Editor’s note: Judy Davidson’s involvement with the Pictou County Women’s Centre began in 1981. At first, she worked as a volunteer telephone counselor on their Battered Women’s Information Service. When this service developed into the Tearmann Society, she continued to work, this time as a paid employee, under a Canada Works grant. She later served as a member of the Tearmann Society Board.
In February 1985, she asked the Pictou Country Women’s Centre to sponsor an application to the Secretary of State to fund a public education programme on sexual assault. The Women’s Centre (which operates as a collective) agreed and assisted in writing the grant proposal, and the Secretary of State Department accepted it. Approximately $53,000 was granted to cover the project from August 1985 to March 1986. In addition to Judy Davidson, the project staff (paid $8 an hour) included a full-time rural outreach worker for women and a part-time bookkeeper.
Mrs. Davidson’s new role was to provide the public with information in three areas: child sexual abuse, sexual assault of teens or of women, and methods of abuse prevention for children and for women. She began her job in late July 1985, and it ended abruptly in September of that year.
Her story, below, shows how women who attempt sincerely to help others in specific areas increasingly find themselves unable to work in or with “feminist” organizations whose constant battle now is the erasing of all social norms.
Unfortunately, Judy Davidson’s experience is not an isolated one. It raises such questions as why government funding is given to such organizations, with no close scrutiny to assess to warn women to pay careful attention to the ideological views of an organization before they programme.
By Judy Davidson
My first month of work went smoothly. I was busy obtaining books and films to develop a resource library for the project, and gathering information for my public education work.
During the last weekend in August, I attended the Atlantic Regional Conference for Rape Crisis Workers, held in Prince Edward Island, with two other women working on the project with me from the Women’s Centre. I expected the weekend to give us vital information and ideas for counseling victims of sexual abuse. I didn’t expect that it would eventually end my involvement with the project.
The first morning was a “sharing” time where each member told her particular life story, including the reasons why she was working with feminists. Intense emotions were generated: the emphasis on personal incidents of bettering or of rape, and the resulting strong pain, anger and hatred.
Then another factor emerged. Gradually I became aware that among those present, these incidents concerned quite a large group of alienated women. Many of these women, who had lost trust and respect, not only for men, but also for society in general, had formed themselves into a strong movement of “Radical Lesbian Feminists” (as they call themselves).
I also began to realize that this conference was to them a “safe” one – one in which this movement could be free to express itself. This group sharing of pain and oppression served to “energize” individuals into supporting one another.
Following this “sharing,” we divided into smaller groups to define “what it means to be a woman in society.” These smaller sessions completed, we reconvened to share the individual insights and observations. Again, the material centred upon forms of oppression. Positive issues were seldom mentioned, and any that were became overwhelmed by negative sentiment.
The conference leaders then began to draw the participants into assuming a strong political posture. Each group was asked to define their home centre (all delegates were from rape crisis centres or centres for battered women), noting such factors as:
- Who controlled the most power?
- How many were radical feminists?
- The general power structure within the centre.
The subsequent discussion concerned the importance of having radical feminists at the very core of every centre, in order to control hiring and helping others of a like mind into the organization.
Written material was distributed which offered strategies to overcoming the “enemy.” (For example, where government money is concerned, one is advised to “learn to lie, cheat, steal” to promote the cause, better still, it was suggested that alternate financing be sough because “governments cannot promote revolution.”)
I should add that the “enemy” was considered to be any person, agency or system who could hinder this radical feminist lesbian movement.
It became clear to me that the lesbian movement is part of this radical feminist movement when I read the following quotations. They are taken from an article written by Yvette Perreault, the speaker at the convention, and a representative of the Lesbian Speakers’ Bureau in Toronto.
The discrimination against lesbians only makes sense when viewed as part of the overall oppression of all women. Specifically, capitalism, the nuclear family, and institutionalized heterosexuality are underpinnings of our oppression. (Looking at Our Reality)
Papers were also distributed which set forth “Rules of Power Tactics,” some examples are:
Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have…
Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this for they can no more obey their rules then the Christian Church can live up to Christianity. (Surviving as an Organizer)
In all, twelve such tactics were presented. All suggested that anyone opposing this movement is the “enemy.”
Strategy sessions were another feature of this convention. These were designed to teach the elements of a “good group,” a group whose goals were, at least in part:
- To contribute to the liberation of women through education, mobilization, and action as lesbian feminists from a radical perspective…
- To support “women who are in the process of coming out as lesbians – through coming out in groups…
- To support those who would be “visible as lesbians (positive role models)”
- To “prepare accurate, positive information on lesbianism”
- To “Bring women with us into political activism”
- To develop alliances with other activists and oppressed group.
(T, Perreault, Getting Together and Staying Together).
Conference participants moved on to recommend that, in order to be members of the “collective,” one must “be in agreement with the Basis of Unity” (“analysis, goals and objectives”) and must also agree to use “tools” (“constructive criticism, groups and caucuses, and appreciations”).
Another discussion pinpointed the danger of opening the centres to any and all women of the community. It was felt that those who are not of a radical feminist perspective should be gradually replaced by those who are. Heavy emphasis was placed on the importance of having such women at the core of these centres – who would wield much influence on hiring and so on.
The next time we convened as a single large group, the central theme had changed to one of “revolution, infiltration and conversion to this movement.”
I became uncomfortable with the proceedings and left early on the second day. I left principally because the convention did not meet my expectations: I really had expected it was to educate workers involved with sexual assault victims.
