Awards > Essay Award Winners 2004
The 2004 essay award
First prize - Not Just Daddy's Little Girl:
An Examination of the Barriers to Women's
Political Participation and of the Women Who Overcame
Starr, Political Science
Second prize - “Most
People Need Constant Reminders Not To Presume
Institutionalized Heterosexuality, Lesbianism and
the Oppression of Women In The Workforce
by Angela Turner, Women's Studies
Honorable Mention - "The Cinematic Representation
of Gendered Violence and the
Transcending of Gender-Based Stereotypical
Roles in Benito Zambrino's
by Christine Pickering.
The first two essays
are reprinted below.
Just Daddy's Little Girl: An Examination of the Barriers
Women's Political Participation and of the Women Who Overcame
of Political Science
Women have never enjoyed equal representation in
Canadian politics. Since their federal enfranchisement in 1921,
women have rarely become actively involved in politics. 
Not only were female candidates unsuccessful, there were
many elections that did not include a single female candidate.
Until the 1980s, political representation of women was below
twelve percent all across Canada . Presently, there are sixty-three
women in the House of Commons out of a possible three hundred
and one seats.  While
the gap between men and women MPs is much smaller than it ever
was, 21% is not equality. To understand why women continue to
make up less than 50% of the federal or provincial legislatures,
it is helpful to explore the uniqueness of the women who overcame
political exclusion in Canada in the twentieth century.
In examining the early lives of thirteen Canadian
female politicians, the four major advantages that led these
women toward political success emerged. 
Family political involvement, exposure to equal relationships,
higher education and work outside the home allowed these women
to be successful despite the social expectations of their day.
From roughly 1900 to 1950, societal barriers stopped most women
from considering work in politics. Further, the essay will show
how women were discouraged by the structure of political parties
as they began to undertake political work. Most political parties
excluded women by relegating them to domestic roles in auxiliaries
and by neglecting to provide them with sufficient support.
Considering all the obstacles and difficulties
that women faced, one wonders how any woman managed to become
politically active. Nonetheless, female politicians did exist
at both the provincial and federal levels. A comparison of some
Canadian female politicians will show that it was largely their
early life experiences and their personal relationships that
allowed them to break free from the dominant views about women's
proper position and take their rightful place in Canadian politics.
According to historian Margaret Conrad, women approach the description
of their lives differently than men: they focus more on the
close relationships they develop, because it is those relationships
that have given females a place in society. 
These relationships also affect the life paths women choose
to embark upon.
With regards to the personal
relationships and experiences of almost all of the women included
in this study there are four major similarities. The first norm
that will be examined is the political participation of the
women's families, since many of these women had politically
active fathers, uncles, husbands and even neighbours. The second
condition that almost all of the women experienced in their
formative years was exposure to the idea that women could do
the same things that men could do. Many fathers encouraged their
daughters to become involved in political discussions. Some
women saw equal relationships between their parents, who broke
away from the traditional male and female roles in the household.
Others experienced equality first hand with the men they married,
who supported their endeavours and who encouraged their free
thought. The third criterion that enabled women to join politics
was an education. Some of the women were not able to attend
university, but all of them were exceptionally good students
while they attended high school. Lastly, all of the women included
in this study were active in their community in women's organizations
and many participated in the workforce. It would be a mistake
to suggest that these female politicians shared the same lifestyles
or held the same views. Senators Cairine Wilson and Thérèse
Casgrain came from wealthy families in Quebec , while Agnes
Macphail and Nellie McClung were farmers' daughters born in
Ontario . Thérèse Casgrain was an ardent supporter
of suffrage while Margaret McWilliams did not see a need for
the enfranchisement of women. 
From an examination of biographies available for female
politicians in Canada in the first half of the twentieth century,
it appears that almost all shared early experiences that shaped
their outlook on life and gave them the confidence to choose
politics as a career.
All but a few of the women in this study had politically
active family members. Some of the women's fathers were members
of Parliament while others were simply politically active citizens.
As a young girl Cairine Wilson and her father, an MP, were frequent
guests at Prime Minister Laurier's house. Not only did politics
interest Wilson , but Laurier also became her idol. 
Grace MacInnis' father, J.S. Woodsworth, was the founder
of the Western socialist party the Cooperative Commonwealth
Federation. His beliefs had a major impact on young Grace, who
actually hid material that might have looked suspicious after
her father was arrested during the Winnipeg Strike. 
Thérèse Casgrain was the daughter of a member
of parliament and the niece of the premier of Quebec . On the
surface it would seem unlikely for such a wealthy woman to eventually
take up a cause like socialism. 
However, in her autobiography she speaks highly of the generosity
her father showed to his own constituents. His actions surely
had a great impact on Thérèse's later concern
for the working classes. 
Muriel McQueen Fergusson was exposed to important political
people through her father, who was a prominent lawyer in New
Brunswick .  Flora
MacDonald's father took her to her first political meeting at
the age of thirteen which launched her career as an active Tory
supporter.  Mary
Ellen Smith's father, a coalminer, held regular political discussions
at his home for his co-workers and neighbours. 
It was not just their fathers who influenced these
women to join politics. The other men in their lives also gave
them political exposure and experience. Martha Black's political
awareness came from her second husband. From the time her husband
became the seventh Commissioner of the Yukon Territory in 1912
until she took over his constituency in the 1935 election, Black
was keenly involved in the local and national politics that
revolved around her. 
Black was seventy years old when she took over her ill
husband's seat in the Canadian parliament. 
