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Impact of Feminism on Our Culture


A chronicle of the rise and growing influence of feminism in Canada.


C. Gwendolyn Landolt

 Author Notes

National Vice President, REAL Women of Canada

 Essay - 4/10/2001

Throughout the history of western civilization, there have been times when ideologies have pushed aside sound judgment and common sense. In Canada, during the period between 1963 up until at least the early 1990s, the feminist ideology accomplished just that. It overtook Canadian society and insinuated itself into the cultures of education, work, government and societal life, notwithstanding the fact that feminist ideology was based on unsound principles and was intellectually flawed.

During this period of time, the feminist ideology became the only authorized doctrine for women. If anyone dared to challenge its precepts, she/he was met with immediate and hostile retaliation. This amounted to a “feminist imperialism” which had a monopoly in the public policy arenas. It enabled feminists to dramatically transform our culture, even though there was considerable evidence that the feminist vision presented major problems for the vast majority of women, many of whom, in fact directly rejected many of its premises. However, feminists remained undeterred in their self appointed goals, bathed in the limelight of public approval conferred upon them by successive governments, both federal and provincial, and, of course, an ever compliant media which uncritically promoted feminist values.

Emergence of Feminism

A convenient event dates the inception of feminism in 1963, when Betty Friedan published her book, The Feminine Mystique. This book was an indictment of middle class women’s so-called imprisonment by reason of their domestic responsibilities as homemakers and mothers. The solution prescribed by Friedan was clear. Women had to leave the household and join the work force, where a new identity could be found. The move was to be from private existence within the confines of the home and family, which, according to Ms. Friedan, was nothing more than a “comfortable concentration camp,” to the public realm, where supposedly more important things were happening. This freedom for women meant, to Ms. Friedan and her followers, freedom from family, i.e., from husbands and children.

This was highly ironic since we now know that marriage provides women with their best defense against poverty and despair; against domestic violence (women living common law, according to Statistics Canada, are four and a half times more likely to be assaulted by their partners than legally married women). Further, according to Statistics Canada, four times the number of common-law couples break up within ten years, as compared to married couples. Also, very importantly, children in two-parent families have a better advantage than those in single parent families. Sociologist Judith Wallerstein’s 25-year longitudinal study of the children of divorced parents shows the long-lasting negative effects of divorce, which she claims are due to the deprivation of the “couple template” of mother and father.

Contrary Vision of Reformers of Earlier Times

A life of educated, affluent housewives, living in economic comfort with well-appointed homes was the very objective of the 19th Century reformers. For example, 19th Century reformers (many of whom were women) considered one of the most appalling depredations of the industrial revolution was the fact that it took women and children from the home and placed them in factories. It was hailed as a great victory for women when labour laws were enacted which eliminated such exploitation and provided special rules for women in the workplace. In short, women at home, caring for a husband and children, the role which was regarded as so confining to the 60s, 70s and 80s feminists, was a major goal of the previous century’s reformers.

Further, the first wave of feminism in Canada, in the early decades of the 20th Century, was centered on concern for family life. The suffragettes, led by Nellie McClung, wanted women to have the vote so that they would be able to “save” family life from the abuses of alcoholism and exploitation of women and children in the labour force. As Nellie McClung stated, “every normal woman wants to have children,” and it was to protect these children that suffragettes believed women should have the vote in order to make the world a better and safer place for families.

This is in sharp contrast to the modern day feminists whose philosophies and tactics are based on quite another set of objectives. Latter day feminists have modelled their understanding of the problems in society and their proposed solutions on the class struggle which formed the basis of Marxist thought. In fact, most feminist positions, both in philosophy and tactics, are Marxist. Certainly, all feminists are not Marxists; however, feminist theory is.

For example, Karl Marx and his principal collaborator, Frederick Engels, attacked the family, as do modern day feminists who have an almost visceral hatred of it. Where Marx and Engels saw private property and the family as tools of capitalist oppressors, modern feminists see the family as a tool of patriarchy, for the oppression of women. Marx and Engels maintained that women would gain equality with men only when they participated in socially productive work and redirected their efforts away from housework, which was private. They agreed that capitalism and class conflict would be abolished when all private property and the nuclear family were eliminated.

