canada.
Why my fascination with Black, First Nations and other diasporic writers? Is it
merely an outcome of a deconstructionist fascination with the “Other,” a
liberal humanist sentiment of the “feel-so-sorry-for-them” kind or a
voyeuristic delight in witnessing the pain of others. As a woman in India
(where one more ugly monster, casteism, joins the unholy trinity of racism,
sexism and classism) belonging to a minority group, the Parsis, the complexity
of my situation defies an easy answer to these questions.
Historically, my people fled from our “motherland,” Persia (now Iran), to
escape persecution by the Muslims. Jadav Rana, the ruler of Sanjan (a small
village on the west coast in the province of Gujarat) granted us asylum on the
condition that we live peaceably. So thankful were my people for this favour
that, besides living peacefully, they also appropriated several of the cultural
practices of the Hindus. The Raj changed things dramatically. Wedded to their
insidious divide and rule policy, the British Empire builders created in us a
“fairer-therefore- better-than-most-Indians” complex which alienated us from
our countrymen. Though many intellectuals resisted it, and some even joined
the independence movement against the British, most Parsis swallowed this
“untruth” and savoured the preferential treatment meted out to them by their
colonizers. The post-independence years, however, left us confused and
bereft, wondering how our “Mai-baaps” (parents) could have left us. While
many emigrated to BETTER lands, those who remained in India once again
tried to integrate by developing survival strategies. One such strategy was a
sense that though we are definitely superior to others (on account of our British
life-style, our British accents and our passion for Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt and
Chopin), we can laugh at ourselves and do not mind others laughing at us.
Clowning for survival!
Uncle Sam’s forays into Indian culture via Michael Jackson and the Star TV
with programs like “Santa Barbara,” “The Bold & The Beautiful” and “Dallas”
262
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
have made it possible for us to once again breathe more freely. The young and
the not-so-young in India now want to look and live like those bold and
beautiful white people “out there.” The general, unexpressed feeling among
the Parsis now is: at last Indians (many even refer to themselves as “Persians”
or just “foreigners”) have learned the only true way to really live. Blissfully
unconscious of our “colonial cringe” which estranges us from our ethnicity,
our numerically dwindling community continues to survive in this (American)
global village. Where are our creative writers? Why aren’t writers like
Rohinton Mistry, Saros Cowasjee and Bapsy Sidhwa able to lead us into the
future by taking us back into our past?1 Which past? What past? Are they, too,
as lost as we are? “What shall we do tomorrow? What shall we ever do?” (T. S.
Eliot)
Teetering on the brink of despair, postcolonial writing seems to offer hope of a
better future. Creative texts by First Nations women and diasporic women
writers in Canada, chiefly Blacks and South Asians, create a sense that though
the situation is grim, all is not lost. It would be silly and naive of me to claim to
fully understand these writers across thousands of miles of land and sea. And
yet, a few glimpses into their way of “becoming” prompts me to search for a
better tomorrow. They have touched me, I have grown.
* * * *
“I wish you wouldn’t squeeze so,” said the Dormouse, who was sitting
next to her.
“I can hardly breathe.”
“I can’t help it,” said Alice very meekly: “I’m growing.”
“You’ve no right to grow here,” said the Dormouse.
. . . And he got up very sulkily and crossed over to the other side of
the court.
Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Though Canada smilingly tells the world about her “happy multicultural
family,” like the Dormouse in the above quote, she tells her indigenous peoples
and all immigrants, particularly those of colour, “You’ve no right to grow
here.” By virtue of their complexion, Blacks (most of them from the Caribbean
islands) appear to differ more sharply from the dominant white Anglophone
and Francophone cultures than any of the other immigrant groups. In her
article, “Poets in Limbo,” Claire Harris writes that, after two hundred years in
Canada, Blacks as a group are still seen as newcomers and that their
marginalization is an outcome of “a blatant ethnocentricity [which] condemns
people of colour to the sidelines: eternal immigrants forever poised on the
verge of not belonging.” (115) Dionne Brand very poignantly states this
feeling when she says that in Canada Blacks are regarded as “the thin / mixture
of just come and don’t exist.” (NLN2 29) The sense of exile generated by this
attitude is clearly articulated in another short poem by Brand:
263
IJCS / RIÉC
I am not a refugee
I have my papers,
I was born in the Caribbean,
practically in the sea,
fifteen degrees above the equator,
I have a canadian passport,
I have lived here all my adult life,
I am stateless anyway. (CHS 70)
Though keenly aware of their Otherness, Blacks cannot go back to their
African ways for colonialism and imperialism, as Nourbese Philip says,
“exiled Africans from their ethnicity and all its expressions — language,
religion, education, music, patterns of family relations — into the pale and
beyond, into the nether nether land of race.” (Frontiers 10) Black women fare
worse than Black men for they are victims of both racism and sexism. Philip
writes: “Woman as Other constitutes one of the building blocks of the
patriarchy; Black as Other one of the building blocks of racist ideologies.”
(“Disappearing Debate” 211) Their doubly oppressed position is neither
completely understood by their own men nor by white feminists. Like other
women of colour, Black women feel that feminism must be contextualized;
one cannot assume a commonality among the interests and objectives of all
women.
Those who profess allegiance to art for art’s sake, screw up their noses at the
very thought of functional art. Most serious writers, however, feel that our
rapidly shrinking yet increasingly threatened world obliges writers to create
social and political awareness among their readers and not indulge in aesthetic
refinements and sterile intellectual pursuits unrelated to their people’s
concerns and aspirations. Believing that their works respond to the collective,
historical needs of their people, most would agree with Chinua Achebe that
“Art for art’s sake in just another piece of deodorized dog-shit.” (19) In “Le
Poète noir et son peuple,” Jacques Rabemananjara says that besides being the
voice and messenger of his people, a poet is also their message. (qtd. in Minhha 13) No self-respecting writer can possibly witness the pain of her/his people
from a distance by adopting “the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a
spectacle, a sea of griefs is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing
bear.” (Césaire 62) Moreover, deep within themselves, writers know that
besides saving the lives of their people, the life they save is also their own. Like
Toni Cade Bambara, the creators of “art for survival” and their audience grow
to appreciate that writing “is a perfectly legitimate way to participate in
struggle.” (qtd. in Minh-ha 10) By focusing on the poems of Nourbese Philip,
Claire Harris and Dionne Brand, this paper aims to demonstrate the manner in
which the Black woman writer also emerges as a Black woman “righter.”
Does this mean that writers from oppressed groups only produce
confrontational writing subject to the label “protest literature”? Lillian Allen’s
poem “I FIGHT BACK” is a good illustration of serious confrontational
writing. However, there is a danger inherent in such writing, for by writing
from a reactive position, one is responding to “someone else’s agenda.”
(Philip, Frontiers 67) In “Why the United States,” Julia Kristeva perceptively
remarks: “[As] everyone knows every negation is a definition. An `opposing’
264
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
position is therefore determined by what is being opposed. And in this way we
arrive at two antithetical systems which internalize and reflect one another’s
qualities.” (qtd. in Philip, Frontiers 63) Nourbese Philip urges writers to
transform negation into affirmation and reaction into initial statement by
seeing themselves “[a]s centre, not Other” (Frontiers 69) and by
reconstructing their identities, piece by piece, in their own images. (Frontiers
65) Writing from precisely this position, Philip says, “I consciously try to
remember what did not happen to me personally, but which accounts for my
being here today: to defy a culture that wishes to forget; to rewrite a history that
at best forgot and omitted, at worst lied; to seek psychic reparations; to honour
those who went before; to grieve for that which was irrevocably lost (language,
religion, culture), and those for whom no one grieved; to avoid having to start
over again (as many oppressed groups have had to do); to `save ourselves.’”
(Frontiers 56) Claire Harris, too, seems to pin her faith in proactive rather than
reactive literature. During an interview with Janice Williamson, she says, “I
want my writing to rehabilitate the Black person, her beauty, her smile, her
walk, her genius... his too. I also want to explore the reality of Canadian
society... which I must free to include me.” (122)
Since language creates identity, the quest for Black authentication must start
with language. It is a well-known historical fact that, like Philomela of
classical mythology, oppressed groups have had “their tongues wrenched from
their mouths.” (Armstrong 29) In other words, their mother tongues have been
inferiorized to such an extent that they have been “shamed into silence and
disuse.” (Johnston 15) The mother tongue is of immense value for, as Daphne
Marlatt writes, language is “both place (where we are situated) and body (that
contains us), that body of language we speak, our mother tongue. It bears us as
we are born in it, into cognition.” (223) The suppression of the mother tongue
by the colonizing master tongue results in a profound sense of alienation and
lost identity. Interestingly, though colonizers themselves, the French
Canadians are very sensitive to the inferiorization of their language by the
English Canadians. In Color Of Her Speech, Lola Lemire Tostevin writes:
4 words french
1 word english
slow seepage
slow seepage
3 words french
2 words english
rattling off
or running at the mouth
2 words french
3 words english
speak white
or as Buber writes
you have abstracted from me
the color of my hair
the color of my speech
265
IJCS / RIÉC
1 word french
4 words english
`tu déparles’
my mother says
je déparle
yes
I unspeak.
The moment the colonized “unspeak,” their colonizers begin regarding them
as “culturally disadvantaged” and rush to graft on them labels of their choice.
Lashing out against this attitude of the colonizer, Nourbese Philip says in her
powerful poem “What’s in a name”:
I always thought I was Negro
till I was Coloured
West Indian, till I was told
that Columbus was wrong
in thinking he was west of India —
that made me Caribbean.
And throughout the o’60’s, o’70’s and o’80’s,
I was sure I was Black.