Grace MacInnis, Cairine Wilson, Thérèse Casgrain,
and Mary Ellen Smith were also married to MPs. They all participated
in their husband's work. Both Casgrain and Wilson helped their
husbands with their re-election campaigns. 
It was said of Mary Ellen Smith that she had twenty years
of apprenticeship assisting her husband on his political trips
and her biographer asserted that there was “ample evidence that
she was more than a travelling companion.” 
After her stint as secretary to her father, Grace MacInnis
became even more heavily involved in the C.C.F movement at the
encouragement of her husband, Angus MacInnis. Margaret Aitken's
brother was a member of the British House of Commons in England
and during her election campaign he travelled to Canada to lend
Margaret his support; 
her uncle was the famous Lord Beaverbrook. 
Familiarity with politicians allowed these women to see
what the job entailed and to determine that they were capable
as well. They were able to see that they could move outside
their homes and that their lives could involve politics.
Female politicians seldom disregarded the traditional
roles that were expected of them. The vast majority of these
women were wives, mothers and homemakers. However, early in
life almost all were taught that other contributions they could
make were equally valuable. Some, such as Mary Ellen Smith,
were encouraged to become involved in political discussions
as children.  The
fathers of both Grace MacInnis and Flora MacDonald took their
children on long walks around town, educating them about their
surroundings and listening to their ideas. 
Irene Parlby's father encouraged her to be a doctor despite
her artistic leanings. 
The father of Muriel McQueen Fergusson urged her to “be
all that she could be” and he allowed her to apprentice in his
law office.  Cairine
Wilson had a domineering father, but he often took Cairine with
him to sessions of parliament. 
Clearly the majority of these women were exposed to the
idea that their gender should not prevent them from thinking
on their own. They were able to build the confidence to pursue
a lifestyle out of the ordinary.
It is interesting to note that it was usually their
fathers who encouraged these women to think critically. Some
of the women's mothers did embrace equality within their marriages;
all were strong women. Grace MacInnis' mother worked outside
the home and shared a cooperative lifestyle with her husband.
 Mary Ellen Smith's
mother, along with other local coalminers' wives, was passionate
about public affairs. 
In order to account for Nellie McClung and Agnes Macphail's
political successes, one must look at the work that their mothers
did. While Mrs. Mooney (Nellie's mother) might have held an
“old world reverence for men,” she was extremely productive
on their farm. 
Later in life Macphail said: “[p]erhaps if I owed my father
the ability to get into Parliament, I owed [my mother] the ability
to stand it when I got there.” 
Both mothers were just as responsible for the success or
failure of their farms as their husbands. Historian Kathy Brock
suggested pioneers were more likely to believe in and to practice
equality between the sexes. 
Deborah Gorham believes this phenomenon is related to the
emotionally supportive role that frontier women played within
pioneer families. 
Females were also responsible for a major part of economic production
in farming areas and so they were an integral part of agrarian
society.  Many urban
mothers also provided emotional and economic support for their
families and they set an example for their daughters by working
inside the home. Ellen Fairclough talks of the economic stress
that befell her family during a recession and how her mother
took in boarders to supplement their income. 
While these mothers may not have paved the way for their
daughters' lifestyles and vocations, they did show their daughters
that women could be strong and industrious.
Even though many of their mothers did not believe
in equal roles for women, some female relatives and friends
influenced the daughters otherwise. Nellie McClung states that
if a certain Mrs. Brown had not taken her to a political meeting,
she probably would not have gone. 
Ellen Fairclough's aunt set an example for Ellen: she overcame
her blindness to tour the United States with the Salvation Army
Band and she encouraged Ellen to read. 
Agnes Macphail's landlord invited her to join in political
discussions with his neighbours 
and her grandmother showed her that women were equally
capable of doing jobs that were traditionally thought to be
men's work.  Martha
Black describes her visits to her Aunt Ione's house, “one of
the advanced women of her generation,” where she met Frances
E. Willard and Susan B. Anthony. 
These independent women likely showed these future politicians
that it was possible to be a female and to be strong and self-sufficient.
of the men that these women married were not opposed to equality.
Cairine Wilson's husband was devoted; ultimately his outlook
made it possible for Cairine to work outside their home. Valerie
Knowles notes this arrangement was rare in Cairine's conservative,
upper class world.  Grace
MacInnis' life with her husband is described as a team effort;
her husband respected and appreciated her skills and her excellent
education.  Ellen
Fairclough's marriage was described as “one of those rare working
partnerships;” her husband assisted her with her campaigns.
 Mary Ellen Smith's
husband introduced suffrage legislation into the B.C. legislature
even though it had been struck down before. 
The equality their husbands accepted provided these women
with important support.
Dominant views about women's place in society also
affected their access to education. When the debate about women
entering universities first heated up in the 1870s many scholars
were adamantly opposed to female education. 
In 1919, fourteen percent of college and university students
were women; it took a long time and significant struggle for
women to be admitted to universities and usually it was done
to make them better mothers. 
It is no surprise that only Margaret McWilliams, Grace MacInnis
and Muriel Fergusson held university degrees. However, all of
the women, except possibly Martha Black, appear to have been
good students. Flora MacDonald, Ellen Fairclough and Agnes Macphail
were often at the top of their classes. The case of Agnes Macphail
reveals the conflict between social expectations and personal
aspirations. Her parents did not want her to leave home to go
to high school. They felt they needed her help more than she
needed to continue her education. However, after two years,
her desire to go and her persistence won out over her parents'
disapproval. In fact, when her father told her she could go,
he said they would find the best school available. 
Muriel McQueen Fergusson's diction lessons and experience
in the drama society at school helped her to make the jump to
political speech making. 
