That’s true in Canada, too. Though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
may have declared himself a feminist, both women’s rights advocates and
scholars in the field argue that Canada’s problems with women also run
deep. Besides rape culture on campus, there is the unresolved crisis over
murdered and missing Indigenous women, which the federal government
has been slow to act upon. Other evidence includes the still pervasive
wage gap; discrimination against women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and rising poverty, which disproportionality affects women, particularly single mothers.
Universities have also experienced a rise in anti-abortion and men’s
rights movements on campus. Many women feel these groups mobilize
people against feminist work, sometimes violently. “If we thought that
men and women were becoming more and more equal, I don’t think we
can make that claim anymore,” said Trinity Western’s Dr. Jule a few days
after the U.S. election.
Optimistically, this leaves women’s and gender studies programs in a
prime position to lead conversations on campuses and in classrooms, if
they can continue to eke out an existence among what Dr. Bickel of Southern Illinois University calls a pernicious rise in neoliberalism within the
academy. To her, this means an emphasis on financial efficiency, quick
graduation rates and job outcomes, all leading to the death of learning
for learning’s sake – which is as apt a description of women’s and gender
studies programs as any. Women in the field might argue that it’s hard to
find a space within institutions that were never meant for them in the first
place. But, it doesn’t mean they will stop trying, as the fight to save Mount
Allison’s program showed.
Many academics in the field would like to see every university in Canada
implement a women’s and gender studies program. Dr. Rice, not surprisingly, would first like to see U of Guelph reinstate its program. Professors also
want to see women’s and gender studies break out of the social sciences and
influence learning in such disciplines as mathematics, science and business.
As well, some would like to see women’s and gender studies become a
core introductory course for first-year students. Dr. Jule maintains that it
is as critical to understanding the world as core English or science classes.
If Canadian universities did make it a mandatory course, she says, they
would be taking a stand on the side of human rights and social justice.
“To keep women’s and gender studies as a side issue or a special interest
group is a shame. It could just be so much more.”
Lauren McKeon is a former editor of This magazine. Her first book, F-Bomb: Field Notes
from a Post-Feminist Future, is due out this fall.
its Simone de Beauvoir Institute, says the fight over names is part of the
field’s “border wars” – what women’s studies is, and isn’t. While she agrees
that women’s studies is having a good moment – enrolment is up at many
universities, including Concordia, where it has almost doubled in the past
five years – she argues that the field is also being invaded in many ways.
She says stitching together women’s studies with a very different field like
sexuality studies, with its traditionally male point of view, risks diluting
and changing the field in detrimental ways.
Those who argue against the discipline’s title changes are also con-
cerned that the concessions undercut the field’s radical roots in favour of
friendlier-sounding names that will get more bums in seats. On the oth-
er hand, perhaps catering to new audiences isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Nipissing’s program, for example, experienced a tenfold increase in stu-
dents after its name change. “We all have to be the audience,” says UPEI’s
Dr. Braithwaite. “And our role is now to find ways to reach the audience
that never saw themselves as part of this conversation to begin with.”
Meanwhile, as some programs close or change names, others are be-
ing added. Université Laval announced in January it is opening a new
feminist institute called l’Institut Femmes, Sociétés, Égalité et Équité; and
Université de Montréal confirmed that as of this fall it will be offering a
new minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies.
in early november, when Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, those who were devastated by the news included many students
and teachers of women’s and gender studies – understandably, given
Mr. Trump’s many disparaging comments and actions toward women.
This feeling was underscored by a deeper disappointment: that, in 2016,
a woman still could not break the highest of glass ceilings. Discussion
on what this meant dominated classroom talks. At UPEI, Dr. Braithwaite
helped organize a Social Justice Week, featuring an “outrage tree” where
students could write their concerns on giant paper leaves.
In the U.S., Barbara Bickel, an expat Canadian professor and director
of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, wrote a note to her women and gender studies listserv in
the early morning after the election; she says she needed to get her feelings out so that she could go to work that day. In her note, she spoke of
recovery, love and compassion, and she urged her colleagues not to give
in to fear. “I feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared for what is to come,” she
admitted, but added: “It is time to get to work.”
“If we thought that men and women
were becoming more and more
equal, I don’t think we can make
that claim anymore.”