Help Keep the Movement Alive
Our mission is to publish books about the women's movement in Canada between 1960 and 2010, books written by the very participants in the movement. The content of the books will reflect the diversity and dynamism, strength and spirit of the movement.
For an annual membership fee of $100, you will receive our hardcover book of the year. You will also receive a charitable receipt for $30, the portion of the fee that supports our non-profit publishing operation. More information →
Our 4th book is coming along beautifully. Edited by Guylaine Demers, Lorraine Greaves, Sandra Kirby and Marion Lay, Playing It Forward: 50 Years of Women and Sport in Canada will tell many stories of the struggles and successes of athletes and the many women working behind the scenes who created opportunities for girls and women to play.
We’ve chosen this dynamic photo (credit: Wayne Glowacki, Winnipeg Free Press) for the cover.
To get this book hot off the press in the fall, be sure to join or renew for 2013!
FEMINISM À LA QUÉBÉCOISE — from the very title I was enthralled. Originally titled Le féminisme québécois raconté à Camille (Quebec Feminism As Told To Camille), the book is an entertaining and highly readable account of the feminist movement as described by acclaimed Quebec women’s historian Micheline Dumont. Originally published in French in 2008, the century-long chronicle was penned with the goal of explaining the rich history of the Quebec feminist movement to Dumont’s granddaughter Camille.
The book was carefully and lovingly translated by Nicole Kennedy, a feminist activist and organizer in her own right, and published in 2012 by the Feminist History Society.
Feminism à la Québécoise details the extensive and complex efforts of Quebec women, particularly Francophone women, from 1890 to 2012, to secure basic rights under the law and promote women’s equal position and status in Quebec society. It imbues the reader with a deep appreciation for the legacy of the women’s movement in Quebec and its astonishing impact on public and private life.
Each chapter opens with a description of the lives of young women of that era, an effective tool that Dumont uses to situate the women in the Quebec society of their time. The book begins in 1890:
Ernestine, Marie, Antoinette, Eugenenie and Imelda are all 17 years old. Almost all of them have been to school. Like all good French Canadian girls, they say their catechism and prayers every day. They far surpass their brothers in their knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic. . . But higher education is out of the question for them. University is prohibited, unless, of course, they were Anglophone, rich and Protestant.
As a reader, I was immensely touched by the courage, determination and audacity of women activists throughout the ages. From the late 19th century, Quebec women had to work hard to shake off the chokehold of the Catholic Church, which governed their every move. The dictates of the church shaped the lives of women and girls to the point that they could not even go to school past a certain age. Secondary schooling simply did not exist for Catholic Francophone young women. Dumont has meticulously documented it all.
Some of the earliest fights taken on by the women’s movement in Quebec were not aimed overtly at improving women’s position. Even the most mili- tant of women were careful not to be labelled “feminist,” because it could compromise one’s ability to work within the system for change, and draw severe suspicion and reprimand from authori- ties. Women campaigned for temper- ance, public bathhouses, green spaces, kindergartens, medical services for childbirth, and of course, women’s suffrage. Quebec women had lost the right to vote in 1834, only to fully regain it more than a century later, in 1940. Theological arguments were made to counter feminist demands, calling such ideas as women’s suffrage and rights under the law “against the family” and “Protestant” in origin.
Early women’s actions were tied up in social welfare projects. In fact, the Fédération Nationale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a committee of society matrons, had as its motto “justice through charity.” Much of Quebec’s vibrant not-for-profit sector owes its existence to women’s organizations and collectives, particularly the radical ones of the 1970s. Cells of the Front de libération des femmes du Québec were among the first to set up rape crisis centres, cooperative child care, women’s shelters and many other institutions that continue to thrive in the province.
Dumont highlights that the women’s movement in Quebec, at every stage in its history, found advocates among female (and some male) journalists, who were essential in raising issues of concern on the front pages of the newspapers, the radio and even on television. It may seem unimaginable now, but, for decades, feminist issues enjoyed much main- stream media support. Feminists also made their own media, with magazines like Le coin de feu (1893), and a plethora of publications throughout the 1960s to the 1980s, like then feminist-leaning Châtelaine (1960) Québécoises Debuttes! (1972), Les Folles Alliées (early 1980s) and numerous others. There were also great waves of cultural production on a grand scale: successful theatre troupes, art shows, films, poetry readings and the establishment of feminist publishing houses, such as les éditions du remue- ménage, which published the French version of this book.
One the most compelling elements of this history was the relationship between feminism and Quebec sovereignty. The Front de libération des femmes du Québec, one of the radical groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s, was formed out of a frustration with flagrant inequality within other progressive groups, particularly within the larger sovereigntist movement. Its motto was “Pas de libération des femmes sans libération du Québec, pas de libération du Québec sans libération des femmes.” The FLFQ was closely tied to the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ). The FLFQ shook up Quebec society, likening marriage to modern-day slavery due to a grossly unbalanced distribution of labour, protesting (and changing) the prohibi- tion on women serving as jurors, and the exclusion of women from local taverns. The many renditions of Fédér- ation des femmes du Québec, founded in 1960 and still in existence today, is also well-documented — its path from a centrist institution to a more activist, on-the-ground feminist organization.
