Canada: Honouring feminist trail blazers while admitting the struggle is nowhere near won Print E-mail

 Toronto ~ Tuesday March 08 2011

Ten women who made a difference

Roberta Bondar

The problem with lists of influential people is you always have to leave someone off or you end up with a burdensome encyclopedic version.

The decision about who to include as our most influential Canadian women on this 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day was difficult. Thousands of people ­ including courageous men ­ battled fierce public opinion to win recognition for women’s rights. Limited to choosing 10, I selected those who not only influenced our lives over the past century through their various avocations, but changed the way we think about Canada.

Nellie Letitia McClung (1873-1951), suffragist

Where would we be without Nelly? She was tough and determined and without her women would not have the right to vote in Canada. In 1927, she along with Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby became known as the “Famous Five” who launched the “Person’s Case,” establishing that women are qualified to sit in the Senate.

McClung had five children but nonetheless found time to lobby for making divorce laws more equitable, mother’s allowances, property rights for women, and medical and dental care for schoolchildren. Through her efforts, Manitoba became the first province in 1916 to let women not only cast a ballot but also run for office. The federal government followed the following year.

Elizabeth Bagshaw (1881-1982), doctor

Elizabeth Bagshaw was the champion for women’s reproduction rights in Canada. She received a medical degree from the University of Toronto in 1905, becoming one of Canada’s first woman doctors. In 1932 Bagshaw helped to open the country’s first birth control clinic ­ one that was illegal until the laws concerning reproduction changed in 1969. Bagshaw believed reproductive rights were necessary, particularly for the poor. If people can’t afford to eat, she declared, they can’t afford to have children.

In the mid-1990s I sat on the board of the Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic in Vancouver, named after the courageous doctor, which was a place where women were encouraged to make the choice about whether to be mothers or not.

Laura Sabia (1916-1996), feminist and social activist

Sabia single-mindedly helped create the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. Then president of the Canadian Federation of University Women, she sent a letter to women’s organizations across the country encouraging a meeting on the status of women. It was held in Toronto in May 1966 and when the federal government failed to take much notice, Sabia threatened to lead a women’s march on Ottawa.

Sabia’s efforts led to the formation of women’s groups, focusing on rape, self-defence, health and the arts. She once said in an interview with Sylvia Fraser that “I’ve made some small contribution to how women think about themselves ­ their own worth. I don’t want to go down just as an aggressive bitch. I think I’ve been a catalyst for change.”

Doris Anderson (1921-2007), editor, social activist

Doris Anderson was in many ways the Betty Friedan of Canada, a determined, tough feminist who spoke out for more than 30 years about the need for women’s equality. Rosemary Speirs, a former columnist at the Star, said after Anderson died in 2007 that “she was a beacon. When she started editing Chatelaine, the ideal of what a North American woman was, you stayed home raising your nuclear family. Magazines talked about how to please your man. Doris was instead writing a feminist column in Chatelaine.”

There were fashion and recipes in Chatelaine but there were also articles about women’s poverty, the effort to promote women within the workplace and the right to abortion. Anderson left Chatelaine in 1977 and went on to chair the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

June Callwood (1924-2007), journalist and health-care activist.

She was one of the most amazing women to grace our city. Nothing seemed too difficult for her to tackle: she was founding member of the Civil Liberties Association; Digger House, for street kids; Nellie’s Hostel for women; and Jessie’s Centre for teenagers.

Callwood wrote books and newspaper columns, raising four children with her husband Trent (Bill) Frayne. Her youngest son, Casey, died in a 1982 motorcycle accident; she used her grief to create opportunities for others, including Casey House, the hospice for AIDS patients. She was also a pilot who flew gliders and happily drove around Toronto in a sports car.

Rosemary Brown (1930-2003), politician

Brown was born in Jamaica and came to Canada to study at McGill University, intending to become a social worker. She was elected to the provincial legislature in British Columbia in 1972, becoming the first black woman to become an MLA.

She was a determined woman who fought campaigns to increase the number of women as directors of corporations, to eliminate sexism in school textbooks, and to do away with discrimination based on gender or marital status.

Buffy Sainte-Marie (b. 1941), singer, artist, activist

If you became a young adult in the 1970s there was no way you could avoid listening to Buffy Sainte-Marie singing anti-war songs such as “Universal Soldier.” Of Cree heritage, Saskatchewan-born Sainte-Marie was so naturally musical she taught herself to play piano at the age of 4. When she was 16 she received a guitar and she began to write songs. Her work has been recorded by Elvis, Barbra Streisand and Cher.