In 1884, in his treatise on the family entitled, The Origin of the Family Private Property and the State, Engels demanded the following:

  • a return of women to the factories;
  • free and easy divorce;
  • the elimination of sex roles;
  • the transformation of housekeeping into a social industry;
  • the communalization of child care;
  • the elimination of the concept of illegitimacy;
  • an “open” definition of the family; and
  • unrestrained sexual activity.

Does all this sound familiar? It should, as it is identical to present day feminist objectives.

In1999 biography of Betty Friedan, written by Smith College Professor Daniel Horowitz (University of Massachusetts Press), we learn that although Betty Friedan presented herself as a “typical suburban housewife,” according to her husband, Carl, Ms. Freidan had a full time maid and seldom “was a wife and a mother.” We should not be too surprised. It is significant, however, that Professor Horowitz documents that Ms. Friedan, from her college days and until her mid-thirties, was a Stalinist Marxist. Perhaps her famous description of America’s suburban household as a “comfortable concentration camp” had more to do with her Marxist hatred for America than with her actual experience as a housewife or mother. Interestingly, too, another powerful leader within the feminist movement, right up until her death several years ago, was former NY Congresswoman, Bella Abzug, who was also a determined Stalinist supporter.

While this is not meant to infer that all feminists have Marxist beliefs, Marxism does appear to be the model from which feminism draws its inspiration.

Seizing Power

Further, it should be pointed out that the key objective of feminism is to seize power. In this sense, party politics has been considered merely a means to an end for the feminist cause. That is why, for example, in 1979, Maureen McTeer, whose husband was at that time (and is again today) Progressive Conservative leader, stated she would not run against former NDP Maude Barlow of the left-wing, Council of Canadians because “Maude is such a good candidate.” Chaviva Hosek, who stated on national CBC television in 1983, that the policies of the NDP were the most acceptable to the “women” of Canada, subsequently became an Ontario Liberal Cabinet Minister and later served for seven years as the Social Policy Advisor to Jean Chrétien and the federal Liberal party. Feminists were also active within Brian Mulroney’s Conservative party. An example is Kay Stanley, who served as Coordinator of the Status of Women. Her sister, Marjorie Le Breton, now Senator, served as Mulroney’s Appointment Secretary, during which time feminists received appointments in unprecedented numbers.

The Problem with Feminism

The root problem with feminism is that it is based on two inherently flawed principles. They are:

  1. That there exists a female perspective or a women’s commonality of experience; and
  2. That, historically, women have experienced male oppression.

There is no such thing as a common female perspective. Women are individuals who have life experiences based on their differing social, economic, cultural, religious and educational backgrounds and neither gender has a monopoly on ethics, morals or an approach to life or problem solving.

Feminists used “women” as a class in order to seize power and socially engineer society to suit their own purposes. That is, they divided society into groups so that the favoured group at that moment, i.e. females, received special benefits and recognition. For example, women, as a group, were given a 007 license to kill abusive partners under the legal fiction of the so-called "battered woman syndrome", invented by feminist Madame Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1990. This syndrome allows a woman to shoot her partner in the back of the head as he leaves the room, or while he is sleeping, on the basis that it is self defence against life threatening past abuses (the Lavelee case 1990). No similar right, that of a “Battered Husband Syndrome,” apparently exists, even though highly credible studies find that women are as abusive as men. Women were also granted the exclusive right to kill their babies in their wombs, even if the father of the child has objections.

Again, the feminist perspective of history and human relationships, which views men and women as existing in essentially an antagonistic relationship, is based on the Marxist principle of class struggle. Feminists argue that historically males have exercised excessive power over women. However, history is much more multi-faceted than merely a gender struggle. Feminists also underestimate women when they suggests that females were trapped into roles they found unsatisfying. The vast majority of women unequivocally place family life above all other pursuits. In fact, the primary reason women’s roles have evolved as they have is that they have suited women’s interests.

The interests of modern-day women have obviously expanded and the great challenge confronting them is how to reconcile their family responsibilities (and rewards) with larger roles outside the home, as both careerists and volunteers. Clearly, transferring greater responsibility for one’s children to the state is not the answer.

The point is NOT that all women should do the same thing. They are as varied in their skills and desires as men are. Women should not be made to feel that self-respect and the regard of one’s peers lie only in pursuing a career. Neither motherhood nor a master’s degree is for everyone, but, as women’s choices expand, their children need to be shielded as much as possible from any psychological harm caused by the upheaval resulting from sorting out personal problems and problems in society as a whole. Consideration for children, however, is not of primary concern to feminists.

