• portrait of Adrienne Clarkson

    Adrienne Clarkson received the Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Gold Medal March 26 at Massey College in Toronto. (Photo: Andrew Tolson)

Adrienne Clarkson, the 26th governor general of Canada, an accomplished journalist and the co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, has shaped our understanding of Canadian identity for decades. For this reason, Clarkson was awarded The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's Gold Medal at an event at Toronto's Massey College on March 26. As the Society's Honorary Patron, Clarkson is a tireless advocate for its mission and values, and is herself an explorer, journeying across human, cultural and physical landscapes to foster the geographic concept of place, and a sense of identity, community and belonging.

Below, read an interview with Clarkson from the January/February 2016 issue of Canadian Geographic, reflecting on the challenges facing Canadian women today.

On the media’s portrayal of women

If I read another headline in Report on Business on how to get more women in boardrooms, I think I’ll go mad. Why don’t you just appoint them? I think it’s because the patriarchy is very slow to let go. While I do think men have come a long way [in sharing domestic duties], society has not. In an interview, the media will always comment on a woman’s appearance, her personal life, her age. Most men look like unmade beds most of the time, but that’s never commented on.

On progress and child care

I’m part of the second wave of feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, so I see progress. However, we’d be very much at peril if we thought we had really achieved a lot. We still don’t have universal child care in Canada, when the rest of the G8 does. My daughter is a doctor, and her entire after-tax salary for the first few years went to child care. That is simply not right. It’s either an equal society or it isn’t.

On women in leadership positions

There’s a lot of attention paid to women in leadership positions because they’re women, and it can be a tremendous burden. But since I’m Chinese and was a refugee, it wasn’t a stand-alone issue. When I was governor general, I would get letters from kids all the time saying how happy they were because they could see themselves in my position. It was just the idea that somebody different could be what I became.

On the gender gap in politics

Things are changing, but it’s still a men’s club. There are still structures such as night sessions in legislatures. A woman who has children isn’t going to go into politics if she has night sessions. Women shouldn’t have to have superhuman energy in order to succeed. Ordinary women should be able to succeed just like ordinary men have succeeded.