The plight of aboriginal people has been her primary concern. She spoke critically about conflicts such as Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge, leading to her voice being banned from U.S. airwaves until the 1980s. Today, Sainte-Marie works to teach young aboriginal people to be proud about their past.

Nancy Greene (b. 1943), athlete

She was voted Canada’s female athlete of the 20th century, an alpine skier who has a sunny personality almost as large as some of the mountains she has slalomed down.

In 1967, she pushed aside the Europeans in their domination of the World Cup event and won seven of 16 events. In 1968, not only did she win the World Cup again, she also won a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. After she retired from competition, she moved to Whistler and helped develop it as a skiing destination by opening her own resort. In 2009 she became a Conservative member of the Senate.

Roberta Bondar (b. 1945), astronaut.

We saw her somersaulting in zero gravity and bouncing around the NASA Space Shuttle in a Mountie uniform. She was the first Canadian woman to be invited by NASA to be on the Discovery team in January 1992. Bondar is one of those super women whose achievements leave one gasping: She holds degrees in zoology, experimental pathology and neuroscience. She showed women where science could take them.

“When you orbit the Earth and look out at Canada, you realize that it’s a pretty good place to land,” she once said. “When I looked out and saw Earth . . . something comes to life for you, an incredible emotion. You realize we need all the resources of every culture.”

Louise Arbour (b. 1947), judge

Arbour is Canada’s most famous jurist and an example of the role that participants in Canada’s legal system can have in shaping democracy in the rest of the world. A former member of the Supreme Court of Canada, Arbour was appointed by the United Nations to be a prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal. She investigated war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda.

When she retired from the International Criminal Tribunal, four years after being appointed, the New York Times noted: “She has been doing a job with a mandate that many would call impossible: to safeguard human rights around the globe.” She also served as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Jennifer Hunter is a member of The Star’s editorial board.
 Toronto ~ Tuesday March 08 2011


A century of women’s rights: A struggle that continues

The struggle for women’s political and economic rights was big news in Old Toronto, 100 years ago. British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia were drawing sizable crowds to Massey Hall and other venues. And editors at the Toronto Daily Star devoted much of the front page to eldest daughter Christabel Pankhurst’s stunning declaration in London that the suffragists had embarked on a “real war” to claim women’s rights.

“First we talked,” Pankhurst said after a march in London turned ugly on Nov. 22, 1911. “Then we took to peaceful demonstrations. Next we began interrupting public meetings, and to forcing our way into the House of Commons . . . As a third stage we began destroying property. As time has passed we have become more and more violent, and we shall get more so.”

By the time the dust settled, 223 British women were arrested after marching on the National Liberal Club, blocking traffic, scuffling with police and hurling stones at windows. Many showed up at court “badly battered,” with black eyes, scratched faces and torn clothes. They seem to have given as good as they got, using brass knuckles, hat pins and stones on the cops. They certainly weren’t cowed; they vowed to trash the prisons from the inside.

Those traumatic days seem distant, as Canadians mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. But the battle for equality was real, dangerous and waged with passion. The Pankhursts might well argue that even now it is only half-won.

Back then, some in the Canadian establishment shared the British prosecutor’s aversion to such “disgraceful and discreditable . . . organized disorder.” A not-so-funny quip in the Star suggested that “a fashion note from England intimates that penitentiary stripes will be much worn by suffragette ladies this winter.”

But even in those early days, the Pankhursts were not without admirers here. Dr. Margaret Gordon and the Toronto Suffrage Association were active from offices on Yonge St., across from what is now the Eaton Centre.

In Toronto, more than 2,000 packed Massey Hall to hear Sylvia Pankhurst argue for the vote for Ontario women, as well as equal pay for work of equal value at a time when women were lucky to earn half men’s wages. Late that year, Emmeline Pankhurst made a “magnificent address” of her own at Massey Hall, declaring that “taxation (of women) without representation is tyranny.” Around her, banners read: The time has come to enfranchise the women of Canada and Ontario women need the ballot.

