HD 41 C750
The Woman Speaks
ST- F. .X. Hi
Two addresses given at Staff Conference St. Francis Xavier Extension Dept.,
Antigonish, N. S., August, 1942
The Woman Speaks Her Mind Two addresses given at Staff Conference St. Francis Xavier Extension Department
Antigonish, N. S., August, 1942
The Importance of Working With Women In The Co - operative Movement
By Sister Marie Michael
. I have 'been wondering what the reaction would be if one of the gentlemen in the audience were to get up and give you a talk on the importance of men in our program of adult edu-cation. You would likely conclude either that he was trying to be funny or that somehow the whole matter had gone to his head. "Why," you would say, "if we didn't have the men we wouldn't have the program." Exactly. But yet, even at this stage in our educational work, we must still convince our-selves that women play a necessary and important part in the movement.
Before I go any further, let me make sure that there will be no misunderstanding. A year or two ago I made some remarks of a similar nature in this room. When I had finished the chairman said, possibly by way of soothing ruffled mas-culine feelings, "That's nothing! that's only what I hear from my wife every day!" I hope that what I have to say will not be interpreted as merely the outpourings of a suffra-gist. What I shall try to do is to define the reasons why I believe that women are an important factor in our program.
I think we will all agree that there are in Canada several women's organizations that exercise a considerable influence for good within a national scope. But J venture to make the criticism that the thinking of many of these organizations is to too great an extent influenced by the outlook of the pro-fessional and business classes. These are the people who are least likely to be effective in bringing about a reform in the social order for the simple reason that their interests are too closely bound up with the present set-up of society. There are, of course, notable exceptions but, for the most part, even those who do see the necessity for a thorough reconstruction of our economic and social system seldom have the courage
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to compromise their own immediate interests. As long as this is. the case women's organizations will never be able to realize their full potentialities for good. They will be limit-ed merely to binding up the wounds inflicted by economic in-justice upon society, whereas their chief role should be a pre-ventive one. The women who are best qualified for this pre-ventive role are the farmer's wife, the fisherman's wife, and the industrial worker's wife; but in the presence of those women whom they regard as more highly educated and more capable they are likely to be apologetic and inarticulate.
It is not fair to blame this state of affairs on the class which I have just mentioned which supplies most of the lead-ers in our women's organizations. The fault rests with our-selves because we are not educating the wives of co-operators to go out and take their places as leaders. Many of our most outstanding workers in the co-operative movement are men who, ten years ago, perhaps had never made a public utter-ance in their lives or exerted any marked influence outside their own immediate circle. Give our women as broad an educational program as these men have been given and that means give us the workers with which to do it and you put into their hands the instruments with which to do their share in the creation of a better society.
The Family Undermined
There is another and more fundamental reason for en-listing the support of women in our co-operative program. Whether we realize it or not, the ultimate result of our whole movement is the protection of that most important and basic of all institutions, namely, the family. When the family de-teriorates, society deteriorates. Co-operation, by bringing about a more just social system, makes for an environment in which family life can flourish. Now let us see what big business is doing to the family. It is 'bringing about the centralization of industry and the consequent urbanization which gradually kills family life. It is exploiting the work-er so that he cannot get a decent living for himself and his family; in fact, so that he cannot even take upon himself family responsibilities. Worst of all, it is creating that false sense of values which is perhaps more than anything else re-sponsible for the breakdown of our rural communities. .
What is the connection between all this and the partici-pation of women in our educational program? Just this: that women must be made to understand the forces that threaten to destroy all those values which they hold most sacred. Some may say, "What have women to do with this ? Their place is in the home." Of course it is. But we must remember that on account of the growing complexity of soci-
TBE WOMAN SPEAKS HER MIND 5
ety the time is past when a woman can consider her duty done when she centers all her concern on her immediate home and family. She must do her share in building a society that will provide a full and abundant life for her sons and daugh-ters.