Women as Victims

Hand in hand with the alleged “oppression” of women by males, the ideology of feminism posits that women are victims. It further promotes the idea that women are incapable of competing with men unless the deck is stacked in their favour, which requires that government, industry and the justice system provide women with special protection, privileges and benefits in order to overcome alleged male oppression.

The vast majority of women are competent individuals making decisions in their lives according to their own wishes. Women do not require governments to be their “sugar-daddies” (replacing husbands and fathers), providing them with special advantages. This is not to say that there are not individual women, men and children who are victims and who do need assistance. These individuals should be receiving assistance, not the vast majority of perfectly able women.

Regarding women as a class who are victims encourages women to relinquish responsibility for defending their ideas and actions, and exhorts them to blame every intellectual challenge, every disappointment and every awkward moment on male oppression or ill will. The victim culture institutionalizes the view of women as perpetual dependents, helpless, hapless creatures unable to hold their own in the rough and tumble of social life unless special legal armor protects their interests.

The Growth of Feminism in Canada

Although it is easy to denigrate the duplicity and intellectual simplicity of Ms. Friedan and her followers, we must acknowledge that feminism has found considerable resonance in a wide segment of Canadian society. This holds particularly true among university-educated, middle class women. Why did feminism obtain a substantial foothold in Canadian society?

The reason for this is that feminism was and still is supported by legions of ubiquitous career reformers under the institutional sponsorship of government, universities and the churches. These individuals, however, did not just appear on the scene. Rather, they came into existence because of the Royal Commission Report on the Status of Women which was tabled in the House of Commons in February 1970. Although this report reflected the views of only a handful of feminist women, it set out precisely their revolutionary ideals for all of Canadian society. The recommendation, which proved to be the dynamite igniting the feminist explosion in Canada, was that both federal and provincial governments establish Status of Women Councils to fund not only the government-established Councils themselves, but also to give financial, philosophical and moral support to so-called “volunteer” women’s (feminist) groups across Canada who were working for “the equality of women.” As a result, the federal government established the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Status of Women section within the Department of the Secretary of State. Each province also created Status of Women Councils. This recommendation also led to tax monies in the millions being used to establish networks of women’s groups across the country, which became paid “agents of change” to promulgate feminist orthodoxy. This all-important tool led to the government being infested with feminist concepts, resulting in feminist policies being implemented throughout the country. As a result, the Royal Commission Report provision for funding feminism in Canada, has made feminists more powerful and influential here than anywhere else in the world.

The feminist agenda also became a growth industry in Canada. Feminists believed that the answer to a changing society lay in government intervention. That is, they believed in the distribution of wealth instead of its creation, and they believed that state intervention would eradicate what they perceived to be inequalities produced by male oppression. In short, they believed that the power of the state would solve their problems. This too, is reminiscent of the Marxist ideals of class struggle and coercive structural change from the top down.

Feminist-driven state involvement has resulted in extraordinary legislative changes and an expansion and dominance by the government in all areas of life in Canada. Extraordinary legislative changes have also resulted in massive alterations in social practices, public perception and, above all, women’s aspirations and sense of self. For example, the current structure of our tax system is directed toward women in the paid work force only, which ultimately compromises women’s freedom to make a choice about whether to be a homemaker, to be a career woman or a combination of the two. Although pay and employment equity policies are dying a slow death based on mounting evidence against them, such policies still form a part of the federal Liberal government’s policies.

Feminism and the Justice System

No discussion of feminism in Canada can be complete without a discussion of how feminists have now acquired complete control of our justice system. They rule the courts with a firm hand. This can only have been accomplished with the support of the federal government which has readily assisted them, both financially and morally, in their takeover bid.

It began with the federal government, through the Status of Women, obligingly funding the legal arm of the feminists, LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education Action Fund. It is no accident that the equality section of the Charter, section 15, came into effect the same month and year as LEAF began. Since its inception in 1985, LEAF has received millions and millions of tax payers’ dollars to mount court challenges and interventions. LEAF also continues to receive large amounts of federal funding from the feminist and homosexual dominated Court Challenges Program. In fact, LEAF, together with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), are the most frequent intervenors in Canadian courts today. Feminist influence has also been responsible for the proliferation of feminist judges being appointed to the bench. Such judges include Madame Justice Bertha Wilson, Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux Dube, Madame Justice Louise Arbour, and the Chief Justice herself, Madam Justice Beverly McLachlin on the Supreme Court of Canada. These women seldom fail to promote the feminist position in cases argued before them.