It would be some years before Canadian women got the vote, first on the Prairies in 1916, then in Ontario the following year. But 1911 was a watershed. The suffragist message about voting rights for all women, a fair break for working women, and the need to tackle poverty and hunger was gaining converts here with every passing day. A century later, we honour their courage and their tenacity.
 Victoria & Vancouver Island, Canada ~ March 6, 2011

International Women's Day: Still a long way to go, says local expert

By Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist Comments
Janni Aragon is a professor at the University of Victoria (Handout, Times Colonist)

When International Women's Day was first celebrated 100 years ago on March 8, B.C. women didn't have the vote -provincially or federally. Now both B.C. Liberal and NDP parties are led by women.

So there's been major progress in women's political, economic and social rights, agrees Janni Aragon, an expert on gender and politics at the University of Victoria.

"We have so much to be proud of," Aragon says, but "Canada ranks 20th, behind the U.S. in the global ranking of women's equality [according to] the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives."

Buxom Snooki of the TV reality show Jersey Shore may have a book on the bestseller list, but Ottawa is slashing the budgets of organizations that support girls and women's rights, she says, citing the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.

Yes, UVic has one of the highest female to male ratios of any campus in Canada -nearly 60 to 40 -but there's a catch: "We have more women, or mostly women in the education programs and mostly men in engineering and computer sciences.. If we want to see more women as managers, more women as CEOs and more women as leaders, they need to self-select in these other fields of study."

She hears of women still "silenced at meetings" or seeing their ideas rejected only to be supported later when a man brings them up.

Women don't run for office enough, she says, although Ottawa points out there are more female federal cabinet ministers than ever before.

Three issues immediately come to her mind when she thinks of limitations to women's equality: "Violence, abortion and girls." And as the mother of two young daughters, she says that despite the gains, they're "still fighting against those preconceived ideas that we have -the way we're socialized."

Canada's theme for IWD is Girls' Rights Matter, in concert with the UN theme of equal access to education, training and science and technology as a pathway to decent work. There are nearly 250 IWD events to be held in Canada, and Aragon is involved with a panel discussion called Prostitution and Women's Equality on March 8.

Aragon is hugely concerned about the body image issues intruding on Canadian girlhood. Many girls as young as Grade 4 are dieting or consider themselves overweight and pick up early on the normalization of revealing attire and sex in the movies portrayed with a male gaze. Sexualizing youngsters steals their childhood and makes some of them vulnerable to pedophiles or thinking it's acceptable to date 19-year-olds at age 13.

"I'd like to see a stop to the hyper-sexualization of children -that's a major problem."

Young women who show a lot of cleavage risk not being taken seriously as well as having sexual offenders take advantage of "slut shaming" attitudes to avoid serious punishment.

"We still have our work cut out for us," Aragon says. "There's no doubt about that."
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
 Toronto ~ Friday, March 11, 2011

Equality for women? We’re not done fighting yet


To be a woman in the 21st century is to live with layers of contradictions. You can be anything you want, until you want to be a mother. You can do anything you want, but make sure you look terrific doing it.

In this country, we have a woman who heads our Supreme Court, but we also have little girls anachronistically trapped in a pink princess culture. (Where is Supreme Court Barbie when we need her?)

We have young women flooding into medical schools, yet men far outstrip women in senior positions in teaching hospitals. Wait, are these bright young female achievers who make up more than half the university population and are storming the professions with their talent and drive, the same oversexualized teens we were worried about in a Girls Gone Wild culture?

Then there are the multitudes of female lawyers with children who just can’t make a brutal billing system work for them.

We have soap ads that tell women who are lawyers, police chiefs and surgeons to not worry about their looks and just be themselves because that is enough, while onscreen, the women who play lawyers, police chiefs and surgeons are all eternal hotties. American author Susan Douglas pegged these contradictions as “enlightened sexism,” but our daughters just know it as life.

We have women everywhere in business and yet in Canada they still make up only 11 per cent of corporate boards. Not much progress there.

As author Naomi Wolf said in a recently aired CBC-TV documentary The F-Word: Who Wants to Be a Feminist?, directed by Michael McNamara and co-written with Judy Holm, in order to change the system, women have to “put their hands on the three levers of power”: money, electoral power and the media. So far, most female hands are still reaching.

Yet the lives our daughters lead are opportunity-rich compared with the lives our grandmothers and mothers lived. You can’t be a middle-aged woman today and not marvel at how much has changed, from the serious treatment of domestic abuse and sexual harassment (in our mothers’ time, as Gloria Steinem once said, these were considered “just life”) to the take-for-granted attitude young girls have toward achieving in all walks of professional life.

But the deluge of media attention over the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day did have its unsettling moments.

