Articles

WILL WOMEN EVER RUN THE COUNTRY?

CHARLOTTE WHITTON August 1 1952
Articles

WILL WOMEN EVER RUN THE COUNTRY?

CHARLOTTE WHITTON August 1 1952

WILL WOMEN EVER RUN THE COUNTRY?

CHARLOTTE WHITTON

MY FATHER, who came of unbroken Yorkshire and Norfolk stock, was an easy, genial man. Until his death in my fortieth year we had only two or three really stand-up rows. The worst of them all was when, at sixteen, I led a collegiate debate on the right of women to equality of vote and office in the business of government.

That was back in Renfrew, Ont. We had an excellent principal in the old Renfrew Collegiate Institute, Dr. Hugh Bryan, who gave every backing to our imaginative English and history teacher, Florence Corkery. Together they organized our public-speaking and history classes on what would today l>e acclaimed as the most modern of teaching methods.

The First Form was organized as The Town; Second Form as The Province; Third Form as The Dominion. I went through to election as mayor in The Town, as Sir James Whitney in The Province, and found myself only R. L. Borden, Leader of the Opposition, when I achieved Dominion status. Then came the elections of 1911, fought as stubbornly in our collegiate as in the country at large, and Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Wilfred Wilson he was he died on the Somme in 1916) went down to defeat before my anti-reciprocity forces.

I was called on by Dr. Bryan, who WEIS governorgeneral, to form a ministry. I came home, flushed with pride and excitement, to proclaim my hope of someday becoming a real minister at Ottawa —“perhaps a Sam Hughes.”

My father’s temper fired as I had rarely seen it. This nonsense at the school had gone far enough. If we were playing government let the girls be kept in their place. Like rugby, politics was for the boys and men.

And with that the fight was on. It’s still too early to plot the final outcome. It’s true that, in theory, my father’s point of view was dealt a death blow when, all of thirty-four years ago, Canadian women were granted the franchise. I well remember how a new heaven and a new earth seemed about to open as the bastion of the ballot box fell to the trumpets of the suffragettes.

Under the first heady impact of the women’s vote MaryEllen Smith became a cabinet minister in British Columbia. Roberta McAdams, Mrs. Louise McKinney, the Hon. Irene Parlby and the incomparable Nellie McClung quickly won seats in the Alberta legislature. The scintillating Edith Rogers drove a one-woman salient into the parliament of Manitoba, as did Mrs. M. 0. Ramsland in Saskatchewan. Agnes Macphail, doughtiest of them all, became the first woman MP at Ottawa and the first woman MPP in Ontario. The Liberals appointed the Hon. Cairine Wilson to the Senate

and the Conservatives replied by appointing the Hon. Iva Fallis.

It was an encouraging beginning for those who believe, as I do, that the cause to which women were called by the vote was not women’s rights but the nation’s rights its right to its full woman power, in all its intuitive strength, in all its capacity for sacrifice, in all its creative surge, in all its passionate desire to see things properly done, in all its gift for practical detail.

But the promise of that beginning has not been fulfilled. In the intervening three decades only five more women have been elected to the legislature of B. C., nine in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba, and one in Ontario. No more than five have followed the pioneer footsteps of Agnes Macphail to Ottawa. More than a hundred senate appointments have been made since Iva Fallis became a senator—not one has been a woman. And never yet, east of the pre-Cambrian shield, has a woman been elected to a provincial or federal house.

The dinosaurs may lie deep in their prehistoric graves but their spirits come out to range at night. The solid dead weight of tradition is still a mighty barrier to the progress of women in the business of government.

A Woman Must Have What It Takes

But, in spite of the unconvincing nature of the record, I believe the tradition against women in politics is doomed. I say this not so much because of my faith in women’s rights as because of my belief that now, for the first time since they won those rights, women are really in a position to make the best use of them. Political emancipation has meant less than it promised to mean for women because they have only begun to win economic emancipation. More and more women can “afford” to take part in politics. It’s inevitable that their part shall become larger and more useful.

