Sunday, 8 March 2020

Part II: Reflections on the Second Wave: A Feminist Journalist Remembers Herself

Betty Friedan's ideas were old hat in Canada by the time The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. Canadian women had been writing and publishing on legal and cultural means of suppression ever since Doris Anderson became the Editor of Chatelaine in 1958. Doris' managing editor, Jean Wright, refused a chance to excerpt The Feminine Mystique because Chatelaine had already covered everything in it.

Yet Tessa Jordan appears to accept Branching Out's founding Editor Susan McMaster's claim that in 1972, before Branching Out was first published, " there was no feminist periodical in Canada that sought a national audience and had the newsstand appeal of Ms. or Chatelaine." She is right about the newsstand appeal of Chatelaine, but this suggests Ms. and Chatelaine were equivalent, though they were not, while simultaneously implying that Chatelaine was not a feminist magazine. And yet it was. Regardless of its ads and fashion features, under Doris Anderson's editorial direction Chatelaine carried feature after feature, column after column, editorial after editorial, detailing the unfair laws and social restrictions which hedged women (and men) in coffin-like sex roles. Her editorials urged women to get up off their knees and change them. She raised Chatelaine's circulation from about 460,000 to over a million not by shying away from feminism, but by featuring it, and pointing out that thanks to the First Wave, her readers had the right to vote, to make their views known to MPs, to stand for election and get things done.

Without Chatelaine and its wide audience, there would have been no Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1968. When feminist activist Laura Sabia threatened then Prime Minister Lester Pearson that he'd better set that Commission up or she'd have two million women on the front lawn of Parliament Hill protesting, Chatelaine's popularity and seriousness made that threat credible. And without that Royal Commission reporting its 137 recommendations in 1970, (the same year Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Millett's Sexual Politics, Anne Koedt's The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm, Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex were published) there would have been no National Action Committee on the Status of Women, better known as NAC, funded by Ottawa. NAC hounded politicians on important issues year after year: its arguments about how and why immigrant and racialized women were being left behind ushered in the Third Wave in Canada.

Without that Royal Commission, there also wouldn't have been an Advisory Council set up to advise the Minister of the Status of Women (another product of the Royal Commission). The story of the blow-up over that Council is only touched on in Inside Broadside but it really matters. Doris Anderson was appointed to it and then became its President after she left Maclean-Hunter in a blaze of fury because its board did not appoint her Editor of Maclean's. She then ran but failed to get elected in a federal by-election as a Liberal. By the time she joined the Council in 1980, it had become a tame extension of the Status of Women's Minister's will. Thinking of Doris Anderson as a political hack who would do what he deemed to be politically useful may have been the biggest political mistake ever made by Lloyd Axworthy, then Minister of the Status of Women.

By 1982, a joint committee of the House of Commons was voting on the wording of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the framing document for the about to be repatriated Constitution. Needless to say, the Charter mattered to the future status of Canadian women. It was well known that some leading feminist constitutional lawyers were very concerned about how the Charter's proposed wording would affect women. Yet Axworthy twice cancelled a national conference on the Constitution organized by his own Council. So Doris Anderson resigned. Inside Broadside republishes a report of the eruption that followed written by activist Kay Macpherson. Her piece is interesting, but it is only one woman's view of events, not journalism. It took a mainstream, ad-driven, controlled-circulation women's magazine, City Woman, and its Editor (and my friend) Dawn MacDonald, to help raise a national hue and cry called the Butterfly Campaign to get women's views proper attention on Parliament Hill. In three weeks flat, an ad hoc group including Macpherson, Linda Ryan Nye, and Marilou McPhedran organized an alternative national constitutional conference in Ottawa. The 1300 self-selected and self-financed attendees who came from across the country, met for two long days in premises supplied first by Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar and Conservative MP Flora MacDonald. They voted on a list of recommendations, including that the Minister of the Status of Women resign. ( He did not. But Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau eventually replaced him with MP Judy Erola.) Attendees lobbied all political parties on what women wanted to see in the Charter. And it was ad-driven City Woman which, several months later, carried a long and careful piece of real journalism about these events and their aftermath, written not by a participant with only her own part of a big story to tell, but by then journalist Anne Collins. Collins interviewed most of the important actors and was able to lay out what happened, why, and what it might mean.

# # #

No comments:

Post a Comment