Doris: A great feminist, a warm and caring woman

One time when I was having lunch with Doris, she told me the advantage of being an older woman was that you became invisible so you could really take a good look at some handsome young man's ass and he would not even notice.

I remember vividly the first time I met Doris Anderson. It was 1985. The left at the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) Annual General Meeting had just won a successful floor fight to organize a demonstration against Brian Mulroney's Tory government instead of having the traditional lobby. It was the first time that the Prime Minister had refused to attend the lobby.

The NAC Executive with Chaviva Hosek as President was apoplectic. At that time, all the political parties and their leaders showed up at the NAC lobby. It reflected the strength of the women's movement but it was also hard fought for. We didn't see why we should hold it if the Prime Minister didn't come.

Even though we won the debate fair and square, the Executive was threatening to resign. Doris was called in as the peacemaker. That's how she got to be President too, several years before. She made peace between the two warring factions of NAC.

Doris Anderson, who was uncompromising with those in power, was the peacemaker within our movement. She negotiated a settlement. We had our demonstration and they had their lobby.

Even today, I can see her standing in front of the auditorium that day. She was so regal, so calm. At the time, I would have judged her pretty negatively — a Liberal, no doubt. But she won me over within a few minutes. She had a way with her. She could communicate with almost anyone and she did. Later she told me that it was being a magazine editor that gave her the training she later used to solve disputes in the women's movement.

And of course Doris was a pioneer feminist. She was the first female editor of Chatelaine magazine and she turned it into the first feminist magazine in North America. In 1963, Betty Friedan approached Doris to serialize her groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique. Doris laughed when she recalled that she discussed it with her editors and decided not to publish it because “we had already written about all that stuff.” When she got pregnant Doris fought to stay on her job at a time when pregnant women were forced to resign. She always lived her life consistent with her beliefs.

In 1979, she was appointed President of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She publicly resigned when then Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Lloyd Axworthy, wanted her to cancel a conference on the constitution.

“I always lived my life a certain way,” she told me. “I always had enough money in the bank so that I could quit my job if I had to. But I needed another job then. I had kids who were still in high school, and I was a single mother earning a reasonable salary. I did some freelance work and got by, and once I got back to Toronto, I starting writing for the Toronto Star. It was a big sacrifice leaving my job at the council but I wanted the world to know that what happened was wrong. Women got together anyway, of course, and put on a conference that the Liberals have regretted every since. It was a triumph of the women's movement.”

And that triumph belonged to Doris.

She lost her column at the Toronto Star in 1992 when as a freelancer she refused to cross the picket line, when Star workers were on strike.

I think it was Gloria Steinem who said that feminists get more radical as they get older and that was certainly true of Doris. She may have started her career as a Liberal but as she got older she moved further and further left so that by the time she retired, I am pretty sure she was quite a bit to the left of the NDP.

Not only was Doris a pioneer feminist but she was also one of the first people in Canada to argue for proportional representation. When NAC argued for gender parity in the elected Senate, Doris told me we should have been arguing for proportional representation. She had done the research and realized that PR produced more gender equity than our first past the post system. She was a passionate advocate for PR ever since. Even with failing health she made a presentation to the Ontario Citizens' Assembly that will surely recommend that the electoral system in Ontario be changed to PR.

I saw Doris every year at the annual Christmas brunch she organized at her apartment for her feminist friends. It was always a wonderful reunion. Her warmth and charm lit up the room and her political acuity just got sharper and sharper.

Doris Anderson was a great Canadian and a great feminist. She fought the fight for women's equality and social justice her whole life, through the way she lived her life, through her writing and editing and through her support to other women. She was a caring and passionate person.

One time when I was having lunch with her and Norma Scarborough, she told me the advantage of being an older woman was that you became invisible so you could really take a good look at some handsome young man's ass and he would not even notice. She laughed that wonderful laugh of hers and suddenly getting older didn't seem to be such a bad thing.

Doris died on March 2 at the age of 85. I know I'm not the only one who will miss her a lot.

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