We like to think that a man or a woman going into public life must have character, ability, experience, courage, wisdom, strength and, above all, staying power. But let’s be frank: he or she must have “what it takes” too. He or she must be sure of the means of election. He or she must have some independence of income, together with support, or assurance of support, from some major group within the electorate.

If you are seeking political office in a democracy you just must be sufficiently independent to be master of your own deeds and decisions or you must be adopted by some special interest. That special interest can be a political party, or capital, or industry, or agriculture, or one’s employer, or

a particular religious or racial or language group or some cause such as the temperance forces, or the “anti’s,” or (and have we really come to it ? * a women’s movement.

Just think over everyone for whom you have voted —or more likely failed to vote—in municipal, provincial or federal elections, and classify them under those rough headings. Then, think another thought: how many men, how many fewer women, can lie certain of making one of those categories?

There you have, in my judgment, one of the main reasons for the slight participation of women in public life. Political freedom means little without economic security to sustain it. That’s as true of individuals as of nations, and women simply have not had economic independence or, as Virginia Woolf so brilliantly wrote, “a room of their own.”

Women have been divided roughly into three major groups in modern society.

First there were the married women, the very foundation of the nation, the greatest single contributors to its growth and wealth, not only in character but in actual economic value to the nation. They are the cornerstones of most of the powerful women’s groups in the Church or State and, as their children pass out of their most demanding and unpredictable years, these women are freed, with maturity, energy, rich experience, to give more time and concentrated attention to public life. Ellen Fairclough, MP, Tilly Rolston, MLA, Marjorie Hamilton, the Mayor of Barrie, spring instantly to mind here.

Second, there have been “the bane of the tribe,” as Mme. Pierre Casgrain once called them—“the husbands’ wives” the women who, choosing matrimony, espouse everything about the men they marry, even to their opinions and who know but one tinkling refrain: “Don’t you think it’s a

matter for the men?” . “Now, my husband

Third, there have been through all human story the women of certain independence of mind and bent from their cradles—women who, even as youngsters, were the tomboys of the town, wrapping their dolls in bits of calico but keeping their fishing tackle spie and span as ready to strike out with their hockey sticks as their sisters to jab with their needles. Women of such a mold were the powerful sisters of the Pharaohs, the intellectual hetaeras of the Greeks (though they were anything but celibate), the abbesses of the medieval ages, the gainfully occupied women of all types today, from the roughest scrubber of an office floor to the gifted surgeons, brilliant QCs and successful business executives.

This third group is not any longer the unmarried. Many of them are Continued on page 31

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still spinsters but spinsterhood is no longer a necessary condition of their lives. Whether spinsters, divorcees, widows, or just “semidetached” units, this enlarging group has one great common bond, they are on their own in earnings, life, and outlook.

For generations women in this third group were an almost invisible minority. Now, with more and more married women, educated, interested and freer to take part in matters of public concern, the centre of gravity is shifting and the woman with a mind of her own, whether in the home or on her own, is sworn of a new comradeship of sisters under the skin.

Women are in a better position than ever before to take their place in the man’s world, when and if they choose to do so. And their patience with the man’s world is wearing extremely thin.

It's already evident that the women of Britain are at the end of their tether; every budget of overseas mail reports more women councilors, more women mayors as voters go to the local elections— Bath, Norwich, Durham, Manchester, York, Peterborough: these are not small English hamlets to have had women chief magistrates, nor is Glasgow, with a woman now its deputy provost.

Fed Up With Frustration

Modem urban living has knocked down the walls of the home. Women’s traditional work — preparation and serving of food, care of house and clothing, of the child, of the sick, of the aged—has been swept more and more into the domain of the community. And women are finding that they can’t any longer manage them unless they take a hand in managing the State which has taken over the taxing and the spending of so much that affects the home.