The success these women had in school added to their confidence
and led them toward becoming professional women.
The final similarity that almost all the women
in this study share is their work outside their homes. On top
of their domestic duties, which could often become overwhelming
without help, these women worked outside the home, and were
heavily involved in their communities. For someone of an elite
status, like Thérèse Casgrain, volunteer work
was expected. She took great interest in this work and founded
a number of organizations to help women. 
Both Nellie McClung and Louise McKinney were ardent temperance
supporters; at the time of her death McKinney was acting president
of the national Women's Christian Temperance Union. 
Some of the women were paid for the work they did
outside the home: Margaret Aitken, Margaret McWilliams and Therese
Casgrain were journalists; Nellie McClung, Agnes Macphail, Grace
MacInnis, Louise McKinney and Mary Ellen Smith all began their
careers as teachers; Flora MacDonald, Grace MacInnis, and Mary
Ellen Smith did secretarial work; Ellen Louks Fairclough was
an accountant. Muriel McQueen Fergusson was a lawyer and the
first female regional director of Family Allowances and Old
Age Security in New Brunswick . She began her political involvement
by campaigning and speech making, which was part of her job
as a law clerk in her father's office. 
When her husband fell ill she took over his legal practice
and his positions as Judge of the Probate Court, Clerk of the
County Court, and town solicitor of Grand Falls. 
It is also relevant to note that some of these
working women got their start in politics at the municipal level.
Margaret McWilliams was a city alderman for Winnipeg. 
Ellen Louks Fairclough was elected alderman for the city
of Hamilton in 1946, then senior controller and deputy mayor
in 1949.  Muriel
Fergusson was a city councillor from 1951 to 1953 and the Deputy
Mayor in 1953 for the city of Fredericton. 
A familiar pattern for these women was to jump
directly from community involvement into provincial and federal
politics. Louise McKinney was a stronger temperance activist
than she was a politician; it was the fight for temperance legislation
that led her into public office. 
Irene Parlby's involvement with the United Farm Women of
Alberta can be directly linked to her eventual election as an
U.F.A representative in Alberta's provincial legislature. 
Agnes Macphail was still teaching and Ellen Fairclough
was still working as an accountant when they began getting involved
in their local political associations. Fairclough also worked
her way to executive positions in the United Empire Loyalist
Association and in the Zonta (a organization for business and
professional women). 
For a farm girl like Macphail, becoming active in the farmer's
organizations seemed natural. Nellie McClung and Irene Parlby
joined the farmer's movement once they married. All three women
spoke publicly for the movement; Parlby became the first president
of the United Farm Women of Alberta. Nellie McClung was also
a strong supporter of the temperance movement, a founder of
the Political Equality League in Winnipeg, and a suffrage supporter.
 Mary Ellen Smith
was heavily involved in local organizations: among other things,
she founded the Laurier Liberal Ladies' League, became president
of the Vancouver Branch of the Women's Canadian Club and of
the Women's Ratepayers Association and was the first Vice President
of the Political Equality League. 
Muriel McQueen Fergusson began her fight for the poor in
her youth by gathering clothes and packing food baskets. After
her marriage she worked with teenage girls, founded the Grand
Falls Literary club and wrote for the newspaper in Saint John.
 These women were
able to gain experience, contacts, and marketable skills that
would later aid them with their election campaigns. The esteem
that many of these women earned in the community because of
the work they did helped them to overcome the stereotypes about
These stereotypes were ingrained in popular beliefs
about females. The traditional views about women's proper role
in the home and family shaped women's political struggles. It
was not just men who believed women belonged in the home. Even
ardent feminist Nellie McClung had a mother who thought that
women were meant to be only wives and mothers. 
Additionally, women were thought to be fragile and, therefore,
incapable of political action. Christine MacDonald recalls that
opponents to female suffrage stated that going to the polls
could “contaminate” female voters. 
Others argued that women should not be enfranchised because
they would not vote intelligently. 
Lastly, earning a living somehow demeaned a woman. McClung
noted that most people happily accepted women's voluntary work,
but it suddenly became improper once the work paid a salary.
 These ideas dominated
every aspect of women's lives, especially their political participation.
many women did overcome societal barriers to join political
parties; however, instead of welcoming these women as equal
members, party leaders continued to present opposition. 
Statistical evidence shows that political parties acted
as “gatekeepers” to the political arena. 
As the party system was developing in Canada, it was the
dominant expectation that women would remain in the private
sphere; therefore, most party leaders were not ready to accept
women as equal members. 
As women began to become members, the major parties formed
separate women's associations. The Liberal party was the first
to create a distinct women's organization; the Conservatives
followed suit a few years later. The National Federation of
Liberal Women of Canada (NFLW) was created in 1928, and it encouraged
women to set up Liberal associations of their own all across
Canada.  Several
justifications arose. Political organizers suggested that women
did not feel comfortable operating in the “male dominated liberal
constituency organizations.” 
The associations attempted to give women a political outlet
more conducive to their uniquely female talents. 
It was also proposed that women could receive training and
preparation so that they could participate in politics. However,
these associations did not fulfill their mandates.
Instead of moving into organizational and
leadership roles, women carried out the domestic duties of the
party. Women paid separate membership dues, which usually meant
they were not automatic members of the larger party. 
Women could not gain equal access to political affairs or
impact policy decisions because they were contained in their
“proper” sphere, where they baked and fundraised for the larger
party. Eventually, in 1970, the Royal Commission on the Status
of Women condemned women's auxiliaries for blocking women from
equal political access. 
