In 1967, the Federal Government created a Royal Commission on the Status of Women. It received 285 briefs from a wide variety of organizations, and held public hearings across Canada.
The LSA/LSO and YS/LJS were the only Marxist organizations to participate in this process. Their briefs and presentations were among the first statements of what subsequently became known as the women’s liberation movement.
The following is the written submission to the government’s Royal Commission on the Status of Women from the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière. It was published in the April 29, 1968 issue of Workers Vanguard, and then as a widely-circulated pamphlet.
As an organization seriously concerned about all problems confronting the people of Canada, the League for Socialist Action/La Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière welcomes the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission, in the questionnaires it has circulated, has asked some pertinent questions regarding Canadian women and the law. But while an examination of the laws is both revealing and necessary, it is our opinion that the problem of women’s status, which is that of an inferior in all respects, lies deeply below the surface of society and involves fundamental aspects of the economic and social structure.
In Canada we have developed our natural resources on such a scale as to clearly demonstrate the real possibility of liberating all sections of the population from social and economic insecurity. But if men are not yet free—woman is less free because she is further enslaved by her sex. We maintain that the attitudes and prejudices both reflected in and sustained in law and custom that tie woman to what has been called a second class citizenship, are embedded in the very foundations of present day society and that a fundamental change in this society will be required to eradicate them.
The situation confronting women in Canada—a developed industrial society—demonstrates all the more clearly the profound character of the problem. The high standard of living, advancing birth control techniques, extensive legal rights, access to all levels of education—all these have contributed towards the emancipation of woman and have helped free her from the hardships that have traditionally burdened her down.
But what is the real situation?
—technology has rendered housework almost obsolete. But despite the fact that more and more married women are entering the labor market1 large numbers continue to function almost entirely outside the social mainstream, tied by a thousand threads to the maintenance of the home.
—women have the right to vote, to run for public office, to own property. Yet the political and economic life of the country remains dominated by a minority of men.
—the federal government has recognized the concept of equal pay for equal work. Yet in some provinces the law actually condones wage inequality between men and women. Even where equal pay legislation is on the books, women receive substantially lower wages for doing the same work as men.2 While the trade union movement is in the forefront of this struggle, it has not yet won it.
—it is conceded that women and men have equal mental capacities. Yet early in the school years, women are systematically streamed out of the analytical subjects and channelled into less creative, less prestigious and less rewarding areas.3
—women have the right to higher education and to work in the professions. Yet the number of women who actually graduate from college is far lower than men, and with the exception of nursing, librarianship and teaching, women compose less than 10 percent (as low as 3 percent in some) of the main professions in Canada.4 Even in those professions where women are the majority, men hold nearly all the key positions.
—advancing birth control techniques give women increasing control over their bodies. Yet thousands of unwanted babies continue to be born and many illegal abortions are performed at great risk and loss of life.
These contradictions point to the fact that woman’s inferior position in society is not merely a result of custom or law, but is deeply rooted in the existing social and economic order which they sustain. How are we to solve these problems? The implementation by the government of the following program would constitute the first necessary steps to allow woman to take her place as an equal partner in society.
1) Woman must be freed from her traditional responsibilities for the child.
—the child has the right to everything that society can provide, regardless of the resources of the parents. Parents should not be burdened with providing for the child but every facility should be available for the full development of the child. A far reaching system of government financed facilities including nursery schools and day care centers must be established. In this way those women who prefer employment outside the home would be able to seek it. Those who prefer to be homemakers should receive a wage from the state. The family, through the imposition on its slender resources of the responsibilities of society as a whole, has taken on many of the forms of a prison. With the implementation of these propositions, the family could freely evolve into a harmonious relationship between human beings.
2) Woman must have complete control of her body.
—the government must initiate a widespread educational campaign on birth control, and establish community birth control centers for the dissemination and distribution of birth control information and devices. Both of these projects should be financed by the government. Any and all restrictions on the right of women to determine whether or not to bear a child should be removed.
3) Special measures must be taken to ensure that women benefit fully from the educational system.
—all educational fees must be abolished and an income provided for students adequate to meet their essential needs while attending school.
—all educational institutions must be co-educational.
—all classes must be co-educational, with the presently all-female home economics courses dropped and substituted with a general living course which would equip both girls and boys to take care of themselves.
—women should be given special encouragement in the analytical fields, such as maths and sciences, in order to compensate for the social prejudices which now exist and which discourage them from developing their individual abilities in these areas.
