ARIA Spotlight: Natalie Pennisi

This summer, I conducted political science research on Canadian conservatives and how their relationship to women, gender, and feminism has evolved over time. In order to best understand how this changed as time progressed, I decided to structure my poster and my research around ten key events that occurred between 1918, when white Canadian women over the age of twenty-one got the right to vote, and the present. I broke the events into three categories: notable conservative women – such as when conservative women gained certain offices for the first time and how they situated themselves within the women’s rights debate, conservative policy proposals – specifically ones that affected women, and conservative responses to proposed policies regarding women.

This project appealed to me initially because I have admired Professor Gordon and her research since she delivered a guest lecture about Canadian politics and gender to my class in the fall of 2019. Furthermore, given the renewed discourse about the progress of women’s rights in the United States – my home country – since the Supreme Court repealed the Roe v. Wade decision, I thought it was interesting to compare the course of Canadian women’s history to that of American women.

This summer, I wanted to learn more about how upper level research projects operate as well as understand women’s place in contemporary Canadian history more clearly. As a history student, I am fairly well-acquainted with modern Canadian political history. However, my studies have primarily focused on major – often male – figures, meaning that my education has failed to help me understand women’s place in Canadian society throughout the ages. Therefore, this political science research project helped to supplement my education as a history student.

By far my favourite part of this project was the archival research I conducted by using Parliament’s historical records. While researching the 1969 bill that expanded access to abortion and decriminalized homosexuality, Bill C-150, I found several highly amusing digressions that greatly humanized the members of parliament I wanted to understand. For instance, while explaining that Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau would not allow his fellow Liberals to voice their discontent or discomfort with the abortion and homosexuality provisions of the bill, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker went on a prolonged tangent about how he sadly would not be able to make it to the vote for this bill because his home province was dedicating a statue in his honour. Diefenbaker’s lack of modesty aside, less notable parliamentarians also had some colourful exchanges with their peers as well. Another amusing passage for me included one NDP member and one PCP member repeatedly jabbing at each other during the debate period for their places on the economic-political spectrum.

Despite having a lot of fun while completing my project, I did encounter some problems while conducting my research. The biggest problem I faced during my research was the sheer scope of my topic. Women’s rights in Canada is a massive area and there were many ways I could have tackled it – judicial, legislative, federal, provincial, economic, political. What I resolved to do to make my life a bit easier was focus on what Conservatives did on the federal level within the confines of the legislative and executive branches. From there, I attempted to touch on multiple aspects of women’s rights within my timeline, such as political rights, marital rights, and bodily rights. Moreover, since this is such a massive topic I had to recognize that it would be nearly impossible to touch on all relevant topics within the space of a poster, so I decided to tackle the events that I found the most interesting and believed best highlighted conservatives’ complex relationship with women, gender, and feminism.

Working as an ARIA intern this summer for Professor Gordon reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a masters degree in political science. I feel that this experience has helped me to understand the demands of working closely with a professor in higher-level research. Furthermore, this summer has also shown me just how much I enjoy working as a researcher, and that this is something that I may enjoy pursuing as a career after I graduate.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Jim O’Farrell for his general donation to the Arts Internship Office and for making my great summer possible. Similarly, I would like to thank Professor Gordon for taking me on, as well as all the staff at the Arts Internship Office for organizing this program and making it run smoothly.

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