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November 7, 2002 Feminism in the 21st century: What remains to be done?



CTR sent this question to a number of women faculty and staff at Concordia, inviting their responses, and those of students they encountered. Here are some responses:

Linda Kay, Director, Graduate Program, Journalism:

Young women look at the generation that came before, the one that put off having babies until in some cases it was too late, and they don’t want to go down that road, yet there are still not enough services to support career women with children; not enough quality day care, not enough flextime arrangements, not enough bosses who understand that family and work must be balanced.

I used to tell my students that everything can be done with a supportive partner, but that is true only to an extent. I now see it requires support in all sectors. And in the end, this will benefit men as well, I truly believe, because young men also are asking the same questions about sacrificing their family life for the job that women have been asking for a couple of decades now.

I had one young man in my office this week, the best student in the class, who asked me to write him a letter of reference for a master’s degree in another discipline. I was stunned. He just got married, he told me, and he can’t see doing journalism for more than five years at the most. It’s just too demanding in terms of time.

There has to be a radical shift in thinking at the top, and I just don’t think we’re anywhere near that point.

Lorna Roth, Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Studies:

What remains to be done is convincing young women how important it is to continue being vigilant defenders of the rights that we have gained in the past through hard and consistent struggles. We also have to figure out ways to assure that these and other rights around inclusiveness and participation as political citizens in the corridors of power do not erode, but gain in strength over time.

Linda Dyer, Associate Professor, Management:

I took your suggestion and asked friends, colleagues, family members your question. Each time I got a blank stare, a pause, and then they turned back to reading, eating, shovelling snow, or whatever else seemed more relevant to their lives.

So while I have fond memories of my feminist activities, I conclude that feminism is over. It’s like The Wind in the Willows, a childhood storybook I will never re-read, but I will keep it in my library, have it rebound in soft leather, touch the spine now and then, remember the emotion and the pleasure it elicited — then settle down to read a current bestseller.

Lillian Robinson, Principal, Simone de Beauvoir Institute:

I think the major achievement of the last few decades is the creation of a feminist movement, which has raised awareness of gender as an issue and made change possible. We have given names to problems that were present without names and without acknowledgement when I was growing up. But a list of some of those problems — domestic violence, sexual harassment, acquaintance rape — makes it clear that naming is the beginning, allowing us to put each issue on the table as the first step towards dealing concretely with it. In the next week, I have to meet a deadline for my next book, which is a study of female superheroes in comic books. So, on International Women’s Day, I’m asking myself what important stories that particular source of myth tells has to tell us about women — and what (perhaps more important) ones still remain to be told.

Sima Aprahamian, Instructor, Sociology/Anthropology, Simone de Beauvoir Institute:

Much work needs to be done in the workplace in terms of recognition and acceptance of differences concerning gender, race, class: different career paths, flexible schedules, undoing past discriminatory practices. In personal relationships, we still live in what bell hooks identifies as a white supremacist, heterosexist, capitalist patriarchy that has become common reality to most of us. A woman’s work is never done, and violence in the home continues to affect women and children. The university environment needs much [change] to be “feminist-friendly.” Science, the new reproductive technologies, information technologies — all [should include policies that favour] women and the economically underprivileged.

Joanne Beaudoin, Administrative Director, School of Graduate Studies:

For Concordia, one of the forerunners of women’s studies in Canada, so avant-garde, a model for other universities, to have, 25 years later, only one woman in the Rector’s Cabinet and a few women out of more than 22 members of the Rector’s Advisory Group, is disheartening. Another thing: You talk to young women in the 20s about feminism, and they just look at you, and say, “But men have a lot of things going wrong, too. The other side should be heard.” Yeah, but the other side runs the world! There’s a lot of education to be done.