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Making and Breaking the Rules

Making and Breaking the Rules: Women in Quebec, 1919-1939

Andrée Lévesque
Translated by Yvonee M. Klein
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 170
  • Book Info
    Making and Breaking the Rules
    Book Description:

    By examining the underside of a staid and repressive society, Andrée Lévesque reveals an alternate and more accurate history of women and sexual politics in early twentieth-century Quebec.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2784-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. 6-6)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. 7-10)

    There is theory and then there is real life. There is prescribed behaviour and then there is what people actually do. Women’s history lends itself to the study of the extent to which actual practice conforms to the ideal, and how far it departs from it. Do women always conform to the model imposed on them? What happens to those who violate the rules and the conventions? These questions have fascinated me throughout my years of teaching and research. At the outset, my project was very ambitious: I would undertake to analyse the theory of appropriate feminine behaviour in every...

  5. 1 The Norm
    (pp. 11-22)

    Our image of the Québécoises¹ of two generations ago involves a welter of clichés that now may strike us as laughable – they were mothers of huge families, queens of the household, Children of Mary, Ladies of Saint Anne. It is difficult to believe that their whole lives did not unfold according to the composite profile that the authors of that period have left us – a life consisting of a chaste young womanhood spent in pure company followed by a marriage blessed with numerous offspring, each welcomed with thanks to God. What this study proposes is to try to discriminate the...

  6. 2 Motherhood
    (pp. 23-52)

    How are we to read these quotations? Do they represent contradictory pronouncements, wishful thinking, or popular belief? All three of these commentators, the secretary of the province of Quebec, a physician specializing in the care of children and women, and a priest who preached retreats for young women, share the same perception. The exaltation of motherhood was a recurrent theme along with the possibility of martyrdom as a coveted reward to compensate for the sacrifices that may be demanded. Who then would wish to avoid the honour of consecrating herself to the noble duty of maternity, a duty not confined...

  7. 3 Sexuality
    (pp. 53-73)

    The wild years after the First World War are associated with a time of upheaval in morals and social behaviour that caused many people to view the period asles années folles, the crazy years. The return to “normality” following demobilization, the closing of the war plants, and the influenza epidemic were blamed for opening the floodgates that had heretofore dammed up sexuality in Quebec. Before examining the apocalyptic discourse of the period, it is a good idea to remind ourselves of the sexual ideal professed by the clergy, the medical profession, and others who defined social behaviour.

    In this...

  8. 4 “Deviance”
    (pp. 74-80)

    Drawing a line inevitably defines a boundary; establishing a centrepoint creates a periphery; pronouncing norms of behaviour produces deviation. In her bookL’Amour de la carte postale, Madeleine Ouellette-Michalska analyses how difference is constructed through the power relations that allow for this particular form of cultural imperialism.¹ Norms and their deviations are the products of ideology and are laid down in a spatial and temporal context. Every woman, in whatever circumstance, who does not submit to the norm and who does not conform to prescribed modes of behaviour slips into social deviance. Before we consider the other side of maternity...

  9. 5 The Rejection of Motherhood
    (pp. 81-100)

    Sexuality could be detached from motherhood only within certain predetermined limits or when such a separation could be justified by a higher set of ideals that would allow a departure from the prevailing standards of sexual behaviour. Not all women were able to conceive, and 16 per cent of those born in 1903 and aged between sixteen and thirty-six in the twenty years between the wars remained childless.¹ We presume that they did not choose their fate, since childless couples were generally regarded with pity. To repair the lack, they had recourse to creches, orphanages, and parish priests in search...

  10. 6 Wages of Sin: Unwed Mothers
    (pp. 101-116)

    Premarital sex and the birth of a fatherless, hence nameless, child threatened to overturn the patriarchal family, a cornerstone of Quebec society. An irregular pregnancy of this sort was proof positive of the failure to guard one’s daughters and evidence of their freedom in an area where they were not supposed to be free. It created a drama in which the actresses were not permitted a role in the family play. It furthermore made all too evident a lapse that might otherwise have passed unnoticed. Only if every trace of the transgression were erased could the sinner be reintegrated into...

  11. 7 Commercial Sex: Prostitution
    (pp. 117-135)

    Motherhood, as we have seen, was the primary justification for female sexuality. The satisfaction of the physical needs of the husband occupied a distant second place. If sexuality was not accompanied by maternity or if it took place outside the bonds of matrimony, then it was evil, whatever form it might take: masturbation, lesbianism, extramarital heterosexual liaisons, contraception. From the official point of view, those women who offered their sexual services to various and impersonal partners in order to earn a living represented a perversion of sexuality. Commercial sex met a demonstrated need and, for those who cared to look,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 136-139)

    Two decades represent too short a period in which to document profound transformations or significant new directions either in the definition and expression of social norms or in the toleration or repression of behaviour departing from them. Admittedly, these twenty years were hardly tranquil and unchanging. The boom that replaced the post-war slump too quickly gave way to the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was one insecurity after another, and insecurity is the hallmark of the public discourse of this period. Economic uncertainty was a threat to social stability, certainly, but economic prosperity, with its attendant industrial development, population...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 140-165)
  14. Index
    (pp. 166-170)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-172)