—school text books should be completely rewritten to exclude sex discrimination. Women must be written back into history! Not only are fundamental questions about the changing role of women through the ages still unexplored, but it is only recently that a start has been made in straightening out the slanders against the feminists,5 only lately that we have learned of great and brave women who fought along with men for social progress in the past. How many more valiant women are buried in history? Would not woman today be inspired to hear of them! A retelling of history would banish forever the myth of feminine inferiority!
4) All barriers excluding women from equality in the area of work must be removed.
—the minimum wage must be the same for women and men in all provinces.
—sex discrimination in job classification must be eliminated.
—all employers must be required by law to grant generous maternity leave with full pay.
While implementation of these demands would not secure full equality for women, it would pave the way towards this objective.
But why haven’t even these requirements for woman’s emancipation been achieved? And why do women appear not to have taken advantage of the opportunities that presently exist? There are two standard answers that are given. One is that woman’s "nature" is such that she is incapable of rising to a state of equality with men. The other (our answer) is that class society has enslaved woman and continues to do so to this day through capitalist society.
It has often been stated that women are predestined by their biological make-up to center their lives around child rearing and the home. Biology equals destiny. This view holds that both woman’s intellect and psychology are affected and conditioned by her maternal role. "Women are not necessarily inferior to men. They are just different." This view maintains that the beautiful qualities of femininity, "receiving, keeping and nourishing"6 are contained only in woman and must not be sacrificed by woman taking on other roles. Woman is presented as a unique and mysterious creature. This is a most beguiling presentation of the myth of feminine inferiority, one that at the same time enshrines and debases her. This view argues that woman not be legally discriminated against, only condemned forever to her special role. These concepts are nothing but a rationalization of the situation that now prevails—and there is no truth in them.7 We reject these pronouncements based on some timeless concept of the essential "nature" of man and woman. It is not woman’s "nature" that has placed man at the pivotal position in present day society.
There was an extensive period in human history of far greater duration than what is known as western civilization when society revolved around woman, not man. We are led to accept the idea that woman has always been the "second sex." The role of woman in primitive times has been hidden from us. This is the period in social and productive relations known as the matriarchy. It was woman who invented agriculture, tool-making and architecture, who first domesticated animals, while primitive man, who spent prolonged periods on the hunt, was isolated from the community. This period, which stretched over hundreds of thousands of years, came to an end, not due to any belated resurgence of an essential "nature"8 of woman but due to the development of class society.
It was only with vast changes in social productive relations that woman’s role in society changed. An examination of the varied role woman has played in history shows that it is the social productive relations and her relation to them that determined woman’s social role and position. From the matriarchy—the social relations of primitive communist society—has evolved what we know today as capitalism. Here too the social forces determine woman’s role. The main feature of this society is the private ownership of the means of production and their utilization solely for the profit of those owning them. An appreciation of this is vitally important to the understanding of the present situation of woman.
Woman has been relegated to the role of raising and training the next generation of workers, and on occasion, when required, has been thrust directly into the work force herself. Woman has been shunted on and off the labor market to meet the needs of an unplanned and profit motivated economy.
During World War II, women’s services were required to keep up wartime production. The way was opened for them to enter the work force. Nursery schools and day care centers were built. All the traditional myths and concepts about the duties of woman were shoved aside. The first responsibility of woman was to leave the home, put children aside, and assume the role that heretofore had been declared the domain of man. A new atmosphere was created which showed itself everywhere in popular magazines and advertisements. These featured spirited and independent women with different dress, different hairstyles, and a different psychology. This process came to an abrupt halt with the close of the war when her services were no longer required and an atmosphere was generated to reverse it.9
This incredible reversal within a decade shows that woman’s role in this society—capitalist society—is determined by the needs of this society, i.e., the interests of the dominant class in this society, the capitalists, and not the interests of the great majority, the working class, both male and female.
The implementation of the propositions advanced in the first part of our presentation— complete freedom for a woman to decide whether or not to bear a child; wages for homemakers; community responsibility for children, etc.—these would vastly improve woman’s position in present day Canadian society. But their chief significance lies not in the establishment of this or that individual right. At best they lay the foundations from which the whole struggle to free womankind can move forward.
We have referred to the experience of the World War II and post-World War II years in Canada. The experience of German women—under the post-World War I regime where they made great gains only to have them brutally wiped out overnight under the fascist dictatorship of Hitler with its "Kinder, Küche, Kirche"—is also worth noting.
