I am Woman — Hear Me Roar? Linda Knight Seccaspina
In 1911 Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to speak in the grand hall of the small hamlet of Carleton Place situated in Lanark County, Ontario. This was an important event for those voting in Carleton Place and the local women worked for days preparing the hall and the luncheon. Some women wondered if they could also hear the words of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and were soon told that they would be allowed to sit on the upper floor as long as they remained quiet.
For women today this notion seems incredible, but you have to remember that in 1911 artist Emily Carr abandoned her love of painting in British Columbia because Canadian critics and buyers were not ready for her work. A woman could not use the term ‘martial abuse’ in 1911 and would be condemned to life imprisonment for any harm done to her husband, even if she was not at fault.
In 1974 iconic Ottawa Valley writer Mary Cook wrote that there was one area in which Lanark County was completely backward and that was in electing or appointment of women to municipal or community office. Have times changed since 1974 when Mary wrote that article in the Ottawa Citizen? I was curious, and when the North Lanark Age Friendly group asked me to write an article about the subject I had an inkling of the answer I was going to get.
I asked a few female politicians if they felt they were treated less by men and all of them answered yes. Yet, no one really wanted to give me their names for exactly the same reason Mary Cook received in 1974. Anyone she queried asked her that they remain anonymous so it would not jeopardize their chances of ever becoming appointed to a committee or being elected to public office.
The documented fact is that women are still underrepresented in politics. When I ran for office as a councillor a few years ago; I was asked by some if I should not consider my age or my health. Honestly, I would rather drop dead representing my community than sit on a chair and watch reruns of The Crown. The fact that I am in my senior years doesn’t make me any less effective, nor am I too delicate to lead. Once baby boomers, we are now aging in a society that celebrates beauty and youthfulness and our opinions sometimes become invisible.
In the early 1960s I was passionate, not by politics, but by the incredible social change led by the youth movement. I told my father that anyone over the age of 30 should be sent out to farms. I really drank the Kool Aid blaming the older generation for the VietNam war and the condition the world was in. In 1981, I turned 30 and the first thing my father asked me was: “When are you leaving for the farm?”
By then I realized that being a woman in the current world was going to be more difficult. Trying to get a job and being discriminated against for wearing avant garde fashion and my strong opinions were my worries now. In my grandmother’s case in 1981, they were still being treated like 1911 and had to listen to a speech by the Bishop from the confines of the church kitchen after organizing complete events.
We as women, and as senior women, are still invisible to some and when we stand up for something we are not acting “like your mother” or having “a hot flash”. After speaking with these women in politics this week I realize we still have issues with female authority, and women are still the most underused resource. While it is no longer the mentality of 1911 I understood these women’s concerned comments of continuing gender bias despite their great performances.
In 1974 one civic minded female from Carleton Place summed up the situation this way to writer Mary Cook. “Women have a lot to offer, but for some reason men are terribly afraid they might lose some of their prestige if they open their doors to women in public office”. Why do women still have more to prove than men when it comes to politics and other issues?
It doesn’t matter where you live–women belong in all places where decisions are being made. As Shirley Chisolm once said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair”.
How many women have been in Carleton Place government? Only 7 since 1901 when Dr. Preston became the first mayor (before that there were reeves)
Wendy LeBlanc (mayor)
Melba Baker (mayor)