- Minds of Our Own: Inventing Feminist Scholarship and Women's Studies in Canada and Québec, 1966-1976
Minds of Our Own offers forty testimonials to feminism as 'an intellectual project and a political movement,' written by those who created courses about women and/or women's studies programs between 1966 (which saw, in Canada, the founding of the Committee for the Equality of Women) and 1976 (the end of the academic session that saw the last actions of International Women's Year). During this decade, its authors occupied the ranks of faculty, contract lecturers, and graduate and undergraduate students. The editors asked them to reflect on issues such as their attraction to feminist studies; the personal, intellectual, institutional, and political challenges they faced; the impact of feminism on race, class, and sexuality; and its impact on scholarship. Their testimonies contribute significantly to the recovery of a movement rapidly receding from academic memory.
Several themes emerge: the varied and local contexts, from virulent hostility to generous support, in which they established their courses; their activism and engagement in feminist organizations outside the academy; the dearth of teaching materials for women's studies courses, and their reliance on team teaching and collaborative work with students to develop new knowledge together; and the regret of several about their belated recognition of the intersection of gender with race, class, and [End Page 596] sexuality. They celebrate the achievements of feminism, at the same time that many ruefully note that the movement has far from fulfilled their hopes for it.
The editors bookend the collection with two overviews. The first describes the legal, social, political, cultural, and workplace contexts, along with nascent feminist movements, that shaped women's 'realities' in the 1960s. It offers a potent reminder of lives women empowered themselves to leave behind, and also of the excitement of the pioneering feminism of the day. The second covers the same ground in light of the collection's testimonials and from a present-day perspective. It attempts to moderate some orthodoxies, noting for example that feminism benefited not only from the anti-war movements of the 1960s but from the 'Canadianization' movement within universities, and that early feminists were more engaged with issues of race and sexuality than the white straw woman of current discourse, or even their own occasional regrets, suggest. It also dwells on unrealized ideals and recent setbacks, as well as the disarray of the current movement. It attributes these to the elitist discourse of much scholarship combined with an absence of political and community activism among contemporary feminist academics, as well as to an absence of movement leadership in anglophone Canada. All of this is true but too circumspect. It does not call women, among others, on our complicity in these setbacks and failures to realize ideals: women including those of us who have made successful careers out of feminist research divorced from personal feminist responsibility, who use administrative positions to play handmaiden to ongoing patriarchy, who aver that feminism is no longer needed, and who remain silent about these abdications of collective feminist responsibility.
Minds of Our Own invites reading straight through or selectively. Selective readers would do well to include the editors' essays. They might want to follow certain disciplines, helpfully indexed, and might well begin the fine group of testimonials with Meg Luxton's, which is analytic and eloquent about the social messages that led her to feminism and about the challenges she faced as a student and feminist teacher. It is also infused with the energy, outrage, and passionate will to make things better for women that made the feminism of 1966-76 so transformative.
Shirley Neuman, Department of English, University of Toronto