Feminism and the Right to Vote

 I am a product of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Which one you might ask? Well all of them of course. I come from a long line of silent activists. My mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers were all strong willed women that didn't believe in this being a man’s world or at the very minimum that women’s opinions and place in society weren't as valued as men. And by silent activists, I mean they weren't out there marching and carrying signs, but they raised their children to believe in and practice equality.

During university, I took Women Studies courses and learned about the First Wave of Feminism (late 19th Century and into the 20th Century) and the suffragettes such as Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (in the United States). I also learned about the Second Wave of Feminism that rose up in the 1970s.  A lot of the information garnered during my university courses about the Second Wave was the role of women in society and in pop culture.  There was influx of pornography and women were being subjected to objectifying imagining. Issues surrounding the treatment of Lesbians and Bi-Sexuals were at the forefront of this movement as well.  

The First Wave of Feminism was about women being recognized as equals to men; being recognized as persons under the law; being able to own property; and being able to vote. The Second Wave, however, dealt with equality in the workplace;  objectification of women; and the role of women in society.

In Canada, we also had our own and possibly highly underrated feminist movement. “The Famous Five” or “The Valiant Five” as they've come to be known as fought so that women could be recognized as persons under the law. These women are: Nellie Moonie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Marryat Parlby, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. These women fought for our right to become Senators. This became law in 1929.

Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, and Laura Jameson are the first Western Canadian Suffragettes. Between 1916 and 1917 most Canadian women were able to vote, own land, and hold positions in government (except the Senate). Quebecois women received the right to vote federally before they could vote provincially (1940).

Why is all this important? Earlier in the week, I exercised my right to vote for our new city counselors and mayor. I have been exercising my right to vote since I was eighteen years old. From a young age, I knew how important my vote is to my community, to me, and to women everywhere. In some countries, women are still fighting for their right to vote. I am also viscerally aware that women, strong women, fought for my right to vote and I feel as though I would be letting them down.

But did you know that First Nations people were not allowed to vote until 1960? It didn't matter if you were a man or a women, you were not eligible to vote until forty plus years after the majority of Canadians. You could, however, give up your treaty rights if you wanted to vote. Pretty sneaky tactic if you ask me.

Historically, every time I would vote, I thought about my family members that weren't allowed to vote. Currently, I think about my daughter and her age group that don’t realize (ignorance is bliss) the value of a vote or the fight for the right to vote. When I voted earlier this week, I took my daughter so she could see the process and watch her mother vote. In the car, where all good conversations happen, she asked “Do I have to vote?” I told her this:

"You always have a choice, but I think it’s very important that you vote for two reasons. First, women couldn't always vote. At one time only men could vote. Second, First Nations people haven’t always been able to vote either. So it’s very important that a First Nation’s woman vote."

Her response:

“What? Why do men get to do all the fun stuff? They should have to have the babies; because that’s tough”

Sometimes my girl is so wise.

~Jennifer Ward

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