The Québec Media, Feminism and the 20th Century

By Camille Cusset

Nowadays, Québec has numerous female journalists working for various outlets. But there once was a time, not that long ago, when journalism was reserved almost exclusively for men. The lack of female representation in the journalism world limited feminist debates to maternity and domestic issues.

In the first half of the 20th century, the social evolution of Québec society was largely defined by the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church. Francophone newspapers were mostly controlled by the Church, and their articles about women were limited to subjects like maternity and the education of children.

When the debate over the right of women to vote was raised at all, right wing, religious media like L’Ordre Nouveau and Le Devoir argued against women’s suffrage. They invoked the role of a woman as a homemaker and the risks of creeping communism. We can conclude that women’s emancipation was a controversial subject, and that this was reflected in the newspapers and magazines of the day.

Women Working in the Media

The growth of the presence of women in journalism and their contribution to the profession changed how the media looked at such issues and work, reconciling work and family, abortion rights, education, the couple, sexuality, etc.  The participation of women in the creation of media content allowed for these issues to be raised in the public domain.

For example, the contribution of Aline Desjardins to the program Femme d’aujourd’hui (Woman of Today) helped introduce and helped evolve the way the media dealt with women-related themes. Desjardins’ work allowed Québec women of the time to have a different view of their society and of the world, and to question their role in society.

Women’s Issues on TV

The program Femme d’aujourd’hui ran from 1965 to 1982 on Radio-Canada’s television airwaves. It was aimed at housewives, and aired weekday afternoons. At the outset its content was devoted to topics said to be “feminine” and which we used to associate uniquely with women, such as beauty and interior decorating. But with the arrival in 1966 of Michele Lasnier as director of women’s programming, its content changed drastically. Over time this TV program became a feminist program, and would see different hosts but a single male host, when the duo of Yoland Guérard and Lisette Gervais took on hosting duties for a time.

The feminist subtext of the program was thanks to Desjardin’s efforts. The program took a new turn in 1966 when this journalist took on the condition of women. For example, she’d invite experts into the studio – experts such as lawyers, doctors and other journalists. The program contributed to the growth of the feminist movement in Québec in the 1980s.

Following up on this, the magazine La Vie en Rose was created in 1980 by five female journalists (Francine Pelletier, Sylvie Dupont, Lise Moisan, Ariane Émond and Claudine Vivier).  Its main vocation was to promote the autonomy of Québec women. In an interview the magazine’s cofounder, Ariane Émond, explained that their goal was to bring a deeper analysis to issues using a provocative, rebellious tone in order to counter the patronizing tone in which women were addressed at that time. The journalists argued in favor of freely available abortion, a controversial subject back then. As well, the magazine backed the emancipation of women journalists and dealt with social issues such as war, unionism, municipal politics, the environment, the plight of indigenous women, and even eroticism.

The journalists of La Vie en Rose contributed to changing how feminist issues were covered in Québec in the 1980s. The media of that era tended to cover women’s issues in an almost anecdotal fashion, according to Ariane Émond. The magazine wanted to be a rallying point for feminist movements, and worked to highlight feminist publications such as Québécoises deboutte and Les Têtes de Pioche.     

The first female reporter in Québec to rise to the status of special correspondent, Judith Jasmin, brought a different vision of her profession to her work. During her career (1947 to 1972), Jasmin often allied militancy with her professional activities by applying this key principle: present the facts.

Judith Jasmin

Invited to appear on the program Format 60 in March of 1972, she explained her concept of journalism: for her, information was, above all, the facts. The public can use the facts to form their opinion. She argued that a journalist’s main role is to adhere to this principle – which imposes a duty on the media to remain factual. According to Jasmin, sincerity is a value that allows a journalist to present information even if they have their own principles or personal opinions.

Judith Jasmin also contributed to the birth of the first news bulletins, in collaboration with future Québec premier René Lévesque. Before that, the two journalists co-hosted Carrefour magazine on the radio five evenings a week, on Radio-Canada, from 1955 to 1962.   

This is how Judith Jasmin participated in the evolution of the current format we use to present news on radio and on TV, notably through her reporting and her collaborations. To this day one of Canada’s great journalism prizes bears her name: the prix Judith-Jasmin.

French version on the Reflet de Société website

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