In a group such as this there is no need to enlarge upon the means by which she can do this. I think it was particul-arly well expressed in an article by George Tichenor, editor of THE COOPERATOR, that I read not long ago. He told of a little old lady whom he often visits down in Pennsylvania. This old lady is an ardent co-operator, and she always buys co-op brand food because then, as she says, she has the satis-faction of knowing that with every mouthful she eats she is taking a bite out of the capitalist system.
Since women do by far the greater part of the spending in the home, and since those dollars that they spend are, in effect, votes cast either in favor of co-operative business or of private business, you can see how important it is to win their support. But they won't give their wholehearted sup-port to something they don't understand; and they won't understand it unless they study it; and they won't study un-less they are organized; and we can't organize the.m unless we have the workers with which to do it. So it is mostly a question of financial means.
You may be inclined to think that this matter will take care of itself. If a man has shares in a co-operative store his wife will automatically deal there. But a woman is not going to deal at the co-operative store when, to her way of thinking at least, she can get a better bargain at another store, no matter how many shores her husband may have in the co-op. Let me tell you what has happened in a fishing village in this Province. Owing to the war many of the men have gone from the place. A private merchant in the vicinity hit upon the bright idea of placing his car at the disposal of the ladies of the village, and the wives of many good co-operators now deal at his store. While this war lasts our co-operative or-ganizations are going to be more and more in the hands of women, so it is highly important that they should be well or-ganized.
At the Credit Union convention held this week mention was made of the necessity for sacrifice and idealism in the co-operative movement. I hold no brief for the unselfishness of the individual woman, but I do say that women's organiza-tions are characterized by these two spiritual qualities. Just consider the extent to which women are used in raising money
6 THE" WOMAN SPEAKS HEK MIND
for various worthy causes. May it not very well be that this particular contribution would furnish the missing link in our co-operative organizations that something which seems to prevent them from bearing full fruit, and for which you have been searching since this conference began? At least, let us seriously consider the possibility that some of our fail-ures have been because of the fact that we have not given women their rightful place in this movement.
So far I have stressed only the necessity for the study of economic matters on the part of women. A long period might be devoted to the importance of handicrafts, but I feel that this is a matter which is very well understood by this audience. It will undoubtedly be of interest to you to learn that the Department of Industries and Publicity is planning to initiate a province-wide handicraft program and they are now looking for someone to head up this work.
More Women Workers
It should be evident that all this requires workers de-voting their full time to the carrying on of an educational program among women. I hope we can look forward to the time when the Co-operative Educational Council will have a field worker devoting her entire time to the promotion of women's work. Meanwhile, is it too much to ask that we should have in every county someone who would duplicate for the women the work done for the men by the agricultural representatives? After all, this is only to ask for something we should have anyway.
Dr. Coady has said very picturesquely that the common man must climb into the driver's seat and get his hands on the throttle of his own economic destiny. We are going to need the combined1 effort and enlightenment of everyone if this big, unwieldy machine that we call the social order is to be safely steered through the crisis that lies ahead. So, when you take your rightful place in the driver's seat, make room for the women beside you at the throttle.
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What Can Be Done In The Future
Mrs. Ida Delaney
We are now to continue the discussion on women's work with the topic: "What Can Be Done in the Future?" The time has come when the women's educational program must take a new lease on life. In the past we have always man-aged to "get by." There were always enough women in a community to support a co-operative institution, even if they did not know much about it. But we need more than that in order to make the progress we hope for in the greater under-takings yet to come. The suggestions which follow are given as a basis for discussion on the program of the future. There is time to touch on only a few of the possibilities.
Women As Directors
One important point to be considered is that of trying to obtain a more active participation by women in the affairs of co-operatives. We have very few women directors of con-sumer co-operatives. In most cases, we have the curious situation of an all-man board directing the affairs of a busi-ness kept up almost entirely by women buyers who may or may not be satisfied with the service they get. It is only common sense to expect the presence of women on boards of directors and it might be well to ask why they are not to be found in such positions. Very often women members are not eligible for positions on the board because of a technicality. For example: Mrs. A. cannot vote at the annual meeting, she cannot nominate a director or run for office herself, be-cause membership in the society is held by the man of the family. Look at the lists of members eligible for election as directors at an annual meeting. There may not be one wom-an's name on the list. If there are a few who are eligible for office, it is only right to expect that efforts be made to put them on the board. But if this is to be done, then the men must elect them since the majority of women have no vote.
