Equal Times

” ‘That doesn’t matter,” Mrs. McNaughton’s ghost said to me sternly. “Discrimination against women is discrimination against women….”

January 5, 2015

I open the following piece with a reference to a typewriter. If there is no one reading this piece who does not know what a typewriter is then we probably have not long to live before someone reads this and asks, “What the heck is a typewriter?”

Until recently I thought feminism had gone the way of the typewriter. A few months ago, feminism began enjoying a renaissance in North America. In Canada, a high profile broadcaster, named Jian Ghomeshi, was charged with sexual assault after a number of woman and at least one man told their stories of how he assaulted them by groping them, choking them, punching their heads with a closed fist, forcibly and painfully penetrating their vaginas with his fingers and so on. This is, for the most part,  a new, younger generation of women doing what my generation of women (I am almost 59 years old) dubbed “breaking the silence”.

Chasing this sad state of affairs in our country came news from the United States that women were finally ready to come forward with sexual assault accusations against high profile comedian Bill Cosby. At least one of these women said she came forward because she wanted to serve as a role model for her daughter when it comes to speaking out about such matters.

I am not happy that a decade and a half into the 21st century, sexism is still something that billions of women around the world are still suffering. But the only way that it will diminish and ultimately disappear is by women and men speaking out against.

I  was horrified by the news last year of a woman being brutally gang raped and murdered on a bus in India. Yet the spirit of this women soared when many, many of her countrywomen took to the streets in protest.

Here is a column  I  wrote in the days of the now obsolete typewriter. May sexism go the way of the typewriter and the need to write a piece like this:

Gravelbourg Gazette

November 16,  1982

Equal Times

by Tanya Lester

Sometimes as I sit here in front of my typewriter, racking my brains to try to think of the right words to use for an article, my eyes wander over to the book rack beside the desk.

My eyes usually rest on a book entitled …and Mighty Women too by Grant MacEwan and published by Western Producer Prairie Books. I am very familiar with this book as I have used it often while doing research on women who have made contributions  to Western Canada history.

One of the women, to which a chapter in the book is devoted, is Saskatchewan’s Violet McNaughton who was a farm woman and the Women’s Editor of The Western Producer. Many of you probably remember her lively column in that newspaper.

But in the early 1900’s, Mrs. McNaughton also played a leading role in first persuading the powerful Saskatchewan Grain Growers’ Association (SGGA) to allow the organization’s women to vote. Then these women managed to get the predominately male SGGA to rally behind the women as they lobbied the provincial government for the vote

With the farmers behind them, Saskatchewan women  were able to coax the provincial government,into giving them their rights to election voting by 1915. The farmers realized the important roles their wives played in maintaining the family farms and thought it only just that they should  be allowed to vote.

But a couple of weeks ago, when I was  thinking about something that happened at the R.M. of Gravelbourg Meeting, Violet McNaughton’s ghost came to haunt me.

“What is really bothering me is the way some men at the meeting talked when they  were  discussing who  should be allowed to vote on the question of giving tax dollars to the recreational complex,”  Mrs. McNaughton’s ghost told me. “They didn’t realize that their wives work on their farms. Many of their wives  work  outside the  home and both those who don’t and do, certainly have most of the housework chores in their homes and raise the children. Yet some of them didn’t think their wives should have the right to vote on the complex question.”

“But to be fair, those men didn’t mean that their wives shouldn’t be allowed to vote in elections, Mrs. McNaughton, ” I said timidly to the ghost. “They only thought that their wives should not vote on this issue because it is a money matter. The men said they are the ones who pay the taxes.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Mrs. McNaughton’s ghost said to me sternly. “Discrimination against women is discrimination against women. The same type of arguments were voiced by some men when we were fighting to get the provincial vote. Lucky for us, a lot of the men  had the sense to realize that their wives did make big contributions on the farms. Without those farmers’ support, we never would have won the vote.”

“But when a motion was put on the floor of the meeting, those against having their wives vote on the question  won the vote by only a small margin,” I said.

“But it still bothered me very much that they won the vote,” the ghost said.

“Yes, but many of the men argued for the women. Just like the farmers who supported you in the past, these men said that the wives play important roles in the family farms and should vote on the question,” I said. “Besides, my understanding is that because this would be called a burgess vote on a money matter, under provincial law, if the farmer’s wife lives on the farm, she is entitled to a vote. And in the town and school board votes, there is no longer any such thing as a burgess vote.”

The ghost smiled and vanished.




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