As women gained some status in society, particularly
the right to vote, more women recognised that they should become
elected officials. Nevertheless, prejudice against women in
politics continued long after women were first enfranchised.
 As a number of
scholars note, the quality of support female candidates received
from their parties was limited. Jane MacDonald, president of
the Women's Liberal Federation wrote in 1969, “I can speak from
experience when I say a woman candidate is entirely on her own
once she becomes a candidate.” 
Without support from their parties, it is not surprising
that women had difficulty running successful campaigns. Women
were often run as “sacrificial lambs” in ridings that had shown
long-term support for an opposing party. 
One argument used by party officials to explain why women
were not elected stated that they had few qualified women whom
they could nominate to winnable ridings. This claim was contradicted
by Liberal Judy LaMarsh, who was in parliament from 1960 to
1968, when she criticized her party because they did not “actively
recruit promising women to run as candidates.” 
In fact, Janine Brodie found that between 1945 and 1975,
women's educational or occupational status was not a factor
in their nomination to a receptive riding. 
A woman's gender, and not her qualifications, determined
whether she would be likely to secure party support in political
Clearly society did not force women to remain in
the private sphere nor did all political organizations suppress
women. Many women believed that their role was in the home and
they found it fulfilling. Interviews with some female auxiliary
members promote a sense that many women were quite happy with
their level of participation within the political parties and
auxiliaries.  Nevertheless,
first hand accounts and statistical evidence cannot be ignored:
those women who overcame bias, gender socialization and over-work
were not given equal access to public office. Separate women's
associations were restrictive, and political parties very rarely
provided equal opportunities for their female candidates.
few women who succeeded show distinctive traits. It was the
personal and early relationships these women had that allowed
them to overcome limitations surrounding women's role in society.
The exposure to public affairs that they received gave them
background knowledge that allowed them to be politically active.
Their family members, particularly their fathers, gave them
the self-confidence to strive for more in life than traditions
dictated. Their success in school likely added to this self-assurance.
Supportive husbands did not stand in their way and in some cases
aided in their campaigns for public office. The work they did
outside the home allowed them to gain some of the resources
and support that is required to run a successful election campaign.
Considering the obstacles that social norms and political parties
placed in front of women candidates, it is likely that these
female politicians succeeded precisely because of the strong
and unusual influences in their lives. 
Canadian women over the age of 21 were given the right
to vote in federal elections on May 24, 1918. Provincial enfranchisement
of women varied: Manitoba was first (January 1916) and Quebec
was last (April 1940).
This statistic includes Shelia Copps who recently lost
a by-election in her riding. “Women in the House of Commons,”
Senators and Members – Current Information , Library
of Parliament, 23 June 2003, <http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/house/WomenHofC.asp?lang=E>
This is by no means a comprehensive study
of the foundation of political success; unfortunately it was
impossible to include more female politicians simply because
details about their early lives are not available.
Ellen Louks Fairclough. Saturday's Child . (Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1995), viii (Introduction by Margaret
Mary Kinnear. Margaret McWilliams . (Montreal: McGill-Queen's
University Press, 1991), 47 (Written by McWilliams in a letter
to Catherine Cleverdon 1 October 1946).
Valerie Knowles. First Person . (Toronto: Dundurn
Press, 1998), 45.
Ann Farrell. Grace MacInnis: A story of Love and Integrity.
(Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1994), 40.
Susan Mann Trofimenkoff. “Thérèse
Casgrain and the CCF in Quebec.” in Beyond the vote: Canadian
women and politics. Edited by Kealey, Linda, and Joan Sangster.
(T oronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 140.
Thérèse Casgrain. A Woman in a Man's World
. (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1972), 25.
Joan Reid, “Muriel McQueen Fergusson: a study of interwave
feminism in New Brunswick” (Masters Thesis, University of New
Brunswick, 1988), 8.
Alvin Armstrong. Flora MacDonald . (Canada: J.M.
Dent & Sons Limited, 1974), 3.
Elizabeth Norcross. “Mary Ellen Smith.” in Not Just
Pin Money . Edited by Barbara Latham and Roberta Pazdro.
(Victoria: Camosun College, 1984), 357.
Martha Louise Black. My Ninety Years . (Anchorage:
Alaska Northwest Publishing, 1976), 82.
Valerie Knowles. First Person . (Toronto: Dundurn
Press, 1998), 68 and Casgrain, 42.
Margaret Aitken. Hey Ma! I did It. (Toronto: Clarke,
Irwin & Company, 1953), 55.
BBC News. “Jonathan Aitken - a 'swashbuckling'
life.” UK Politics. 7 December 1998. (29 February 2004)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/229560.stm and Anne Chisholm
and Michael Davie. Beaverbrook: a Life . (London: Hutchinson,
Farrell, 12, 14 and Armstrong, 28.
National Library of Canada. “Irene Marryat Parlby.” Celebrating
Women's Achievements. 30 January 2004 (24 February 2004).
Canadian Press. “Film focuses on remarkable woman”
Herald . Calgary, Alta.: 19 January 1996, F7. And Mary
Biggar Peck. The bitter with the sweet : New Brunswick 1604-1984
. (Tantallon, N.S.: Four East Publications, 1983), 158.
Knowles, 38, 44-45.
Candace Savage. Our Nell . (Saskatoon: Western Producer
Prairie Books, 1979), 3, 19.
Margaret Stewart and Doris French. Ask no quarter: A
biography of Agnes Macphail . (Toronto: Longmans, Green
and Company, 1959), 26.
Kathy Brock. “Women in the Manitoba Legislature.” In In
the presence of women: representation in Canadian governments
. eds. Jane Arscott and Linda Trimble. ( Toronto: Harcourt
Brace & Company Canada, 1997), 185.