As long as capitalist society prevails, whatever gains woman establishes, in material form and in status, are always tentative and in jeopardy. The implementation of these proposals would represent a marked advance towards removing capitalism, the social and productive basis of woman’s subjugation: and at the same time take us forward to the establishment of a new society—socialism.
Woman is victimized both on account of her sex and her state as a worker. Hence she is doubly oppressed. Woman must seek a society that knows no inequalities of sex, race, or class. Equality for woman—free partnership with man—cannot be found in an unjust and exploitative society. It can only be found in a society where the great productive forces created by our collective effort are at the full disposal of humanity, where the economy is planned to meet human need and where production is geared for human use—in a socialist society.
Young Socialist Forum, May-June 1968
In response to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada set up by the government, we of the Young Socialists/ Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes have set up our own commission to study the situation of women, and particularly young women, in Canada. The Royal Commission has received 285 briefs from individuals and organizations and is presently holding public hearings in all the major cities across the country. The following is the brief of the YS/ LJS prepared by our commission.
* * * * *
"What do you want to do when you grow up, little girl ?" "I want to be an astronaut, like mommy."
An interesting thought, but this is not the way the little girl responds. By the time she is 6 years old she is already aware of her role in society. She knows that few challenging opportunities lie before her, that her role will be a limited one. She wants to be "a lady like mommy."
In the first eighteen years of her life a young girl undergoes a rigorous training program designed to direct her toward a specific social and economic role. All of her pre-school training at the hands of her parents and all of her formal education is designed to direct her toward marriage and the raising of a family. Her horizons are deliberately narrowed. She is educated to expect that only certain narrowly-defined areas of work will be open to her and that her wages will be less than a man’s. She is trained to accept the myth of feminine inferiority.
Why ? Why, in an age when technology could make housework obsolete, is this still a full-time occupation for vast numbers of women? Why is it that women are channelled into a narrow area of human activity and excluded from many areas open to men? Is it that women are somehow inferior? Does woman’s "nature" perhaps destine her to play these limited roles and these alone?
Trevor Wigney, of the Ontario College of Education’s Department of Educational Research, doesn’t seem to think so. He says in his Education of Women and Girls:
"It seems obvious that sex roles are often the result of the interpretation placed by society on the nature of the biological differences rather than the direct result of such differences themselves. They (sex roles) are the result of social needs."
As Professor Wigney says, it is social needs—the needs of Canadian society—that define a woman’s role in Canada today.
What kind of society is it that limits women to specific "sex roles"? It is a society run in the interests of profit, not people. It is a society based on an unplanned and chaotic economy, an economy that requires women to play a particular role. Throughout childhood and adolescence society systematically trains women to accept this role through the family, through the educational system and through a thousand myths, customs and social pressures.
The process begins in the first year of a girl’s life. For her first Christmas the baby girl receives dolls and frilly clothes. For her second she is given dollhouses, dishes, ironing boards, dolls’ clothes and more dolls. Her brother receives rockets with launching pads, mechanical toys, build-it kits, games galore and complete jungle warfare outfits. Girls are trained to imitate their mothers, boys to be creative and aggressive.
Along with the family, the school system is used to maintain the status quo. The petty rules and regulations, the brutal drive for conformity, are not side effects of the educational system. They are the essence of it. The early elementary school grades seem to favor girls more than boys. The six year old girl, already a well-trained mimic and conformist, finds the memorization and rigid rules easier to accept than does her more imaginative brother. The boy who has been rewarded for his creativity by his parents is at first lost in the classroom.
As if it weren’t enough for her mother, her teacher, and the television set to define the young girl’s role for her, the text books also do it. The worker-father, homemaker-mother, girl-child with her dolls, boy-child in his tree fort are all portrayed in story and picture. She learns about the many great men who made history. Throughout the early grades girls excel academically and are praised for their efforts. Then the situation changes. As Trevor Wigney says in Education of Women and Girls:
"It also appears that the later years of elementary school and early years of high school see a change in girls’ motivation patterns, when society no longer rewards them for academic success but expects them to become more passive and cultivate so-called ‘feminine graces’."
By junior high school, a girl who is serious about her studies is labelled an "oddball". Dating is decreed to be a girl’s prime interest. At the same time as boys are given special encouragement to study, the propaganda machines tell a girl it’s social suicide to be smarter than her boy friend. Magazines like Glamour, which ran an article last February entitled "How To Be Outspoken Without Paying Too High a Price," instruct the girl on the fine points of her role.
