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What’s in a name?

January 29, 2010

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." -Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Most of my working days start the same way: coffee in hand, I scan my emails while listening to The Current, a Canadian public radio show that sparks debate on current issues. Recently, while settling into my morning routine and only a few sips into my coffee, I was jarred awake by the disembodied voice of Barbara Kay, a columnist for The National Post and Current guest.

Kay was on the show to offer her thoughts on the state of the women’s movement and what its goals should be. Women’s studies was an early part of the women’s liberation movement and is now undergoing a major shift. Across North America, some women’s studies departments are being renamed as “gender,” “equality” or “sexuality” studies (or in some cases all three). Kay claims that women’s studies departments are changing their names in reponse to dwindling enrollment, and theorizes that, “Commonsensical Canadians are losing patience with the angry, blame-all-males school of feminism.”

According to Kay:

[Women’s studies] has as its mission to empower women and to recruit women to, if they didn’t come in a feminist, to walk out a feminist.

Empower women? How dare they?! Now that we’re onto their brainwashing, Kay warns, we shouldn’t fall for the “gender” studies trap, which offers a “more subtle version of heterosexual male-bashing.”

Of course, the real problem is that feminism, having “succeeded beyond its wildest dreams,” is trying to extend its reach beyond women’s studies into law and government policy-making. Consider the numbers: fifteen years ago, six percent of the seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies were held by women. In 2008, it was 15 percent. There’s also that recent study of gender diversity in UK companies, which concluded that at the current rate, gender parity won’t be achieved until 2225.

To some, it may seem like Kay is using a unique definition of success. To Kay, it’s just that feminism wasn’t dreaming of leadership roles. Using her own rule of three, Kay explains that all women self-select out of the boardroom:

I can personally name you three young lawyers I know, very bright women, who were asked to be partner track and said, ‘You know what? My children are too important to me to be coming home at 8 and 9 o’clock at night.’

Kay, who admits she isn’t “a statistician on this,” argues that many women aren’t prepared to commit the time and energy required to make it to the top:

Women don’t want to be sewer workers, don’t want to be hydroline workers, so you know, women seem to want the good stuff but are not prepared to take on the dirty jobs that men are forced to do.

Aside from the fact that some women are sewer and hydroline workers, I thought women were self-selecting out of the good stuff.

Back on the subject (we were talking about women’s studies, remember?), fellow guest Catherine Porter, a columnist with The Toronto Star and suspected feminist, argues that:

No one should be working 80 hours a week. We shouldn’t have a parliament system that’s set up, that you can’t have a family too […] There shouldn’t be a system that you can only be a single woman or really, a man who’s not involved with his children running our government and running our system. I think that system needs to change generally, so that’s one of the things I would be hoping that in a women’s studies program, they’d be looking at.

Sure it sounds like a reasonable argument, but Kay isn’t easily brainwashed:

[Women] have all the opportunities they can wish for and if it’s a little tough for them to fulfill these roles, well it’s very tough sometimes for men who don’t see their children because they have to work long hours at jobs

But isn’t that Porter’s point? If men and women are both finding it tough, the discussion should revolve around changing the system. And as long as people like Kay are hell-bent on preventing that discussion, women’s studies departments (or whatever they’re called) are a matter of necessity.

You can listen to the radio segment here. We apologize in advance that we are unable to provide a transcript for the audio segment.

  1. Sharon Hopwood permalink
    January 30, 2010 8:49 pm

    Amelia points out the common denominator—it’s the system, duh.
    Men and women both want to be happy.


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