GSWS, Research

Gendered Tensions Across History: Dr. Lara Campbell on Emerging Research and Contexts

March 26, 2014

With her own SSHRC-funded project on Vietnam War draft resisters in Canada well under way, Dr. Lara Campbell, Associate Professor and Graduate Program Chair in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies also has a number of collaborative projects coming to fruition in 2014. The collection of essays, Worth Fighting For: War Resistance in Canada from the War of 1812 to the War on Terror, is co-edited with Catherine Gidney and Michael Dawson and published by the boundary-pushing Toronto-based press Between the Lines. Alongside SFU’s Dr. Willeen Keough, Chair of GSWS and Professor in History at SFU, Campbell has also taken on writing the definitive textbook on gender issues in Canada, Gender History: Canadian Perspectives, available from Oxford University Press (2014). In addition to these publications, Campbell’s collaborative work includes organizing public talks on women’s history in Vancouver for  Herstory Café Vancouver, an organization she co-founded with Vancouver historical interpreter, Jolene Cumming.

Completing a double bachelor’s degree in Social Work and History at McMaster University, Campbell initially thought she would go into social work professionally. Her undergraduate program was unique, she remembers, allowing her to complete her social work degree and “indulge my love of history.” During the recession of the 1990s, Campbell says, she turned to graduate work because there were no jobs in social work. Completing her MA in History at University of Toronto and then her PhD at Queens, she recalls, “I was introduced to doing a Women’s History Course—and I loved it and I realized that I could actually go on and study women’s history. I didn’t realize you could do that!”

Pursuing women’s histories was the initial concept behind Campbell’s most recent project on draft resistance: “I thought it would be a women’s history—what I was going to do was look at the women who came to Canada either independently for political reasons because they were frustrated with the direction the United States was taking or who came with their boyfriends or husbands in the ‘50s and ‘60s because they were avoiding the draft.”

Draft resistance poster featuring Joan Baez: 1966

Now, she notes, the project has widened in scope to include the tensions men faced while resisting the draft in the US. These men, she says, faced criticism on a number of fronts, “both by the conservative right who saw draft resistance as unpatriotic and cowardly even treasonous. But also from the left, because the many activists on the left felt that draft resistance in the form of moving to Canada was also cowardly—that the most courageous, radical, brave thing you could do was to stay in the United States and fight and go to jail if need be: ‘risk everything for your beliefs.’” This was a criticism targeted particularly at men’s masculinity, calling into question, men’s “courage, their manliness, their cowardice.”

In assessing how men negotiated that criticism, Campbell notes that while existing histories state that men felt supported and accepted by Canadian society in the late 60s, there is evidence to suggest Canadians were also somewhat “ambivalent” about the Vietnam War: “They don’t necessarily support the Vietnam War but they’re reluctant to support wholesale immigration of draft dodgers to Canada.” Added to these tensions are media representations on both the Canadian right and left: on the one side, a right-wing concern that Canadians shouldn’t accept draft dodgers because they are “unpatriotic,” and “Canada shouldn’t take [them] in because serving your country in a time of war, for a man, is the best way to show your commitment to the country.” And on the other hand, in the 70s, Campbell has found there is also evidence of a Canadian nationalism from the left, characterized by anti-American sentiment and anxiety over American influence.

This work on Vietnam draft resistance is partly what spurred the project with Between the Lines. Campbell explains that one of the editors heard her paper on draft resistance at a conference and approached her to do an edited collection. “Between the Lines is a really interesting press in Toronto…they try to make Canadian history accessible, not just to academics but to anyone with an interest in Canadian history. The stuff that they publish is really great quality but it’s also something that anybody with an interest in history can read and understand and delve into.” The goal of the collection, then, is to illustrate the history of war resistance in Canada, dating back from the 18th century and continuing to the present day. Campbell explains that the various forms of draft resistance takes range from “religious pacifism” to particular political critique. The book contains approximately 14-15 articles and is set to come out later this year.

Also out this year is Gender History: Canadian Perspectives, a comprehensive textbook Campbell has co-authored with Dr. Willeen Keough, SFU’s Chair of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. After an editor at Oxford University Press approached Keough about creating a textbook which focuses wholly on gender history in a Canadian context from the 1500s up to present day, she asked Campbell to co-author, in light of the project’s massive scope. Campbell explains that they wanted the book to be comprehensive chronologically but also to cover much thematic ground: “We made the first half chronological and the second half thematic so that you can see in the chronological sections, with the change of gender norms and ideas over time very clearly. But then the second section pulls out themes that we’ve found students to be quite interested in—like sexuality or the body and then explore that one theme over the course of several centuries, so you have almost six case studies of a particular theme.”

Gender History takes on perspectives not only in women’s history, but also the history of how masculinity has been defined in Canada over time. Campbell explains that she and Keough wanted to historicize “current debates over challenging the gender binary,” and also “look at the ways gender intersects with race, class, religion and those things.” Thus the book “puts gender as a concept at the centre,” but positions gender as unstable through time, articulating “throughout the book that there isn’t one story about gender throughout Canadian history, the definitions change.”