The deeper the State’s hand comes into the pay envelope, which has been the woman’s concern over the centuries, the tighter she must try to make her grip on the spendthrift hand of the State.

Women are fed up with policies and practices which they do not understand any more than the mass of the male electorate, but which they do know are pulling the patterns of their lives completely out of shape. They are fed up with the endless frustration of that careful planning which is natural to a woman from the day she starts her hope chest until, by skimping and saving, she sees her boy or girl leave college.

For women must be further-sighted than men on the nearby thing—not on the fine new social order of 1975 but on the cost of beef tomorrow. The most patient women are impatient of the little things, of keeping prices up when they look like going down, of creating generally a sense of bewilderment and fatigue and, since they feel that they themselves couldn’t make a worse job if they tried, it is only a matter of time until they make up their minds to try.

And, being women, they have begun by tackling the nearby things first. Right from coast to coast they have sallied out into the municipal government, still in quite disproportionately small numbers but with a verve and staying power that have not hitherto marked the direct emergence of Canadian women into the political scene.

They are working spontaneously rather than in any great pattern but

their drive is bringing them out also in unprecedented strength into their party organizations, with less tractability than they used to show.

I predict there will be more women candidates in the federal election, and in more promising seats than in 1949, and that the party which puts up the most convincing array of women contestants can easily decide the elections of 1952 or 1953.

I do not mean women candidates will be run in large numbers but that a few thoroughly competent women nominees, obviously suitable for cabinet or ministerial assistants posts, who could draw the confidence and support of the heavy female vote, could swing many borderline constituencies.

Of course the Opposition parties naturally fear Mr. St. Laurent’s acein-the-hole: the strategic appointment of two or three AÍ women to the many senate vacancies in his gift. It would give the government first lead and a proof of honorable intentions in the wooing.

But, be that as it may, women have made up their minds this time, and, what is much more important, they have the support of solid strata of the male electorate as they have not had since the drive for their enfranchisement a generation ago. That has been my own heartening experience, running for controller and, by tragic circumstance, finding myself mayor of Canada’s capita] city.

My own thrust into office was figuratively on the shoulders of thousands of Ottawa’s women of all ages, ranks, races and religions, headed by Mrs. Robert Dorman, a community leader never associated with a political party, with strategy handled by Mme. Cecile O’Regan, Liberal archtechnician, and Jeanne Travers, a continuing Conservative through all the vagaries of our party’s experimental driving. But men came out en masse, too, to put me at the head of the polls in the business wards, to run me a second to a veteran Labor controller in his own

And I have found little difference in service or attitude from either sex. Now, in my tenth month as mayor, I would say that men and women are possessed of the same instincts, swept by the same passions, capable of the same mental and spiritual power and growth. In the centuries their development has been different—and that explains different reactions in different sets of circumstances.

In my dealings with men I have come to learn what every case worker learns early in the welfare fieldthat by their signs ye shall know their homes. The man who treats his wife as a good companion is i fair challenging comrade in council, frank, determined, ready to argue a difference out. helpful in finding a common solution. He never tries to steal home plate. If proved wrong or rejected in his cause he usually shrugs his shoulders and says, “Well, perhaps next time.”

But the man who has been a lady killer in his youth has generally begun that way, killing the lady who was his mother by yapping his vain little head off in his crib, and killing ladies all the way, sisters and teachers, by his arts, crafts or tantrums. And he tries it out in his business and public relations. It works with the woman who has been boy crazy from kindergarten to the divorce court.

A woman's much the same. A daddy's darling is apt to be the IODE’s or the community’s spoiled little pest unless she marries a man who sets out and makes her into a really useful member of society.

There is an innate decency in most men and I can witness to it in my

campaign, in council, the board of control and. what is most important, in the permanent staff through whom the Queen's government really goes on. The most seasoned of the politicians, the hard-bitten diehards who could be most expected to resent a female intruder. have often gone out of their way to warn me of pitfalls, into some of which, like anywoman. I have chosen to ride headlong.