Doris Pennington. Agnes Macphail: Reformer . (Toronto:
Simon & Pierre, 1990), 23.
Stewart and French, 25.
Farrell, 65 and 130.
Mary L Ross. “Ellen Fairclough: first woman in the cabinet.”
Saturday Night . 72, no. 18 (August 31, 1957): 34.
A.B. McKillop. Matters of Mind: The University in Ontario
1791-1951 . (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994),125-27.
Alison Prentice et al. Canadian Women: A History.
(Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Co., Canada, 1996), 175.
Rachel Wyatt. Agnes Macphail: Champion of the Underdog.
(Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2000), 8.
Carol Hancock. No Small Legacy . Winfield, B.C.:
Wood Lake Books, Inc., 1986, 91.
Marty Logan. “First female Senate Speaker dies .”
Press NewsWire . Toronto: 12 April 1997.
Brian Brennan. “A tribute to pioneers of feminism.” Calgary
Herald . Calgary, Alta.: 11 July 1999
Barbara Villy Cormack. Perennials and Politics .
(Alberta: Professional Printing Ltd., 1968), 57.
Mary Hallett and Marilyn Davis. Firing the Heather .
(Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1993): 79, 111, 119
Richard Jackson. "First woman speaker”. Atlantic
advocate. 63, no. 8 (April 1973): 18. And Peck, 158.
Christine MacDonald. “How Saskatchewan Women got the Vote,”
Saskatchewan History 1, no. 3 (1948): 1.
Christine MacDonald, 1.
Sylvia Bashevkin contends that certain gender expectations
that maintain males as influential and females as campaign workers,
namely “masculine assertiveness and female docility,” still
exist within political parties. Sylvia Bashevkin. Toeing
the lines: women and party politics in English Canada .
(Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1993), 75.
Brodie “Women and the Electoral Process ,” In Women
in Canadian Politics: toward equity in representation .
e d. Kathy Megyery. ( Ottawa: Supply and Services Canada and
Dundurn Press, 1991), 25; see also Patricia Myers, 1989; Bashevkin,
Toeing the lines , 63.
Patricia Myers. “A Noble Effort: The
National Federation of Liberal Women of Canada.” In Beyond
the vote: Canadian women and politics. eds. Linda
Kealey and Joan
Sangster. (T oronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1989), 1989,
Linda Kealey and Joan Sangster, 7.
Bashevkin, Toeing the lines , 99.
Sylvia Bashevkin, “Women Participation
in Political Parties,” in Women in Canadian Politics: toward
equity in representation . ed. Kathy Megyery. ( Ottawa:
Supply and Services Canada and Dundurn Press, 1991), 74.
Donald C Kerr. Western Canadian politics: the radical
tradition. ( Edmonton: NeWest Institute for Western Canadian
Studies), 1981. (Interviews with Elsie Hart and others).
People Need Constant Reminders Not To Presume Heterosexuality:”
Heterosexuality, Lesbianism and the
of Women In The Workforce
Women's Studies 251F with Professor Tess Hooks
this essay I will explore the ways that women have been constrained
in the public sphere of paid labour by institutionalized ideals
of heterosexuality, and how this ideology of heterosexuality has
led to the oppression of all women in the paid labour force and,
more specifically, how institutionalized heterosexuality has hindered
the rights and freedoms of sexual “others” in the workforce, especially
homosexual women. First, I will provide some definitions of institutional
heterosexuality, and how it has been utilized and internalized
in our society, and in the public sphere of work. Secondly, I
will present the ways in which institutionalized heterosexuality
oppresses all women in general, by conflating issues of sexism
and heterosexism. Lastly I will examine how institutionalized
heterosexuality oppresses lesbians who do not fit into the ideal
of “normal” sexuality, how the privileging of heterosexuality
in our society encourages the denial and oppression of any alternative
modes of sexuality, thereby stifling sexual diversity, and freedom.
main concept that I will take up in this essay is the idea that
heterosexuality is a cultural construct and a social institution.
A lot of feminist work in the area of social constructs is based
on the idea that sex and gender are not necessarily biologically
determined, but rather that they are constructed based on our
cultural and societal ideals of what a woman is and what a man
is (namely that these two categories are completely dichotomous).
Not only are the social ideals of masculinity and femininity constructed,
they also support a highly problematic system of hierarchies which
establishes the privileged status of men over women. When combined
with the social construction of heterosexuality, our society ends
up with an entire ideological system in which the fundamental
building blocks are based on relationships of dominance
and subordination between men and women. Adrienne Rich was one
of the first feminist theorists to explore the area of compulsory
heterosexuality in her article “Compulsory Heterosexuality and
Lesbian Existence.” Her theory looks at the constructed nature
of sex and gender, as well as the ways in which our social and
cultural ideals help to construct our desire and how we are socialized
towards heterosexuality: that it is not necessarily “natural,”
or biological (Rich, 1994: 488). To take Rich's theories further,
not only are sex, gender and heterosexuality social constructs,
heterosexuality has also become a social institution .
