COLUMN

The cold shoulder of equality

Barbara Amiel February 23 1987
COLUMN

The cold shoulder of equality

Barbara Amiel February 23 1987

The cold shoulder of equality

COLUMN

Barbara Amiel

Barbara McDougall holds the post of federal minister responsible for the status of women in Canada. But this may be a misnomer unless she acts very soon. Let readers judge.

Last month the 40,000-strong members of an antifeminist organization called REAL Women of Canada were once again denied government funding. REAL Women (its name is an acronym of Realistic, Equal, Active, for Life) has been battling for existence for the past four years. There are now some 50 affiliated organizations across the country. The group has produced briefs on every issue that affects its members, from day care to pay equity, midwifery, economic planning and pornography. While government funds continue to support feminist organizations, the majority of them under the umbrella of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the women represented by REAL Women go on licking their stamps and typing out their briefs without a penny of government aid.

What is it that the government has against REAL Women? Last month, after the group made yet another application for operational funding, they were turned down by Secretary of State David Crombie, who administers the women’s program, which was set up in 1973. Crombie said that his program supports only those groups that “promote understanding and action on status of women’s issues . .. and which carry out projects toward the achievement of equal opportunity for women in Canadian society.” The group has been applying for project funding since 1984 and has—except for an $8,000 provincial grant this year to an Alberta affiliate—been consistently ignored or turned down. REAL Women seems even to have been refused application forms until they claimed to be a new group called The National Association of Lesbian Mothers. Although government spokesmen say they have no record of such a request, REAL Women claim to have received a response to their phony application within a week, including a handwritten note from Tamara Levine, then national projects officer of the women’s program. Meanwhile, Minister McDougall has remained above the fray officially, contenting herself with remarks that women’s groups should stop fighting one another.

Feminism is a powerful political movement that resurfaced in the West during the 1960s. At one time feminism

was related to a general movement for the emancipation of women that centred on the need to get women both the vote and equality before the law. These were fine liberal principles that had been neglected. “They had been neglected, I suppose, because society had more pressing concerns. It had to survive, and it arranged itself in the best possible way to do this. Only women could give birth, and childbearing was a risky, hazardous occupation. Virtually up till the 20th century it was necessary to have several babies in order to see one survive.

As women gained both the franchise and, finally, full equality before the law, the feminist movement branched out into a different direction. It became an ideology based on a perception that women’s role in society was not the product of a mutual arrangement for the survival of both sexes, but rather an oppressed role in which women had been victimized by a deliberate effort to

Veterans need not have certain views to get veterans ' support Shouldn't the same be true for all of our women's groups?

keep them in the thrall of men. Now it was “catch-up” time, which often seemed more like “get-even” time.

Feminism became a post-equality movement. In a liberal society, equality is generally taken to mean equality of opportunity. Contemporary feminism rejects this and adopts an egalitarian stance that takes equality to mean equality of results. This leads to the argument that if women make up 50 per cent of the labor force, why are they not in 50 per cent of the managerial positions, and so on. The only explanation for this imbalance, in the eyes of the feminists, is a conspiracy against women by men. There is little patience with the idea that disparity may be caused by individual aspirations, needs or abilities. This egalitarianism is pretty much the stance of Canada’s National Action Committee on the Status of Women. In addition, the feminists at NAC have a full-fledged left-wing political program. NAC supports, for example, the withdrawal of Canada from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) and the reduction

of Canada’s military budget by 50 per cent. It passed a resolution against including property rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It supports freestanding abortion clinics. NAC’s success in gaining women’s support is attributable, I think, both to the ideology it holds and partly because a lot of women have no one else to represent their interests.

Contemporary feminism is simply one way of looking at things. Strictly speaking, it has an anti-equality approach that emphasizes privileges such as job quotas rather than equality. This emphasis is not shared by REAL Women, whose concern is more focused on the women at home raising families than on NAC’s working women. The REAL Women agenda includes: opposition to Canada’s law allowing no-fault divorce after just one year of separation; direct child-care payments to parents to allow choice of child care rather than universal subsidized day care centres; a tax credit for full-time homemakers to replace the present marriage exemption, and extension of the Canada Assistance Plan to single mothers who wish to remain at home with their children. None of these opinions fall outside the normal range of views held in a democracy. It is perfectly possible to have views against abortion, as REAL Women do, without being the sort of woman who bombs abortion clinics, just as it is perfectly possible to be a feminist against pornography without being a member of the group that was involved in the B.C. bombings of a porn video outlet.

But REAL Women cannot get official recognition. It really is adding insult to injury when you have a ministry responsible for the status of women that seems to be allowed to declare who is a woman and who isn’t. If you are a veteran, you qualify for veterans’ assistance without having to hold the correct view on veterans’ pensions any more than a small businessman has to hold the government viewpoint on free trade in order to qualify for small-business grants. Why should a women’s organization be different? If McDougall is unable to change the narrow-minded policies at David Crombie’s office, surely she has a duty under her mandate to correct his omissions. The ministry must be equally open to all voices in the democratic spectrum of ideas—unless it wishes to rename itself the ministry responsible for the status of contemporary feminism.