Dumont’s history of Quebec feminism is honest and not without dark spots, like when known feminist film- maker Lise Payette made a documentary called Disparaitre (Disappearing) about Quebec’s declining birthrate and the “menace” posed by the increasing number of immigrants to Quebec. It caused members of the Immigrant Women’s Centre to boycott an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage, where Payette was the keynote speaker. Dumont also describes how some feminists bristled in 1999 when the Montreal-based sex- workers’ rights group joined the Fédération des femmes du Québec. As in every other case, she recounts fairly the arguments on each side.
Fittingly, Dumont ends the book with this scenario:
Young women in 2012 — their names are Catherine, Stephanie, Jessica, Audrey, Alexandra, Emilie, Vanessa, Melanie, Sabrina. They are 17 years old. Almost all of them went to daycare. . . . Most plan to go to university. They’re dreaming of holding all kinds of jobs in the future. Nothing is off limits. . . . Do they understand that it took the energy of thousands of women, during more than a century, to create the society we live in today? They ought to know that feminism is the political movement that generated the most profound and momentous changes in our society.
With great flair and affection, Dumont has demonstrated why Camille and the rest of us should appreciate the incredible efforts of our foremothers, in Quebec and right across the country.
Shannon Devine is communications director for the Canadian Auto Workers union. She lived in Quebec for seven years before moving to Toronto for work.
Playing It Forward: 50 Years of Women and Sport in Canada reveals the voices of many athletes, coaches, leaders and activists across the spectrum who contributed to systemic change in the world of sport. There were many powerful women in Canada seeking and making change using legal, social and activist methods. The women and sport movement included privileged women using their influence as well as school girls complaining about no space or opportunity to play. What they have in common is the courage to stick their necks out, take chances, make claims and serve as role models.
This book is also the story of the women’s movement in Canada between 1960 and 2010. Sport is an important part of women’s lives, calling up the experience of the body, control over image, engagement with competition, and the confronting of stereotypes about women’s strength, idealism and energy.
Many of the athletes in this volume reflect on their beginnings. Often alone and unconnected, they started small, competing in makeshift venues, training alone in imperfect locations with inadequate equipment. They reflect on the joy of movement, playing, teamwork and competition. Eventually, sisterhood developed among women in and around sport, as leaders emerged and the need for programs was identified. Organizations were formed, with overt feminist goals. This book tells the story of that organizing.
Much has changed in the past fifty years for women in sport in Canada. Starting with seeking equality in the 1960s – simply to get permission for girls and women to play – the challenge shifted to fighting for access to resources in the 1970s. By the 1980s equity in sport was the goal, a much more subtle and meaningful challenge for sport activists and female athletes alike. The 1990s saw the emergence of a very visible leadership in the women and sport arena, setting the stage for major changes in policy, programming and resource allocation for girls and women, and the shifting of power in key sport organizations. Not to mention a slew of great role models for a whole new generation of girls.
However, the last decade, post-millennium, has been a time of slippage and continued challenge for some time-honoured feminist ideals in sport. There have been marginal increases in women coaches for the national teams, but their representation is still miniscule. There have been increased numbers of events for women in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, but there are still lots of hurdles to cross to really make the picture equitable.
Photo: Abby Hoffman, 1955
The Feminist History Society’s 2013 book of the year will focus on sport. Here is just a taste…
Below: Chantal Petitclerc, Sylvie Beliveau, skiier, sychronized swimmers
The following article by Shari Graydon appeared in the Sherbrooke Record in December, 2012.
Even before Pauline Marois was elected Premier of her province, she and Quebec Solidaire’s Francoise David made history earlier this year as the first two female candidates facing each other in a Quebec election leadership debate. Afterwards, pundits expressed surprise at how effective David was, considering her relative inexperience.
But – as a new book about the history of Quebec woman makes clear – David has been debating issues for decades. The recently elected MNA is just one of dozens of equally under-appreciated but inspirational Quebec women whose advocacy activities are profiled and celebrated in the English translation of Feminism à la Québécoise, by Micheline Dumont.
A respected scholar who specializes in the history of women in Quebec, Dumont wanted to acquaint her granddaughter’s generation with the impact that feminists had on shaping the province. To that end, she abandoned academic language and moved the footnotes to the back. Reviewers have noted that the result is a book that chronicles the history of women’s activism in a lively and accessible way.
The vignette-like chapters explore everything from the feminist campaign for voting rights, women’s role in the war, and the development of the Federation des Femmes, to consciousness raising about domestic violence, tensions during the 1980 Referendum, and the organization of the World March of Women.
The personality-filled historical snapshots are offset by brief accounts of the realities faced by young women at various times. Dumont describes the “narrow, protected and tightly monitored world” of the 1890s, in which most girls were expected to leave school by 14, marry early, and have many children. In the 1940s, girls were often servants to their brothers, told “you don’t need a degree to change diapers”, and automatically dismissed from jobs once they married.
But the power of the book comes from the profiles of the women in every generation who – driven by a vision of a more equitable future – refused to be constrained by the rigidity of their times, and lobbied and agitated for change.
Feminism à la Québécoise was published by the Feminist History Society earlier this year, just a few months before Quebec’s most recent election. Although the book doesn’t feature Pauline Marois’ triumph in becoming the first female premier of Quebec, it does provide a complex and fascinating look into the women’s movement that made her historic achievement possible.
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