Headlong? Yes. perhaps again because women can't defer and delay. Now a man can sit around and smoke until snow and weather suit for snaking logs out of the swamp, but his wife has to have the porridge ready, and the youngsters clothed and eating it, in time for school every day-. A man can moon and dream about the shop front he’s planning, about the company he's going to form: a woman knows her child will be bom and need care, food, clothes, shelter on a scheduled rime (providing, of course, her male specialist doesn't want the Caesarean a week earlier to fit the golf schedule ).

No, women don't wait because most of their life they can't wait. Theywant action and they want direct action, so they’re said to be unreasonable and inflexible when they are really only definite and staying put.

Men themselves complain of the variability of men. “Blank was fixed: it's not fair or honest, not to stay fixed. Your Worship.’’ one of the council complained to me of the upsetting somersault of a colleague.

When you start examining them at the working level most of the old set ideas about the battle of the sexes call for re-examination and redefinition. Running contraryto folklore and fiction I’d be forced to concede that, in my contacts with them in public life, women are not more, but almost as. jealous and vindictive as men.

•'How nice-looks: he’s always

well-groomed.” I said to one colleague of the leader of a delegation.

“Why shouldn't he? He has nothing to do but spend his wife's money.”

But the jealousy of most men is less vicious, less personal than that of most women. That's natural, it seems to me, because woman's life has been more intensely personal through the years: centred in her husband and her family-. Woman was, for centuries, a chattel: she had no propertybut her man: she fought for and about him. literallytooth and claw. Men fought for property, for power, for women, yes, but all on a broader, more detached

Ottawa's council is composed of thirty-three members: the mayor,

four controllers elected from the city at large, twenty-eight aldermen, two from each of the fourteen wards. With only two of them have I encountered the small petty meanness and vindictiveness which women, at least, call "catty.”

I have fought bitterly with some of my colleagues to.find the angriest of them all thoughtfully waiting at the close of council, to say "Your Worship, that's only in the council room. We'll be voting together on the next row."

I have had almost insolent rudeness from an alderman, early in the council's agenda, and been startled to hear him whisper, passing behind the mayor's chair: "How do you want the vote on item 29?"

Now, I hate to admit it. but too many of my own sex would stay in the huff, not only through the entire meeting but anywhere from a week to a month or longer

What about flattery, the woman's classic weapon? In flatteryas in vanitythere seems little sex differentiation. perhaps because flattery, the food of vanity, feeds a shallow mind.

It's the woman prone to flattery herself who. “as an old and faithful friend.” is apt to call you up or write to you with advice about how clever women could just wrap those men around her fingers. She has no idea that “those men” may be wrapped up in a quarter-million-dollar contract or trailing three or four bulldozers behind that innocent-looking call for tenders. Not that I’m suggesting anything irregular, but you just tryto come between one set of aldermen and their bulldozers and another set with their bulldozers and you'd be about as sure of life and limb as if you were actuallycaught in the middle of the construction job.

The same type of woman who urges you to dazzle the men with honeyed words also urges you to “always remember that you're a lady-.” She forgets that the gentlemen do not always remember that they are gentlemen.

I have yet, after a y-ear and a half on council and board, to witness more downright insulting arrogance and recrimination than I have seen at certain university and church councils. Nor have I seen among the ward politicians what a former vice-principal of Queen's used to describe as the fiercest of all jealousies—the absolute hatreds of rivalry in some of the closed professions.

No. it's not easy for the man or woman who treads a waynot yet thronged—the path of the pioneer. None is a stranger path than that of a woman ranging in c world hitherto deemed a male preserve. She must do all that would become a man and yet nothing that would not become a woman. She must kick off at the football opening and witness, unperturbed. the special program of the Fire Fighters' Dinner. Yet she must also fulfill all the functions of a female of the species—open bazaars, visit the maternity floors, keep trac-k of the golden and diamond wedding anniversaries and indite recipes for the cookbook of the Circle of Willing Helpers of the parish of her own ward.