Now Black is passe,
African de rigueur,
and me, a chameleon of labels. (Salmon Courage 28)
Despite the many differences among coloured feminists based on their race
and ethnicity, most feel very uncomfortable with English because it is the
language of their colonizers. Myrna Kostash, who is of Ukrainian descent,
refers to English as her “Sister Tongue,” (62) and Métis writer Emma
LaRocque feels that “the enemy’s language” (which is the term Joy Harjo uses
for English) has to be transformed dramatically before it is used. In her preface
to Writing the Circle, LaRocque says: “To a Native woman, English is like an
ideological onion whose stinging layers of racism and sexism must be peeled
away before it can be fully enjoyed.” (xx) Black writers also feel the need to
decolonize the English language. Their situation is further complicated:
besides being the language of their colonizers, English is also their mother
tongue. In the Caribbean Islands, the upper and educated middle-class speak in
standard English while a variant of English, which Philip calls the Caribbean
demotic, is spoken by the people in the street. The demotic has always been
dismissed as “bad English” or “patois.” In Philip’s “The Question of Language
is the Answer to Power,” the speakers of standard English dismiss the demotic
as:
this chattel language
babu english
slave idiom
nigger vernacular
coolie pidgin
wog pronunciation. (STHT 73)
It is important to note that though the demotic is more vibrant and less
Eurocentric in its tonal and rhythmic aspects than standard English, it is no less
266
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
patriarchal. Of what use is it, then, to Black women writers? Despite its
limitations, Nourbese Philip uses the demotic which she believes is the only
way to capture the cadenced speech of the ordinary person in the Caribbean.
Moreover, the demotic reflects a cross-fertilization of cultural influences for it
is “as much the linguistic descendent of Africa as of England.” (Frontiers 18)
Like Philip, Lillian Allen, in poems like “Marriage,” also makes skillful use of
the dialect but, as Claire Harris points out, dialect carries its own difficulties.
(“Poets” 121) The problem, according to her, is one of audience. The
Trinidadian dialect for instance, is “secret, witty, vivid, inventive” but to a
white audience it is likely to appear as “simply sloppy speech.” (Harris,
“Poets” 121) The choice of language, however, is more than a choice of
audience; it affects “the choice of subject matter, the rhythms of thought
patterns, and the tension within the work. It is also a choice resonant with
historical and political realities and possibilities.” (Philip, Frontiers 37) For
European-educated writers like Philip, Harris, Brand and Allen, the choice
between the mother tongue and the dialect involves much anguish. In her
excellently-crafted poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” Philip refers
to English as both her mother tongue and her father tongue. She has problems
accepting it as her mother tongue for:
A mother tongue is not
not a foreign lan lan lang
language
l/anguish
anguish
— a foreign anguish. (STHT 56)
She then decides to regard it as her father tongue:
A father tongue is
a foreign language,
therefore English is
a foreign language
not a mother tongue. (56)
Deprived of her mother tongue she must:
... therefore be tongue
dumb
dumb-tongued
dub-tongued
damn dumb
tongue. (56)
Groping for a new language which would emerge phoenix-like out of the ashes
of loss and silence, she cries out:
tongue mother
tongue me
mothertongue me
mother me
touch me
with the tongue of your
lan lan lang
language. (58)
267
IJCS / RIÉC
During a conversation with Barbara Carey, Philip says that “working in
English, is like coming to terms with an abusive parent.” (19) For her, the
struggle with language involves “coming to terms with this mother/father
tongue that I love, but that has meant so much pain for me and my people.”
(Carey 19) In Drawing Down A Daughter, Harris’ poet-narrator tells her
unborn girl child:
Daughter there is no language
i can offer you
no corner that is
yours unsullied
you inherit the intransitive
case Anglo-Saxon noun. (24)
Cautioning her child further, she says:
Child all i have to give
is English which hates/fears your
black skin. (25)
Despite this bitter truth, she advises her child to decolonize language and use it
as she would her mother tongue:
make it
d
a c
n e
s
i g
to sunlight on the Caribbean. (25)
This movement beyond the grief of being Othered to a celebration of
Otherness fits in perfectly with the proactive agenda of Black women writers.
*
*
*
*
Finding a voice, searching for words and sentences: say some thing,
one thing, or no thing; tie/untie, read/unread, discard their forms;
scrutinize the grammatical habits of your writing and decide for
yourself whether they free or repress. Again, order(s). Shake syntax,
smash the myths, and if you lose, slide on, unearth some new
linguistic paths.
— Trinh T. Minh-ha
Woman, Native Other
In present times, any label that ends in “ism” is frowned upon for, as Toril Moi
points out, labels always carry with them the “phallocentric drive to stabilize,
organize and rationalize our conceptual universe.” (qtd. in Tong 223) The
interesting thing about Black women writers in Canada is that they employ
such a wide variety of styles, tones and techniques that they stubbornly defy
unitary categorization. The only sure thing the reader can say is that, realizing
that “systems of discourse are often synonymous with systems of power”
(Garrett-Petts 83), Black women writers use a variety of postmodern
techniques to subvert and deconstruct the colonizer’s discourse. The politics of
268
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
language and the role of language in society is therefore their primary focus.
Through their writing, they illuminate the latent contradictions in seemingly
coherent systems of thought, indicating possibilities in nothingness, absence,
marginalization and repression, and they celebrate plurality and difference. In
doing so they prompt their readers to “reinterpret the whole relationship
between the subject and discourse, the subject and the world, the subject and
the cosmic, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic.” (Irigaray 119)
Unlike Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva refuse to differentiate between
masculine writing (literatur) and feminine writing (l’écriture féminine) on the
basis of the writer’s gender. Both refuse to collapse language into biology for
they rightly believe that men are able to write in the feminine mode and women
in the masculine mode, depending on whether their thinking is rooted in the
Symbolic or the semiotic order. In other words, the feminine as a position in
discourse is not the exclusive preserve of women. Explaining Kristeva’s views
on the differences between writing grounded in the Symbolic Order and that in
the semiotic order, Rosemarie Tong writes: “[w]hereas time in the semiotic is
cyclical (repetitive) and monumental (eternal), time in the Symbolic Order is
the time of history — linear or sequential time pointed toward a goal. Thus, the
kind of writing that is linear, rational, or objective and has normal syntax is
repressed, whereas the kind of writing that emphasizes rhythm, sound and
colour and that permits breaks in syntax and grammar is fundamentally
unrepressed.” (231) Writers like Nourbese Philip, Claire Harris and Dionne
Brand often find their writing emerging from the unrepressed, pre-Oedipal,
semiotic order. By rejecting what Barthes regards as the “stickiness” of
“encratic” (40) language (language produced and spread under the protection
of power) and essentialism of any kind, these writers combat their erasure and
“write to become.”
In “The body as audience and performance in the writing of Alice Munro,” in A
Mazing Space, Smaro Kamboureli perceptively notes that “the feminine body
has been defined by opposition: it has been seen as a subject that ought to
perceive itself as an object. Its sexual difference has been turned against it. It
has been transferred to another grammatical level, that of the passive voice.
For it is acted upon, spoken about.” (32) The female body must therefore be
redefined. Lacan speculated that to know women one would have to begin at
the level of feminine sexual pleasure or “jouissance.” Cixous and Irigaray also
insist on the need to “write the body.” Irigaray points out that man regards
woman as his reflection in every way except in her sexuality. Since female
sexuality does not mirror the male’s, it is seen as an absence. The absence must
be converted into a presence through body-centered language. Trapped within
“the/blood-stained blind of race and sex” (NLN 29), women of colour need to
validate not only their female selves but their coloured female selves. Philip
says that by foregrounding the Black female body in her works, she hopes to
make her readers stop seeing Black women as either highly-sexed and
castrating or matriarchal and asexual. In Drawing Down A Daughter, some of
Harris’ poems visually reproduce the pregnant belly of a woman. Dionne
Brand’s poems also celebrate the Black female body. Being a lesbian,
however, she says she experiences “the full rain of lesbian hate” (“Bread” 51)
from men and women, both black and white. Her sense of alienation caused by
269
IJCS / RIÉC
her triple oppression as Black, lesbian and a woman, emerges powerfully in
“Amelia continued...” where the narrator says:
of late I am called a mule
not for my hard headedness
but for my abstentious womb. (CHS 28)
Her condition is caused by the fact that women who do not need men are not
taken seriously; “(even male revolutionaries refuse to radicalize their/balls).”
(CHS 21) The narrator knows that poems expressive of lesbian love are
regarded as aberrations for she tells her lesbian lover:
This is you girl, this is the poem no woman
ever wrote for a woman because she ’fraid to touch. (NLN 7)
Brand’s narrator in No Language Is Neutral also indulges in autoerotic
practice as a means of regaining contact with her body from which she is
alienated. She says she has become “herself” only after:
... I saw my own body, that
is, my eyes followed me to myself, touched myself
as a place, another life, terra. (51)
Luce Irigaray opines that by engaging in lesbian and autoerotic practices
which explore the multifaceted terrain of the female body, women blow the
phallus over. This seems very likely for women like Brand’s narrator seem to
be telling men: “Thanks but we don’t need you.”
Could the celebration of the female body be regarded as “biological
essentialism,” “female self-aggrandizement” or plain “female neurosis”?
