IS THERE RADICALIZATION AFTER 40?
“So here I am, Women’s Lib. How did I get here? And what took me so long?"
The Swiss genius Jean Piaget says the learning process is, in part, integration and substitution. A two-year-old says bastek for basket until she reaches a state of readiness to make the change. When that happens her neural transistors make a note of it and, somewhere in the grainy greyness, her memory bank rings up basket for all time. The child experiences a flash of delight: getting it right is good news.
No one knows how a two-year-old prepares herself to accept new information, to give up the gluey comfort of a habit and push on. It’s not likely therefore that I’m ever going to understand how I have moved so far and so fast into what is called Women’s Lib. This past year in particular has been unnerving. I’ve had the feeling that for my 48 years I’ve been living on the other side of Alice’s Looking Glass, believing that Brainy Earth Woman was the ultimate female achievement, that the male-female relationship for the most part was founded on mutual respect, that the sexual position of common choice is an anthropomorphic truth: rampant male
means gratified female.
Now I’m not certain what I believe. I was amazed to hear myself yell an obscenity during last February’s blueribbon Conference on the Law in Ottawa, when a panel moderator thanked a woman who had just given an incisive speech by observing patronizingly, “When such an attractive woman talks to us, it is well to listen to what she has to say.” And I’ll never Fly Carol or Fly E’Laine or Fly National, ever. And I’ll never buy Dare cookies until the management agrees to pay its women employees the same wages it pays men for the same job. And I’ll never eat in a restaurant where the waitresses are costumed to display their breasts and bottoms — are waiters ever hired on the basis of how well they are hung?
I feel as though I’m in a free fall through territory that looks familiar but
is full of implications that aren’t. This is the first winter of my life that I have been angry at newspaper pictures of women in bikinis in mammary poses on the beaches of Florida or Australia; I have never felt before that they were dehumanizing. For years I’ve been in the habit of using the copying machine in my publisher’s office whenever I finish a book manuscript. Last spring, for the first time, I looked at the room where it stands: row on row of typists in a hollow square, all women, surrounded by sauntering men who belong to the cubicle offices on the perimeter. How is it possible that not one of those men, or any man, is not better suited to be a typist? How is it possible that not one of those women, or any woman, isn’t capable of the better-paid tasks in the cubicles?
Formal weddings used to make me ache with the poignancy of all that stylized show of trust and commitment. The last one I attended, however, I kept wondering why the bride had that dumb curtain on her head, and why her father was leading her down the aisle to hand her over to the groom — a man-toman medieval transfer of rights. Why was her mother relegated to a seat in the bleachers? Why didn’t the bride speak up when the clergyman asked, “Who gives this woman in holy matrimony?” — is she a fully consenting adult or a warm Barbie doll? And if premarital chastity is so wonderful that she has to be dressed in intact-hymen white, why isn’t the groom wearing white too?
Also, I’m astonished at how I look lately. It’s a minor but not insignificant indicator of what has happened to me. In October I had a moment of incredulity when I happened to get an objective glimpse of myself while lecturing engineering students and faculty at McMaster University in Hamilton. I saw myself sitting on the lecture table, rather than standing demurely behind it, wearing stretch jeans, a turtleneck continued on page 45
CALLWOOD from page 32 sweater, sandals, loose straight hair and no makeup. Four years ago I was arrested looking better than that. When I was put in a cell, for failing to move along when so requested by a policeman in Yorkville, I was wearing a $200 French import and a fresh hairdo and my tears ruined eye makeup that had taken me five loving minutes to apply.
Piaget reports it’s done by integration and substitution. I look behind me and there’s nothing to see but a trackless lava slide. But there must be some way of comprehending how I got from there to here. Possibly a contributing factor is that I am a second, and maybe a third, generation emancipated woman. My mother’s mother scandalized her conservative French-Canadian village at the turn of the century by riding a galloping horse astride, and my mother has always worked. My father recruited her to help in his factory soon after I was born. When I was eight my grandfather, a judge, recommended that I become a lawyer; he didn’t tell me, so I didn’t know, that law was a rare ambition for a woman. Nothing in my early experience told me that being female could impose any limitation.