Standards of Service
The presence of women directors on the board should make it easier for the members to receive the kind of service to which they are entitled. Something that is lacking in our consumer co-operatives is a medium through which the women buyers may make their buying needs known to the manage-ment. If there are women directors on the board, they can lie formed into a committee for this purpose. If not, a com-
fyfifi': THE WOMAN SPEAKS HER MIND
mittee should be organized from among the women members to serve as a link between the buyers and the board and man-agement.
Such a committee is necessary. Service is a watchword of co-operation, but our co-operative stores are not always what they should be and members often have justifiable criticisms to make. Not long ago I found myself in a store with a group of women, looking horror-stricken at a huge block of butter on which a swarm of flies were dancing jigs and reels. The clerks were filling orders for this questionable product.
The first reaction to such a situation is indignation and righteous indignation it is. But let us imagine Mrs. Shopper trying to remedy matters. She thinks: "This is my store and therefore I can kick about this condition." But when she tries to make it an efficient and effective kick, that is another story! Let us see the manager is shut up in his office. She dares not go in there. She just misses the assistant manager whose coat tails she spies disappearing ardund the corner. She may mention it to the clerk, who is not interest-ed. His business is to sell the goods, and not to catch flies. Of course, Mrs. Shopper has a right to speak at the annual meeting, but that is three months away. By that time the flies will have gone wherever flies go in winter and her com-plaint will be rather untimely. Moreover, it istnot likely that there is a place for it on the agenda of the meeting! The co-operative member has a right to enforce standards of clean-liness in her own store. In theory, she has this right. In practice, there is a lack of the proper machinery to do so.
There are other standards of service on which women co-operators should be able to express their viewpoints. In the co-operative, if anywhere at all, they should be able to buy what they need. Let me give you an example. If a woman is so unfortunate as to wear a double A or triple A shoe, it would have been a kind fate if she had died in infancy, unless she can marry a millionaire who can afford to pay the prices that are charged for these sizes. The shoe dealer will glee-fully inform her that the prices are high because there is no "demand" for narrow shoes. It is strange, however, that one can most easily find these sizes in alligator or crocodile leather for which a high price can be charged. Strange it is that only those persons who can afford to toe shod in a croco-dile skin should have a triple A foot! If we had an X-ray eye to glance into the shoe cupboards of Nova Scotia the array of shoes that don't fit would make us call the "no de-mand" explanation a fairy tale. It is a good way of making us pay $15 when $3.98 would do.
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It is particularly in shopping for clothing that the woman buyer is robbed of her money, as it is very easy to use tricks and fraud in that form of merchandise. Co-operatives ought to 'be able to extend their service in this field. It is a pity to stick too long to groceries. When our co-ops do go into other branches of merchandising, the need for women on Boards of Directors and on special buying committees will be more and more urgent. It is only reasonable that we should pre-pare for this day.
The Buying Committee
Such a buying committee should first of all be well known to the co-operative store members. Buyers ought to know where and when to bring their suggestions, criticisms and recommendations. This means that it should be recognized by the Board of Directors and jbe permitted to meet the Board of Directors at definite times. It should be a responsible body with some authority. We have long been reminding women of their responsibilities as members of consumer co-operatives. These responsibilities should carry with them certain privileges, above all the privilege of having a say in what things we shall buy and under what conditions we shall buy them. The committee should have access to information and advice on buying. Efforts would have to be made to teach members how to use the committee.
This committee would/ be useful in another way. It would help to establish reasonable standards of service. There is such a thing as expecting unnecessary services. Too frequent deliveries because of bad planning of orders, and ex-changes because of careless buying are examples. The cost of these is borne by the careful buyer as well as by the buyer who sends up the store's costs needlessly. If we can conceive of this buying committee as a clearing house for the manage-ment's recommendations and criticisms as well as for those of the members, it can readily be seen that it would help to develop the mutual understanding and the harmony that should exist in a business that calls itself co-operative.
