by Christina Starr
It seems to be no secret to women that education in Canada is still unfairly dispensed. The environment is toxic, the curricula do not respond to women's realities, the professionals need enlightening, foreign degrees are not accepted, the library is exclusive, and working conditions for women teachers are appalling.
One of the central channels through which education is dispersed unevenly is the assumption that life should not interfere with thought, to paraphrase Sandra Monteath. Illness, finances, children, dependents, housework, racism, sexism, homophobia, laundry, culture, recreation... are not assumed to be part of any student's life. Work, thought, education are organized as if they happen in a vacuum. Not all workplaces, and less and less in this economy, make allowances for things like sick days, let alone sick-child days; not many educational institutions have a course schedule that accounts for those whose lives are organized around the needs of others, let alone their own needs.
Our society is governed by an ideology of individualism, which, through a pretence of every one for themselves & each with the same opportunity, allows the denial of oppressions and the neglect of structures of support. We are each assumed to exist, to organize our lives and needs individually, and to take advantage of such work or education as we can make convenient for ourselves. Of course, the more privilege one has, the easier it is to take advantage. There is no assumption, for those without privilege, that work or educational life be made convenient for the individual. And, since men have been the measure of those who participate in work or education, it is the lives, needs of, and demands on women which are left out. Women have for so long functioned as the part of society which makes everything convenient for men that we find ourselves stuck in structures that don't allow for the unpredictions of life, juggling demands like a street artist trying to toss balls in a phone booth.
You can read in this issue, for example, why it took Sandra Monteath seventeen years to complete her Ph.D. You will find out from Nilima Mandal Giri how South Asian women academics have organized their lives in order to study in Canada, and from June Larkin how some teenaged girls negotiate the daily waves of sexual harassment on their journey to a high school diploma. Other writers tell us about ways to effectively raise awareness and eliminate the barriers that girls and women face. The Provincial Association of Transition Houses of Saskatchewan, Janice Gingell reports, has initiated a program to educate professionals who work with women so that their interaction can be more constructive, and Monique Hébert celebrates the organization of a national education week for francophone women.
We have come a long way to exposing the inequities in our social systems but we have a long way to go to see those inequities eradicated, to encounter no boundaries in our learning, to be free to toss and rearrange our commitments as unrestricted as a juggler in the open air. We have some way to go toward dismantling the systems that don't account for life, some way to go toward insisting that we function in a context without seams.
Christina Starr is the Editor of Women's Education des femmes and lives a very seamed life of motherhood, work, writing, more work, learning, and political activism.