I went to work at 16 when a warcaused shortage of male reporters enabled me to be hired on the news side of a small city daily paper as a reporterphotographer. I rarely covered women’s events and was glad of it; the writing style required was beyond treacle, which seemed to suggest that women weren’t very bright. I didn’t believe it. I never though) of myself as a woman writer anyway. I was a writer with the cunning advantage of being female. I could flirt, cry or wring my hands, whatever worked best. The only time it wasn’t helpful was when I flew in a USAF B-17 and discovered the zippers in the air force flying suit issued me were inappropriately located.
After the war, when I was married and we had three children in the next six years, I found I could handily combine part-time magazine writing with nursing babies and learning what to do when the hollandaise curdles. When Betty Friedan came along in the early Sixties, thumping the podium about women fulfilling themselves outside their homes, she struck me as a shrew who didn’t know much about fulfillment.
Still the change in me was beginning.
I think now it must have started 12 years ago, when 1 was ecstatic to find myself pregnant with our fourth child. I had a revelation: all babies should be wanted.
I was doing research in psychology and psychiatry at the time for a book I was writing on the human emotions, and in the scientific literature I found confirmation of what had been mainly intuition: a baby born where there isn’t knowledge, tenderness and time for her
is forever blighted. She doesn’t even grow to her potential, she doesn’t have as good immunity to infection, her intelligence doesn’t develop as it could, nor her self-esteem and ability to love. That information put me solidly in the abortion-on-demand camp, and some women in Ottawa were beginning a movement to change the law. I joined it.
Some years after that I began encountering studies that demonstrated babies not only require fondling and respect but have needs for an environment that provides variety and stimulation. Clearly mothers should have that sort of information so I began pushing for child-care education in the schools. Almost as an afterthought I proposed, at an Ontario-wide conference called The Troubled Child, that both males and females should be instructed in the needs of children and preferably should be exposed to an actual nursery or day-care centre.
That, and studies which established that twoand threeand four-year-olds benefit greatly from being able to play together, made me an enthusiastic advocate of day care as a child’s right.
I had backed into Women’s Lib issues without noticing. They were proposing abortion and day care in order to permit women to plan their lives with the same continuity as men do, without pausing for a mind-dissolving 15 years of childtending. I was brimming with the joys of enlightened motherhood. I must have given them a frightful pain, and they dismayed me. But we were stuck with one another: our goals were the same.
My editor in New York, Lisa Drew, began writing “Ms.” on her letters to me. The feminist Kate Millett had just written a grumpy Doubleday book, Sexual Politics, and the office was full of The Movement. Ms. made perfect sense from the moment I first saw it. Eventually society will drop the whole clumsy, often inaccurate and usually redundant apparatus of Mr., Mrs., Miss and Ms., but in the meantime Ms. answers the problem of a woman’s marital status being written on her forehead while a man’s is not.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association sent me a notice of an executive committee meeting. My name has been on the list of officers printed on CCLA stationery for the past eight years but for the first time something about it jumped out at me. “How come,”. I demanded when I got to the meeting, “that it reads ‘Miss June Callwood’ and ‘Mrs. Barbara Frum’? How come it doesn’t read ‘Dalton Camp (Married)’ and ‘Alan Borovoy (Single)’?”
Borovoy, CCLA’s general counsel, dragged his hand down his face and groaned, “You’ve gone Women’s Lib!”
I was indignant. “I have not! It’s a question of relevancy, that’s all.”
continued on page 46
I collaborated with a lawyer, Marvin A. Zuker, on a small book called Canadian Women And The Law. Sandra Precop reviewed it in the Windsor Star and commented on its “screaming ‘discrimination’ from cover to cover.” That hadn’t been the original intention. We planned to produce a simple, readable guide on the rights and responsibilities of women under the law. Zuker has an academic mind, meticulous and detached, and he provided the legal research. When I saw it, my contribution to the book became a howl from the heart. In some cases, as with alimony and the custody of children, the law discriminates against men, but the effect of most of the laws concerning women is to flatten them. It’s done out of gallantry: women are frail, they can’t cope, they need protection. Kindly meant or not, the consequence is that women ride in the back of the bus. Female dependency, which can become female desperation, is built into the system.
