Tag Archives: Person’s Day

Person’s Day 85th Anniversary: We Gotta Keep Kicking

It seems hard to believe, but when my grandmother was born, she wasn’t considered a person.

She was 32 years old before that distinction was legally acknowledged for her. Thirty-two years old. And it wasn’t just handed out, like a forgotten birthday card. It required a fight.

This year’s Person’s Day (October 18) murphy_bigmarks the 85th anniversary of the 1929 court decision that declared women “qualified persons” under the law. The Person’s Case, as the ruling came to be known, was launched by five Alberta women: Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby, and Henrietta Muir Edwards. It was an eight year battle that began after Murphy, the country’s first female magistrate and judge, ruled on a case and had her judgment questioned by a male lawyer who said that as she was not legally a person, she could not pass sentence. Wanting to clarify women’s status under the British North America Act (now the Constitution Act, 1867), and further her case for appointment to the Senate (in which only a legal person could serve) McClung and her compatriots asked the federal government to declare women as persons who could be considered for all areas of public office.

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More contemporary governments like to acknowledge the work of the Famous Five on the public manifestations of nationhood and national mythology: our stamps, money, and monuments.

When the government wouldn’t decide, the “Famous Five” as the women were later called, petitioned the Supreme Court to make a ruling. The court took the view that the drafters of the BNA Act didn’t consider women persons who could be appointed to the Senate. Not willing to accept that ruling, the Famous Five pushed the issue further and asked the prime minister to appeal the court ruling to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Britain (the Supreme Court’s appeals court at that time). That court ruled that not only were women persons who could be appointed to the senate, but that the country’s constitution was not a rigid document but something that could change and reflect the times and culture of the country.

famous_5_smThe details of the Person’s Case are important. We shouldn’t forget that fact that personhood was a judgment made by a court and not something that the government of the day agreed upon. In that respect it was a victory not just for women’s rights, but also for the law. Emily Murphy was, it should be noted, a product of her time, and a woman of privilege. She was white, middle class, and well-educated. Still, she ultimately never got that Senate appointment. But she didn’t worry much about how her advocacy might harm her reputation or limit her prospects. As with many early feminists, she understood that just working hard and waiting for recognition was futile. Those who hold power don’t willingly give up, or even share, their power and privilege. If you want a piece of that pie, you have to fight for it, or reach out and take it. “ The world loves a peaceful man,” Murphy was reputed to have said. “But it gives way to a strenuous kicker.”

CIR_persons2That was true for Murphy and it is also true for feminists today at a time when equality has not yet been achieved. I’m not just making this up. The stats and facts bear this out. Canadian women still earn an average of 70 percent of what their male counterparts earn, And that’s a StatsCan figure. Canada ranks 20th in the World Economic Forum’s measure of gender equality — apparently below South Africa and Latvia. We were ranked #35 for wage equality and #41 for women in parliament. The Forum notes that human talent is the most important determinant for a country’s competitiveness and that reducing gender inequality enhances a country’s productivity and growth. You know what that means? It means that as a society we need to recognize that policies and programs that support women and children benefit us all. This includes good, affordable day care, poverty reduction programs, and a broader conception of what equality means. We can’t combat inequality from a gender-neutral standpoint. Women aren’t a special interest group. We make up more than 50 percent of the country’s population. Equality—be it economic, political, or social, it a right and not a gift. The Famous Five understood this. They did not let the government or the Supreme Court’s no-can-do attitude prevent them from asserting women’s rights to equality. They pushed for a clear definition of personhood within the constitution. They were strenuous kickers.

So yay for Person’s Day! Let’s celebrate it as a day of historical importance, but use it as another reminder to keep kicking. The struggle continues.

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Question of the Month – Gratitude

October: Thanksgiving, family gatherings, gratitude. This month, we combine the theme of gratefulness with Person’s Day on October 18th; a day that marks women’s inclusion in the  legal definition of “person”, enabling us to be appointed into the Senate. We take time to think about the women throughout history and in our daily lives who have inspired traditions, and shaped a culture for women today. With mothers, sisters, suffragettes and activists alike in mind, we ask:

As a woman, what are you most grateful for?

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Opinion #1

ecardTo be honest, there are days when I’m really not grateful to be a woman (we all have them!) Growing up, I very much envied the seemingly uncomplicated journey boys experience to get to manhood (so your voice changes, whoop-de-do!) And as time’s passed, I’ve found that maintaining female companionship is something that is far more complex than for male groups of friends.  Don’t even get me started on the thought of childbirth! Men get paid more, are more represented in politics, are not hyper-sexualized in the media, have never stuck a mascara wand in their eye… And the list goes on.

But when you work in a woman’s organization, write for a woman’s blog, and surround yourself with like minded feminists, it can be too easy to identify as a victim of gender.

It’s then that I think maybe, just maybe, some of those challenges I’ve experienced because of my gender have made me a stronger, more resilient and compassionate human being. If I hadn’t been the only girl on a hockey team full of boys, if I had never felt what it’s like to be brushed aside for being young and pretty, or the embarrassment of being thought of as just a sexual object to be whistled at and catcalled…I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I wouldn’t have the good fortune to be sitting at the YWCA, writing this post.

Like Eleanor Roosevelt famously quipped “A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water”!

Opinion #2

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Gratitude: noun, the definition of gratitude is a feeling of being thankful and appreciative. 

For me, this is such a far reaching question, with an infinite number of possible responses – so I have narrowed it down for the sake of providing an easy read.
Quick answer: I am grateful for…..the invention of fuzzy towels, flavoured teas, spandex and daylight savings time.  I can’t be the only one that enjoys that extra hour.

Opinion #3

Over the years around Thanksgiving the thing I am most grateful for has changed. However, as I’ve gotten older I have realized that it is not WHAT I am grateful for, but for WHO I am grateful. And the person that I am most grateful for is my mother.

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My mother is the strongest person I know. Life has thrown her difficult challenges, but she has always overcome them, and has gotten stronger with each situation. With a husband, three children, and three grandchildren my mother has always been there for each and everyone of us. With a close family like mine, and us all having  busy lifestyles, my mother is at the heart of our family. She reminds my family and I that there is nothing more important than family. I am grateful to have a mother that believes in me and supports me in all of my choices (even if she doesn’t agree with me). I am grateful to have a mother that is always there for me when I need a shoulder to cry on. I am grateful to have a mother that puts the well-being of her family before herself. I am grateful to have a mother that always goes above and beyond for others.

So here is to you Mom, thank you for everything you do and being exactly who you are, and Happy Thanksgiving.

“We want women leaders today as never before. Leaders who are not afraid to be called names and who are willing to go out and fight. I think women can save civilization. Women are persons.”

-Emily Murphy, 1931

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