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Doris Anderson in 1980: ‘The woman voter just doesn’t exist’

On the eve of the 1980 federal election, iconic Canadian feminist Doris Anderson wrote this column in Maclean’s criticizing politicians for outcasting women from the political process


 

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In the upcoming election we are bound to be hammered until we are numb with talk of energy and oil, mortgage deductibility and balanced budgets. But there are some other, far more startling issues that no one will talk about at all.

No one is going to say to all new Canadians: “Look, we’re going through some tough times. Three out of four of you had better face the fact that you’re always going to be poor. At 65 more than likely you’ll have to live on less than $5,000 a year.”

And no one is going to tell Quebeckers: “You will have to get along on less money than the rest of the country. For every $1 the rest of us earn, you, because you live in Quebec, will earn 61 cents.”

I doubt very much that any political party is going to level with the Atlantic provinces and say: “We don’t consider people living there serious prime workers. Forget about any special measures to make jobs for you. In fact, in the upcoming federal-provincial talks we’re not even going to discuss your particular employment problems.”

And no politician is going to tell all the left-handed people in the country: “Look, we know it looks like discrimination, but we have to save some money somewhere. So, although you will go on paying unemployment insurance at the same rates as everyone else, if you get laid off your job, you’ll only collect 50 per cent of your salary, whereas everyone else will collect 66 per cent.”

And no one is going to say to Canadian doctors: “We know you perform one of the most important jobs any citizen can perform, but from now on you’re going to have to get along without any support systems. All hospital equipment and help will be drastically reduced. We believe a good doctor should instinctively know what to do—or you’re in the wrong job. If you’re really dedicated you’ll get along.”

As for blacks: “Because of the colour of your skin, you’re going to be paid less than the white person next to you who is doing exactly the same job. It’s tough but that’s the way it is.”

As for Catholics: “You’re just going to have to understand that you will be beaten up by other traditions quite regularly. Even if your assailant threatens to kill you, you can’t do anything about it. After all, we all need some escape valves, don’t we?”

Does all of the above sound like some nihilistic nightmare where Orwellian forces have taken over? Well, it’s not. It’s all happening right now, in Canada.

It’s not happening to new Canadians, Quebeckers, residents of the Atlantic provinces, left-handed people, doctors, blacks or Indians. If it were, there would be riots in the streets. Civil libertarians would be howling for justice. But all of these discriminatory practices are being inflicted on women today in Canada as a matter of course.

Most women work at two jobs—one inside the home and one outside. Yet three out of four women who become widowed or divorced or have never married, live out their old age on less than $5,000 a year. And the situation is going to get worse.

Women workers earn, on an average, only 61 cents for every $1 a man gets—even though on an average, women are better educated than men. Yet they were told last fall that the problems they faced weren’t important enough to rate even one item for federal-provincial talks.

And when governments start talking about basing unemployment insurance on family income or introducing the two-tier system of family income, they mean women will pay the same rates as other Canadians but if they lose their jobs, they will collect less, or may not collect at all.

What politician could possibly tell doctors to train each other and get along without all their high technology and trained help? Yet a more important job than saving lives is surely creating lives. But mothers get no training, no help in the way of more than a token family allowance, inadequate day-care centres and almost nonexistent after-school programs.

No politician would dream of telling blacks they must automatically earn less than other people. But women sales clerks, waitresses and hospital orderlies almost always earn less than males doing the same jobs. It would be called discrimination if a member of a religious group was beaten up, and the assailant would be jailed. But hundreds of wives get beaten by their husbands week in and week out, year after year. Some die, yet society acts as though it isn’t happening at all.

Women make up 51 per cent of the population of this country. Think of the kind of clout they could have if they used it at the polls. But to listen to the political parties, the woman voter just doesn’t exist. When politicians talk to fishing folk they talk about improved processing plants and new docks. When they talk to wheat farmers they talk of better transportation and higher price supports. When they talk to people in the Atlantic provinces they talk about new federal money for buildings and more incentives for secondary industry. When they talk to ethnic groups they talk about better language training courses. But when they think of women—if they do at all—they assume women will vote exactly as their husbands—so why waste time offering them anything? It’s mind-boggling to contemplate, though, how all those discriminatory practices would be swept aside if, instead of women, we were Italian, or black, or lived in Quebec or the Atlantic provinces.

Doris Anderson is president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, former editor of Chatelaine magazine and the author of the novel Two Women.

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