Secondary school girls are consciously streamed away from the maths and sciences into commercial and arts courses, thus preparing them for relatively unskilled, underpaid jobs. They are prepared for their special role in the economy—that of a reserve of labor to be shunted on and off the labor market to meet the economic needs of the moment (as took place during World War II when women were rushed into the work force only to be shoved out again when their services were no longer required.) Girls invariably outnumber boys in the commercial courses, in some provinces by a ratio of ten to one. Home economics is almost solely confined to girls and industrial arts to boys.
The segregated health and physical education classes teach boys and girls to accept the double standard. If she doesn’t know already, the young woman learns in her health class just exactly what society expects of her. Here she learns that she mustn’t "go too far" with a boy or she will lose her "most precious asset". This motto of the high school teachers is echoed by every advertisement every television program, everything in society. They all tell her to use her body to get a man. As the Toronto Daily Star, March 30 edition, stated in one article—"YOU’LL RATE AS DATEBAIT IF YOU TAKE THESE TIPS." Her sex is used to sell everything from Fords to Prime Ministers. Her future, she is told, is in the bedroom and the kitchen. There she’ll earn her keep.
These overwhelming social pressures drive teenagers into "forbidden" sexual relationships, while at the same time denying them access to birth control. As a result, 75 to 100 women at University of Toronto, for example, have illegal abortions each year. More than 55,000 teenagers in Canada marry every year, many as a result of unwanted pregnancies. The health courses which provide detailed, diagrammed information about the functioning of the pituitary gland tell the young girl nothing about birth control. To go to a doctor and ask for the pill is a big step in itself, and even then she has no guarantee the doctor will help her. Too often she musters the courage only after her first pregnancy.
The 1961 census showed that slightly more girls than boys were enrolled in school between the ages of five and fourteen. At fifteen the percentage of girls started dropping, until college age, where only half as many women as men enrolled. Even those few women who do go to university are concentrated in the arts courses. Society directs them to university for one purpose—to get a MAN. And since society is training them for this role of marriage and motherhood, why should it pay attention to educating them? It shouldn’t, concludes Jack McArthur, financial expert for the Toronto Daily Star, who represented a powerful trend when he wrote in his January 30th column:
"If this valuable commodity (education) must be used to best advantage, how do female students rate? Obviously, low. Having received a university education, partly or largely paid for by the state, they are far more likely to fail to use it. Can the state regard this as fair, when it may have kept an almost as talented male out of university in order to educate the family? No, it is not fair. Possibly, then, the state may depart from the policy of complete equality to give at least some marginal preference to males."
University of Toronto, the key university in training the leaders of Canadian business, contains many crude examples of discrimination against women. Hart House, to which all U of T male students belong, only allows women into its hallowed halls after 2:00 p.m.—and even then they must be outnumbered by the men! Massey College, U of T’s elite college for graduate students, also excludes women. University of Toronto Schools is an elite private school for boys, financed by U of T through public funds.
This whole process, from her mother’s knee to the university, systematically molds the woman to accept what has been described as second class citizenship. With all the propaganda and prejudices of society directed against her, it is no wonder that woman, despite the many gains she has made, is unable to take advantage of the opportunities that are theoretically open to her. Betty Friedan in her Feminine Mystique makes an analogy with the women of China:
"… But what would have happened if, before a single generation of Chinese girls had grown up with unbound feet, doctors, hoping to save them from pain and distress, told them to bind their feet again? And teachers told them that walking with bound feet was feminine, the only way a woman could walk if she wanted her man to love her? And scholars told them they would be better mothers if they could not walk too far away from their children? And peddlers, discovering that women who could not walk bought more trinkets, spread fables of the dangers of running and the bliss of being bound? Would many little Chinese girls then grow up wanting to have their feet securely bound, never tempted to run or walk?"
Yes, just as many little Canadian girls grow up accepting their exclusion from whole areas of human activity. Girls are born with the same basic capacities to cope with the world as boys. It is only after they are born that society binds their feet and minds. It is class society, the same society that rests on the oppression of all workers and the double oppression of racial minorities, it is this society that relegates women to their role as inferior beings.
Discrimination against women is not a mere surface aspect of life in Canada. From birth, formal training and social pressures from every conceivable source direct women toward their proper "feminine" role. The roots of this discrimination lie not in "human nature" but in the foundations of the capitalist economy. As we have seen, women form a reserve of cheap labor to be moved on and off the labor market according to the needs of the economy and as such they represent a constant threat to the wage gains of all workers. Women are the main stabilizing force in the family, which plays a major role in molding children to fit the requirements of a profit-motivated society. A reform in one or two aspects of this society would improve the status of women, but could never bring full equality. As long as Canada is owned by a small minority and run for their profit against the interests of the vast majority, there can be no equality—for men or women. The Canadian economy must be publicly owned and planned in the interests of the working people.