She must be on hand for the debutantes' dance and yet argue the date of debenture flotation with the city's bank and treasury officials. She must be as receptive to the housewife's complaint that her garbage is still where she left it last w-eek as to the commissioner of works' plans for a new dump, or specifications for the collector sewer. And she must take as much interest in the new baby clinic as in her neighboring city's plans for a ten-million-dollar bridge.

And. whatever she does—Oh! doesn't every woman know it!—she must do twice as well as any man to be thought just half as good.

There is an instinctive "unease" on the part of the male against the female sallying out from her customary setting and "duties" into the preserve where he and his have long held disputed but decisive sway. Most men are as unaware of this innate resistance to women leaving the compound as are many women of their own deep and unconscious withholding of their full enthusiasm and untrammeled generous support to the other women who do take up spear and shield and offer to engage in mortal combat in the public square.

And such men and women, just because they may no: set out definitely to detract, are the hardest to engage in definite conflict.

They are the men who think “she's a fine, bright, little woman, knows her onions: I'll vote for her but, you know, I prefer my own women at home."’ Just such a slight shading that, because of staying at home, those females of theirs are finer, better women, a bit set aside and above the women who are

ready to take on the real self-sacrifice involved in public service whether in appointive or elective office.

They are blood brothers of the women who hedge just a linie and whom it is equally hard to get into a firm grip: “Of course, she has a lot of experience and a good mind. But don’t you think, after all, a man knows more about business, taxes and the like?” Even if half the men concerned may never have earned in a year what the efficient competent business woman in question has paid in income tax in the last tw-elve months.

The woman who cannot understand the language of business and resents the woman who can usually shares another instinctive fear. Banking on her own sex appeal she shies off like a highly strung horse from the woman who is said “to think like a man.”

All of which may have something to do with the fact that so few women have essayed, and still fewer, having essayed, have stayed to bear the brunt and heat of the battle.

Ours has been a man’s world—that cannot be debated. It is still a man’s world and men will endeavor to keep it so. men in the mass, even if quite unconsciously on the part of many individuals. All their ways tend to preserve their power inviolate—the very waythey gather and gang up, from their stags in the back rooms to the gorgeously garbed nobles, prelates, worshipful brothers and supreme grand chancellors of their lodges. (Just imagine what would happen if the women of the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League dressed up and went about their convention cityin a fantasyof attire in anyway comparable.)

There’s one way-, and one wayonly, in which women can hope to catch even a dim far-off vision of an “equalitarian” state. That is to call on their particular and peculiar resources and so to use their new-found economic and social sufficiency as to -realize their political independence. Women must get together. And when theydo they must not ask more of a woman candidate for or in office than they would of

Women have seen their civilization threatened and disintegrating in two tragic wars and a bleak depression in between: they just cannot suffer yet a third generation to be sacrificed in the stark Golgotha of world in conflict.

The nation that today fails to enlist the magnificent resource of its full womanhood is flying on one wing and bound for a crash landing before the impact of the almost fanatic devotion and full mobilization of the women of the Communist states.

The greatest single argument for women's participation in the form of government based upon the equality and diversity of human life is that women are different from men. and the effective partnership of the two is as essential to the creation of a strong nation as to that of a sound home and family life.

Our civilization has gone forward because through all its centuries men and women have proved their ability to live, work and build together. The setting of their labor has been changed and with it the nature of the roles which each, and both together, must henceforth play.

What we need now in our communitylife are fewer men who think of a woman as a woman only: fewer women who think of a man solely as a man, and men and women who will think, each of the other, as good comrades-inarms in a common cause. The citynot builded of men alone is still on a far-off height, but we are many miles and years closer to its scaling.