Furthermore, it would help women members to put into practice the knowledge that they would obtain from a pro-gram of consumer education. And an education program for our women in the future must of necessity extend into the field of consumer education. We have long enough been con-tent to let ourselves be alternately fascinated and frightened by books that tell us how as consumers we are fooled and robbed almost every time we buy something. The books do a good job as far as they go but we ourselves must finish the job. Our own type of consumer education should be de-veloped by our consumer institutions to fill our own needs.
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We should gather all the information possible about products and present it in an attractive manner to the women mem-bers of the consumer co-ops, since the women are the con-sumers-in-ichief who decide what shall be bought for the home.
To mention only one example there is need for in-formation on the appalling multiplicity of brands. That there should be on the market thousands of brands of face powder or of canned salmon or of anything else is obviously foolish from the point of view of the buyer who pays the bill. That we should permit the makers of these brands to drone into our long-suffering ears the mythical merits of their dubi-ous products is more foolish still. But that we should pay a high price to be lied to, so efficiently and so dramatically, is enough to make a modern Puck repeat: "What fools these mortals be!"
Many who agree with these statements may nevertheless say that it is hopeless for the buyer to set his wits against those of the makers and sellers of goods. This is the defeat-ist picture of consumer education; the reader huddled up in a chair reading "A Hundred Million Guinea Pigs", her hair standing up on end for fear. That is today. Tomorrow the book is closed and we find Mrs. Consumer buying fit exhibits for a chamber of horrors at the co-operative store! There are such soothing influences to drive away the fear after books on consumer problems have scared the daylights out of us! There is, for instance, the voice on the radio that ex-horts us to buy a particular breakfast food. We can buy it at the co-op. One of our co-op stores was recently found to have fifteen different kinds of packaged breakfast foods of doubtful food value, but highly advertised to build muscles a la Joe Louis. The store must stock them, we are told, be-cause the customers want them, although the variety of brands is expensive to handle, takes up valuable space, and adds to book-keeping work. But people's wants can be changed' for the better. For, is that not what the manufac-turers do, change wants and create new artificial wants for things which the iDewildered consumer does not need at all? We must change wants back again, we who have much less money and less sleight-of-hand skill, but who possess the ad-vantage of having truth on our side.
Members of consumer co-operatives should bring their co-operative principles into their daily buying at the store. The co-operative, they have learned in the little pamphlet, shall sell only best quality products. To be sure the co-op sells Pomquet eggs and Larry's River blueberries. But
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when it sells wheat in the form of Puffed Wheat at the rate of $36.00 a bushel, it is not selling good goods. What can be done about it?
There are two definite things that can and should be done at once. First, we can assemble and arrange information on products and get this information to the women buyers. Second, armed with this information, the women themselves. can clean house by cutting down the number of brands, the number of sizes of packages, worthless food products, and the harmful products such as those in the patent medicine lines. The results would be many: the unqualified blessings of the store management, better balanced home budgets, more healthful diets, savings for consumer societies, and most im-portant of all, the training of members in scientific buying so that they may.be able to attack their big consumer prob-lems in an effective way. "At this stage in our co-operative development it is well to emphasize two points on consumer education. The first is that consumer education is primarily for women. The second is that it is inextricably tied up with the development of cooperation in its bigger fields whole-saling and manufacturing, etc. what all of us here are accustomed to call "the big picture."