Toward this end, the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes call on the government of Canada to free women from the sole responsibility for child care, so that they may participate in other activities as they wish. We see child-rearing as the most important responsibility of our society, and think that society should provide the child with all it has to offer, regardless of the parents’ resources. We call for an extension of the school system to include a far-reaching system of day care centres available free of charge for all working and studying mothers.
We demand Student Power—an end to big business control of the educational system. Unlike big business, students have nothing to gain from the oppression of women.
All grants, fellowships, and scholarships must be without sex restrictions. School fees must be abolished and living allowances paid to students so that education is available to the children of the working class. This is especially important to women since it is often they who must work in order to pay for the education of their brothers and husbands.
All schools and classes must be coeducational. All school residences should be co-educational and available free of cost. All subjects must be open to both sexes with special encouragement given to women in those fields from which they have traditionally been excluded. The textbooks must be rewritten to eliminate both overt and subtle discrimination against women. Women must be written back into history! Students should learn of the inspiring role of women in primitive society, the role of pioneer women in Canada, and the brave women who won the basic legal rights for their sex.
We call for a replacement of home economics and industrial arts courses by a compulsory general living course so that we don’t train cooks who can’t change a fuse, and carpenters who can’t fry an egg.
We believe that the right to control her own body, to choose when she wants to bear children, is a basic right of all women, regardless of age. We demand free birth control information and devices be available for all girls and women of child-bearing age. Free abortions should be legal and available upon request. Co-educational sex education must be part of every curriculum and begin in the early grades.
Women must have equal opportunity to work in any field with no pay differentials or other discrimination.
The implementation of these demands would not solve the whole problem of women’s inferior status, but it would be an important advance toward a society where men and women can freely develop their capacities as human beings, a society in which there would be no basis for discrimination of sex, colour, age or class. It would mark a big step towards the establishment of a society in which the economy is planned to meet human needs, not a society where human needs are warped to serve the interests of profit—a big step towards socialism.
Workers Vanguard, June 24, 1968
by Kate Porter
TORONTO—One Toronto daily described it as "an unflappable group of commissioners keeping their cool amid a shower of fireworks from a group of young people calling themselves the Young Socialists." That about sums up the effect of the delegation from the Young Socialists/Ligue des Jeunes Socialistes when they presented their brief on the status of women to the government’s Royal Commission here on June 6.
The YS/LJS is a group of high school, university and working youth. The text of their brief, which deals with the problems of young student women, is contained in the May-June issue of Young Socialist Forum.
In presenting the brief, Kate Porter cited such demands as student power, an end to big business control of the education system, birth control centers in all places of learning, free day-care centers for children of all student mothers, and coeducational residences.
The brief explained, "Secondary school girls are consciously streamed away from the maths and sciences into commercial and arts courses, thus preparing them for relatively unskilled, underpaid jobs. They are prepared for their special role in the economy—that of a reserve of labor to be shunted on and off the—labor market to meet the economic needs of the moment. Girls invariably outnumber boys in the commercial courses, in some provinces by a ratio of ten to one."
Gary Porter told the commission that the only way children of all educational and financial classes could be assured of equal opportunities would be if government supported nurseries and day care centers were available free of charge. Diane Mossman a. university student, told the commission that it was "big business control of the universities that leads to discrimination against women students—the same big business interests that use university facilities to do research for war producing companies. Canadian students, for instance, are now calling for an end to the involvement of Canadian campuses and the Canadian government in the war in Vietnam."
That did it! She was cut off by the commissioners, who said that politics and the government had no place at commission hearings.
The Young Socialists brief also calls for special encouragement for women students in the fields from which they have traditionally been excluded, such as mathematics and science. "Does this mean," the commission asked, "that you’re in favor of giving women an edge at the expense of men?"
"Sure, we’re in favor of giving women the edge for a while," replied panelist Jacquie Henderson. "After all, men have had the edge for thousands of years. Women should be given a chance to catch up. But it’s not the male students who discriminate against women—it’s the big money interests that run the universities. The universities should be run by the students!"
She also suggested to the commission that it concern itself more with the problems of young women, by publishing briefs submitted to it by youth organizations, and by including high school and university students on the commission.
Copyright South Branch Publishing. All