Male judges, however, also are under the influence of feminists by way of the National Judicial Centre, which is feminist controlled and provides a mandatory gender sensitivity program for judges. In addition, the federally funded Law Reform Commission, whose purpose is allegedly to “engage Canadians in the renewal of law to ensure it is relevant, responsible, effective, easily accessible and just,” is anything but just. In fact, The Law Reform Commission is a biased, unrepresentative organization used to promote the agenda of feminists and other left-wing special interest groups. Its recommendations are used by Supreme Court judges to buttress their own feminist philosophical and ideological beliefs just as though the Commission was a fair and reasonable agency, which it is not. In fact, in recent years, three of our Supreme Court judges previously served on the Law Reform Commission, thus enabling them to enact their own previous recommendations.

Effect of Feminism on Men

One of the saddest effects of feminism has been its impact on men. The latter have been relegated to being unnecessary accoutrements to a woman’s life. This is particularly pronounced in matters of separation and divorce. The amendments to the Divorce Act four years ago provided that men were to be regarded as little more than wallets for support of their children, the failure of which would lead, among other things, to loss of their drivers’ licenses and investigations of their income tax returns. There is no complementary requirement that mothers provide the fathers with even court ordered access to the children of the marriage. Feminist Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux Dube in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1992 decision of Young and Young, which dealt with a custody matter, explained it all to us when she stated that the father is merely an “interested visitor” to the home of his former spouse and their children.

Justice requires that women and men have equal access to employment, education, housing and credit. However, it is manifestly unjust to have laws that create a privileged status for women and remedy alleged past wrongs by imposing unfair disadvantages upon men, for example, to require that a certain percentage of employees be female and that equality demands that the results of every social process be identical for men and women, can only lead to more dangerous inequalities of political power among contending groups. Such regimentation is a troubling marker on the road to tyranny.

The Future

Feminism, as flawed as it is, did make one lasting change in that it exposed women to the idea that they could become whatever they chose. This is not to say that women were prohibited over the past 100 years from entering the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering, medicine or law. Rather, most women chose not to do so, because it was regarded by society as being somehow unnecessary. This understanding has been fundamentally changed by feminism. Today, women make up more than half of full-time students enrolled in bachelor and master degree programs at Canadian universities and diploma programs at community colleges. In 1997 – 1998, 55% of full-time university students were women, whereas 25 years before, only 37% were women.

Women, however, are still concentrating on the arts, humanities, social sciences, education and health fields, whereas the engineering, applied science and mathematics faculties still remain the domain of male students with only 25% female participation, a figure that has changed little in the past 23 years. Women, however, now represent nearly half of Canada’s practicing doctors and dentists.

Some things, nonetheless, remain the same in that the majority of women continue to work in traditional female occupations. That is, 70% of women are still employed in teaching, nursing, clerical, sales and service occupations (a slim decline from 74% in 1987), which indicates not discrimination, but choice, because of the hours worked, and flexibility of hours to accommodate family needs.

Unfortunately, with all these advances, modern day feminism has, provided a new straight-jacket for a large segment of the female population. Trapped by this straight-jacket mentality women are made to feel that unless they pursue a career in the marketplace, they can’t hold their heads up. Many have become apologetic and meek about the traditional role of wife and mother. It has reached the point where the word “housewife” never makes a public appearance without its modifier “just a.”

Thus, the role of wife and mother, hallowed and revered for centuries, has become demeaned and devalued to the point that many young women today have rejected marriage and motherhood. This may well be the most serious disservice the feminist movement has done to women and to our culture generally. To supplant the centrality of family life is to cause grave peril to the social fabric and to personal fulfillment.

Women’s strength and resourcefulness, however, have been demonstrated throughout the centuries when women have found ways to protect their families and cultural and religious values. Therefore, no matter what challenges face women in the 21st Century, they will continue to look after their families and preserve their values as did the women of previous generations.

They will confidently move forward in the 21st Century with hope, resilience and determination, knowing that their example of love, concern and capability will remain as a beacon of strength to those who follow after them. They will chart their courses on their own terms, in their own individual way, according to their own and their families’ needs -- not according to the feminist script.

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