I still didn’t know anyone in the Women’s Lib movement but I began to wish they would talk more about jobs and less about their dear little uteruses. The rationale, obviously, is that a woman cannot compete for responsible positions without being able to control her own procreation. But the attraction of childbearing for some women is that it offers the only sense of accomplishment they’ll ever know. The baby becomes the justification of the mother’s whole life, which can be soul-breaking for both. Women should have a choice or two, besides motherhood.
About a year ago there was talk of an imminent federal election. I was becoming political. For eight months I had been writing Pierre Trudeau asking him to consider a Royal Commission on the Needs of Children or, at least, a Prime Minister’s Conference similar to the White House Conference on Children that is mandatory in the United States every 10 years. He almost never replied, even when I attempted to make the letters humorous, which is a neat trick to pull off when you are trying to tell someone that a lot of children are suffering.
I came to the conclusion that the difficulty must be the ratio of sexes in parliament: 263 men and one valiant woman. If there were more women, maybe we wouldn’t have conditions like those in Montreal slum areas where a survey 18 months ago found half the school children weakened by malnutrition. Maybe we would, but it seemed worth a try.
The Progressive Conservatives, the New Democratic Party and the Liberals, in that order, asked me to be a federal candidate. I pictured the scene in the backrooms: cigar smoke curling up, ties loosened, ice melting in the glasses: “Hey, Chatelaine says we need more women candidates this time. Does any-
one know a woman?” (Chatelaine had published in October, 1971, a tightly documented strongly worded blast against the parties’ sexist attitudes.)
I finally decided against running for any party, giving as my reason the unlikelihood that I could persuade any caucus to make the lives of babies the top government priority and the certainty that I would turn myself into a caricature of a self-anointed revivalist by trying.
All this was true, but the deeper truth that I omitted has to do with my family. Even on my best days I operate with less confidence than I need. The supportive friendship of my daughters and sons, and especially of my husband, enables me to overcome this and feel frisky and invincible. Because of the family bond, I am free of the fear of disgrace or fall from dignity that immobilizes many people; I am absolutely safe. To become a politician, and be separated from them, would be to tinker with a miracle.
About that time some women in Toronto, aroused by the Chatelaine article, were pondering the dearth of women in political life. They made some telephone calls, from which emerged a
WOMEN RIDE IN THE BACK OF THE BUS; FEMALE DEPENDENCY IS BUILT INTO THE SYSTEM
meeting. About 40 of us collected in a church basement, mostly strangers to one another, a cross-section of ages and styles. The tone was restrained and polite as we exchanged views. We agreed on a name — Women For Political Action — and some decisions that were born of a mistrust of structure: we wouldn’t have a constitution, we wouldn’t become a national movement, we wouldn’t have formal memberships, or an executive, or a permanent chairperson. (Chairperson, I thought, exasperated; it gets absurd: repairperson? clergyperson? landperson?)
We continued to meet, though the chaos produced by the egalitarian approach was almost swamping. Hundreds of women came and went and those who went departed mainly because of the decision to run two women as Independent candidates in the federal election, a historic first born of disillusionment. We kept being told, mainly by women, that we were naïve at best and destructive to the cause at worst to be working outside the system.
Outside the system! There is nothing more hoary with tradition in the evolution of democracy in Canada than for people who feel themselves powerless and shut out of decision-making getting together to acquire clout. Before we even had responsible government, indignation and frustration created the
Reform Party. In the early Twenties aroused farmers elected 65 of themselves to the House of Commons within a year of organizing. The process goes that way: parties solidify when they are in power in order to be reassuring, eventually the desirable stability becomes undesirable stagnancy and alienation which spends what little energy it has on defense. A new force comes along and for a flashy few minutes there is responsiveness and vitality again.
