Comunidade newspaper, 1975-1979. Part 1: Records and commentary

With many female collaborators and one female editor, Fernanda Gaspar, from January 31, 1979 to August 31, 1979, Comunidade focused a great deal on women's issues, and provided some reflections on gender roles in the household and in the workplace - spaces that were not always separate.

In this strip of Comunidade's cartoon "O Canaguês", the authors Gilberto Prioste and Martin Silva joke about the separation of domestic and public spheres in the community, the self-importance of Portuguese men and the women's sarcastic praise.

"Hello! I am the wife of the Canaguês. He is meeting with his friends. When they get together they solve all the problems of the world.
The question of Angola's independence, the economy, welfare abuse and world hunger are resolved in less than no time.
Today they are meeting so tomorrow the world will have less problems.
Hey Canaguês, do you think Benfica is going to win?"
November 1975, Year 1, n. 5: 3 (trans. Gilberto Fernandes).

Women were not welcomed in spaces such as pool halls, which were defined by the community as strictly male. This absence was conpicuous in the eyes of Canadian society at large. It fit the perception that most Canadians had of southern European men as being too chauvinistic. For instance, the Toronto Sunday Star magazine, The City, ran an article entitled "New World Retreat - a Portuguese poolhall is no place for a woman," whose excerpts were published in Comunidade. In it, the reporter Kare Shenfeld wrote:

"From 9 o'clock in the morning the eight back bar stools are taken. Many stop in for breakfast before going to work. Fernandes serves toasted sandwiches, chocolates, pop, and pastry-like "nutta", a kind of custard tart. The sandwiches are made of long, hard rolls, like they have in Portugal. He also serves gallons of fresh-ground coffee, for only 30 cents a cup. Two types. Espresso, drunk from little cups with huge amounts of sugar, and regular coffee with sugar and milk. Thay call the latter "Canadian"... Most of the time I am the only woman in Tivoli Billiards. When I first walked in everything stopped. Men stopped talking, stopped sipping coffee stopped knocking snooker balls. And 50 pairs of dark eye stared at me. I looked down at myself to make sure I had not sprouted an extra pair of arms or legs. Even after the regulars had accepted my presence some new friends scolded, "A pool hall is no place for a woman". The naked blonde fingering a neklace of pearls on the Lisboa and Açores Railway Company Calendar is a constant reminder that I have invaded male territory...

Another man continues the discussion. "Portuguese men are different from Canadian men. It is traditional that the man is free, he does not have to answer to anybody. We don't let our women go out by themselves, meeting other men. A Portuguese woman knows her place is home wuth the children. A lot of men llike their wives to be fat, so they won't be attractice. We are the jealous type and don't trust women". I ask the man if he is married. He strokes his moustache and smiles. "Yes, I suppose I am, inside my home"... Out on Augusta Avenue I stop several women to discover what they feel about their husbands going out alone. They are polite but shy and not ready to speak to a stranger. One woman is brief. "I can't say anythingabout my husband, I am afraid"... Another woman, wrapped in a black coat, supporting a bundled-up baby on her hip, replies, "I don't mind if he goes to talk, to laugh, that's what men do. But I get mad when he spends too much money in the pool hall," February 18, 1979.

Fernanda Gaspar, then an editor of Comunidade and a staunch feminist, took issue with what she saw as being a stereotypical depiction of the community by the author of the article in The City. She wrote a letter in response to the editor of The City, John Slinger, expressing her discontent. The letter was republished in the Comunidade issue of March 30, 1979.

"Having read your most recent portrait of the Portuguese in Toronto... and remembering past ones, I fear you may next give us something like " A Portuguese Fish Store: No place for a sensitive nose"; " A Portuguese Catholic Church: no place for a Calvinist"; or "A Portuguese Travel Agency: no place for a proponent of vacations in Canada”. Thus, may I suggest to you some topics which would [throw] a more realistic light on us as a group, adapting well to a new society and putting down roots, nothing, not even your articles, can now destroy: "10 Portuguese businessmen file half-million [dollars] Tax Returns”; "Portuguese Workers: large percentage now Union members"; "Bilingualism no problem for many. Portuguese immigrants: they are trilingual".

Femanda Gaspar

Editor, Comunidade”

March 30, 1979, Year 4, Vol. 2, n. 11: 12.

Comunidade also reported on the position of women in post-revolutionary Portugal. Its August 31, 1979 issue, dedicated two pages to the developing debate concerning abortion laws and family planning in Portugal; it also reprinted an article published in the Globe & Mail about the same topic. This full-page photo depicting Portuguese women in Alfama, one of the old burroughs of Lisbon, was accompanied by the caption: "...In Portugal there are possible over 100.000 clandestine abortions being practiced every year. In most cases without proper hygienic and safety conditions for the women, which resulted in thousands being admitted to the hospital. In 1973, according to statistics (the latest available), abortion constituted the third most common cause of maternal death" August 31, 1979, Year 5, n. 3: 4 (trans. Gilberto Fernandes).

A common occupation among Portuguese immigrant women in Toronto was cleaning, both domestically and in office buildings. Comunidade regularly featured stories on their struggles for better working conditions. Cleaners’ stories did appear in some English-language newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, but other Portuguese-language newspapers largely ignored the topic. Furthermore, reporters at Comunidade could interview Portuguese women in their own language, giving the reader direct access to the women’s stories.

In this photo, João Medeiros interviews Leopoldina Pimentel, a building cleaner and labour organizer, who led a unionization campaign at the Queen's Park complex, in downtown Toronto, in 1975.

One of the earliest articles on the cleaners’ struggle appeared in the October 1975 issue, in which Comunidade criticized the provincial government for failing to help cleaners keep their jobs at the Queen’s Park complex. In April 1975, after a months long struggle by Portuguese women to unionize, the Service Employees International Union was certified as the bargaining agent. However, the Ontario government then tendered the cleaning contract, meaning that the cleaners were in danger of losing their jobs and their union. The cleaners marshalled support and held press conferences that forced the provincial government to agree to pressure the new contractor to hire the cleaners and keep their union.

A roundtable on Portuguese women’s work in the October 1, 1976 issue offered an overview of some of the problems encountered by Portuguese women in the labour force and the janitorial industry, in particular. Featured in this discussion were (clockwise from top left) Sidney Pratt, a St. Christopher House community worker who formed the Cleaners’ Action program in 1975 in the wake of the contracting-out crisis at the Queen’s Park complex in downtown Toronto; Idalina Azevedo, an office building cleaner who led a wildcat strike at the TD Center in 1974; Fernanda Gaspar, then the literary critic of Comunidade; and Leopoldina Pimentel. For more on the labour organization of Portuguese cleaners, see the 'Portuguese women in Toronto's cleaning industry, 1970-1990' exhibit on this website.

Comunidade also featured stories on individual women’s efforts to secure their rights. The issue of July 20, 1976, told the story of two Portuguese women who successfully demanded higher pay when the cleaning contractor had them performing ‘heavy duty’ cleaning work (read: ‘men’s work’), while continuing to pay them ‘light duty’ (read: ‘women’s work’) wage.

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