Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

The Media and the Royal Commisssion on the Status of Women in Canada, 1966-1972: Research in Progress

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

The Media and the Royal Commisssion on the Status of Women in Canada, 1966-1972: Research in Progress

Article excerpt

In February 1967, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson announced the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Status of Women. The news followed intense lobbying from the Committee on the Equality of Women, an umbrella group of 32 women's organizations from English Canada, supported by the Quebec Federation of Women. In the preceding several years, increasing numbers of women had been entering the workforce, the birth control pill had been developed, and human rights issues of all kinds had been hotly debated throughout the western world, debates that included women's rights. Progressive women felt it was time for a full airing of their grievances, including the restrictions in marriage and labour laws, pensions, taxation, education, and reproductive freedom and childcare.(f.1) The Commission was to travel across the country, asking Canadians if the political, economic and legal status of women could be changed for the better.

While scholars have noted the important role the media played in the Commission's successful bid for public and political attention, they have not discussed this media influence, or how it came about, in any great detail. In fact, in the literature on social movements generally, which have been otherwise examined from every conceivable sociological and political angle, there is little detailed work on the historical role and/or impact of the media, especially in Canada. There is even less information on the active roles journalists themselves have played within their profession in advancing, or opposing, various social causes, including feminism.(f.2)

It is my intent to help fill the gap in the context of the modern-day women's movement in English Canada. I want to investigate how cultural attitudes about gender issues and professional media practices dovetailed to present certain story narratives about Canadian women at the time. My initial research suggests that the gender of the media professionals involved, and the segregated nature of journalism itself, had a great deal to do with how such stories were handled, and often worked to the advantage of the liberal women's movement. At the time, most news of interest to women appeared on the women's pages of the newspaper, in women's magazines, or on daytime radio and television programs specifically targeted at housewives.

The Royal Commission on the Status of Women is a useful focal point for this discussion. My study covers the period from 1966, the year the Committee for the Equality of Women in Canada lobbied for the establishment of the Commission, and ends in 1971, just after the release of its report and recommendations. I follow the media coverage of the Commission through its appointment, the hearings, the recommendations, and the debates that immediately ensued.(f.3)

My primary sources consist mainly of the coverage of the Commission by several magazines, the daily newspapers, and various news and current affairs programs aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the nation's public broadcaster. I especially focus on the women's magazine Chatelaine, which despite some very traditional content, often took a pro-feminist stance on many issues; Canadian Press news service articles and other stories that appeared in the English-language newspapers; and the CBC's daily network shows for women, "Matinee" on radio, and "Take 30" on television.(f.4) Other important material includes the papers of the Royal Commission itself and the various women's groups which presented briefs; the personal papers of two of the Commissioners, Florence Bird and Elsie Gregory MacGill(f.5); and my own interviews with the principals involved in the media coverage.

My theoretical framework is based on what an American sociologist, Michael Schudson, refers to as the "culturological approach." One has to look at the cultural system, or givens, within which journalism is produced in the first place,(f.6) a system which other scholars insist invariably includes gender. …

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