In the Western world, most of it was congratulatory – look how far we’ve come, baby – and the rest of it focused as it should, on women in developing countries where women’s rights are human rights, and where, as authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn say in their book Half the Sky “the paramount moral challenge” in this century will be “the struggle for gender equality around the world.”

But here, some privileged women and men decreed that the fight for equality and against sexism has been won and therefore we western women should all just shut up and stop our whining. (Imagine saying that to people of colour about racism.)

Now, we are told, it’s all just a matter of human nature and choice, or as conservative critiquer of feminism Christina Hoff Sommers put it bluntly in that CBC documentary “you’re not going to be able to win a Nobel prize on flex time. It’s just not going to happen.” (But maybe if you had a partner who worked as hard as you did at home as well as at work, you’d have a shot at that prize.)

The personal has always been the political in the search for gender equality, with the danger that Western women who focus relentlessly on what they still don’t have in their relatively comfortable lives could be slammed, as one feminist writer once put it, as “the solipsisters.” (Hard to imagine, but Senator and former broadcaster Larry Zolf once called feminist trailblazer Germaine Greer “neurotic” to her face during a TV interview.)

I am grateful for, and proud of all that we’ve accomplished. But I also think of what I would advise my daughter to do to safeguard her rights – keep an eye on any politicians who want to curtail your reproductive rights (attacks against Planned Parenthood, incursions into the availability of abortion) because that is a cornerstone of your freedom. Don’t be afraid to tell employers what you’re worth (a recent study shows that male university graduates negotiate the terms of their first jobs while women don’t).Choose a life partner who is willing to not only fully share the responsibility for raising a family but also help you achieve your professional goals. Fight against your inner voice that equates your self worth with how you measure up in the sexual marketplace.

And please don’t shut up, whatever you do, about injustices or absurdities, big or small. Point out what’s wrong with fashion magazines that are now using 15-year-old emaciated models to tell you how to dress. Speak up when you think you’re not being treated equally. Inform yourself about the lives of women and girls in other countries and figure out how to help the global struggle.

Well-behaved women – women who don’t whine – are not the ones who make history or policy. They’re not the ones who got us this far. Take nothing for granted. Equality is never a done deal. There is always more to be accomplished.
Judith Timson is an award-winning freelance journalist and author whose writing about politics, business, social issues and popular culture has appeared in many of Canada’s leading magazines and newspapers. After writing columns in The Globe’s ROB, Careers and Focus sections, she began a weekly column in the Life section in late 2007.

Ms. Timson , who attended the University of Western Ontario, began her career as a reporter for the Toronto Star, and then joined Maclean’s magazine , first as its Vancouver correspondent, and then as a senior writer in Toronto. For 14 years, she wrote a popular column in Chatelaine about the foibles of modern family life, which in turn led to her 1996 book Family Matters.She has received a Southam Fellowship, the Fiona Mee Award for Literary Journalism, and several National Magazine Awards. She lives in Toronto.
 Toronto ~ Sunday, March 13, 2011

Personal essay

Sure, women have come a long way, but we’re not there yet

By  Marina Jimenez

Life as a white, well-educated journalist in my 20s and early 30s was nothing short of stupendous. I suffered no discrimination in the workplace. I received plum assignments, travelled the world, won prizes, devoted myself singularly and exclusively to work! And I loved every second of it. What were the feminists talking about? There was no gender inequality in the workplace.

Then I had a baby.

I returned from my maternity leave in 2003 to learn I was the only member of the foreign news staff at the National Post, my then-employer, who would not be covering “the war” (no, not that war for equality rights; the one in Iraq). I was the only one who would not be deployed to Jordan, Israel or Iraq. The editors didn’t believe a new mother would want to go. I argued and pleaded and begged. Finally, a boss took pity and allowed me to replace an exhausted colleague in Amman.

I spent four weeks overseas, and travelled overland into Iraq to witness Baghdad fall to the Americans. I slept on the floor of the Palestine Hotel alongside five male colleagues – one of whom wandered around nude in the mornings. My car was shot at. I had a terrible bout of food poisoning.

Skinny and contrite, I returned to Toronto. I had missed my eight-month-old baby terribly. While less enthusiastic about taking on another overseas assignment, I also hated having to scale back my own ambition. But clearly, my life had shifted in some profound way. Society’s expectations of my role had changed, and so had my own. Eight years and another child later, I’m still working out exactly how this transition is supposed to work.