While wishing to avoid reductionist arguments and body-centered theories,
Philip considers it necessary to talk about the body because in all cultures
women’s bodies “have achieved a universal negative significance; bodies
which have become palimpsests upon which men have inscribed and
reinscribed their texts.” (Frontiers 44) Theorist Trinh T. Minh-ha asks ethnic
feminists in particular to write the body for “`writing the body’ is that abstractconcrete, personal-political realm of excess not fully contained by writing’s
unifying structural forces.” (44) It is “a way of making theory in gender, of
making a theory a politics of everyday life, thereby rewriting the ethnic female
subject as a site of differences.” (Minh-ha 44)
Patriarchy frowns upon female bonding of any kind because it decentres the
male. Referring specifically to the mother-daughter relationship, Signe
Hammer says: “In Western cultural tradition women are regarded and
portrayed in terms of their relationships with men... Most of what passes
between mother and daughter falls outside the acknowledged social context...
This has a paradoxical effect of making the mother-daughter relationship an
`underground’ one, whose emotional power and importance may be increased
precisely because it is underground.” (qtd. in Buss 32) Most feminists wish to
unleash the power of mother-daughter relationships in their works. Nourbese
Philip’s poem “Questions! Questions” is an excellent example of a mother’s
desire for a reunion with her lost daughter. In “Adoption Bureau,” the daughter
seeks a reunion with her mother. For “Afrosporic” people, the search for the
mother is also a search for their original motherland, Africa. Though the
270
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
rhythms in both these poems are recognizably African, the mother’s poem is
written in the Caribbean demotic while that of the daughter is in standard
English to indicate her loss. In “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” Philip
emphasizes the marginalized position of the mother-daughter relationship in
patriarchy by arranging their story in the left margin, turned away from the
main text. Philip says that someone commented to her that while reading the
central texts the woman’s story is unreadable and vice versa. According to
Philip herself, this is a comment on “how Black women and all women, have
been positioned in society: there is a gap between the main text and the
woman’s story, and to read the woman’s story you have to make an effort — a
physical effort.” (Carey 20) Despite this fact, we understand that the motherdaughter relationship is important because the entire text appears in capital
letters.
In “A Grammar of the Heart,” Harris’ narrator tries to understand her mother
who “loved,” “married” and “buried.” Being a simple woman,
she mothered
she cooked
she taught
she baked
she nursed
she danced and played and fussed over bruises
and laughed and prayed
and loved
and read. (CW 57)
In spite of all this, the narrator remembers her mother as an extremely silent
woman. She feels that language was not external to her mother for she seemed
to have “absorbed/the word into her blood.” (CW 52) Her mother’s dynamic
and sensuous relationship with language is beautifully illustrated in the
following lines:
As earth lives the bodies of the dead
she
lived language at first she examined each word
skin peeled back green flesh squeezed between
thumb and forefinger
till she tasted sentences
rolled them in her curious mouth
swirled them
around the sides and back of her tongue
waited
for the aftertaste thin sound grew in her as
if she hummed as if humming she sang. (CW 52)
Her mother has made the language her own. This is also perhaps the
unexpressed desire of the poet-daughter-narrator. In Drawing Down A
Daughter, the poet-mother-narrator bonds easily with her unborn girl child.
While preparing her daughter for the racist atmosphere in Canada, she hopes
that her child will have the courage of her ancestors and “gut knowledge of her
own worth.” (70) Like Philip and Harris, Brand celebrates the matrilineal
heritage; but in her works, it figures as:
...the gourd and bucket carrying women who stroke their breasts into
stone shedding offspring and smile. (NLN 48)
271
IJCS / RIÉC
Brand says that she loves old women and regards them as “inviolable” (NLN
50) for being free of the lusty gaze of men. In “Blues Spiritual for Mammy
Prater” (NLN 17-19) the bond between Mammy Prater, a slave, and her
present-day spiritual daughters is brought out in an extremely nuanced
manner.
Is it right to talk about one’s own past (and for that matter, one’s matrilineal
past) in poetry using the first person pronoun “I”? Must not poets strive to
achieve objectivity by removing their poems from the morass of history and
personal clutter to enable anyone, anywhere in the world to identify with them
and understand them? Those who write from the semiotic level answer these
questions with an emphatic “No”; they do not see the separation between the
present self and the past self or between the self and the word as true of any
integrated person. History “must” be remembered for one’s own spiritual
survival. Thus, in “Discourse on the Logic of Language,” historical edicts
(recommending the removal of the tongues of those slaves who spoke in their
native language) are printed along the right margin. Philip believes that
memory has “a potentially kinetic quality” (Frontiers 20) which impels one to
action. Likewise, the word cannot be separated from the self: it is impossible to
erase oneself in writing while claiming to be the author. Those writers who
aspire to the kind of objectivity favoured by T. S. Eliot often write in a genderneutral voice. Irigaray strongly opposes the idea of trying to create a genderneutral voice. She wants women “to speak in the active voice, avoiding at all
costs the false security and ultimate inauthenticity, of the passive voice.”
(Tong 228) Brand is so completely aligned with Irigaray’s view, that the title of
one of her books of poems is No Language Is Neutral. Ideally, writers should
avoid the twin evils of “navel-gazing” (making a fetish of one’s own culture
and oneself) and “navel-erasing” (losing one’s identity in the text).
Like Native women authors in Canada, Black women writers make their works
echo their powerful oral traditions, thereby refusing the opposition of the oral
word and the written word. In Drawing Down A Daughter, Harris moves
towards the oral African tradition by experimenting with the dialect form, like
Nourbese Philip in most of her poems. Moreover, by casting a poem in story
sequence in Drawing Down A Daughter, Harris even breaks down the
traditional boundaries between prose and poetry. Hélène Cixous asks women
to write freely without feeling constrained by the rules that govern language.
The English language is known for many things but not for its logic. There is
irony inherent in Philip’s title “Discourse on the Logic of Language.” In the
same poem, her search for her Black female self causes her to subvert the poem
itself. Instead of a text centered on a page with clear margins on either side, her
poem sprawls across the page, spills over to both the margins and is repeatedly
interrupted by the voice of patriarchy. Likewise, Harris’ poem “Of Iron, Bars
And Cages” (CW 43) has a central text in ordinary type and texts on either side
of the page in italics, while in “To Dissipate Grief,” (CW 34-36) two poems are
printed adjacent to each other to reflect the narrator’s divided consciousness.
Poems framed by postcards blur the boundary between art and objects of
obvious utility (like postcards) by indicating that they both have a message to
convey. In direct defiance of traditional notions of the subject matter fit for
“good” poetry, Brand writes in “Anti-Poetry”:
272
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
Its hell to find pretty words
to describe shit, let me tell you,
I may get beaten up and left for dead
any moment, or more insultingly to the point,
ignored. (CHS 32)
Deeply humiliated and angered by the shabby treatment meted out to poets of
colour in Canada, she writes in the same poem:
It’s hell to keep a crowd waiting
for words to describe their insanity
(let me tell you).
those thin cigarette-smoking white guys
who are poets
only shit their pants in discreet toilets
they don’t feel the crowd eating their faces
I have to hustle poems between dancers and the
drummers
insanity has to be put to dance music. (30)
Brand and the other Black writers believe that nothing is too emotional or too
personal to be made into a poem.
Though writers such as these seem to be “disturbing the peace,” what they are
in fact doing is leading their people along the political and spiritual path to
healing and change. Their search for Black authentication through language
makes their works vital to their own people. Importantly, their works are also
meant for their colonizers for those who colonize others cannot themselves be
truly free. Canada, for her own good, needs to heed the dissenting voices of
diasporic writers from the margins. (Philip prefers the word “frontiers” to
“margins” as it suggests “emergent energies” and experiences.) Painful though
the realization may be, Canada is not the “international do-gooder” (Philip,
Frontiers 145) she pretends to be; her record on civil rights issues is anything
but pristine. During an interview with Alan Twigg, Atwood refers to Canada as
“quite a fascist place” (222) due to the War Measures Act, the RCMP opening
the mail, the shameful way in which Natives have been treated and the
internment and unspeakable suffering of citizens of Japanese origin during
World War II, to name only a few. Racist sentiments are so much a part of the
white psyche that even one of the icons of liberal humanism and president of
PEN (Canada), June Callwood, can say “Fuck Off” three times (and not
apologize subsequently) to writers and activists of colour for peacefully
leafletting against racism in the Canadian publishing system. (Frontiers 139)
Racist feelings will die hard but die they must to make this world a saner and
safer place for our children and for the generations to come.
Notes
1.
2.
Rohinton Mistry and Saros Cowasjee have emigrated to Canada from India and Bapsy
Sidhwa has moved from Lahore in Pakistan to the United States of America.
Abbreviations in this paper.
CHS Dionne Brand Chronicles Of The Hostile Sun
NLN Dionne Brand No Language Is Neutral
273
IJCS / RIÉC
CW Claire Harris The Conception of Winter
STHT Marlene Nourbese Philip She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks
Bibliography
Achebe, Chinua. “Africa and her Writers.” Morning Yet on Creation Day. London: Heinemann,
1975.
Armstrong, Jeannette. “Words.” Telling It: Women And Language Across Culture. Ed. Sky Lee,
Lee Maracle, Daphne Marlatt and Betsy Warland. Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1990.
23-29.
Atwood, Margaret. “An End to Audience.” Second Words. Toronto: House of Anansi, 1982, 334357.
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Trans. R. Miller. New York: Hill & Wang, 1975.
Brand, Dionne. Chronicles Of The Hostile Sun. Toronto: William-Wallace, 1984.
__________. “Bread Out of Stone.” Language In Her Eye: Views on Writing and Gender by
Canadian Women Writing in English. Ed. Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor
Wachtell. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990, 45-53.
__________. No Language Is Neutral. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990.
Buss, Helen. Mother and Daughter Relationships in the Manawaka Works of Margaret Laurence.
No. 34. ELS Monograph Series. Victoria: University of Victoria, 1985.