Building For The Future The Co-op Label
Therefore, the woman's program becomes of greater and greater importance. Means must be found to draw this "big picture" in terms of home problems and to present it to wom-en so that they will understand its importance. Mrs. Con-sumer, going out to buy a product has a choice of half a doz-en different brands, most of them highly advertised and sell-ing for many times what they are worth. But there is a co-op brand; how often is it passed by? It is passed by because the buyer does not understand what it means to buy a co-op label good. She still has the dividend-chaser mind, the penny wise and pound foolish mind, certainly not the "'big picture" mind. This buyer is one of a great many who must be taught to see in co-op goods; all the sign-posts of the road to real values. Here they are, the sign posts which we must ex-plain to women in the simplest possible way:
First, there is the building of the wholesale; the Co-op~ iabel assures the buyer that her purchase has helped to do that. Second, her purchase helps to obtain consumer control of quality of goods, possibly that control in the most desirable degree when consumers may manufacture these goods them-selves. Other signposts are production of goods under fair treatment of labor, employment for Mrs. Consumer's sons, the elimination of costly advertising, and a real source of economic power. If we could bear this message to all the
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women who should hear it, then little things like price differ-ences would matter not at all. If Mrs. Shopper understood these things, she would buy co-op label goods even if they were dearer and consider the extra cost a privilege, an invest-ment in the future institutions, the foundations of which are being laid by her purchases.
The co-operatives are going forward into bigger and big-ger business. Never before has it been so vitally important to get women to understand their future possibilities. At a certain stage of progress the people opened co-operative stores. Enough loyal customers were needed to make a store operate on a paying basis. These were found. A significant fact has often been overlooked, however: a half-hearted co-operator may make a fairly good job of supporting a grocery store. A dividend chaser can be a good co-operative member in a certain sense, but what is good enough for a little grocery shop may not toe good enough for C. L. C. Only the women who really understand the purpose of the little co-operative business will ask for the Co-op brand every time and not stop to haggle about the price. If she has had a glimpse of the "big picture", even the meekest little woman will look the six-foot-two manager squarely in the eye and in a thundering voice demand Co-op Baking Powder. If the majority of our women did this, nobody would worry about the relations be-tween the local co-operative and the wholesale. It would not be necessary to send out polite letters signed "Co-operatively yours" and begging for co-operation in the matter of sales or bills or contributions to educational funds.
The people are in a new phase of co-operative endeavor. We are reminded of the poet's version of the little shell fish, the nautilus, which abandons the old spiral of its shell to build a shining new spiral. The knowledge we had seven or eight years ago when our spiral in the co-operative shell was a little grocery shop will not suffice now that we have moved into the next spiral, the wholesale. Nor will it do for our progress into the shining new mansions we shall build in the future by co-operative action. We must therefore expand our educational program to suit the times and an adequate program must give proper emphasis to the women's work.
Short Courses: A great deal might be accomplished by short courses for women. The plan of holding short courses is not new, but the particular value of such courses for women would be the presentation of study material from the wom-an's viewpoint. To use the jargon that is used to bring women out to early morning sales, this would have to be an extra super special course, the bargain sensation of the study
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club year! At this course there should be taught some sim-ple economics , for example, the economic processes that are involved when the housekeeper buys a bar of soap. The average woman's knowledge of that transaction is now limit-ed by such considerations as what the soap will cost, what it will do to her hands, and what radio story goes with it. But our little economics course would delve into such questions as to why it costs what it does, what we really pay for when we buy it, where does the extra charge go, how can the shop-per get hack some of this extra cost? The women at our course would have economics taught to them from the ex-amples of their daily experiences and the aim would be to show that toy a study of economics they can live better.
Our super special course would have to treat of co-oper-ative principles from the woman's viewpoint. It would deal with the service that a co-operative can and should give. It would include instruction on consumer problems such as those that have ibeen outlined this morning. The women would study the meaning of the co-op label and the possibilities for co-operative enterprise in the future.
Even considering the probable difficulty of getting the best women to attend these courses, it would be worth while. One thing is clear. Whether courses are used or not there is certain basic knowledge that must be brought to more and more women. Then there is the advantage of bringing to-gether women from different communities, something that should help to establish better relations between producer and consumer.
Study Materia]: There is need for study material on co-operative subjects, written from the point of view of the aver-age housewife. The reading of our women in the past has been limited and for a simple reason. The man who has fin-ished his day's work meets his friends on the street corner or at the corner shop and talks about the war, wages, the price of fish, the budget. His wife, who sees her neighbor less often (in the rural districts particularly), talks about getting new curtains, cake recipes, remedies for colds, and now tea rationing. The language of economics and co-operative sub-jects is very difficult to the average woman. We are likely to take for granted that she understands certain terms and phrases which are familiar to us. Perhaps we have been try-ing to get women to read the third grade when they have skipped the primer.
