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juin 2003

A report from Status of Women Canada about the discursive denial of gender inequalities

par Micheline Carrier






Écrits d'Élaine Audet



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Interview on Sisyphe : Pierrette Bouchard responds to critics

Some English-Canadian newspapers are claiming that a report published by Status of Women Canada sets up a "black-list" of men’s organizations. "Feminists, masculinists, blacklists", reads a front-page National Post story on June 5, 2003 (1), with the claim made in the very first line of the article that the report’s authors have produced "an enemies list". The Ottawa Citizen of June 2, 2003 (2) had started the ball rolling with the ominous warning that "Censoring men won’t make women equal", and the June 9, 2003 edition of the Vancouver Sun (3) went on to claim that "Feminists use tax dollars to assault ’masculinist’". In the Fox News edition of June 6, 2003 (4), Wendy McElroy wrote an article entitled "Gender Issues Impacted by Masculinists". Not hesitating to pick up on these critics’ distortions and questionable amalgams, Canadian Alliance MP Betty Hinton echoed their words in Parliament, on June 5, deploring that public funds had been wasted on "a project that is a poorly-disguised attack on men and the family unit."

The report that produced this national tempest, School Success by Gender : A Catalyst for Masculinist Discourse, reflects an extensive research project conducted by three Laval University scholars, Pierrette Bouchard, Isabelle Boily and Marie-Claude Proulx. Their study investigates the advocacy discourse focussing on boys and men during the decade between 1990 and 2000, as reported in the Canadian and the international press. The heart of this research therefore lies in the treatment of school achievement gaps between boys and girls by the national and international press. Canadian magazines and the daily newspapers published in Canada, France, the U.S.A., Australia and Great Britain provided the basic study material. Exacting content analysis by the researchers reveals an ideology that aims to challenge the gains made by women and to discredit feminism. The three authors propose to deconstruct social perceptions according to which only boys experience problems at school.

A critique targeting amalgams and generalizations, not journalists

One can only wonder whether media pundits and the Official Opposition have read the work they are lambasting or whether they have simply allowed themselves to surf on the antifeminist backlash much in evidence these last few months in Quebec and Canada media circles.

In an interview given to Sisyphe in mid-June, the study’s Project Director, Pierrette Bouchard, who also holds the Claire-Bonenfant Chair for Research on the Status of Women at Laval University, called these criticisms unjustified.

"I am always astonished", stated Bouchard, "to see how few people bother to look up sources, the original text. Critics have ignored the core of our research - the media treatment of school achievement gaps between boys and girls in national and international media stories - to merely focus on the analyses related to masculinist groups, which are only a part of the report. We never drew up any ’blacklist’, nor did we ever have that intent. Unfortunately, this canard is the interpretation that has been broadcast in some media outlets, on the Internet and even in the House of Commons."

"What we did", said the researcher to Sisyphe, "was to publish, as an appendix, for purely descriptive and informational purposes, a list of ’men’s associations’. The description of our study process testifies to our astonishment at the emergence of this new phenomenon (one new to us, at least), that is, the profusion of groups that defend the interests
of men as a social group. This point is clearly made at endnote #26 of our report. We felt that this information was worthy of interest and that both male and female readers would also be interested in this, given that these are definitely not traditional groups such as the Knights of Columbus or the Lions, for instance".

In Bouchard’s opinion, "the misperception of our work arose because of an amalgam fashioned, in the National Post article, between this general, indicative and informational roster and our study’s denunciation of some masculinist groups that use the Internet as a hate-mongering tool aimed at feminists". She added, "We do not state that journalists disseminate hate propaganda, nor do we attribute this action to all men’s organizations, whether listed or not in the study, nor indeed to all men. On the contrary, the typology we offer shows a variety of tendencies among these groups activists. Our recommendations include no blame for journalists. However, in the Report we do criticize certain processes, such as distorsions and generalizations, simply because they do not allow readers to accurately focus on the issue of school achievement gaps between boys and girls".

Bouchard carefully pointed out "the articles we surveyed were selected by using certain key words (girls and boys, school achievement, gender, etc.) with various search engines. No journalistic text was ever selected on the basis of its author’s name. We had never heard of most of them. As for the men’s organizations, the first ones were identified by references in newspaper articles, and from there on by new searches using other key words to identify Web sites, and then by following the links offered on each site visited. As mentioned at page 68 of the Report, "None of the groups state on their Web pages that they do not wish to be associated or confused with any specific group of the same type. The research evidenced that some groups were disseminating hate propaganda aimed at feminists, and we documented that".

