Gendering the Vertical Mosaic: Feminist Perspectives on Canadian Society

By Hamilton, Roberta | Canadian Journal of Sociology, December-February 1998 | Go to article overview

Gendering the Vertical Mosaic: Feminist Perspectives on Canadian Society


Hamilton, Roberta, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Roberta Hamilton, Gendering the Vertical Mosaic, Feminist Perspectives on Canadian Society. Toronto, Copp Clark, Ltd. 1996, 261 pp.

Gendering the Vertical Mosaic is an excellent introduction to the analysis of Canadian society from a feminist perspective. Hamilton effectively argues for a fundamental integration of a gendered perspective in our understanding of social processes and after reading the book, it is difficult to contemplate omitting this perspective from consideration of social behaviour. Not to include a gendered perspective seems as outdated as trying to teach someone to use a typewriter when the capabilities of computer word processing exist. The typist may have learned a skill, but it one which is narrow in light of what is known and clearly limited in its application.

Roberta Hamilton writes her book as an expert who understands both Canadian society and feminist analysis. Although the book is identified by its author as an introductory one it offers perspectives and insight that more sophisticated readers will find valuable. In her introduction Hamilton makes it clear that gender is not an add on, but a social process that permeates all aspects of social life. Hamilton makes clear that gender must be understood as an integral part of social life in order to appreciate the way in which it has an impact. While this understanding has come to be more widespread than a decade ago, it is also not yet pervasive among university faculty. In a meeting to consider the introductory course, members of my department reviewed the topics we saw as an essential part of the course and those which were optional. One of my colleagues commented "I don't do gender." For Hamilton, gender isn't something "one does," it is essential to understanding the social processes and functioning of society. With an appreciation of this framework, her work describes aspects of Canadian society that could otherwise be seen as separate issues.

Hamilton has organized her material in a way that works well. Her first chapter reviews the theoretical background and emergence of feminist theorizing and discusses contemporary alternative views. She then considered the women's movements, beginning with the 1960s and describes some of the strategies and objectives used. The presentation is both historical and themtic and works effectively so that the linkages are clear to the reader. Then she introduces an analysis of issues around the Canadian state from a liberal feminist, neo-Marxist and patriarchal frameworks. Then she reconsidered state issues from the perspectives of native peoples, Quebec, and Canada, and ethnicity and ties these into issues of the international economy.

She continues her discussion with an examination of the work women do from both the perspectives of first and second wave feminists. This section considers paid and unpaid work and physical and emotional work. Finally she concludes with issues of the representation of women and critiques of sexual objectification. This pulls her analysis full circle as she uses the perennial issue of the beauty pageant as an example in her explanations. …

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