Published in the Spring 2006 issue • Features
An Interview with Doris Anderson
Trailblazing feminist Doris Anderson was an influential editor of Chatelaine magazine from 1957 to 1977, head of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women in the early 1980s and is now on the steering committee of Equal Voice, a non-partisan Canadian organization working to change our electoral system.
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Do you think women are less interested in changing the status quo because harsh gender equality is no longer directly a part of a woman’s day-to-day life?
I think that there is gender inequality at the political level! I mean, think of it: a 30-year-old married man with two kids and one on the way is still considered a perfect candidate. If it were a married woman with two kids and one on the way—not a chance! “What about your children? Your family?” It’s still a criticism that women face. So a lot of women don’t even try because they know this and feel the sting of guilt.
I’m motivated to get women interested in politics but I think politics itself is pretty boring. What do you say to women like me, those who look at politics and think “Ugh. Too much work, too much commitment, too boring!”?
Well, most people are like that. You don’t have to be totally informed to be politically active. But most people should be concerned about certain things that they feel passionate about. As responsible Canadian adults, we don’t want to leave our kids with a mess. And if you want to be informed, you can find out very quickly — think of all the info we have at our disposal! Not very long ago, women couldn’t vote at all. It’s a privilege to have a say in out country and to not exercise it is shameful. And the consequence is bad government.
If we changed the electoral system, more people would vote. People are too complacent. Bad things can happen to our country. “Oh, it’s not going to happen here.” Well, it absolutely could!
What are you most proud of?
Firstly, having kids. Next, it would be Chatelaine. That magazine and I, we were made for each other. It was floundering when I took over and it was time to give women a new message. I had an amazing opportunity.
Were you surprised at the way some of your readers responded to the more controversial articles you ran in Chatelaine?
No. I knew they were ready for it. We did get quite a few violent responses to the articles on abortion, especially from the Catholic Church. But we just kept at it and tried to make it mainstream because we knew it was really important to a lot of women.
What has been the biggest challenge of your life?
Just getting a start at all, with what was expected of women. I had a pressure to not excel at school because it was cool to hide your brains to get a husband. But my family really encouraged me and I grew up in a matriarchy. Marriage to me seemed like a trap and I wanted to see the world. I didn’t want to stay one place all my life, marry a postman and have six kids. You know my aunt once told me she’d figured out why I wanted to go to university: so I could find a better class of man to marry! They had no concept that maybe I wanted to go to school just for myself.