In another text published on Sisyphe, (5) Bouchard highlights the terminology used by the advocates of these hate-mongering sites to refer to feminists : "vaginocrats", "feminazis", feminihilists", feminocentrists", feminist fundamentalists", "ideological feminists", etc. "One has to acknowledge these are no words of love", stated the researcher. "Among the comments left after the publication of our study, one group calling itself ’Les chevaliers de la vérité’ (The Knights of Truth) simply left the following Web address as its comment : http://www.mensongefeministe.ca/ [meaning ’feminist lie’]. It speaks for itself !"

Unmasking an ideological denial of inequality

The research published in School Success by Gender : A Catalyst for Masculinist Discourse unmasks an ideology that "claims gender groups are symmetrically advantaged when, in fact, they remain fundamentally unequal in their treatment by a sexist society", explained Bouchard. "Our report concludes that the small academic gains made by some but not all girls do not necessarily translate into social gains that women experience compared to their male counterparts, especially in terms of orientations, careers, income and working conditions. We have shown that the phenomenon of school achievement gaps between boys and girls exists only in industrialized countries, where co-educational and democratic public educational systems have been set up that give girls (and children who do not come from well-to-do families) access to the same education as boys (and the well-to-do). In the past, each gender received differentiated and hierarchical training in different venues. For the first time, it is now possible to compare boys and girls enrolled in the same school programs ".

Bouchard pointed out that "a number of socio-historical and political factors needed to converge before there was a realization that more girls than boys were persevering in their studies and achieving good marks in the school system, both in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. These factors are the following : (a) the report on high-school drop-out rates in the early 1990s ; (b) the publication of gendered data that from now on provided a basis for comparison using indicators ; (c) the globalization of the economy and the emergence of a feeling of insecurity among men ; (d) the employment crisis affecting young men in particular over the same period ; (e) educational reform and policies on performance and accountability ; (f) the intergenerational mobilization in modest and middle-income families to promote their girls - starting first and foremost with the mobilization of the girls themselves ; and (g) the success of the women’s movement, which made education a means of accessing and producing the knowledge that would free girls from traditional social roles".

A masculinist strategy of disinformation

In response to the discourse suggesting that men and boys now bear the brunt of discrimination, Bouchard was unequivocal : " This is tantamount to ignorance or denial of gender relations. By that standard, we should be seeing groups committed to defend the wealthy, Whites groups (such exist), slave masters, rich countries, etc. Individuals experience their lot of hardship and need help. Collectively, however, groups formed on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. are confronted with injustice based on social structure and hierarchies which show no sign of being on the way out."

Concerning criticism of the project’s financing - a pitiable amount in comparison with university research grants of every kind in Canada, Bouchard replied, "No one is looking at the amount of material and financial resources already being lavished on boys’ educational achievement, be it by the Quebec Ministry of Education, school boards, schools, or by certain granting agencies". According to Bouchard, these amounts far outweigh the grant her team was given.

The release of School Success by Gender : A Catalyst for Masculinist Discourse resulted in Bouchard receiving hateful telephone calls and e-mails, which serve to validate the dynamic that the researchers hypothesize and demonstrate. "The attacks rose like a bonfire," stated Bouchard, in an interview given to Sisyphe, "and their deployment in Canada and elsewhere shows that the networks of which we speak are real and efficient". A journalist tells of how "one of them called her, then another and another, up to all the way from Los Angeles…."

Accusations by Quebec masculinists

In Quebec, the mainstream media have generally provided accurate coverage of the Status of Women Canada Report. On the Internet however, masculinists - who, incidentally, seem to have found a soapbox on the website of the Centre des médias alternatifs du Québec [Quebec Centre for Alternative Media] (CMAQ) (6) - have echoe the critics from English-language newspapers. Taking on - without having so much as looked up - the Report, the study’s director Pierrette Bouchard, and the Sisyphe website (which has for several months made available an overview of the study), the masculinists retorted in their usual strategy of focussing discussion on their interpretation of a few sentences taken out of context and of presenting this as if it were the researchers’ actual viewpoint. Masculinists heatedly charged the Report’s authors with incompetence and Status of Women Canada with having wasting taxpayers’ money on anti-men propaganda, instead of giving the money to groups claiming to "help" separated men.

