Originally published January 10th, 2014. Featured again on February 8th, 2014.
Many Canadians will have heard of the York University’s so-called religious rights incident by now.
A male student taking a York University online course, asked to be excused from a group work requirement because he would have to work alongside his female classmates and that apparently was against his religion.
Hogwash. That type of sexist prejudice is cultural and has nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Rather, let’s call it what it is — intolerance! As Michele Mandel writes, gender rights are inalienable bedrock truths in Canada.
Thankfully, the York University sociology professor involved, J. Paul Grayson and his department, understood that and had more sense than either the Centre for Human Rights or the York Social Sciences Dean. As Grayson rightly suggested in a CP article posted on the CBC, that type of decision “takes us back to the dark ages.”
As a former professor myself, I can only assume Grayson had tenure, and therefore academic freedom, to be able to stand his ground like that — although the fact that his entire department stood behind him was no doubt the key to his being able to stand firm.
Anyway, dark ages indeed! The reality is we don’t even have to go back that far. I was an adolescent during the 1950s and know first hand about gender inequality — a sexist chauvinist inequality that was seen simply as the social norm.
I remember, for example, that our universities had few female students. I remember that women were not allowed to work for any police force, including the RCMP. I remember that women could not be trained for or considered as pastors for any of the mainline protestant religions. I also remember that employment ads were separated into “Male Help Wanted” and “Female Help Wanted” and that all the good jobs were on the Male side.
No, that is not paranoia. That was simply the female reality after WWII once the men came home. In fact, my mother was one of the thousands of women who were asked to leave the offices and the factories and go back into the kitchen. Luckily for her, she was able to get into the federal public service in the mid 1960s when things started to improve.
Yet, only a few years earlier, when I was hired for my first job after high school (as a key punch operator), I had to sign a form that agreed to my automatic and immediate dismissal if I got married. And, guess where that was? No, not at some private sector white elephant of a company. It was at the Canadian Government’s Central “Bank of Canada” in Ottawa.
Meaning, vigilance is very important if women do not want to go back to that kind of future.
What is especially interesting about this York University incident is that negative reaction to the Dean’s orders is completely apolitical. For example, in the last few paragraphs of the CBC posting it states:
- Justice Minister Peter MacKay said that having men and women attend school together was precisely what Canada fought to accomplish when it sent soldiers to Afghanistan.
- Liberal MP Judy Sgro, who represents the riding of York West in which the university is located, said the professor made the right decision.
- Conservative MP Mark Adler, who represents the adjacent riding of York Centre, says there is no place in Canadian society for sexism.
- NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said universities should not be accommodating such a demand.
Canada is a welcoming and inclusive country but our “Rights and Freedoms” — which include gender, sexual and racial equality — should not be allowed to be trampled on to accommodate the religious or cultural rights of others. In other words, if one person’s religious rights impact hard-fought gender rights, the latter rights should prevail.
Professor Grayson was right to stand firm and I commend him for doing so.
(1) H/T Jack’s Newswatch (# 1).
(2) See also this Sun Media video with Michael Coren who refers to the issue as to misogyny and gender apartheid. Those are tough words but they show the extreme to which appeasement can go. (H/T newswatchcanada.ca right column under “Religious Misogyny“).
(3) Of course, it goes without saying that had the situation been the opposite — that a female student demanded group work accommodation or segregation from men – the answer to the request should have been the same. Men and women are equal in this country and sexism is sexism whether it is anti-female or anti-male.