Carey, Barbara.. “Secrecy And Silence.” Interview with Marlene Nourbese Philip. Books in
Canada (Sept. 1991): 17-21.
Césaire, Aimé. Return to My Native Land. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1971.
Garrett-Petts, W. F. “Reading, Writing, and the Postmodern Condition: Interpreting Margaret
Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” Open Letter. Seventh Series, No. 1 (Spring 1988): 74-92.
Harris, Claire. “Poets in Limbo.” A Mazing Space: Writing Canadian Women Writing. Ed. Shirley
Neuman and Smaro Kamboureli. Edmonton: Longspoon/NeWest Press, 1986, 115-125.
__________. The Conception of Winter. Stratford, Ontario: William Wallace, 1989.
__________. “Ole Talk: A Sketch.” Language In Her Eye: Views on Writing and Gender by
Canadian Women Writing in English. Ed. Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor
Wachtell. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990, 131-141.
__________. Drawing Down A Daughter. Fredericton, New Brunswick: Goose Lane, 1992.
Howells, Coral Ann. “Margaret Atwood: Bodily Harm, The Handmaid’s Tale.” Private And
Fictional Words: Canadian Women Novelists of the 1970s and 1980s. London: Methuen,
1987, 53-70.
Irigaray, Luce. French Feminist Thought: A Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
Basil Blackwell (1987) 1990, 118-130.
Johnston, Basil. “One Generation From Extinction.” Canadian Literature. No. 124-125 (1990):
10-15.
Kamboureli, Smaro. “The body as audience and performance in the writing of Alice Munro.” A
Mazing Space: Writing Canadian Women Writing. Ed. Shirley Neuman and Smaro
Kamboureli. Edmonton: Longspoon/NeWest Press, 1986, 31-38.
Kostash, Myrna. “Ethnicity and Feminism.” In the feminine: women and words/les femmes et les
mots. Ed. Ann Dybikowski, Victoria Freeman, Daphne Marlatt, Barbara Pulling and Betsy
Warland. Edmonton: Longspoon Press, 1985, 60-62.
LaRocque, Emma. “Preface or Here Are Our Voices; Who Will Hear?” Writing The Circle:
Native Women of Western Canada. Ed. Jeanne Perrault and Sylvia Vance. Edmonton:
NeWest Publishers, 1990, xv-xxx.
Marlatt, Daphne. “Musing With Mothertongue.” Gynocritics: Feminist Approaches to Canadian
and Quebec Women’s Writing. Ed. Barbara Godard. Toronto: ECW Press, 1987, 223-226.
Minh-ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1989.
Philip, Marlene Nourbese. She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks. Charlottetown:
Ragweed Press, 1989.
__________. “The Disappearing Debate.” Language In Her Eye: Views on Writing and Gender by
Canadian Women Writing in English. Ed. Libby Scheier, Sarah Sheard and Eleanor
Wachtell. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990, 209-219.
__________. Frontiers: Essays and Writings on Racism and Culture. Stratford, Ontario: Mercury
Press, 1992.
Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Routeledge (1989)
1992.
Twigg, Alan. “What To Write.” Interview with Margaret Atwood. For Openers: Conversations
With Canadian Writers. British Columbia: Harbour Press, 1981, 219-230.
Williamson, Janice. Sounding Differences: Conversations With Seventeen Canadian Women
Writers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993. Interview with Claire Harris “I dream
274
Black, Woman, “Righter” and the Anguish of English
of a new naming,” 115-130, and interview with Marlene Nourbese Philip “writing a memory
of losing that place,” 226-244.
275
Christina Strobel
Reconsidering Conventions:
Fictions of the Lesbian
“Any lesbian is unbearable because she deceives, offends, or
invalidates patriarchal sense. She defies common sense. She can make
you crazy with happiness, or mad with horror.”
(Nicole Brossard)
Abstract
Canadian society offers the naturalized convention of gender as a category to
order both the sex/gender system and the interrelated organization of
sexuality. This paper gives a brief overview of various strategies used to deal
with hegemonic constructions of sex/uality in fictional writing, particularly in
the representations of lesbians and lesbianism. These strategies are 1) writing
the lesbian into existence; 2) showing how institutions work (or denaturalizing them as conventions); 3) using humour and satire as a weapon;
and 4) creating utopian visions.
Résumé
La société canadienne classe par catégories la convention naturalisée du
genre afin d’ordonner le système du genre/sexe et l’organisation complexe de
la sexualité. Le présent article donne un bref aperçu des différentes stratégies
qui sont utilisées en réaction aux constructions dominantes de la sex/ualité
dans les ouvrages de fiction, plus précisément, ici, dans les écrits
représentants les lesbiennes et le lesbianisme. Ces stratégies sont : 1) la
découverte de l’existence lesbienne par l’écriture; 2) la dénonciation du
fonctionnement des institutions (ou la dénaturalisation de celles-ci en tant que
conventions); 3) l’utilisation des armes de l’humour et du satire; et 4) la
création de visions utopiques.
While of major importance, “gender trouble,” to borrow Judith Butler’s term,
has been only one among other sites of productive struggle for change in
Canadian society over the past twenty-five years. In the political, social and
cultural domains, the category of gender has proved a fruitful means of
analysis as the categories of “women” and “men” have diversified into
complex identities recognizing the interrelated significance of ethnicity, class,
ability, race, age, sexual orientation, geographic location, nationality,
religious denomination, etc. (these lists always end with a guilty “etc.,” as
feminists know).
This paper limits its discussion to representations of lesbian women in fictional
writing. The term “lesbian women” names the two categories chosen, and also
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS/RIÉC
points to the double gendering of these identities. The sex/gender system and
sexual orientation are interdependent, gendered constructs which help
perpetuate hegemonic views of oppositional, biological sex (correlated to a
certain gender) and the predominance of heterosexuality. Homosexuality has
long been discussed as an expression of gender confusion, less as a means to
it.1
This author treats sex/uality as conventions or institutions. David Lewis
defines conventions as “regularities in behaviour, sustained by an interest in
coordination and an expectaction that others will do their part” (Lewis, 1969,
p. 208). The use of conventions in human behavior provides a feeling of
stability and security by reducing the range of behaviour one can reasonably
expect from a partner in any interaction. Competence in conventions “consists
in part of a disposition to conform to that restriction with ease” (Lewis, 1969, p.
51).
While conventions can easily be disturbed, institutions, which are basically
conventions, are much more stable phenomena. Institutions evolve beyond the
stage of fragile conventions by gaining a foothold in “nature” and therefore, in
reason, Mary Douglas argues. “Being naturalized, they are part of the order of
the universe and so are ready to stand as the grounds of argument” (Douglas,
1986, p. 52). Thus, a
convention is institutionalized when, in reply to the question, “Why
do you do it like this?” although the first answer may be framed in
terms of mutual convenience, in response to further questioning the
final answer refers to the way the planets are fixed in the sky or the
way that plants or humans or animals naturally behave (Douglas,
1986, pp. 46f.).
In other words, an institution is stabilized by the naturalization of social
classifications. The institution works as such, says Douglas, “when it acquires
[...] support from the harnessed moral energy of its members.” An institution is
usually no longer recognized as such by the members of a community who
help re/create it; it is the “high triumph of institutional thinking [...] to make the
institutions completely invisible” (Douglas, 1986, p. 98).
Making institutions visible or questioning what is considered “natural” has
been a major venture since the 1970s. When we unveil or “de-naturalize” an
institution, it does not cease to exist; rather we begin to consider whether — or
how — the institution is functional from our point of view and what other
possible conventions we might propose to order reality. We can begin to deny
the institution “the moral energy of its members.”
This brief overview of lesbian fictional writing presents different subversive
strategies as ways of dealing with hegemonic constructions of the institutions
of sex/gender and heterosexuality. These are 1) writing the lesbian into
existence; 2) showing how institutions work (or exposing them as
conventions); 3) using humour and satire as a weapon; and 4) creating utopian
visions. The strategies are interrelated and while some may seem more valid
than others, all are necessary. This paper argues paradoxes, maintaining that
the category of woman must be affirmed/empowered and the system of
278
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian
categorization subverted. Since sex/uality provides an essential framework for
understanding other and self, the rewriting of a female self begins with images
of femininity, the devaluation of women and the female body. This
construction sometimes mirrors patriarchal versions of femininity, especially
when attributes ascribed to women by the hegemonic system are pronounced
to constitute their true and better-than-male nature. Generally, however, these
revisions of dominant images seek to open up imaginary and social space for
women. They are re-constructions at an angle to dominant constructions of
women, and as such necessary prerequisites from which to deconstruct.
Writing the lesbian into existence
Some representations of lesbians or lesbianism subvert or shift oppositional
hierarchies through various forms of resistance. These representations attempt
to empower the “other,” sometimes in terms which preserve bipolar
constructions yet which nevertheless shift their power relation. In a reality in
which woman is a fiction she did not originate,2 the lesbian must re-member or
at least invent herself (see the motto by Monique Wittig in Brossard’s Lovhers,
p. 50). She must be made real/ity through (patriarchal) language:
Only through literally creating ourselves in the world do we declare
our existence and from there make our presence known in the order of
the real and the symbolic.
When I say literally give birth to ourselves in the world, I really do
mean that literally. Literal means “that which is represented by
letters.” Taken literally. Taken to the letter. For we do take our
bodies, our skin, our sweat, pleasure, sensuality, sexual bliss to the
letter (Brossard, 1985, pp. 134 f.).
The writers participating in this project create a variety of texts. These include
lesbian romances (as published by Naiad); lesbian detective stories (Lauren
Wright Douglas, Marion Foster, Eve Zaremba); lesbian Westerns (Anne
Cameron’s The Journey); autobiographical reflections (Mary Meigs’ In The
Company of Strangers); revisions of Native myths (Beth Brant’s “Coyote
Learns a New Trick”); and historiographic fiction (Marlatt’s Ana Historic).
