by Theresa Bergeron
For international women’s day, I thought I would enlighten the younger generation on how times have changed in my lifetime.
I was born in 1951, making me 71 today. Through the 50’s, women were expected to be housewives and mothers and obey their husbands. They were referred to as Mrs John Smith, not Mrs Marie, as women were still considered chattels to men. The roles were very well defined. Well into the 60’s, career choices for women were very limited. I was raised in a French Canadian Catholic family. Women were not expected to go beyond grade 12 for education. After that, you either became a secretary (you took the commercial high school course with typing and shorthand), a nurse, a primary school teacher (not high school), or a nun. And you were expected to be married in your late teens or early twenties. Any single woman beyond that age was labelled an old maid.
My father kept the strict roles that were set for men and women at the time. He was the “breadwinner” and my mother, upon getting married, quit her teaching job to become a housewife. Note that in those days when a woman “showed” that she was pregnant, she lost her teaching job, with no compensation. Heaven forbid that a child would question that bump on her abdomen. But then my father had six girls and contrary to his beliefs for his generation, he put us all through post secondary education so, as he said, that we could all have a career and not depend on a man for a living! He was ahead of his time. But even then, in the late 60’s, university education was limited to women based on “quotas”. There were quotas for those who wanted to be doctors, dentists, veterinarians and engineers. At Queen’s university, the quota for pre-med was 5 out of 65 students. High school boys got in with averages as low as 65, the girls, 92. When I inquired with a professor, he mentioned that the board of governors thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to educate women in these careers as they would probably end up as “housewives”. By the early 70’s, this was found to be sexual discrimination and today, the medical careers have more women than men. Also in those days, people thought that girls only went to university to catch a husband.
My parents’ generation had well defined roles. My generation had confused roles. Women were having careers, getting married and having children. Men took a while to adapt. They still hung on to women managing the house and children, but enjoyed the added bonus of a wife contributing financially to the family. Now we were double worked and burning out. And there was lots of strife and many divorces.
Today, we are not shamed and pointed at for being single. And if we do couple up, married or not, we can choose not to have children. And men finally see families as a shared responsibility. They step up to the plate to cook, change diapers, wash dishes, and do the laundry. In my day, we had six weeks of maternity leave. Now it’s a year or more with shared leave between the parents.
And there was a time, I think into the 80’s, when if a woman wanted to have a tubal ligation, she had to have written permission from her husband. And when a woman wanted to get a bank loan, lets say to start a business, she was required to have a spouse co-sign. Thank God, those days are over. Yes, we can manage very well on our own.
Yes, times have changed for the better. I’ve lived it and I’m glad to see it!