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Minds of Our Own

Inventing Feminist Scholarship and Women’s Studies in Canada and Québec, 1966–76

Wendy Robbins, Meg Luxton, Margrit Eichler, and Francine Descarries, editors

 

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$48.95 Paper, 414 pp.

ISBN13: 978-1-55458-037-8

Release Date: May 2008

 

   

This book of personal essays by over forty women and men who founded women’s studies in Canada and Québec explores feminist activism on campus in the pivotal decade of 1966-76. The essays document the emergence of women’s studies as a new way of understanding women, men, and society, and they challenge some current preconceptions about “second wave” feminist academics.

The contributors explain how the intellectual and political revolution begun by small groups of academics—often young, untenured women—at universities across Canada contributed to social progress and profoundly affected the way we think, speak, behave, understand equality, and conceptualize the academy and an academic career. A contextualizing essay documents the social, economic, political, and educational climate of the time, and a concluding chapter highlights the essays’ recurring themes and assesses the intellectual and social transformation that their authors helped set in motion.

The essays document the appalling sexism and racism some women encounter in seeking admission to doctoral studies, in hiring, in pay, and in establishing the legitimacy of feminist perspectives in the academy. They reveal sources of resistance, too, not only from colleagues and administrators but from family members and from within the self. In so doing they provide inspiring examples of sisterly support and lifelong friendship.

Wendy Robbins, professor of English and women’s studies, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, is a widely published feminist literary critic and activist.

Meg Luxton is the director of the York University Graduate Programme in Women’s Studies.She writes about women’s paid and unpaid work, feminist theory, and the Canadian womens movement.

Margrit Eichler is a professor of sociology and equity studies in Education at OISE/UT. She has published widely on such issues as women’s studies in Canada, feminist methodology, family policy, reproductive technologies, and eco-sociology.

Francine Descarries is professor at the Department of Sociology and at l’Institut de recherches et d’études féministes (IREF) at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). She is currently the scientific director of l’ARIR, a community-university research alliance between l’IREF and Relais-femmes.

Reviews

“Certainly, the personal accounts of the people involved in the early Women’s Studies movement are central to this book, but the introduction and the conclusion should be essential reading for anyone connected with Women’s Studies. For those who were not there, or are too young to know, these sections emphasize that there was a time in Canada and Quebec when women could be denied employment or fired if they married, when birth control and abortion were illegal, and as Sandra Pyke tells it, when a married woman could only get credit in the name of her husband, when the ideology of marriage and motherhood had a powerful hold on women, when pay discrimination based on sex was legal, when women’s education was narrowly defined, when Aboriginal women’s experiences were all but ignored, and a time when sexual orientation was openly viewed as deviant. For those who were part of the Women’s Studies revolution in the ten years covered here or who came to the discipline in its early years, these two chapters allow us to reflect on the many limitations women accepted. The emergence of Women’s Studies shows that some women were willing to challenge the status quo.”

— Margaret Kechnie, Laurentian University, Historical Studies in Education

“The collection of brief, largely autobiographical pieces offers a taster ‘menu’ of feminist scholarship and women’s studies in Canada, and an invitation to read more deeply in the field. A more comprehensive tasting would take up several thousand pages—as do the collecive works of the editors and contributors. The array of scholars and perspectives demonstrates the nature and extent of feminist and women’s studies at a pivotal point in Canadian academic history. The preface and opening chapter, ‘Changing Times’, provide an overview of women’s organizations, projects, and actions, and highlight educational and scholarly landmarks.... There are numerous reminders of the particular struggles women academics have survived.... Minds of Our Own offers a multifaceted view of an important chapter in academic history and inspiration and affirmation for women and feminist scholars who still struggle for acceptance, recognition and legitimacy. It should be required reading for administrators, and for all who persist in creating and maintaining obstacles to equality and freedom of enquiry.”

— Valerie Alia, Royal Roads University, British Journal of Canadian Studies

“A vision and courage—that’s all it took for a feminist revolution in academia! This is a book to remind people how this resolute group pulled it off. It will be an inspiration to young feminists as they face the future in our education institutions.”

— Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Simon Fraser University

“The stories are compelling, enthralling, and chilling...and make it clear that women’s studies was born in struggle, both as an intellectual project and a political movement.... The anthology opens with a splendid integrated overview of women’s history in Canada and Quebec over the remarkable decade. It has a bibliography to die for—a gift in itself... [A]s a record of a moment of joy and hopefulness, it stands as a glowing testimony of how women’s studies and the women’s liberation movement began as two branches of the same enterprise—wanting nothing less than to change the world.”

— Susan Prentice

“The aptly named Minds of Our Own is a page-turner. An opening chapter sketches the social, political, economic, and academic conditions under which the first Canadian Women’s Studies projectts were launched. The conclusion outlines a series of themes that emerge across the core of the volume, comprise of more than forty brief but telling first-person narratives, some co-authored, all about ‘inventing feminist scholarship’ at various sites throughout the country between 1966 and 1976....

The gathered narratives are as compelling as the tale of editorial collaboration behind the work emblematic of growing networks among scholars in the field. Three parallel efforts to document Women’s Studies’ early years are brought together in this text, which offers an archive of personal reflections on a process of academic inquiry that continues to unearth the complexities of knowledge politics. The project is indebted to similar collections by American feminists but emphasizes the Canadian situation as unique. It acknowledges that anglo- and francophone environments for Women’s Studies in Canada have remained distinctiv, that finding and generating locally relevant materials for study was both daunting and an on-going revelation from the start, and that there were and still are gaps in shared awareness about how diversely felt and situated the experiences of different communities of women remain in Canadian and international contexts.

Graced by a cover that presents in textile art, a bitten pomegranate with at least one seed airborne off the page, the book invokes a time when enough critical mass had formed to defy western cultural interdictions against women’s power to know in public and counterpublic ways....

Minds of Our Own lends itself to qualitative analyses that would unpack some of the affinities and contradictions that surface among and within accounts. In advance undergraduate classes, one could place selected narratives beside the galvanized feminist voices that took on poorly informed critiques of Women’s Studies in the national media recently, or the untenable claim that gender equity has been achieved in Canada, even as the gender-based disparities abroad become a cornerstone of foreign policy.

Minds of Our Own makes a useful contribution to the project of Canadian Women’s Studies by detailing some of the groundbreaking strategies that formalized feminist academic inquiry in the mid- to late twentieth centuries. It points at once to past challenges and accomplishments, and the broad spectrum of critical work that remains to be done.”

— Marie Lovrod, University of Saskatchewan, Labour/Travail