These fictions affirm the existence of the lesbian because they portray her as a
subject characterized by agency. The articulation of a female self participating
in or taking control of discourse is an essential step in resistance and toward a
re-ordering of power/knowledge relations. Actually, these necessary fictions
tell the stories of various different selves — even in one writer, we are
presented with a range of lesbian individuals (e.g., by Jane Rule in her short
stories; see, to name only one collection, Outlander).
Some writers attempt to “salvage the wreckage of language so freighted with
phallocentric values,” and “to write in lesbian” as Daphne Marlatt phrases it
(1991, p. 10; p. 118). Both Marlatt and Betsy Warland search the roots of
words in some kind of “feminising etymology” (Waring, 1987, p. 22).3 New
terms are coined and new frames of reference invented to deny the “La femme
n’existe pas” of patriarchal reality, either seriously or satirically. Louky
Bersianik (or rather, her translators) created the “emasculate conception”
(Bersianik, 1976, p. 52). Bersianik, along with other Québécoise writers,
279
IJCS/RIÉC
attacks the rules of a language in which an inanimate, masculine object takes
precedence over 300 feminine human beings (“Trois cents femmes et un
camion se sont baladés dans la rue,” Bersianik, 1976, p. 199). As Bersianik
explains elsewhere, women’s relation to the French language is signified by
the mute “e” which “represents the silence of women” (1976, p. 220). Marlatt
counters the cultural symbology which for women centers “on a hole, an
absence, a zero, that background other against which the male subject takes
form and definition” (Marlatt, as quoted by Goldman, p. 36) with a “feminist
context of address and reference” in which the zero becomes “Zoe,” and opens
up the possibility of a lesbian other for Annie Torrent in Ana Historic (cf.
Goldman). Language, Marlatt says, is “inhabited” in the sense that “it relates
us to the world in a living body of verbal relations” (1984, p. 49). Trying to find
“a way to write her in,” she “attaches her body to words” and thus recovers it in
language (Marlatt, 1991, p. 25). Brossard conceives “of writing as a way of
using the body, that is, how the body physically asserts itself to gain its formal
status in linguistic terrain” (1985, p. 91). “In the beginning was the Flesh / And
the Flesh was made Word,” Bersianik rewrites “Word Man’s” history (1978,
p. 98).
Often, the lesbian body is celebrated by invocations of (all) parts of its anatomy
in another strategy to affirm its existence and celebrate it as desired/desiring
(for well-known, non-Canadian examples see Wittig, The Lesbian Body;
Winterson, Written on the Body). Lesbian desire is carved with a precise, often
startling use of language. An evocative example are the much quoted lines
from Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems:
And
here
and here and
here
and over and
over your mouth.
(Webb, 1971, p. 88)
The place where language and desire meet is the tongue. For chrystos, living in
the U.S. but publishing with a Canadian press, it has the power to heal: “[...]
you speak without calluses despite our scars / Woman down my throat you stir
my heart nectar where bitterness has fought to seed / O you rainy tongue you
amaryllis tongue you early spring / tongue [...]” (chrystos, 1988, p. 45)
Daphne Marlatt speaks of “that tongue our bodies utter, woman tongue,
speaking in and of and for each other” (1984, p. 27) and invokes a feminist
subject which is no longer marginal, but firmly grounded in intersubjectivity
with a lesbian other. As Brossard maintains in Lovhers: “reality begins with /
the intention of you” (1980, p. 57). Or, Bersianik: “Under your woman’s kisses
I become a woman and under your touch I consciously inhabit my feminine
space” (Bersianik, 1978, p. 106). And, Marie-Claire Blais: “[T]he memory of
[the lovers’] double breathing in the night” (Blais, 1985, p. 41) lingers on as a
fragile and tender hope in the “violent day.”
280
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian
Penelope J. Engelbrecht proposes “the lesbian Other/self” as a concept outside
of “the dominance-submission economy of the sexes within the patriarchy, a
relationship linguistically and socially mediated by the action of the
paradigmatically (male) Subject upon the (female) Object.” She suggests “a
lesbian metaphysic which inscribes the inter/action of a lesbian Subject and a
lesbian Other/self” (1990, p. 86). Her “Subject” and “Other/self” are
inherently and constantly mutual, interactive and nonhierarchical.4 In Jane
Rule’s Memory Board, two women live this process. Their relationship is best
captured in this image: “Diana and Constance had always sat across the table
from each other, leaving the two heads of the table deserted” (1987, p. 30).
The lesbian self and Other also extend their world into the larger social fabric,
both within the text and outside, across and beyond it. In her novel Contract
with the World, Rule places the lesbian subject in a community of six
interacting subjects; the formal arrangement in six chapters emphasizes this
most clearly by decentering the point of view. The emphasis on community is
the centripetal force which counters the centrifugal difference of the
characters. Together they produce a “discordant song” (1980, p. 339),
discordant, but of not totally unrelated tunes.
Lesbian writers have also created an alternative interpretative community and
a feminist intertextuality establishing the lesbian subject in intersubjectivity
— or solidarity. Thus, Daphne Marlatt exchanges “transformances” (in
Salvage, 1991) with Nicole Brossard and has co-authored books with her;
Betsy Warland and Daphne Marlatt have collaborated on Double Negative
(1988), as have Gillian Hanscombe and Suniti Namjoshi on Flesh and Paper
(1986). Mary Meigs takes an autobiographical approach to a period in her life
in The Medusa Head (1983) which was made into a novel by Marie-Claire
Blais (A Literary Affair).
How institutions work – exposing them as conventions
While affirming the female self, lesbian writers are motivated by the “will to
understand patriarchal reality and how it works” (Brossard, 1985, p. 35). They
analyze and expose how the lesbian is constituted on various levels: through a
specific, symbolic order (understood to include language, ideologies and the
cultural representation of gender relations); through a domination based on the
organization of labour, re/production and sexuality; through institutions, class
and gender-specific interest groups of economic and political power; through
the individual interactions of women and men; and through the social
psychology of gender relations and the dynamics of motivations and desires
(following Knapp, 1992).
A few examples may suffice to illustrate how lesbian feminist writers reveal
the workings of society.
Jane Rule draws attention to gender as a set of conventions and performances.
Her first novel, Desert of the Heart, begins with an analysis of the naturalness
of a heterosexual institution:
Conventions, like clichés, have a way of surviving their own
usefulness. They are then excused or defended as the idioms of living.
281
IJCS/RIÉC
For everyone, foreign by birth or by nature, convention is a mark of
fluency. That is why, for any woman, marriage is the idiom of life.
And she does not give it up out of scorn or indifference but only when
she is forced to admit that she has never been able to pronounce it
properly and has committed continually its grossest grammatical
errors. For such a woman marriage remains a foreign tongue, an alien
landscape, and, since she cannot become naturalized, she finally
chooses voluntary exile (Rule, 1964, p. 1).
Rule lays bare the devices of the reality she models and so, in Barbara
Godard’s words, “indirectly expose[s] the values of the social text” (Godard,
p. 46). The conventions she uncovers as such can then be reconsidered. In line
with her view of conventions, Rule’s lesbian in “voluntary exile” is, to quote
Biddy Martin, “a position from which to speak” and not a fixed identity (as
quoted by Jay/Glasgow, 1990, p. 6).
Louky Bersianik uses the device of a visitor from a foreign place to throw light
on social conditions in Quebec. The Euguélionne arrives on the Earth from
another planet, seeking the male of her species. Through the eye of this
astounded observer we discover the arbitrary organization of society to the
advantage of the male half of humankind, an organization which is maintained
by both sexes. The Euguélionne herself comes from a planet which reflects our
own. There, the Masters or Legislators from a male species put a female
species “to the spinning wheel, to the mill, to the dishes and to the grindstone,
so completely that they were soon designated by the name of Pedalists.” Then,
they instituted “marriaje,” which, as the Euguélionne explains,
is, in reality, only a ceremony aimed at giving the Legislator a
domestic Pedalist of his very own, who is capable, in addition to her
services, of providing him with a male descendant. Once the
ceremony is over, they are husband and pedalist for eternity.
Which does not hinder the Legislator from having Pedalists close at
hand all through his life, for all sorts of services: office pedalists,
hospital pedalists, girl-Friday pedalists and of course, legitimate
domestic pedalists on top of all the pedalist chicks, titled or not, that
he could use (Bersianik, 1976, p. 46).
The foundations of the hierarchical organization between the sexes in Quebec
are perceived by the Euguélionne in the law, in language, in religion and, more
recently in the preachings of “St. Siegfried.” The Euguélionne eloquently
attacks and ridicules the pompous systems invented to keep women in their
place and exhorts not just resistance but transgression (Bersianik, 1976, p.
274).
More specifically concerned with the forces aimed at lesbian surrender,
Jovette Marchessault takes on patriarchal institutions in her Lesbian Triptych.
As the title suggests, at the center of her radical attack is Church doctrine. In the
first part, “A Lesbian Chronicle from Medieval Quebec,” Marchessault with
“rapier-like” wit (Godard, 1985, p. 23) names three “Bulls” which function to
erase lesbian existence.
First Bull: Normal School. The bull-dog. [...] In normalizing school,
the lesbian subject will learn rapidly to disguise herself as a real
282
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian
woman, strapping herself into the costumes that master tailors make
for her (Marchessault, 1980, p. 32).
