When women knew their place: Feminism, equality, and the National Post

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

—Warren Buffett


Remember when men went to work and women stayed at home with their abandoned dreams and bottles of Valium and sherry?

Remember when women’s hopes and dreams were fulfilled by simply getting married and having kids… and then vicariously through the lofty achievements of their husbands and sons?

Remember when a woman knew to keep quiet and to never talk back to her man?

Remember when a woman fancied herself lucky if her husband didn’t beat her too often or too forcefully? Those glorious days when domestic violence was something that happened at home—and everyone truly believed the oft-repeated refrain, “A man’s home is his castle”?

A time when divorce, not domestic violence, was the nastiest of offenses?

Back when couples stayed together no matter how much they despised one another, all for “the good of the children”?

But also a time when a man could simply up and leave his family, leaving his wife and children destitute, with no financial support and no legal avenues of address?

Remember back, as late as the early 1960s, when women—like my mom—were asked during admittance interviews for med school whether they planned to have children or not, and, on answering “yes”, were told it would be a waste of time and valuable resources to educate a future mother to become a doctor?

In other words, remember the good ol’ days? The days when men dominated all walks of life and women knew their place?

Well, the National Post Editorial Board sure does.

A Reactionary Backlash

You want a-holes, I mean real sexist a-holes? Better yet, you want some a-holes going off on a good ol’ fashioned reactionary diatribe? Well, look no further than these guys.

In case you missed their editorial a few days ago—Women’s Studies is still with us—it was a real doozy. Ostensibly about university Women’s Studies programs, it was really all about how feminism has destroyed our once idyllic society.

The piece is a must-read for anyone who wants to know just what sort of world the editors at the National Post envision and idealize. It’s a vision for the world that, at least when it comes to relations between the sexes, is not all that dissimilar from that of the Taliban.

Ok, perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but so is their rabid anti-feminism.

Sounding not unlike a bunch of good ol’ boys down in Alabama or Mississippi venting at how racial integration has destroyed their once harmonious and perfect world, these bigots at the National Post remember a time before women wrecked everything with their unceasing demands for equality.

Now, that said, I don’t doubt for a minute that there are at least a couple of women on the National Post Editorial Board, for they never would have published a piece like this if that were not the case. Probably some ultra-right-wing, wealthy snobs who care nothing for regular women and the struggles they have faced—and often still face today—in the real world.

Whoever they are, they sure don’t get the irony of writing such a piece. Because, obviously, they’d never have had the career they’ve had and they certainly wouldn’t be sitting on any boards, editorial or otherwise, if it weren’t for the feminism they so despise.

Young Non-Feminists

Sadly, many young women today—and not just right-wing ideologues—adamantly and quite ludicrously claim that they’re anything but feminists, grossly ignorant that a) feminism simply means a belief in the equality of men and women, and b) their freedom to do anything and everything they want with their lives is something that was won for them through hard-fought struggle by generations of feminists, starting back in the 19th century with the suffragette movement’s simple demand for the right to vote.

And regardless of what one may think about the situation here in Canada, America, and the rest of the developed world, the fact remains that the majority of women around the globe continue to live in incredibly oppressive, discriminatory, sexist, and sometimes outright misogynist societies. And I’m not just talking about places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

Women’s Studies

As for the specific topic of Women’s Studies programs, I took a couple of Women’s Studies courses (in which I was one of only two or three men in the class) back in the 1980s when I was at the University of Victoria and, truth be told, they were the best courses I took during my four years there.

I thrived at history, political science, sociology, etc., but I always thought it was a bit silly when certain profs tried to pass off what we were learning as “objective truth”. There may be such a thing in the world of math and science, but not in the social sciences.

And Women’s Studies embraced that reality and openly encouraged the mixing of objective facts with subjective experiences and feelings to come up with something much closer to an honest educational approach.

Simply put, real world experiences are relevant to academic study. Marx, Weber, and Durkheim are all fine and dandy, but nineteenth century theories can only carry one so far. Sometimes it’s good to mix in a little personal, real-life experience.

And that—the National Post Editorial Board’s ridiculous exaggerations, oversimplifications and nostalgic pining for the days of outright inequality aside—is why I’d say every university student should take at least one Women’s Studies class at some point in their academic career—particularly those young women out there who are planning to be doctors and lawyers and engineers, but who claim to want nothing to do with feminism.

Though those pining for the glory days of the nineteenth century, and/or 1990s Afghanistan, should probably take a pass.

How Offensive Was It?

Finally, I should point out that this piece was so offensive that even Anne Marie Owens, the National Post’s managing editor for news, felt compelled to write her own response in February 5’s paper.

However, this response by Penni Stewart (president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers) and Katherine Giroux-Bougard (national chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students) is a much better rebuttal.

Mike Cowie is a freelance writer who writes about politics, music, film, travel, and much more. You can read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.

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