Gillian A. Dunne, in her book “Lesbian Lifestyles” defines a social
basic regulatory patterns which order and reflect everyday
social activities…. The power of institutions lies in their
appearance as objective realities which are universal and
legitimate…. They exist as part of the fabric of society
and are essential elements for supporting social stability
and the reproduction of the status quo…. [Institutions also
imply] the illegitimacy of alternative arrangements…. [They]
appear as ‘givens' and are supported by belief systems which
compromise a range of mutually reinforcing ideologies (1997:12-13).
heterosexuality becomes a social institution any “alternative”
to this normalized institution becomes “deviant,” “other” and
therefore unacceptable. The problem is not necessarily with heterosexuality
itself, the problem is that through institutionalized
heterosexuality women's inequality and subordination to the dominant
(white) male is most heavily reinforced. The ideology of heterosexuality
is heavily laden with sanctions which privilege and legitimize
male power over women. Therefore any study of women's subordination
in the public sphere of paid labour should necessarily
include an analysis of the ways in which women's power and equality
are continually undermined within this problematic hierarchical
institution of heterosexuality.
the institution of heterosexuality is problematic and fundamental
to women's inequality in our society, as well as women's inequality
in the public sphere of paid labour, an analysis of the institution
of heterosexuality itself has been consistently left out of the
readings we have looked at in this course, and in many analyses
of women's position in the workforce. In fact, the subject of
institutionalized heterosexuality, and the experiences of those
outside of this institution (lesbians) have been systematically
under-represented in writings about women in the paid labour force.
 One feminist who has
attempted to bridge this gap in research is Gillian A. Dunne.
Through her research she:
to build bridges across the different perspectives which
inform feminist thinking by showing ways that interpretations
of sexuality deeply shape the conditions of women's work,
both in the home and in the workplace. Until now, research
has considered factors shaping women's work from a heterosexual
perspective and this limits our ability to recognize the
impact of heterosexuality itself on the conditions of women's
her analysis of “non-heterosexual” (Dunne, 1997:1) women in all
aspects of life, work, and the family, Dunne takes the first necessary
steps towards questioning the highly problematic, yet fundamental
institution of heterosexuality. An analysis of this institution
is vital in order to understand women's relative positions of
inequality in the labour force, as well as the particularly oppressed
positions of lesbian women in the workforce. 
the recognition of heterosexuality as an ideological myth which
our culture has institutionalized, we can go on to analyze aspects
of our culture that, when heterosexuality is “normalized,” contribute
to women's positions of oppression and subordination. We can see
this oppression and subordination in many aspects of women's work,
especially the wage gap.
this course we have looked at many statistics that have shown
that women, throughout the world and here in Canada, have been
denied the same kinds of jobs, job status, wages and full-time
opportunities that men have, which would place women and men on
more equal playing fields in the workforce(and in the world in
general). We have found that, for the most part, the reason for
this inequality has little to do with women's inherent or biological
inability to do certain jobs that are valued in our society. Rather,
our society has certain expectations about women's relationship
with paid work. Women's work is consistently valued less than
men's work and this value is reflected in the kinds of jobs, the
pay, the hours the status, and the benefits that women receive.
Ideally within our culture, a woman's role in the public sphere
of paid labour is secondary to her role as wife and mother within
the heterosexual context of the nuclear family unit. 
The result of this cultural ideology is that women's position
within the paid labour force is less valued and therefore less
rewarded in order to reproduce ideals about women's place in the
home and the domestic sphere. Dunne's respondents provide evidence
of this fact:
of the] women understood marriage to be the inevitable outcome
of their assumed heterosexuality. They expected that marriage
would involve the rearrangement of priorities, whereby home
life and domestic commitments would eclipse employment involvement.
For them, marriage represented long-term economic security
through access to a higher ‘breadwinning'wage (1997:94).
(and men) are expected to engage in heterosexual relationships
and produce children, and their wages reflect these expectations:
men's pay is primary (so they get paid more), women's pay is secondary
(so they get paid less). The assumption is that women will be
supported by a man's primary income when she gives up her job
to take care of their children. Men's jobs are full-time, while
women are more geared towards part-time work (in order to have
more time to have kids and take care of the family). All of these
aspects of women's (and men's) work are generated with the heterosexual
model in mind, and they reproduce specific ideals about masculinity
all of these constructed characteristics of women's and men's
work are beneficial for heterosexual couples and nuclear families.
However these characteristics of work which support the heterosexual
“norm” also directly contribute to a significant amount of the
inequality and oppression that women face within the paid labour
force. This is not only oppressive for heterosexual women (for
whom the heterosexual “norm” is adequate), but it is especially
oppressive for those women (and men) who fall outside of the heterosexual
model: women who do not (or cannot) rely on a man's primary income:
lesbian women, and same-sex lesbian couples (as well as single
women, single mothers, and women in other “non-traditional,” “non-heterosexual”
living arrangements such as siblings, roommates, and so on.
we have seen, not only does the heterosexual “norm” deny any alternative
sexuality, it also oppresses any woman who may be heterosexual,
but who does not choose, or want to live in a heterosexual relationship
with a man). The conflation of issues of female celibacy (life
without men, whether as a choice or merely circumstance) and lesbianism
is something that Cavanaugh brings up in her article. Any woman
who did not want to be in a relationship with a man, whether she
was heterosexual or homosexual, was deemed a sexual deviant in
the mid-20 th century (1998: 68). Although the sanctions for such
a label were perhaps more severe in the past, I think there is
still a lot of stigma and social pressures that are similar in
today's society, and within the working world. In this way, it
is possible to see how the institution of heterosexuality has
problematically structured inequality of women in the public sphere
of paid labour, and more specifically how it has alienated and
further contributed to the inequality and subordination of lesbians
and, in general, any woman who is not actively practicing
analysis of lesbian women in the workforce gives us a perspective
on women's lives in the paid labour force, and women in general,
which goes beyond the assumptions of the heterosexual norm. She
shows that although lesbians are generally oppressed by hetersexualization,
women who are outside of the heterosexual ideal can sometimes
have a better understanding of the functions of this ideology,
and are therefore are more likely to structure their working careers
in order to succeed beyond the traditional limits and assumptions
of their sex/gender. The lesbians in her study were not limited
to thinking of their career moves in relation to the inevitable
heterosexual marriage and nuclear family life. In fact Dunne found
identity [often] mediates the effects of gender to support
different outcomes in relation to the negotiation of employment
opportunities. This will highlight the importance of recognizing
the role of institutionalized heterosexuality in constraining
women's choices (1997:92).