The Second Bull is the institution of the family, or “a bull-dozer in a big dose,”
in which the lesbian learns to serve and please men, and finally, as the Third
Bull, the “Channel Bull” which works to erase lesbians from history. In this
society, angels in the Bible are more real than lesbians (Marchessault, 1980, p.
57). As in The Euguélionne, transgression is favoured over resistance to ensure
survival. The lesbian child learns early on that she prefers stepping into the
forbidden street to skipping in place on the sidewalk. When she is grown up,
she finally “comes out” to the no-man’s land of the women in the street to make
her home “in the forgotten zone, in the no-man’s-land of women’s memory,
[...] that incomprehensible continent of desire.” The lesbian rejects the eitheror definitions her society imposes on her: “Heterosexual? Lesbianhomosexual? [...] You try to graft your obsessional weakness on my body and
on my head. [...] Neither hetero nor homo, my dear obsessed sirs! I am in
another place.” This place she names “autosexual” (Marchessault, 1980, p. 57
f.).5
Humour and satire
Laughter can serve as an extremely efficient means to subvert and erode, be it
dualist concepts, hierarchies, oppressive systems or plain pomposity. Feminist
lesbians have used humour, parody and satire to mock notions about the “true”
relations of the sexes.6 As they engage with power, these modes presuppose
the existence of an interpretive community. The following are a few selected
examples.
Both Bersianik and Marchessault have perfected the art of ridiculing “great”
subjects. The First Panel, Ch. XXIV of The Euguélionne, provides a re-telling
of the immaculate conception although nearly any chapter offers as much
amusement. In Marchessault, the narrator informs us that a number of women
were strangled in an American city:
This series of murders seemed quite energizing at the time. All sorts
of theories surfaced. Among others, one maintained that sadistic
crimes, essentially committed for sexual reasons, were always the
work of men. The discovery of the century! To their joy, the Boston
Choke was arrested a few weeks later. The scholars, all the most
educated men, made a mad dash to peer at the genital logos of that
deranged strangler. They drew the most astonishing conclusions by
beginning with irreducible biological facts. After months and months
of effort, of intensive research, consultations, seminars and banquets,
they succeeded in dredging a Y chromosome out of the seminal mud.
Then came an historic announcement — only chokes seemed to
possess this Y chromosome (Marchessault, 1980, p. 40 f.).
The fiction of Jane Rule provides examples of a gentler but equally pointed
sense of humour. In one of her stories, Elizabeth goes to visit Virginia and
Katherine, who are both ex-wives of the “Perfectly Nice Man” she intends to
marry. She wants to find out if anything might be wrong with either her future
husband or herself, since his two previous wives are now living in a lesbian
relationship. Finally she asks:
283
IJCS/RIÉC
“You think I’d be crazy to marry him, don’t you?” Elizabeth
demanded.
“Why should we?” Virginia asked. “We both did.”
“That’s not a reassuring point,” Elizabeth said.
(Rule, 1982, p. 132)
In this situation, the fear of being or becoming an outsider is dissolved in gentle
humor and questions about “where it comes from” and “whose fault it is” no
longer make sense.
Utopian visions
Feminist theory has been concerned with finding an empowering sign for a
point outside of the male and heterosexual monopoly of power and knowledge
from which conscious feminist resistance is possible; a sign that furthers the
dissolution of patriarchal dichotomies; a sign which allows a construction of
the subject beyond categories of gender; finally, a sign which signifies that
which cannot yet exist.
In departure from the tradition of the stigmatized invert who speaks as the
prophet of her fellow sufferers (originated by Radclyffe Hall in The Well of
Loneliness, 1928), the concept “lesbian” has been suggested to fill these
feminist requirements.7 To be lesbian means to be something else, “a notwoman, a not-man” Monique Wittig argues, since the “refusal to become (or to
remain) heterosexual always meant to refuse to become a man or a woman,
consciously or not. For a lesbian this goes further than the refusal of the role
”woman.” It is the refusal of the economic, ideological, and political power of
a man” (1981, 49). Like the Amazons, lesbians are the only women not
invented by men, Brossard maintains.
“Lesbian” thus allows a concept of the subject beyond categories of
sex/gender, and therefore beyond hetero-/homosexuality. Much like Gloria
Anzaldúa’s New Mestiza, she is outside and yet within. She is living in the
borderlands, sin fronteras (1987, p. 195), on a crossroads where hope
converges. “Lesbian” is not just a sign for a utopian vision but also a social
reality, a lived experience and thus “a threatening reality for reality. She is the
impossible reality realized,” (Brossard, 1985, p. 121) yet always points
beyond.
For Brossard, “[t]he ideal lesbian is ideal like the emotion and vital utopia of
what makes sense and non-sense. [...] There are lesbians like this, lesbians like
that, lesbians here and there, but a lesbian is above all else the centre of a
captivating image which any woman can claim for herself. The lesbian is a
mental energy which gives breath and meaning to the most positive of images a
woman can have of herself” (Brossard, 1985, p. 121).
“Lesbian,” as suggested by Wittig, can refer to any human subject. Jane Rule
similarly uses “twin” as a sign for “man” and “woman” who surpass sexual
difference. Her concept of a subject beyond gender acknowledges biological
differences but does not construct them into essential opposites. The
dichotomy of the sexes is dissolved in the paradox of being one and being
284
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian
different: Diana and David, in Memory Board (1987), have the same name for
each other, “D” (p. 4), but they are not “identical twins” (pp. 1 f.). The twins
are, for a long time and then again, “two halves of an harmonious nature” (p. 3).
While androgynous models usually privilege the male part, here the male joins
the lesbian couple and finds a supportive role in their lives together. The final
scene of the book is a conversation between the two lesbian women in which
Diana acknowledges her twin brother as a member in their community.
I want to conclude with two observations about trends in heterosexual
women’s writing, or writing in which the protagonists are heterosexual
women. The first observation is about excess meaning, the second about
revenge.
Increasingly, heterosexual writers use lesbian characters in their fiction. These
minor characters appear quite casually, as integrated parts of the fictional
world. But the lesbian at the same time tends to transport excess meaning. To
give only two examples: in Maureen Moore’s detective novel, Fieldwork, all
heterosexual erotic bonds are either an event of the past, in a state of divorce, or
a nebulous future option. The (minor) lesbian characters get to live in
fulfilling, long-term relationships. Desire in the present is lesbian in this book.
Offred in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale wants to find in Moira “gallantry
[...], swash-buckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack”
(1986, p. 249). The narrator realizes that she is expecting Moira to act on her
idea of Moira’s courage. The heterosexual woman here constructs her lesbian
friend as the site of “daring and spectacular” (p. 250) resistance to a theocratic,
patriarchal society.
A phenomenon one can observe both in film and in detective novels, a genre
committed to a restoration of the social order and of justice, is how female
protagonists begin to rearrange the world to their own liking — and do not stop
short of murder. Discussing recent Quebecois writing by Flora Balzano, Anne
Dandurand, Claire Dé and Danielle Roger, Luise von Flotow speaks about a
“revenge of narrative” which has settled in this younger generation of feminist
writing (1994, p. 69). She refers to a return to narrative and accessibility after
the “cerebral experiments in feminist language and feminist utopias” (1992, p.
8), as well as to the real revenge women in these texts take “on unfeeling or
patronizing men [...] or on society as a whole” (1994, p. 69).
A similar need for revenge seems absent in books with a lesbian protagonist.
When Marion Foster published the first of two books in which the male sexual
offender is deliberately killed, she did so under the name of Shirley Shea, and
she used heterosexual protagonists.
Whatever else these observations may mean, they seem to indicate that “moral
support” for the hegemonic system of sex/uality is dwindling.
Notes
1.
See the turn-of-the-century theories of gender inversion to explain the phenomenon of samesex love (Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: “a female soul in a male body”); the “mannish lesbian”
(Newton, 1984) of the 1920s and 30s; the butches and femmes of the 1940s and 50s; the
285
IJCS/RIÉC
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
“woman-identified woman” of the late 70s and early 80s. The meanings of “butch” and
“femme” are still contested (Nestle, 1984; Ardill/O’Sullivan, 1990). Interestingly, the
relation of gender to sexual orientation is now increasingly discussed as a possible way of
parody and thus leading toward a confusion of gender (e.g., Butler, 1990). Whether this
(fascinating) discussion in theory can be of any use for practical politics remains to be seen.
Brossard, 1985, p. 109. See also Monique Wittig: “Because we are illusionary for traditional
male culture we make no distinction between the three levels. Our reality is the fictional as it
is socially accepted, our symbols deny the traditional symbols and are fictional for
traditional male culture, and we possess an entire fiction into which we project ourselves and
which is already a possible reality. It is our fiction that validates us” (1973, p. ix).
See, e.g., Marlatt, “hidden ground” in Touch to My Tongue (1988); or Warland’s revival of
“inversion:”
“Invert, To turn, bend. Shape-changers. The turn of a phrase, the page, the
mind. Inside-out and upside-down. Coming out turning us inside-out
revealing the world upside-down: things aren’t what they seem. [...]
Inverts in versions. InVersions: not one but many versions we must learn to
live with-in.” (1991, p. xi)
In butch/femme and in S/M relationships, on the other hand, there is an explicit play with the
eroticization of power differentials.
As another example of a book which explicitly argues against “natural” properties of the
sexes, I want to mention Leona Gom’s The Y-Chromosome. A supposedly specific male
potential for aggressiveness is at the center of Gom’s attack. While I agree with her position
there, I finally consider the novel a failed attempt to rework the division between what is
understood as natural and as social. Gom uses a topos familiar in science fiction or utopian
literature when she depicts a single-sexed, egalitarian future after the aggressive and
destructive male half of the human species has (nearly) died out. Disappointingly, she
preserves the distinctions represented by the two societies portrayed, the city and the Isolist
farms. The latter turn out to be so much closer to nature with their hard physical outdoor labor
and especially the possibility of heterosexuality. Plot transports the ideology of the novel: A
male baby saviour, conceived and born by a city woman in the “natural way” (as opposed to
the city’s reproductive technology), is at the end handed over to his father in the rural
community.
