Forward Through the Past:
BY RANDI R. WARNE
Anniversaries are important times. They provide a touchstone, a place to look from, as we sort out where we have been and where we are going. 1989 marks the tenth anniversary of CCLOW. On October 18 it will also mark the 60th anniversary of the famous Persons' case in which women were declared legally "persons" in the matter of rights and privileges, as well as in the matter of pains and penalties (the latter half of which some would say has always been women's lot). Some ten years earlier most Canadian women received the franchise. It would seem we have accomplished quite a lot in a relatively short time; "You've come a long way" is now a cultural commonplace. But has women's lot substantially changed since the time of the early feminists? And if we have "progressed",against what standards ought our progress be measured?
Women's history has elicited a number of different answers to these questions over the years. In the initial rosy afterglow of political victory women like Nellie McClung were held up as saints, revered for their energy and passion. But as the women's movement grew in the early '70s a more critical eye was cast, and early feminists were chastised for their "materialism" and "naiveté". Ultimately, such judgments rested on the shallow base of "presentism": the tendency to assess the past solely according to current prejudice rather than in its own terms. A new set of perceptions guides current inquiry, respecting both historical context and human limitation (1). Neither pristine heroines nor ignorant villains need mark our past; we ought to know how real women lived their lives in order to gain courage to sustain us as we live ours.