Marsden S Canadian Women Strengths and Weaknesses Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

Canadian Women and the Struggle for Equality, Marsden (2012) focuses on how far women have come in the past 150 years towards gaining equality with men in terms of law, work, marriage and society. Her own position in the movement towards equality serves as the point-of-view of this socio-historical account, which covers a great many years but always with the purpose being to show that change and progress towards equal rights for women has certainly been made. The strength of the book is that it proves this time and time again, showing continuously how (though there is still some distance to cover) women of today now have more opportunities than they did a century and a half ago in Canada. One of the weaknesses of the book, however, is that it fails to reflect some of the more radical feminist action over the decades in favor of a more moderate and mainstream account of this history. This is an understandable if not regrettable approach, because Marsden is seeking to effect broad and popular appeal in terms of audience. But a more accurate history might well have included some deeper account or analysis of all aspects of the feminist movement in Canada over the years. But Marsden's main goal is not to provide such a history: instead, she sets out to highlight some of the accomplishments of women for equal rights and the part she played in this activity as well. For this reason, Marsden's work makes a significant contribution to the literature on the women's movement in Canada over the years and by addressing specific topics, from the war to the law, should serve as a modest representation of the lengths to which women have come to achieve and maintain their rights.

One of the best things about the book is the way in which Marsden identifies the origin of Canada's laws: "In all the former colonies, Canadian laws are based largely on those of Great Britain" (Marsden, 2012, p. 26). What she shows from this point is that the patriarchal society that existed in England essentially transferred to Canada and was codified into the law books. Thus, the same country that for so many years denied inheritance rights to women now dictated policy in Canada. Yet, women over the 19th and 20th centuries forged a path ahead, marching for the suffrage movement alongside the reforms, revolutions and wars happening in France and in America: "suffrage expansion" was something that women fought hard for all over the West -- and Marsden gives ample space to showing how and why this happened. In short, Canadian women inherited a law system that was designed against them but by organizing and holding conferences, women were able to challenge and change the institutional order and laws that repressed them. Thus, this depiction of Canadian history is an accurate one that Marsden nails with considerable verve.

The same tenacity is extended to her depiction of the woman's role in the War -- and just as she does with her assessment of where Canada's laws came from, she provides an equally accurate analysis of Canada's wartime policies: "From Confederation and up until the Statute of Westminster in 1931, Canada's role in any international affairs ... was directed by British policy and from London. However, as the experience of women nurses in the South African War shows, not all policy was directed by London" (Marsden, p. 59). In other words, women were at a position in the war, serving at a closer-than-the-gentlemen-in-London range, making decisions on their own authority, exercising their own caution, their own judgment, and providing a unique service that no one else was providing -- and thus securing a new position for women everywhere as a result. Marsden gives attention to the Victorian…

Sources Used in Document:


Marsden, L. (2012). Canadian Women and the Struggle for Equality. UK: Oxford


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