The fables by Suniti Namjoshi also belong in this section.
A reference to some visions I do not discuss here: Marchessault introduces a “utopian vision
of a world of women beyond patriarchal constraints” (Godard, 1985, p. 24) in the central part
of her triptych, “Night Cows.” The lesbian for her is a survivor from the Death Culture, and,
in Orenstein’s words, “the prophet of a new cycle of history and [...] the creator of a new
interpretation of time, space and being” announcing “the coming of a revolutionary feminist
era” (1987, p. 189). Some writers have extended lesbian to include all women (Warland,
1991b, pp. 182 f.). For Brossard, lesbians are “the poets of the humanity of women” (1985, p.
121). She opens up a female space in “Ma continent” (Lovhers, 1980) and populates it with
other lesbian writers. In Picture Theory (1982), the hologram provides her grammar of
utopia (Weir, 1986).
Bibliography
Anzaldúa, Gloria, 1987, Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute
Books.
Ardill, Susan, and Sue O’Sullivan, 1990, “Butch/Femme Obsessions,” Feminist Review 34, pp.
79-85.
Atwood, Margaret, 1986, The Handmaid’s Tale, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Bersianik, Louky, 1976, The Euguélionne: a triptych novel, translated by Gerry Denis, Alison
Hewitt, Donna Murray, Martha O’Brien, Victoria, B.C.: Press Porcépic, 1981.
——, “Noli Me Tangere,” 1978, translated by Barbara Godard, in: Room of One’s Own 4.1/2, pp.
98-110.
Blais, Marie-Claire, “Tenderness,” 1985, Ink and Strawberries: An Anthology of Quebec
Women’s Fiction, ed. by Beverley Daurio and Luise von Flotow, translated by Luise von
Flotow, Toronto: Aya Press, 1988, pp. 39-41.
Brant, Beth (Degonwadonti), 1985, “Coyote Learns a New Trick,” in: Mohawk Trail, Ithaca, NY:
Firebrand Books.
286
Reconsidering Conventions: Fictions of the Lesbian
Brossard, Nicole, Lovhers, 1980, translated by Barbara Godard, Montreal: Guernica, 1987.
——, 1982, Picture Theory, translated by Barbara Godard, Montreal: Guernica, 1991.
——, 1985, The Aerial Letter, translated by Marlene Wildeman, Toronto: The Women’s Press,
1988.
Butler, Judith, 1990, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York,
London: Routledge.
Cameron, Anne, 1982, The Journey, San Francisco: Spinsters, 1986.
Douglas, Mary, 1986, How Institutions Think, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.
Engelbrecht, Penelope J., 1990, “`Lifting Belly Is a Language’: The Postmodern Lesbian
Subject,” Feminist Studies 16.1, pp. 85-114.
Flotow, Luise von, 1992, “Preface,” Three by Three: Short Stories, by Anne Dandurand, Claire
Dé, and Hélène Rioux, selected and translated by Luise von Flotow, Montreal: Guernica, pp.
7f.
Flotow, Luise von, 1994, “A Generation after Experimental Feminist Writing in Quebec,” in:
Zeitschrift für Kanadastudien 14.2: 67-77.
Godard, Barbara, “Pedagogical Fictions,” in: RFR/DRF 21.3/4: 39-48.
——, 1985, “Flying Away with Language,” Introduction to Lesbian Triptych by Jovette
Marchessault, Toronto: Women’s Press, 9-28.
Goldman, Marlene. “Daphne Marlatt’s Ana Historic: A Genealogy for Lost Women.” RFR/DRF
21.3/4: 33-38.
Gom, Leona, 1990, The Y-Chromosome, Toronto: Second Story Press.
Hanscombe, Gillian, with Suniti Namjoshi, 1986, Flesh and Paper, Charlottetown, Canada:
Ragweed Press.
Jay, Karla and Joanne Glasgow, 1990, “Introduction,” Lesbian Texts and Contexts: Radical
Revisions, ed. by K. Jay and J. Glasgow, New York: New York University Press.
Knapp, Gudrun-Axeli, 1992, “Macht und Geschlecht: Neuere Entwicklungen in der
feministischen Macht- und Herrschaftsdiskussion,” in: Traditionen Brüche: Entwicklungen
feministischer Theorie, ed. by Gudrun-Axeli Knapp and Angelika Wetter, Freiburg: Kore,
pp. 287-325.
Lewis, David, 1969, Convention: A Philosophical Study, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
Marlatt, Daphne, 1988, Ana Historic, Toronto: The Coach House Press.
——, 1988, Touch to My Tongue, Edmonton: Longspoon Press.
——, Salvage, 1991, Red Deer: Red Deer College Press.
Meigs, Mary, The Medusa Head, 1983, Vancouver: Talonbooks.
——, 1991, In The Company of Strangers, Vancouver, B.C: Talonbooks.
Moore, Maureen, 1987, Fieldwork, Seattle: The Seal Press.
Namjoshi, Suniti, 1981, Feminist Fables, London: Sheba Feminist Publishers.
Nestle, Joan, 1984, “The Fem Question,” in: Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality,
ed. by Carole S. Vance, London: Pandora/Harper Collins, 1992, pp. 232-240.
Newton, Esther, 1984, “The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman,” in:
Signs, 9.4, pp. 557-575.
Orenstein, Gloria Feman, 1987, “Jovette Marchessault: The Ecstatic Vision-Quest of the New
Feminist Shaman,” in: Gynocritics: Feminist Approaches to Canadian and Quebec
Women’s Writing, ed. by Barbara Godard, Toronto: ECW Press, pp. 179-197.
Rule, Jane, 1964, Desert of the Heart, London: Pandora, 1986.
——, 1980, Contract With the World, Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press.
——, 1982, “A Perfectly Nice Man,” in: Outlander: short stories and essays. 1981. Tallahassee,
FL: Naiad Press. pp. 125-133.
——, 1987, Memory Board, Tallahassee: The Naiad Press, 1989.
Shea, Shirley, 1985, Victims: A Pound of Flesh, Toronto: Simon & Pierre Pierre Publishing Co.
Waring, Wendy, 1987, “Strategies for Subversion: Canadian Women’s Writing,” Work in
Progress: Building Feminist Culture, ed. by Rhea Tregebov, Toronto: The Women’s Press,
pp. 13-37.
Warland, Betsy, 1991a, “Inventing InVersions,” Introduction, in: InVersions: Writing by Dykes,
Queers & Lesbians, ed. by Betsy Warland, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, ix-xiv.
——, 1991b, “Moving Parts,” in: InVersions: Writings by Dykes, Queers & Lesbians, ed. by Betsy
Warland, Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, pp. 175-186.
Warland, Betsy, with Daphne Marlatt, 1988, Double Negative, Charlottetown: gynergy books.
Webb, Phyllis, 1971, Selected Poems: 1954-1965, Vancouver: Talonbooks.
Weir, Lorraine, 1986, “From picture to hologram: Nicole Brossard’s grammar of utopia,” in: A
Mazing Space: Writing Canadian Women Writing, ed. by Shirley Neumann and Smaro
Kamboureli, Edmonton: Longspoon/NeWest, pp. 345-352.
Winterson, Jeanette. 1992, Written on the Body, London: Jonathan Cape.
Wittig, Monique, 1973, The Lesbian Body, translated from the French by David Le Vay, New
York: Bard/Avon, 1976.
——, 1981, “One Is Not Born a Woman,” Feminist Issues, 2, pp. 47--54.
287
Review Essays
Essais critiques
Marie-Andrée Bertrand
Regards de femmes sur le Québec,
son histoire, ses lettres, son théâtre et
sa vie politique, et les rôles
que les femmes y ont joués
Louise Warren, Léonise Valois, femme de lettres (1868-1936). Un portrait.
Montréal, L’Hexagone, 1993, 314 pages.
Anita Caron et Lorraine Archambault, directrices d’édition, Thérèse
Casgrain, une femme tenace et engagée. Sainte Foy, Les Presses de
l’Université Laval, 1993, 393 pages.
Lori Saint-Martin, directrice d’édition, L’autre lecture. La critique au féminin
et les textes québécois. Tome 1. Montréal, XYZ éditeur, 1992, 215 pages.
Lucie Godbout, directrice d’édition. Les Folles Alliées. Montréal, Les Éditions
du Remue-ménage, Collection de mémoire de femmes, 1993, 320 pages.
Maryse Darsigny, Francine Descarries, Lyne Kurtman et Évelyne Tardy, Ces
femmes qui ont bâti Montréal. La petite et la grande histoire des femmes
qui ont marqué la vie de Montréal depuis 350 ans, Montréal, Les Éditions
du Remue-ménage, 1994, 627 pages.
***
Le choix de ces cinq ouvrages n’a aucune prétention à la représentativité.
Parmi plusieurs autres possibles, j’ai choisi ces cinq livres récents parce qu’ils
témoignent d’une tendance : la volonté des auteures québécoises de découvrir
leurs devancières, femmes de grande réputation ou femmes méconnues qui
méritent de sortir de l’ombre. Une stratégie allant tout à fait dans le sens des
méthodes et de la pédagogie féministes : donner une voix et une place aux
femmes. Mais dans ce cas particulier, on voit à l’œuvre la volonté unanime
d’auteures féministes de faire en sorte que les Québécoises et les Québécois
(re) trouvent la trace de la place des femmes dans le Québec politique,
artistique, littéraire d’aujourd’hui mais surtout d’hier.
