Marc Lalonde

Courtesy CBC

The feminist movement was “easily manipulated,” and the Liberal federal cabinet prepared a “counteroffensive”, notes from the secret 1981 meeting reveal says Blacklock’s Reporter.

Secret declassified records show Liberal ministers planned to co-opt women’s groups to avert public criticism of cabinet.

“It was pointed out that the women’s movement was easily manipulated,” said Cabinet Minutes of a secret February 19, 1981 meeting.

The session came about after the sudden resignation of the chair of the Canadian Advisory on the Status of Women over complaints of cabinet interference.

Then-Energy Minister Marc Lalonde described the controversy as manageable.

“Mr. Lalonde noted the issue had high symbolic value and attracted considerable media visibility,” said Minutes.

“He stressed that since progress in this area depended on changes in attitudes, it could only be made slowly and it was a shame that much useful work was being quickly undermined.

“Mr. Lalonde suggested there was a need for a well-planned counteroffensive to prevent the situation from snowballing.”

Political meddling was behind her resignation, said Doris Anderson, then-chair of the Advisory Council.

“The unequal status of women is repeatedly explained away, dismissed or blamed on women themselves,” said Anderson.

The former Chatelaine editor died in 2007 at 85. The Advisory Council was formally disbanded in 1995.

Future cabinet meetings were urged to appear “sensitive” in dealing with feminists’ groups.

“Regional Ministers should be more sensitive to the inadequate representation of women and members of the ethnic community on federal boards and agencies,” said Minutes of a June 18, 1981 meeting.

“Ministers should note that women’s groups were supporting the federal government and should deal with these groups in a sensitive way,” cabinet was reminded five months later.

Ministers were urged to make careful observance of International Women’s Day “to demonstrate the government’s good record in the area of women’s rights.”

Cabinet in 1982 also approved Guidelines For The Elimination Of Sexual Stereotyping From All Government Communications. Women should be treated with “seriousness,” cabinet was told.

“Regressive terminology, demeaning depiction and unequal and stereotypical representation are part of the systemic discrimination which prevents women from becoming equal and active participants in all aspects of Canadian society,” read the policy.

“Women should be presumed to constitute half the audience for which communication is intended,” wrote staff.

“Subliminal messages are sent by the placement of women in visual material,” said Guidelines.

“Avoid postures which always portray women and men in scenes of dominance or submission, or as more or less serious or businesslike than each other, e.g. portrait of a man completing his income tax return and the woman is standing by.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief

Dave Naylor is News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief of the Western Standard based in the Calgary Headquarters. He served as City Editor of the Calgary Sun & covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years.

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