Against the Current: Canadian Women Talk About Fifty Years of Life on the Job


402 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-385-25543-8
DDC 331.4'0971





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, Japan Foundation Fellow 1991-92, and the author of
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home and As Though Life Mattered:
Leo Kennedy’s Story.


Against the Current is a broadly based oral history of women’s
employment and gender roles in the latter half of this century. The book
consists of nearly 100 short essays, which are based on more than 200
interviews with women of all ages and backgrounds. In her introduction,
Judith Finlayson sets this oral history in a social and historical
perspective: Women’s participation in the labor force took a great
leap forward in 1942, when the Mackenzie King government established the
Women’s Division of the National Selective Service agency to register
women for recruitment into the war effort, as there was by then a labor
shortage. Mobilizing women as a reserve army of labor was widely
believed to be the greatest social change since the Industrial
Revolution. Women workers found paying jobs to be a liberating
experience. In the late 1950s the rapid expansion of the economy drew
them into the labor force again at almost wartime levels. Today, almost
60 percent of women work for wages, compared with 73 percent of men.

Finlayson organizes her interviews into 12 sections: Education; Health
Care; Clerical and Secretarial; Business and Personal Services;
Community Services; Manufacturing, Construction and Engineering; Law,
Finance and Architecture; Natural Resources and Transportation; Public
Administration and Defence; Entrepreneurs; Sports, Entertainment and
Communications; and the Arts. Each essay begins with a quotation taken
from the essay and set in bold type as an epigraph. For example, the
essay based on the interview with educator Margaret Fulton begins,
“The higher I went, the more prestigious the levels of the education
system I functioned in, the more I found restrictions on me as a
woman—what I was supposed to say and how I was supposed to behave.”

A comprehensive index completes this very readable book.


Finlayson, Judith., “Against the Current: Canadian Women Talk About Fifty Years of Life on the Job,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024,