A Professor at Laval University’s Department of Educational Foundations and Practice, who also holds the Claire-Bonenfant Chair for Research in Women’s Studies, Pierrette Bouchard is no stranger to cutting-edge academic research. She was Vice-Dean, Research, of Laval University’s Faculty of Educational Science from 2000 to 2001. Bouchard holds a Ph. D. as well as Masters and Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science, and a Diploma in Early Childhood Education. Her expertise and interests lie in the socio-political analysis of education, educational and social inequality, educational achievement gaps between boys and girls, girls schooling at the international level, and family and educational socialization. Situated within an international comparative perspective, Bouchard’s research topics focus on the dynamics of mixed education or girls schooling in so-called developing countries.

Bouchard has published numerous collaborative works, as well as several articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, notably " Garçons et filles, stéréotypes et réussite scolaire " ["Boys and girls : stereotypes and educational success"] in 1996, reprinted in 1999 (7) ; " De l’amour de l’école " ["On the love of school"] in 1997 (8) ; " Familles, école et milieu populaire " ["Families, school and working class neighbourhoods"] in 2000 (9) ; and the recently co-authored " Dynamiques familiales de la réussite scolaire au secondaire " ["Family dynamics and secondary school success"] (10) and " Les héritières du féminisme" ["Feminism’s Heirs"] (11).

To order or download School Success by Gender : A Catalyst for Masculinist Discourse, please visit the Status of Women Canada website.(12)

Translated by Susan DeRosa and Martin Dufresne

NOTES

1. Neil Seeman, " Feminists, masculinists, blacklists", National Post, June 5, 2003.
2. Unsigned editorial, " Censoring men won’t make women equal ", Ottawa Citizen, p. A12.
http://www.canada.com/search/story.aspx?id=9e42a1ef-8feb-4177-bccb-0f18c37cab76
3. McKnight, Peter, " Feminists use tax dollars to assault ’masculinist’ ", The Vancouver Sun, June 9, 2003.
4. Wendy McElroy, "Gender Issues Impacted by Masculinists", Fox News , June 6, 2003.
5. Bouchard, Pierrette, La stratégie masculiniste, une offensive contre le féminisme ("Masculinist strategy, an offensive against feminism") Sisyphe
6. CMAQ and also
7. Bouchard, Pierrette, and Jean-Claude St-Amant, " Garçons et filles, stéréotypes et réussite scolaire "("Boys and girls : stereotypes and educational success"), 2nd Edition, Éditions du Remue-ménage, Montréal, 1996, reprinted 1999, 300 pages.
8. Bouchard, Pierrette, Jean-Claude St-Amant, Jacques Tondreau et Natasha Bouchard, " De l’amour de l’école " ("On the Love of School"), Éditions du Remue-ménage, Montréal, 1997, 189 pages.
9. Bouchard, Pierrette, Jean-Claude St-Amant, Monique Gauvin, Madeleine Quintal, Richard Carrier and Claudette Gagnon, " Familles, école et milieu populaire "("Families, schools and working class neighbourhoods"), CRIRES, Laval University, Québec City, 2000, 193 pages.
10. Bouchard, Pierrette, Jean-Claude St-Amant, Natalie Rinfret, Claudine Baudoux and Natasha Bouchard, " Dynamiques familiales de la réussite scolaire au secondaire " (Vol. I) [Family dynamics and secondary school success), Chaire d’étude Claire-Bonenfant sur la condition des femmes, Laval University, Québec City, 2003, 162 pages.
11. Bouchard, Pierrette, Jean-Claude St-Amant, Natalie Rinfret, Claudine Baudoux and Natasha Bouchard. " Les héritières du féminisme " (Feminism’s Heirs) (Vol. II), Chaire d’étude Claire-Bonenfant sur la condition des femmes, Laval University, Quebec City, 2003, 270 pages.
12. Status of Women Canada,
" School Success by Gender : A Catalyst for Masculinist Discourse ",
March 2003.


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Micheline Carrier
Sisyphe

Micheline Carrier est éditrice du site Sisyphe.org et des éditions Sisyphe avec Élaine Audet.



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