I had a vision of women across the country coming spontaneously and simultaneously to a sense of common cause and electing a ferocious dozen or so to Ottawa. Oh well. Maybe when the next federal election rolls around, women shut out in the last one will either run on the simple ticket Woman or devise new tactics.
Rosemary Brown, now an MLA in British Columbia, described an alternative route for women in politics last April during the Strategy for Change Conference in Toronto sponsored by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women in Canada. She recommended that women select a strong riding association, one that usually gets its candidate elected, and join it in droves. They should keep a low profile, contentedly making sandwiches, until it is time to choose a candidate or elect an executive. Then they surface, pack the meeting and put women in power.
Women For Political Action didn’t have the luxury of time, even if we had trusted the parties to pay attention to women within their ranks, which we didn’t. We concentrated on campaign strategy, on how to elect two women to the House of Commons on a budget of almost nothing. The meetings drew an ill-sorted group of women: some young and wearing jeans and army boots, some white-haired with their knitting, some from factories, some matrons in hats. There were moments when we seemed to be appreciating one another in a wave of oneness that was endearing and enlarging. In consciousness-raising groups, I’m told, women feel similar bonds of shared experience so intensely that they weep. The surprise in the Women’s Lib Cracker Jack box is liking women better, from which flows liking the self more.
I still didn’t feel that I was really a part of Women’s Lib. One major divergence was my feeling that women have inviolable responsibility for the raising of their children, whether it means suspending research worthy of a Nobel Prize or quitting the curling club. I changed my mind last summer by imperceptible degrees in the weeks after a casual conversation with Charlotte Sykes. She’s a longtime feminist who sometimes wears a button, UPPITY WOMEN UNITE. We met while working together to raise money for some low-incontinued on page 48
CALLWOOD continued come tenants to fight a developer who wanted their houses. I had located someone in an advertising agency who was willing to help.
“The trouble is that his schedule is jammed right now,” I explained to her one day. “Something truly terrible has happened. His wife has left him with two small children and he’s trying to hold his job and take care of them at the same time.”
There was an unaccountable silence. It stretched on. Then Sykes said quietly, “Would Friday noon be all right?”
From time to time after that I thought about the silence. I had sensed disagreement, but how could anyone approve of children being in agony over a mother’s rejection? I tried to reason it out. If the mother left, presumably her attachment to the children was slight. The children then were not being deprived of someone caring but someone
disinterested; it’s still a loss, but maybe not a crippling one. If the father changed his priorities, if he was warm, if the housekeeper was affectionate, the children might be much better off than with a mother longing to be free.
I reviewed the literature on the needs of infants and small children. It says that they must have love, consistency, proper food, touching, stimulation — but nowhere does it say that these essentials can be provided only by the biological mother. In fact, the pioneer in studies of infants, Dr. John Bowlby, now refers to the tending adult by the neutral word “care-taker,” while a Toronto psychologist investigating day care is using the term “care-giver.” In other words, anyone of any adult age or sex, who has the time, knowledge, intelligence and inclination to care tenderly for a baby is perfectly suited to do so. My prejudice had always been that only mothers can
mother, that all mothers must mother, and I suddenly realized I’d been wrong.
I will never come to agree, however, with that aspect of Women’s Lib which is anti-men. There’s no improvement in the human condition in replacing discrimination against women with discrimination against men. Besides, men have paid a grim price for their monopoly on power: their humanity. When sex stereotyping eventually stops, men will be the greater beneficiaries. Women will get the right to achievement, which may give them ulcers, but men will get something better — humanity, intuition, compassion, colors.
It’s women, anyway, who most loudly insist that female helplessness is adorable and female accomplishment is deviant behavior. We have made it come true by believing that nonsense.
So here I am, Women’s Lib. How did I get here? vind what took me so long? ■