|Montreal, November 10, 2001 / No 92|
by Harry Valentine
Traditional Quebec culture was predominantly a patriarchal culture in which the Catholic Church and its teachings formed the basis of the society.
Like many western societies, Quebec society evolved from a rural, agricultural culture. Over the past century, employment in Quebec's agricultural and resource sectors have steadily declined. The place of women changed in Quebec society as changes in employment evolved, changes facilitated by improvements in technology. Developments such as the telephone switchboard, the electric sewing machine, the evolution of the modern typewriter offered employment opportunities to women which did not exist prior to the year 1900. In traditional Quebec Catholic society, a women's place was in the home, married and raising children, while the husband was out earning a living.
The opportunities offered to women in an evolving workplace attracted young, unmarried women into the workforce as wage earners, able to support themselves in an independent lifestyle. The economic self-sufficiency available to women gave them greater freedom of choice and control over their lives, though at first, this may not have been obvious. Prior to 1900, there were two basic options open to unmarried women in a patriarchal society, that being the convent or the brothel. Technology opened respectable opportunities for self-sufficiency for single women in the workforce. These opportunities set the stage for a silent revolution which would attract thousands of women to assert their independence and respectable self-sufficiency in an otherwise patriarchal culture.
Silent revolutions and ideas whose time has come may attract little attention at first, yet the effect of such phenomena can be almost irreversible. The patriarchal rulers at the church and state levels are often unaware when the phenomena begins or what its long-term effects are going to be. Women entering the workforce, women achieving the right to vote in elections, and women entering colleges and universities then following careers such as teaching or health care, were all part of the irreversible trend. Quebec women developed discrete ways to rebel against patriarchal authority and at the same time change the direction of Quebec cultural evolution.
Declining birth rate
In modern Quebec, attendance in Catholic churches is at an all time low. The institution which once held almost absolute power over people's lives and their destinies has far less influence today. Quebec women have chosen to think for themselves and assert themselves in ways Quebec women of previous generations may never have even dared. Examples of this would include the numbers of children born to single mothers in Quebec, or unmarried women living with male partners, definitely no-no's in traditional Quebec society. The subtle ways in which Quebec women assert themselves and their independence, may have caused some political embarrassments in Quebec City.
During the 1980's, a PQ minister called upon Quebec women to produce more babies... in a rather authoritarian and patriarchal manner. A few years later, significant declines in Quebec's birth rate became very obvious. The PQ Education minister, Camille Laurin, asserted himself in a somewhat patriarchal and authoritarian manner when he laid out the terms by which young children were going to be educated in Quebec, with high emphasis on compulsory French language instruction.
Instead of eradicating the use of English in Quebec, a study conducted in the year 2001 revealed that more English was being spoken in the Greater Montreal area than at an earlier time. Children from French-speaking families were learning to speak English during their pre-school years, courtesy of a silent revolution enacted by the ladies themselves, by turning on the home televisions to programs like Sesame Street, in which characters like Bert and Ernie taught English to the young children (see BERT & ERNIE UNDERMINE PQ COMPULSORY FRENCH EDUCATION POLICY, le QL, no 91). The ladies themselves asserted that their children were going to be bilingual, regardless of what an authoritarian patriarchal type in the Quebec government had to say about it.
The growth of the information sector of the economy has not only offered new opportunities for women, it has attracted hundreds of highly educated women into the sector's ranks. Many are entrepreneurial types who own or manage information sector businesses, some even operating from home offices. Lady entrepreneurs are significant and prominent players in Quebec's evolving high-tech and information sector and the extent of women's presence in this sector became obvious during the late 1990's.
The PQ Cultural Affairs minister wanted compulsory French software in all Quebec business computers... and the announcement had a rather authoritarian, patriarchal tone to it. It is one matter to be authoritarian when enforcing French sign laws in mainly English speaking districts of Quebec, against predominantly non-francophone-owned businesses. It is an entirely different matter when the government tries to become authoritarian when dealing with large numbers of highly-educated women professionals of mainly French family ancestry. These women let it be known that most of the customers of Montreal's high-tech and information sector businesses were located outside of Quebec, where the predominant language being used was English. The assertive action of these career ladies may have saved a large proportion of Montreal's information and high-tech sectors.
The PQ government has evidently become aware that until the recent recession of 2001, the high-tech and information sectors had become the most powerful of Quebec's economic sectors and that this sector employed the single greatest concentration of educated, professional Quebec women in the private sector. Most new successful small businesses started in Quebec are started by educated women. They are not only an economic force whose creativity is now influencing the evolution of Quebec's economy, they have also become an almost silent yet significant political force whose existence the Quebec government may need to consider. The career ladies of Quebec have shown that they're not likely to obey patriarchal, authoritarian behaviour from the level of government, as occurred with the government "commands" to produce more babies, educate children in compulsory French or enforce compulsory French software in the business computers.
Authoritarian and patriarchal behaviours
Several players on the Quebec political scene seem to have shown a tendency toward engaging in authoritarian and patriarchal behaviours, including in some sectors of the independence movement. In extreme cases, some intolerant and dictatorial behaviours have revealed themselves. Politically, such behaviours invariably achieve the opposite of what had been originally intended. The people who are engaging in such behaviours may not realise that all they are achieving is to undermine the cause of Quebec independence. Quebec's independence movement had some of its roots in the Catholic Church, courtesy of a priest, Lionel Groulx, who had a tendency to be somewhat patriarchal, intolerant and authoritarian. While his approach and means of expressing himself may have been more appropriate during a 1950's cultural environment, it has no place in modern Quebec, in which women play an increasingly significant role in the economy.
The Quebec labour movement has historically supported Quebec independence. However, this movement has also had a history of authoritarian and patriarchal behaviour. In modern Quebec, this may become a problem in an economic environment in which the small business sector creates most of the jobs. It is a proven fact that most successful small businesses are started and managed by women. Historically, the male-dominated Quebec labour movement would play hard-ball with male-dominated corporate levels of management. Perhaps the Quebec labour movement may care to classify businesses in Quebec owned and managed by women, as sacred. Anything less may be viewed as an authoritarian, patriarchal assertion of male-power over educated, professional career and business women in Quebec.
The Quebec labour movement may need to respect the fact that the educated lady entrepreneurs of Quebec have minds of their own, that they are going to think for themselves and that their political views will be uniquely their own. The old boys and back room boys of both organizations may need to recognise that a laissez-faire approach is bound to become the way of the future as far as the small business sector is concerned. This may even include abandoning the interventionist old boy economics of John Maynard Keynes, a British lord whose theories should no longer have any place in the modern, evolving Quebec economy. The theories of the French economics writer, Frédéric Bastiat, may be more appropriate in an economy in which more ladies are asserting entrepreneurial and economic power.
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