she finds that generally the lesbians within her study 
had a different “framework of understanding”(Dunne, 1997:99):
their positions on the periphery of the heterosexual model meant
that they were less entrenched in heterosexual assumptions, and
although they were oppressed by the workings of institutionalized
heterosexuality, they were also able to structure their career
aspirations more freely, without the assumption that they would
eventually get married, and give up their jobs to raise their
children. The position of lesbians outside the ideology of heterosexuality
can sometimes give them insight and choice when it comes to work,
and therefore they have a better view of the problematic aspects
of this ideology, and the means with which to critique and change
towards [women's] employment were guided by taken for granted
conventional accounts of social reality, where adult womanhood
was heterosexual, experienced within the context of marriage,
and involved being dependent on a male wage. Within this
framework of understanding, the anticipated avenue of escape
from dull routine jobs was through attachment to a male
breadwinner. Because of powerfully contradictory experience
these [lesbian] respondents could no longer anticipate the
arrival of a knight in shining armour. Their new understanding
of what being an adult woman meant motivated a more self-reliant
approach to paid work…. Their changing attitudes and approaches
towards employment were very much related to their move
beyond heterosexuality (Dunne, 1997:98-99).
finds that the lesbian women in her study, because of their sexuality,
were able to expand their potential in the labour force beyond
the kind of job opportunities that were traditionally available
to women. In a way, their sexuality mediated more equal opportunities
in the working world. Because lesbians go beyond the possibility
of identifying with the heterosexual ideology, they come to an
understanding that heterosexual women, who are deeply entrenched
within this ideology, might not be able to: they can get out of
the cycle of oppression, and strive to find work that allows them
more equality: better hours, better pay, better benefits, and
higher status. 
it can work the other way as well: any woman who attains rewarding
and valued employment, or has the option available to her may
find it easier to “reconsider the desirability of marriage” (Dunne,
1997:102) and put her career first. This can include a range of
women, heterosexual or homosexual, who no longer want to be burdened
by the weight of compulsory heterosexuality and/or economic dependence.
A study for Statistics Canada found that “women's personal earnings
are positively related to the likelihood of separation”(Wu and
Pollard, 1999:26) from a heterosexual, common-law partner. Furthermore,
this study found that:
social resources for women, in addition to economic resources,
also appear to decrease the probability of marriage, illustrated
by full-time semi-professional and skilled employee status
increasing separation [Tables 1 and 2]. For women with these
resources available, marriage may be less desirable, or
separation from bad unions may be facilitated (Wu and Pollard,
heterosexual woman, greater economic resources generally mean
that dependence on a male breadwinner is no longer necessary.
Unfortunately these “resources” are available to only an elite
group of women (who can afford the education in order to get the
“career-line” job that can propel them into economic independence).
is no denying that women's access to better employment and better
wages is fundamental to improving all women's equality
in the paid labour force and the world at large (even within women's
heterosexual relationships with men). The fundamental problem
of institutionalized heterosexuality is not only that it limits
women's success within the working world, but that it also limits
women's choice of sexuality, and subsequently reduces women's
opportunities to question their positions of relative subordination
in relation to men and within the paid labour force.
to rewarding and challenging jobs provide[s] the economic
possibility of living outside dependent relationships with
men. It also offer[s] a positive alternative social identity
to that of wife and mother. For these respondents a lesbian
lifestyle was seen to facilitate the pursuit of
their careers (Dunne, 1997:107).
are less likely to take for granted the heterosexual myth of women
being taken care of by a primary male breadwinner, therefore we
can see the ways in which a “lesbian lifestyle necessitat[es]
and/or facilitat[es] economic independence” (Dunne, 1997:119).
Lesbians tend to have access to better employment and wages (and
therefore more economic independence) compared to heterosexual
women, yet this still does not necessarily mean that lesbians
are being paid wages that are equal to men's wages (Dunne, 1997:127).
within the realm of traditionally “masculine” jobs, women still
tend to make less than their equally skilled male counterparts:
men still consistently earn “breadwinning wages” while women's
wages are generally consistent with secondary wages. This leaves
women in economically vulnerable positions in our society. Since
most women's wages are barely enough to support them, women are
basically forced into dependency on heterosexual male partners
(married or common law) in order to survive. Indeed as a Statistics
Canada study shows, when (presumably heterosexual) women are able
to earn enough money for their economic independence, they are
more likely to dissolve their common-law (heterosexual) living
situations with men:
economic circumstances contribute significantly to the stability
of Canadian cohabitations. Women's economic circumstances
primarily affect the probability of separation. Increased
economic and social resources make marriage less desirable
[Table 2], or facilitate the dissolution of unions [Table
1] (Wu and Pollard, 1999:27).
