The results of a study on the attitudes of Quebec women toward marriage, family, health, sex, careers and money, suggest the modern Quebecois has little in common with her sisters of past generations.

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Chatelaine, a Montreal-based, French-language women’s magazine published by MacLean-hunter, released the results of the poll in its June issue.  The poll was conducted by Multi-Reso on “a representative sample of Quebec women.”

“Neither euphoric nor discouraged,” writes editor-in-chief Micheline Lachance, clearly pleased with the results of the poll.  “With both feet on the ground, Quebec women are shaking up all the traditional ideas, even those which seem the most anchored.  Yes, they may succeed very well in their lives without a husband and also – oh, sacrilege! – without children.  But without a career?  Unthinkable!

Lachance is referring to the results of the lead question on the poll: “At the present time, do you think a woman can truly succeed in life without:

(a)    a career;

(b)   a mate;

(c)    having children?

The results showed only 37 per cent of respondents felt they could be successful without a career, whereas 78 per cent said they could be successful without a man and 82 per cent indicated they could succeed in life without having children.

Diminished respect

Despite the apparent importance of career over children which captured the attention of the media, the results do not necessarily indicate a repudiation of motherhood so much as a reaction to society’s diminished respect for the roles of wife and mother.  Critics have pointed out that the question is biased.  The notion of success may be tied more closely to how one feels she is perceived rather than how one actually defines herself.

Nevertheless, it does appear that Quebec women are moving onto the career track with enthusiasm.  Lachance reports that of those respondents who did not view a career as necessary to a woman’s success, 45 per cent had nine years or less education and 57 per cent had a family income of $60,000 or more, implying that they were completely out of step with mainstream Quebec women, lacking either the means of the motive to pursue a career.

Feminist ideology

The question, “What elements have contributed the most, according to you, to change the lives of women over the course of the last 20 years? Drew a response which reflects a widespread acceptance of the feminist ideology.  Thirty-nine per cent answered, “the possibility of moving into new careers previously reserved for men.”  This was followed closely by “access for women to more responsibility” (33 per cent).  Next came a group of responses which are related: “the feminist movement” (22 per cent); “contraception” (19 per cent); “access to abortion” (10 per cent); “the development of free unions (living together)” (8 per cent).  Technological advances i.e., “the perfecting of household appliances, garnered four per cent!

The results of the poll suggest the women of Quebec have embraced feminism vigorously, at least in terms of their aspirations and their sense of liberty.  They seem to want to rid themselves of the ‘shackles’ of tradition.  This is reflected in their abandonment of anything resembling traditional Catholic teaching, which is, of course, the heart of Quebec’s historic culture.

Dating and relationships

The results of a question dealing with dating and relationships also show a break with tradition.  Forty-one per cent of young women 18 to 24 and 32 per cent of respondents overall considered the “possibility of having several lovers during your life” to be “what has changed the most in romantic relationships in the last dozen years.”  The greater importance given to sexual pleasure (21 per cent) and the loss of importance of virginity (17 per cent), were next.  Seventeen per cent cited “the possibility of having several romantic relationships at the same time”  Sixteen per cent of 18 to 24 year olds, and seven per cent overall, believed “the possibility of having homosexual relations” to be a significant change.

The respondents may not be basing their answers on their personal experience but rather the atmosphere in which the ‘dating game’ currently occurs.  The results reflect the trend toward liberalization of attitudes toward sexual behaviour which has taken place throughout the Western culture over the last several decades.

Quebec most ‘liberated’

Sociologist Reg Bibby of the University of Lethbridge has studied Canadian attitudes toward sexual behaviour since 1975.  His most recent poll (February 1991), indicates that Quebecers have the most liberal attitudes toward sexual behaviour among Canadians.  Acceptance of pre-marital sex and homosexual relations has grown steadily throughout Canada, and is consistently highest in Quebec.  Acceptance of extramarital relations appears to have peaked and is in decline everywhere except in Quebec, where it has increased.

The Chatelaine/Multi-Reso poll surveyed a number of issues which are not discussed here because they are outside the scope of this article, notably money and health concerns.  Overall, the poll may raise more questions that it answers.  The results suggest that Quebec women have undergone a radical change over the last generation or so.  However, in the absence of comparable polls of 10 or 20 year olds, such observations are merely the conventional wisdom.

Lise Payette

Pollsters also asked women to name the Quebec woman they admired mot.  Journalist, television personality and feminist Lise Payette, a former minister in the Parti Quebecois government, headed the list of political and media stars.  Celine Dion, a young singing superstar who is now popular throughout North America was most admired by young women.

When asked whom she admired most, Dion herself replied, “My mother…she’s an intelligent person, a good person, who raised fourteen children and took good care of them.  An extraordinary women!