Yes, women have made great strides in the past few decades, as we were all reminded when the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day arrived last week. Yes, they are enrolling in law and medical schools in equal – even greater – numbers compared with men. Yes, they are travelling the world, and reporting from war zones. And yes, they have property, voting, marriage and employment rights. But they still face one final obstacle: how to combine a career with childrearing.

Some women give up their paid jobs after childbirth and focus on their unpaid one: raising their families. They are extremely happy. But other women cannot afford to. And some don’t want to.

Feminism took it for granted that as women entered – or re-entered – the work force men would assume more responsibility at home, and shoulder more of the childcare and household responsibilities. But that has not been the natural evolution. Even women with extremely supportive husbands, who do more than their share of cooking and vacuuming, are often forced to become the CEO of a business that never shuts down: the running of a household.

At night, core demands of this enterprise swirl around in my head like yellow post-it notes flapping in the wind: Register three-year-old for introductory soccer by Wednesday. Sign parental consent form for eight-year-old so he can participate in Kiwanis Music Festival. Remember to dress him in dark trousers and white dress shirt. Pack shorts in his knapsack for gym. Buy bagels so children will have something edible for lunchbox. Buy 20 Smencils for class party. Make that 21. One for teacher. Purchase new pair of swimming goggles.

Men’s brains simply do not work this way. These are not the preoccupations of even the most dedicated father. And while these tasks may appear trivial, without somebody attending to them, a child’s life falls apart. My son won’t be allowed to sing in the choir, will sit out gym, and then suffer the indignity of lunchtime sneers about his limp-lettuce-nitrate-laden salami sandwich. “Your mom doesn’t feed you well does she?” (Yes, someone actually said that to a neighbourhood mother I know!)

Anne Kothawala, a friend of mine who works both inside and outside the home, believes that “no matter how great and how much your husband does, Mom is the one who invests the mental energy to ensure that the kids have pants that fit, that someone has bought groceries. Many working fathers are great, but few of them will know their kid needs new shoes, never mind what size.”

Armies of female volunteers keep school June fun fairs afloat, make Grade 1 outings to the Science Centre possible, and lunchtime gardening clubs alive. We feel privileged to be able to participate in these events – and we savour them. But we also struggle to squeeze them in – and we feel guilty dashing away from the desk. Oh, do we feel guilty.

One woman I know who is married to a physician puts it this way: “Every female doctor I know has only taken a three-month maternity leave, for fear of losing her status, her position on the team or her surgery allotment. One radiologist I know has three kids and no life. She is guilt-ridden and conflicted. Her husband is neither.”

With 75 per cent of all married or co-habiting Canadian women participating in the labour market, this is the final challenge women face, the last frontier in the battle for equality.

A 2010 Toronto-Dominion Bank study concluded that the earnings gap between men and women is tied primarily to motherhood. Women with no children tend to earn the same as men. However, women who take time out to have children have a persistent 3-per-cent penalty for every year of absence, economists Beata Caranci and Pascal Gauthier concluded in the study. For women who take three years out of the labour force and then go on to work another 20 years, that results in $325,000 in lost income.

In spite of the great numbers of female graduates in law, medicine and business, once they become mothers, many simply cannot sustain the type-A career track – at least, not while running another business on the side. They become family physicians on four-day-a-week schedules, or give up law partnerships for in-house counsel jobs. Just 22 per cent of Canada’s elected federal representatives are women – putting Canada in 51st place in the world for proportion of women in Parliament, behind Angola and Pakistan. A study conducted by Anne McLellan, a former Liberal cabinet minister, found that one of the main concerns for women was finding a balance between work and family life. Just 13 per cent of directors at Canada’s top 500 private and public companies are women, and women comprise only 2 per cent of CEOs at Canada’s 1,000 largest companies.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has become so concerned about the steady exodus of women from Ontario law firms it commissioned a report to document the trend. It found that work-life balance was one of the main reasons women left private-practice jobs. The Law Society is trying to retain them by investing in flexible schedules, family-friendly practices and mentoring programs.

As useful as these initiatives are, they won’t be effective without a cultural shift in how society views the roles of women and men in family life. Most of the career mothers I know do not have time to consider whether they have achieved full equality – they are too busy sinking under the strain of the “second shift.”

I know when my head hits the pillow at night, it is filled not with the victory tune of Helen Reddy’s I am Woman (Hear Me Roar), but sodden with lists, and lists of lists, of all the things I must remember to do in the morning.

Marina Jimenez is a member of The Globe and Mail’s editorial board.