financial dependence on men merely contributes to their positions
of subordination in a patriarchal heterosexist culture which relies
on the two separate dichotomous, hierarchical roles for men and
women. In this way we see how wages themselves are set up to support
our societal ideal of institutionalized heterosexuality (because
generally women cannot survive economically without dependence
most studies of the current wage gap (such as that done by Marie
Drolet for Statistics Canada) may take many factors into consideration
to determine why this wage gap occurs, there is still a significant
amount of data missing in order to come up with a definitive reason
for the discrepancies between women's pay and men's pay. As Drolet
finds: “a substantial portion of the gender wage gap cannot be
explained” (1997:32). However, Dunne found that lesbian women,
as workers, whether in committed homosexual relationships or not,
choose their employment based neither on “social expectations
to be primary breadwinners, nor by the constraints associated
with being secondary earners” (1997:176). In this way it is possible
to see the role of lesbians in the paid labour force has potential
to defy the socially constructed dichotomy of male and female
roles as workers.
defy women's traditional role as a secondary earner is one positive
way in which women can also defy the institutionalized heterosexuality
that structures the working world. The fact that the wage gap
cannot be entirely explained in mainstream statistical studies
may have something to do with the heterosexist assumptions of
the researchers or those that they study. Perhaps what the study
by Drolet (and others like it) is missing is the extent to which
our entire culture has internalized heterosexuality and all of
its sanctions. Perhaps that which we cannot account for in women's
consistently lower wages in Canada , is partly a product of this
ideology of heterosexuality which we are too deeply entrenched
in to effectively critique. Perhaps research such as Dunne's on
the lesbian experience of paid work, and the pervasive oppressive
qualities of institutional heterosexuality are necessary
in order to bring about a new perspective on the wage gap in Canada
and around the world.
this essay has tried to show, absolute exclusion of any identity
within any discipline is problematic because it ends up setting
a precedence of “normalcy.” In this case, the taken-for-granted
position of heterosexuality has resulted in the ultimate exclusion
of representations of “other” forms of sexuality, namely lesbianism.
But by going against tradition and analyzing the experiences and
positions of subordination of these so-called “others” within
patriarchal heterosexist arena of paid labour, we can see the
definite ways in which lesbian women are oppressed by this normalized,
internalized and institutionalized heterosexist tradition in the
workforce. However, we can also see how institutionalized heterosexuality
contributes to the oppression of all women. Gillian
A. Dunne's analysis of lesbian experience is very important to
this line of research because it:
the need to extend our analysis of women's disadvantaged
employment circumstances beyond gender to include the significance
of interpretations of sexuality. To fail to do this is to
perpetuate the belief that women equals heterosexual and
to ignore the material and ideological processes which construct
heterosexual outcomes. Instead, we need to recognize the
extent to which gendered attitudes and experiences are shaped
and expressed through beliefs, values and practices supporting
institutional heterosexuality (1997:102).
the inclusion of lesbian issues into the study of women's oppression
in the workforce, and the wage gap is important, perhaps even
necessary , in order to see the full spectrum of oppression
that women— all women —face. All women are different
and unique, and inhabit different identities, and these vastly
different women are also oppressed differently in their daily
lives. It is important to consider all the ways that these different
oppressions affect all women differently. This means that we need
to analyze and consider, not only the “norm” of heterosexuality
but also issues of homosexuality. 
There is no “universal” woman, and therefore the issues of
all women must be acknowledged in order to truly understand
women's position of subordination and oppression in the world
at large, as well as within women's roles in the paid labour force.
Wu, Zheng, and Michael Pollard, The Income and Labour
Dynamics Working Paper Series: Economic Circumstances And The
Stability Of Nonmarital Cohabitation, catalogue no. 98-10
(Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1997) 19, Table 3.
Wu, Zheng, and Michael Pollard, The Income and Labour
Dynamics Working Paper Series: Economic Circumstances And The
Stability Of Nonmarital Cohabitation, catalogue no. 98-10
(Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1997) 23, Table 5.
“The Heterosexualization Of The Ontario Woman Teacher In The
Postwar Period” in Canadian
Women's Studies: Women And Work 18:1.
The Persistent Gap: New Evidence On The Canadian Gender
Wage Gap . Ottawa : Minister
of Industry. Cat. No. 75F002MIE - 99008.
Lesbian Lifestyles: Women's Work And The Politics of Sexuality
. Toronto :University
of Toronto Press.
“In And Out: Experiences In The Academy” in Resist! Essays
Against A Homophobic Culture , eds. Mona Oikawa, Dionne
Falconer, and Ann Decter. Toronto : Women's Press.
“Compulsory Heterosexuality And Lesbian Existence” in Living
with Contradicitions: Controversies In Feminist Social Ethics
, ed. Alison M. Jagger. Boulder , Colorado : Westview
Zheng, and Michael Pollard
Economic Circumstances And The Stability Of Nonmarital
Cohabitation . Ottawa : The
Income and Labour Dynamics Working Paper Series. Cat. No.
Khayatt, 1994: 210. This fact became painfully clear to me
as I was searching for research for this topic.
Dunne finds that when heterosexuality becomes institutionalized
and taken for granted as “normal” and “natural,” it effects the
kind of work women aspire to: “In light of the structural limitations
on [women's] entry into meaningful and adequately paid work, they
may well have every reason to adhere to the belief that adult
female status is achieved via a taken for granted heterosexual
journey to marriage and motherhood.”(18-19)
Perhaps we could even go so far as to say that these two
roles are seen as contradictory, or dichotomous.
Although this is by no means universally or essentially true
of all lesbians.
This is not to say that lesbians are the only ones who can
recognize this problematic institution, or that all
lesbians do realize it, just that they have a vested
interest in their own success in the paid labour force because
they are denied the option of male dependency.
Not only are there class limits, but
generally racial implications to which women can “choose” a career
(I use the term choice here loosely).
As well as issues of class, race, ethnicity, religion, disability,
and so on.