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Bashevkin, Sylvia B.

Toronto, University of Toronto Press, c1985. 222pp, paper, ISBN 0-8020-2557-9 (cloth) $27.50, 0-8020-6576-7 (paper) $12.95 CIP

Reviewed by Ruth Rausa

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

Women manning the bake table in an effort to support their local candidate during an election. This image went through my mind when I saw the latest work I had been sent to review, Toeing the Line: Women and Party Politics in English Canada. And upon closer examination, it appears as if my first impression was not that far off the mark. This work grew out of a dissertation on women's political attitudes in several countries, including Canada. By surveying and interviewing women involved in party politics, the author explores the reasons why there are so few women to be found at the top of the party system in English-Canada. No stranger to the problems of women in political party organizations, Sylvia Bashevkin has held office on the executive of the Ontario NDP women's committee and worked in a number of routine capacities in provincial and federal NDP campaigns. She is also an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, and has written many articles of a scholarly nature, in addition to acting as editor of Canadian Political Behaviour (Methuen, 1985) and Women and Politics in Western Europe.

The major theme discussed, and the one that permeates the work, is that of non-partisan independence versus conventional political partisanship. This conflict has certain implications for women in politics, especially party politics. Since women organize across party lines (e.g., the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women) in addition to identifying with one of the parties, they are torn between two allegiances, one to their feminist ideals, the other to their political party. One of the effects of this is to limit political mobility of women as a group. Bashevkin backs up this argument by examining the actual participation of women in mainstream party organizations. She draws on data that suggests that although women have become increasingly involved in party politics in recent years, they continue to perform "women's work" (i.e., clerical and maintenance duties) and remain distant from the centres of political power and decision-making. The author also examines the responses of party organizations to counter this problem; the development of formal affirmative action policies such as nominating women as party leadership candidates. Yet Bashevkin still concludes that "women as a group are frequently 'toeing the lines' in Western party organizations, rather than participating in strategic, legislative and policy work...."

The style of the work is rather scholarly, thus most suitable for a post-secondary audience. The author includes a copy of the questionnaire she distributed at political conventions, in addition to the interview questions she asked female party activists in order to elicit data for her thesis, Bashevkin includes a fair amount of statistical data in the body of her work, which does make the book at times tedious to read. Overall, the work is thought-provoking and a valuable addition to public and academic libraries.

Ruth Rausa, Toronto, Ont.
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