Radio: This conference program lists among other top-ics the use of the radio as an educational aid. Today the housewife finds that her drudgery is lightened if she can lis-ten to the radio while she sees the ironing or washes the end-
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less dishes. There is something to be said about the soap operas. They (more than the soap) make the dishes easier to wash. Those who deprecate such programs have no rea-son to assume that the housewives who do not miss a soap story would not appreciate something better. Some women will listen to interminable boring ads or other features of pro-grams which they do not like just to obtain a few household hints scattered here and there.
What a pity that the whole program has not something worth while! It is very disheartening to consider that all day women are exposed to the propaganda of advertising which teaches them to buy the wrong things, to serve the wrong kinds of food, to give the family harmful patent medi-cines. Sometimes these ads are so skilfully sandwiched in between talks on nutrition that it is hard to tell where scien-tific information ends and prevarication begins. The possi-bilities for using the radio in our educational program for women are intriguing indeed.
Workers: For a worth while women's program, money and workers are needed and serious thought must be given to the need of training and employing workers. It might be well to look to the future when the organized co-operative movement could finance workers who would organize wom-en to study home economics, general economic principles, co-operation, buying, and other topics. Very important, too, is the planning which is necessary to weave all these into a harmonious whole. The greatest difficulty in women's work so far is that it is so varied and so piecemeal, a little nutrition here, a bit of handicraft there, an extra five minutes by the principal speaker at a meeting. Never enough workers, time, nor facilities to unify these projects, all of which are neces-sary in a woman's program because a woman's daily work touches upon all these things.
We are told that the expert chef in the tall white hat can experiment with a dash of this and a pinch of that and achieve a salad dressing which is called a "creation." But a person who is learning to cook has only a slight chance of achieving something worth while, if she uses the chef's way, and so she had better stick to the recipe which is a plan worked out by somebody who knows how and in what quantity to blend ingredients. Without facilities for planning and enough workers to carry out details, our woman's program is like a hit-and-miss salad dressing.
There is, too, the necessity for fitting women's work into the general educational pattern. For this reason it is right that so many men are in this session of the conference. In one of our rural communities a man, speaking with authority
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on agricultural matters, cautioned his listeners to grow more potatoes and turnips and not to waste time on "fancy stuff." The "fancy stuff" was what the people of that community needed for healthful diets green vegetables and fruits, and that statement undid the efforts that had been made to give a few facts on nutrition to the women. All who work with the people should possess the common knowledge of the basic things necessary for the good life, and a mutual knowledge of the importance of their relative fields so that there may be no cross purposes.
In evaluating the work in the past one should not foe too critical. It is amazing that so much has been accomplished in spite of the lack of workers and money. Women have con-tributed to the movement so much that cannot be shown on a balance sheet! You can't add up such things as encourage-ment and loyalty.
Let us ask ourselves squarely: Are we in earnest about a woman's program? If we are, we can find the means to carry it out.
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QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES
1. Name some of the women's organizations now in Canada.
2. Do any of the women in your group and in your com-munity belong to any of these organizations? Do these members believe that these bodies to which they belong will be able to make a worth-while contribution to the reform of our economic and social system?
3. Draw up a plan for an ideal woman's organization that would really achieve results.
4. "The married woman is the typical consumer." What relation has this statement to the part women should take in running their co-operative ?
5. Can you think of a plan whereby women may become eligible for election to the board of directors?
6. List all the possible functions of a Buying Commit-tee.
7. Think of all the times you can remember when you have been "stung" in buying goods and explain how a little buying education might have saved you.
8. What does the Co-op label ensure?
9. Why would it pay to buy a co-op product even at a higher price than a similar product of another brand?
10. Criticize the suggested educational program given in this pamphlet, and add to it if you can. If you cannot find any fault with it, then what is the obvious conclusion?