A powerful and possibly game-changing symbol in the 1980 Quebec referendum.
Yvette was a fictional female character in French language Quebec school primers in the 1940s and 1950s – akin to “Jane” of “See Dick and Jane” fame in English-language primers.
Polls during the 1980 Quebec referendum campaign persistently showed women to be more resistant to separatism than male voters. Consequently, the PQ’s Status of Women Minister, Lise Payette – prior to politics a phenomenally popular Quebec television personality – exhorted Quebec women to reject the docile, subservient “Yvette” personas of their childhood and embrace the separatist (or, in the parlance of the YES side, “sovereignist”) option. Fatally, she accused Madeleine Ryan, the wife of Claude Ryan, the leader of both the Quebec Liberals and the NO forces in the referendum, of herself being an “Yvette.”
The move – to use typically Canadian understatement – backfired. Badly. Aside from the fact that Mme. Ryan was herself an accomplished and respected social activist, a huge swath of francophone Quebec women took immediate and deep offense and Payette’s dismissiveness. Out of nowhere, women-only “Yvette” rallies sprang up across the province.1
Woman of all ages and walks of life adopted the term “Yvette” as a badge of honour. And far from narrowing the gender gap, Payette’s gambit enlarged it. The fate of the referendum was sealed thanks to the revenge of the “Yvettes”.
Image Credit: Médias Transcontinental S.E.N.C.
- I'm just a girl who must say No. CBC Digital Archives.
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