Women's Studies, and Rural Women
by Beth Westfall
Universities preserve, reflect, and promulgate the dominant culture; they are the repository for the official version of our history, the "great works" that are judged to be expressions of our civilization. They are, by nature, exclusionary. In Canada, the first university (Laval) was founded on the basis of a seminary; many of our institutions have similar religious origins and are firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. They are also "white," reflecting European culture; other cultures are at best the objects of intellectual analysis and anthropological studies. They are also male. And they are urban.
Women have not always found a place within the Canadian universities. When Mount Allison University granted a B.Sc. to Grace Annie Lockhart in 1875, it was the first university in the British Empire to graduate a woman. McGill only opened its doors to women as a result of financial incentive in 1884. And Emma Baker became the first woman to obtain a doctoral degree from a Canadian university when she obtained a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1903. Even those women who braved the inhospitable climate of the male-dominated university were not assured an education that met their needs. As Rich states:
What we have at present is a man-centred university, a breeding ground not of humanism, but of masculine privilege. As women have gradually and reluctantly been admitted into the mainstream of higher education, they have been made participants in a system that prepares men to take up roles of power in a man-centred society, that asks questions and teaches "facts" generated by a male intellectual tradition, and that both subtly and openly confirms men as the leaders and shapers of human destiny both within and outside of academia. (1)