INTERVIEW: Martha Colquhoun
Martha Colquhoun is the incoming President of CCLOW. She is a Senior staff person for the Manitoba Teacher's Society. Martha has been Manitoba Direct or of CCLOW for several years. She is interviewed here by Susan McCrae Vander Voet, an independent consultant and former Executive Director of CCLOW
Susan: A couple of years ago, you wrote an article for WEDF on women's studies in Manitoba high-schools. What is the current situation?
Martha: In Manitoba, women's Studies courses at the high school level no longer exist. However, a number of teachers do include units, or modules, relative to women's role in history, literature, career education courses. Our Department of Education, under the direction of Grace Parasuik, has made sure that women's issues are included in new curriculum, that women teachers serve on the various curriculum committees, and that textbooks and educational software are reviewed for gender bias before they are approved for classroom use.
Each year for the past five years, the Department of Education has sponsored a Women and Technology Conference for high school girls. Perhaps more importantly, Manitoba has been in the forefront in the area of women's studies for use in the schools. Recently, for example, the Department released materials, using in one instance a comic-book approach, directly aimed at young women, with the message: Keep your options open. Don't drop math and science.
Susan: What current realities do young women in high school need to be educated about?
Martha: Young women in high school still fail to plan realistically for the future. Un- like young men, who accept without thinking the fact that they will be working for most of their adult life, young women still imagine that work is, to use Heather Menzies' phrase, an until-I matter: Until I get married, until we save enough money for the mortgage, until we have children. What they can not, will not accept is that the until-I attitude dooms large numbers of women and their children to a disproportionate share of poverty. In our Canadian society, to be old and female is synonymous with being poor; at any age, being female puts you at risk of being poor.
Susan: How do you convince young women of this?
Martha: There is no way to convince young women of this. They deny the experience of their mothers, of the mothers of their peers. "You didn't understand how to attract and secure the love of a good man. (Good is, of course, a code word for faithful, domesticated, financially successful). When I grow up, I'm going to be married to Mr. Right and nothing will ever go wrong."
Young women feel that men are like buses. If you miss one, another one will be along in fifteen minutes.
Susan: How do other teachers and you cope with this?
Martha: At one level, such attitudes infuriate their mothers, undermine their teachers' efforts to motivate them, and disappoint well-meaning school counselors who solemnly exhort them to make realistic plans for the thirty years the average woman will work in the paid labor force.
At another level, I suspect, even the mothers, teachers, and counselors are not really convinced that good-looking young women need to be pushed that seriously about career plans. "Sure, Mrs. Smith needs to push Heather to get some sort of job training. Such a plain girl with so little personality. But my Marguerite, all blond curls and big bust, why should she slave away at mathematics? Already every boy in school has his eye on my Marguerita."