I should add that the convention organizers announced that the Department of the Secretary of State had wished to send a representative as an observer. They indicated that they had resisted this request and had succeeded in preventing a Department representative from attending the conference. This announcement was greeted with cheers of approval. The delegates obviously felt that a greater freedom had been created in which to discuss the feminist movement. At times during this presentation, the government was presented as part of the enemy.
The aftermath of the Conference for Rape Crisis Workers came as a great surprise to me. My non-alignment with the pro-radical feminist perspective, and my assertion of Judeo-Christian ethics, invoked the displeasure of one of my co-workers. Upon my return, she advised me that, as I was not in agreement with the general theme of the convention (that is, the radical lesbian-feminist activism), she would consider my attitude as a personal affront to her own lesbianism.
I was told that I had to be totally supportive of all causes with which the Women’s Centre involved itself – including abortion counseling and lesbianism. This was an extreme departure from my job description, to which the government gave support and public funds.
At the first Centre meeting following the Convention (early in September), I requested clarification on the Centre’s policies on theses issues. In particular, I asked them to explain their meaning of “burning job descriptions,” changing “public education to political education” in the promotion of “radical feminism.” And I queried the seemingly mandatory bias in support of abortion.
The Centre’s leaders called a special meeting to form a consensus on its policies. This second meeting, held later in September, was chaired by the two women who attended the convention with me and who, since I raised questions about Centre policies, had shown a great deal of hostility towards me.
At the meeting, a positive view of the P.E.I. conference was presented. Those present were told that the conference’s support of the lesbian movement had been wonderful, that lesbians had been accepted and were free to share their pain and oppression. They were able to draw much strength and support form each other. One of these women, a lesbian, shared very tearfully with us how important it is for her, as for all lesbians, to know that our Women’s Centre is a place of support and safety for lesbians.
Her statement drew such support from other Collective members, who felt strongly that it was time they took some “risk” in the community – by forming lesbian support groups. All Collective members indicated that, in their view, being truly feminist means being totally supportive of pro-lesbian choice.
I said that my personal beliefs and convictions prevented me from becoming part of a lesbian support group. In addition, I took a similar stand on abortion.
I was accused of being judgmental. I assured them that I was not offering condemnation, but merely asking for the freedom to have personal convictions. Some said that they could not work with me because I was “not feminist,” and they further suggested that I should not be working at the Centre. The lesbians present at the meeting again insisted that everyone working at the Centre must strongly support hem. The meeting ended after midnight, with an agreement to meet again.
Later yet in September, a third meeting was held. Members adopted a policy that the Centre was going to offer support openly to lesbians. I again stated that I could not be part of this. My statement drew heated opposition and accusations.
One lesbian told me that the Centre was like a “church to her, and she did not know why I wanted to be part of it if I couldn’t support lesbianism.”
I left the meeting early, after stating that I was hired to do a job in which these issues were supposed to have no significance, and that they had not been included in our grant proposal to the government. I said that I would not resign and the Collective would have to assume responsibility for any action taken against me.
At work the following day I was presented with a proposal which they felt I would be happy to accept. They felt an obligation to allow me to do my job in public education.
Because they wanted me to continue, they agreed that I would not be responsible to deal with other issues. But as lesbians could not feel safe and supported with me working among them, I was told I would have to work outside the office. I would no longer be required to attend Centre meetings – although the policy had been that anyone working on a project is required to attend meetings.
A further condition was that my work would be supervised by a Women’s Centre member. The person who volunteered to meet and work with me was the lesbian who had previously refused to work with me in the office.
My response was that this was total discrimination and I asked why someone who could not work with me in the office could work with me in the community. She replied that she could handle non-support at the community level but, because the Centre was “like her home,” she needed total support there.
I agreed to respond to these proposals at a fourth meeting, scheduled for the end of September. In the meantime, two of my project co-workers (one who was paid and one volunteer) resigned because of personal convictions and because of the pressure of trying to work in this atmosphere.
On the afternoon of the fourth meeting, I received a call from a Centre member saying that they had heard from a local Pastor that I had written a report of my experiences. She insisted that the Women’s Centre should see this report. I suggested that she might get it from the Pastor.
I asked that my decision be presented to the evening meeting. I had decided that I could not agree to work at home: my job could not be done in isolation and it was discriminatory that I be prevented from working at the office.
My caller said she felt that I was misinterpreting, but the working conditions could only be resolved if I did not work at the office. As I had already been told that my supervisor would meet with me outside the office, it was becoming quite clear to me that I was not to be encouraged to go there.
Later that evening I received a message to call the Centre. The person who answered the phone told me that the Collective had gone over my report and they were very angry. I had no business discussing my experience, and I was also told that a retraction of my statement was required.
I was asked to call at the Centre the following morning when I would be told what retractions to make. I asked if I was being required to lie and was told that the Collective had carefully chosen the word “misinterpreted.”
The following morning I was presented with the conditions for my continued involvement at the Centre. I was still required to work from my home. I was to retrace what I had said about the P.E.I conference and my statements on Centre meetings. I was told I had broken confidentiality in both these areas.
My response was that this was the first time I had heard of a “confidentiality” policy at the Centre. I refused to apologize, or to retract my statements, because I felt that the P.E.I. conference had used government money to promote a hidden cause. I stressed that I had only handed out my account to those who could advise me on how to handle the discrimination I had experienced.
I was told that the Secretary of State had given the money to the Women’s Centre to “do as they saw fit,” and that the Secretary of State Department would not support any of my complaints since “they were on their side.”
Upon my refusal to retract my statement, I was told that the Women’s Centre had no choice but to terminate my employment. Later that day, I returned to the office to pick up my separation sip and letter of termination.