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Research capsule

40 years of feminism

When she began her studies in political science at Université de Montréal in 1977, Chantal Maillé was drawn to feminism. It must be said that the feminist movement was in full swing at that time: it was the same year that the United Nations proclaimed March 8 International Women’s Day, two years after International Women’s Year (1975).

Maillé believed that studying political science would help her to delve more deeply into the many issues relating to feminism, but quickly became disillusioned. At the time, two strong currents were preoccupying the political science department: Marxism and the National Question. There was little room for feminism.

“It wasn’t until 1979 that the first course on the theme “Women and Politics” was introduced at Université de Montréal by Évelyne Tardy, who later became my thesis director at Université du Québec à Montréal,” recalls Chantal Maillé. “I was lucky enough to take that course during the first year it was offered. It showed me the extent of the work to be done in feminist studies.”

In 1989, she joined the Department of Political Science at Concordia University, where she obtained the first post in feminist studies the following year. She then adopted a multidisciplinary approach specific to feminist studies. She believes that studying the world through the prism of gender is highly revealing and leads to theorizing on issues that would not otherwise receive academic attention. As an example she cites domestic violence, a phenomenon that was historically viewed as a “family matter” and for which no studies or theories had been developed. Feminists enabled domestic violence to gain recognition as a real social problem, and their research has guided government and community strategies.

Multidisciplinary feminism

For the past 15 years, Chantal Maillé has spent a great deal of time studying the women’s movement in Québec, its social impact and its presence in the political landscape. In particular, she has examined the place of women in politics, certain aspects of which are cause for disagreement, even among feminists. For example, should we impose quotas for women in politics or rather train more women to enter politics?

Her writings cover the fields of feminism, postcolonial theories, intersectionality and the Francophonie. “Recently, I have been studying how belonging to the Francophonie determines the subjects addressed by feminists and how they construe them,” she explains. She cites the debate on secularism, which has become a catch-all for addressing other issues, including gender equality. “The debate over gender equality is reduced to squabbling over the wearing of religious symbols, while a number of other issues should be centre stage, such as economic equality and access to jobs,” she adds.

Even so, times have changed and the feminist movement is now led by several groups working both within and outside of the university setting. Chantal Maillé is particularly pleased with the existence of the Réseau québécois en études féministes (ReQEF), which has been funded for the past three years by the Fonds Recherche Québec société et culture (FRQSC). In her view, the ReQEF ensures successful networking between researchers in the field, making it easier to share research results and facilitating work scheduling, collaboration and event organization. This is a definite asset that supports the development of feminist studies.