Léonise Valois
Le livre de Louise Warren est tout à la fois une biographie littéraire et un album
de souvenirs qui visent à nous faire connaître une femme poète, très
probablement la première « canadienne-française » dont l’œuvre poétique ait
été publiée.
International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes
11, Spring/Printemps 1995
IJCS /RIÉC
Mais l’œuvre écrite de Léonise Valois comprend bien d’autres choses que des
poèmes. En effet, responsable des pages féminines du Monde illustré (19001902) puis de La Terre de chez nous (1929-1931), elle ouvre ses colonnes aux
femmes, leur permet de prendre la parole et va jusqu’à travailler à la création
d’une association professionnelle des femmes journalistes.
Quant à l’œuvre poétique proprement dite de Léonise Valois, elle comprend
deux recueils signés du pseudonyme Atala : Fleurs sauvages (publié en 1910,
à compte d’auteure) et Feuilles tombées (Beauchemin, 1934) qui lui vaudra le
prix de la Société des poètes canadiens-français.
Le livre de Louise Warren donne envie de mieux connaître le climat
intellectuel de l’époque et la réaction des « littéraires » et des autres à ces
poèmes écrits par une femme au tout début du siècle. D’une certaine façon,
Louise Warren étant l’arrière-petite-fille de Léonise Valois et elle-même
poète, l’évolution des conditions qui marquent la réception des œuvres
littéraires des femmes apparaît en filigrane.
Thérèse Casgrain
La deuxième œuvre que j’ai choisi de signaler est un recueil de textes sur
Thérèse Casgrain. Il était à la fois normal et souhaitable que des Québécoises
organisent un colloque autour de la vie et de l’œuvre politique et sociale de
cette figure exceptionnelle de la scène québécoise, cette militante féministe et
cette chef de parti politique au Québec. Les textes réunis par les soins d’Anita
Caron et de Lorraine Archambault sont ceux présentés dans le cadre d’une
conférence organisée par l’Institut d’études et de recherche féministes de
l’Université du Québec à Montréal (IREF). Le colloque réunissait des
professeures des départements d’histoire, de science politique et de sociologie
de cette université. Si les répétitions et recouvrements sont un peu inévitables
d’une section à l’autre et d’ailleurs plusieurs sont utiles parce qu’ils
témoignent de lectures différentes de faits semblables, le recueil apporte
cependant aux lectrices et lecteurs des données fort utiles et des analyses
intelligentes des actions politiques, socialistes et féministes de Thérèse
Casgrain et un rappel de ses luttes pour les droits des femmes (droit de vote
bien sûr, mais aussi égalité juridique, économique et professionnelle), pour la
justice, pour la paix, etc. À relire certaines des communications, on se prend
d’admiration pour cette combattante qui ne fut jamais élue, cette femme dont
les convictions socialistes ont sans doute été à l’origine de ses luttes pour
l’égalité des femmes. On retrouve aussi, au hasard des contributions, des
allusions et des anecdotes qui parlent des conflits qui n’ont pu manquer
d’habiter une femme d’origine bourgeoise engagée dans des groupes, des
partis politiques et des mouvements marginaux.
L’autre lecture, la critique au féminin et les textes québécois
Si avec Louise Warren on est déjà, d’une certaine façon, dans une lecture au
deuxième degré (une re-lecture de l’œuvre d’une journaliste et poète), avec le
recueil de Lori Saint-Martin, on est dans une lecture au troisième degré. En
effet, son livre est une anthologie : on y trouve quatorze articles tirés de
plusieurs revues et livres récents dans lesquels des femmes bien d’aujourd’hui
292
Regards de femmes sur le Québec
se penchent sur l’œuvre écrite de pionnières telle Marie de l’Incarnation et
Élisabeth Bégon à l’époque de la Nouvelle-France; sur celle de femmes
auteures du 19e siècle comme Laure Conan et Jovette Bernier; sur les
écrivaines des années 1930 comme Yvette Ollivier Mercier-Gouin; puis sur
l’écriture des Gabrielle Roy, Anne Hébert, Marie-Claire Blais, Claire Martin,
etc. Peut-être même s’agit-il d’une analyse au quatrième degré car les auteures
des « articles sur » des écrivaines de toutes époques cherchent dans la
production de leurs devancières leur « lecture » de la société d’hier et
d’aujourd’hui.
L’anthologie est constituée d’articles (déjà publiés ailleurs) écrits par Chantal
Théry, Maïr Verthuy, Lucie Robert, Christl Verduyn, Nicole Bourbonnais,
Lori Saint-Martin, Mary Jean Green, etc., qui traitent respectivement des
œuvres et des auteures de chacune des périodes mentionnées, contextualisant
les œuvres, parlant de la réception qu’elles ont connue et montrant comment
les écrits des femmes parlent de quelque chose d’autre que ce que révèle
l’écriture masculine. Certains articles signalent comment la critique masculine
a négligé l’originalité, voire les innovations remarquables dont sont porteuses
plusieurs œuvres des écrivaines des époques antérieures et contemporaines.
Les Folles Alliées
Dans Les Folles Alliées, c’est le théâtre qui est abordé, le travail d’une troupe
de femmes qui se situe à mi-chemin entre le théâtre engagé et le spectacle de
variété. Lucie Godbout est ici à la fois « actrice » et auteure, ayant été l’une des
membres de ce groupe féministe qui s’est surtout produit de 1980 à 1990.
Derrière le récit de la vie des comédiennes, les témoignages et les photos, on
aperçoit les conditions dans lesquelles s’accomplit le travail au théâtre.
Conditions spécifiques aux théâtres de femmes? aux troupes engagées? — Il
ne semble pas que le livre de Lucie Godbout nous permette de l’apercevoir.
Mais les thèmes abordés, les mises en scène, l’humour apparaissent comme
bien spécifiques aux femmes.
Ces femmes qui ont bâti Montréal
Le 350e anniversaire de la « fondation » de Montréal a été l’occasion qu’ont
saisie les organisateurs du Congrès de l’ACFAS 1992 pour proposer aux
participants de « visiter » (littéralement) Montréal. Quatre professeures de
l’UQAM (les directrices d’édition de Ces femmes qui ont bâti Montréal)
invitaient les congressistes à faire ce « tour » dans une perspective particulière :
celle de retrouver les traces des fondatrices de cette ville.
Le livre, qui va bien au-delà de ces visites guidées, est fort beau, bien illustré et
d’une typographie extraordinairement soignée. Dans ses 600 pages, on voit
défiler plus de 300 personnages féminins en 350 chroniques très courtes (une
ou deux pages maximum) qui vont de Madeleine de la Peltrie, Jeanne Mance,
Marguerite Duplessis, Emma Gendron, Éva Circé-Côté, etc. jusqu’aux
presque contemporaines comme les fondatrices du premier orchestre
symphonique canadien (1940), Madge Bowen et Ethel Strark, et aux très
contemporaines, des femmes encore bien vivantes.
293
IJCS /RIÉC
Les périodes sont bien découpées :
« 1642-1800 : Les pionnières de la cité »;
« 1800-1900 : Les architectes de la vie sociale et culturelle »;
« 1900-1940 : Vers le droit de cité »;
« 1940-1975 : Une série de premières »; et
« 1965-1990 : La mobilisation des femmes ».
Trois cent cinquante chroniques, donc, autant de noms, sous la plume de 150
auteures. Les repères sont clairs, les références bien indiquées.
Une dernière section intitulée : « Chronologie de l’histoire des femmes de
Montréal » évoque les réformes législatives et politiques qui ont marqué la vie
des femmes de la Nouvelle-France puis de la province de Québec, de 1641 à
1988.
Un livre précieux, remarquable et qui fait date dans tous les sens.
***
Dans cette production récente, on voit donc apparaître le besoin d’auteures
féministes de présenter des modèles de femmes, on sent aussi leur envie de
parler des aïeules, de se trouver des mères.
Chez plusieurs mais non chez toutes cependant, ce qui frappe c’est le désir de
comprendre et de faire comprendre par quels mécanismes l’histoire politique,
littéraire, sociale et artistique a « invisibilisé » les femmes d’ici.
Ces femmes ont compris qu’il ne faut compter que sur elles-mêmes pour
compléter et corriger la mémoire. Aussi voit-on leur désir d’histoire,
d’enracinement et de continuité s’assumer et s’auto-réaliser. Cela leur permet
d’accéder à une fierté et une maturité remarquables, sans qu’elles baissent la
garde : les mécanismes sociaux qui ont occulté l’œuvre de leurs devancières
sont toujours à l’œuvre, différemment.
Dans cette même veine de la socio-analyse historique concernant les femmes,
il aurait fallu parler ici de l’œuvre de Nicole Laurin et de Danielle Juteau sur les
religieuses au Québec. Le deuxième volume paraîtra dans quelques mois et il
conviendra de faire la recension d’une œuvre d’une grande importance, fruit
de dix ans de travaux, qui jette une lumière exceptionnelle sur la vie des
Québécoises, la stratification sociale au Québec et les relations entre les
femmes et l’Église.
La perspective dans laquelle je me suis placée ici excluait un grand nombre
d’œuvres portant sur les problèmes sociaux qui préoccupent au plus haut point
les féministes : l’avortement et la contraception, les techniques de
reproduction; la violence faite aux femmes, les centres pour femmes; etc. Cette
production à elle seule mériterait une chronique car s’y découpent des enjeux
nationaux pour les hommes et les femmes d’ici et d’ailleurs.
294

Documents pareils