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Our Voices

No Person is Ever Just One Thing

image of a white woman in a black tank top. She has tatoos on her left arm and shoulder. Short hair.
LiisBeth contributor and author Lori Fox. Photo by Mark Kelly

If this book was a Venn diagram, the intersecting circles would represent the relationship between rage, compassion, and survival. Lori Fox has crammed a lot of life (and moving) experience in their thirty-something years on this planet. They are unique, as we all are, by default: “I’m a visibly queer and non-binary person who grew up in a time and place when that was even more dangerous than it is now, who has lived and worked in communities and settings where my queerness was often a threat to my safety. I should, statistically speaking, be dead. Probably more than once,” writes Fox.

Blunt and unapologetic, recurring themes and ideas are intertwined and interconnected throughout the book and include, but are not limited to, financial instability, mental health struggles, sexual assault, emotional and physical abuse, the unconditional love of pets, and the consequences of speaking truth to power.

This Has Always Been a War (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2022) is also about the duality and complexity of our human existence. One can be enemy, stranger and lover all at once. We can be both strong and vulnerable. Fear and courage often ride side by side in Fox’s camper truck or beat up cars. Shame snuggles up to pride and perseverance is the shadow side of surrender.

At times laugh out loud, at times jaw-droppingly shocking, Fox writes about the hard things. They write about the things we think we shouldn’t say. “It’s because I won’t nod, smile, and keep my fucking mouth shut.”

The writing is compelling and gripping. Every essay flows like a draft beer from a fresh keg in one of the many restaurants Fox worked in during their seventeen years in the service industry.

You’ll find descriptions like:

“Her making excuses, dodging responsibility, calling down some folksy morality or looking to a fucking magical dead-ass zombie carpenter to fix the things she, herself, refused to fix.” When Fox disclosed a sexual assault by a family member to their mother.

“This novel, like its narrator, needs to take itself firmly by the shoulders and pull its head out of its own ass, because pay the fuck attention.” From Fox’s take on Sophie McIntosh’s novel, Blue Ticket.

“It was partly furnished, and in the nightstand there was a bottle of KY Jelly and a pair of edible underpants with a bite taken out of the crotch.” Describing one of the numerous apartments they’ve lived in.

 If you are uncomfortable with hearing about poverty, hunger and abuse, you should read this book. If words like cunt, dick and mother-fucking asshole make you squirm, buy this book and challenge yourself to walk a mile (or thirty thousand) in Fox’s shoes -worn out flats or a pair of boots with a knife tucked into the side.

Because what does Fox want readers to do? Open their minds. Ask questions. Never assume.

Fox takes responsibility for their choices but argues that some choices are not available to many. The book peels back layers on topics that have shaped Fox’s shapeshifting existence to reveal the raw and tender truth of their lived experience. Here are a few excerpts that stood out.

ON JUSTICE

“We are not paid fairly for the things we make, yet things can be denied us or taken from us if we cannot pay for them. If we refuse to obey the rules of the people who have those things, we will be punished. If we refuse to be punished, we will be imprisoned or killed.

We are told, when these things happen, that this is justice…Serve us or starve. Work or be evicted. Obey us or live in misery. What part of that sounds like a choice?”

From This Has Always Been A War

Lori Fox, Author of This Has Always Been A War, is also a LiisBeth contributor.

ON DUALITY

“I think about that photo [a young man in a leather jacket, clean cut, smiling warmly, leaning up against the side of a black-and-chrome Harley Davidson motorcycle] a lot, about how there’s no one story, no one straight narrative that can be told about a person, no matter how much we would like there to be. Everyone you know, including yourself, is a shapeshifter, some of us more so than others. No person is ever just one thing.”

From Every Little Act of Cruelty.

ON LUCK

“Only a small part of my survival can be attributed to my own choices and skills; something I learned while I lived out in the bush is that sometimes good things happen to you, and sometimes bad things happen to you, but mostly, things just happen to you. You can be the fittest, most cautious, most competent bushperson around and still get mauled by a bear or drown in a river for no goddamn reason at all other than it’s just something that happens. You can prepare and do your best to avoid bad situations, but the amount of power you have to control your fate is limited. The bush—and the wider world—is amoral and impartial to both your success and your suffering. Some people find that hard to stomach, but I find it tremendously comforting. Often, things just are.”

From This Has Always Been A War

In short, we need more books like this.

We need to read the stories of despair and suicide attempts and crippling depression. We need to share our own stories of resilience and courage and survival. Because, as Fox puts it: “If things are the way they are because this is the only system we have, then we need a new fucking system.”

“It’s a system of learned helplessness. And it doesn’t have to be that way”, they write.

While the rants and tangents are on point with some laugh out loud metaphors, some trimming back to pieces where a point has already been made might allow the prose to pack more of a punch than it already does.


We recommend buying a copy of Fox’s book from your local indie feminist bookstore or via the publisher here

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Activism & Action Featured

Gaming for a Greener Future

Photo of asian woman in a blue puffer coat with spring cherry blossoms in the background
Jane Li, founder of Springbay Studios. Photo by Springbay Studios.

Jane Ji hopes for a better future.

In efforts to make her hope a reality, Ji works with an eco-focused mindset that includes educating young people through gamification. Her feminist enterprise, Springbay Studios, develops interactive children’s games and experiences that aim to engage kids with environmental science. The climate crisis belongs to everyone. But it’s the youth of today whose future is at stake. Ji’s goal is to empower young people to take action toward building a world where humans and nature live in harmony.

Where It All Began

Ji grew up in mainland China and when she entered the job market in the 1990s she found work with a Taiwanese gaming company that was hiring anyone with an engineering background.

It’s rare that a feminist biomedical engineer ends up in the gaming industry but that’s what happened to Jane Ji. Her first job in the video game industry was a programmer, writing code. Through experimenting with software development, Jane discovered her passion for digital storytelling and that video games were an ideal tool for learning.

“It was kind of an accident, but fortunate for me to find something I really love,” says Ji. “I think a lot of people who have an engineering or science background are also interested in art.”

Back then, Ji was chosen for the job because of her skills and qualifications, not her gender. She remembers the fairness of not being judged as a female in a male-dominated industry and went on to use the same equal opportunity hiring practices years later within her own enterprise.

Ji became the lead game designer at the company and worked on a game that was based on the classic Chinese novel and love story, Dream of the Red Chamber. Being the lead gave her the opportunity to design with a feminist lens where she fostered a collaborative and inclusive environment with the other programmers and artists. She worked with another female engineer who led the software design and they were the only female-led team within the company. While the men focused on traditional time-based strategy games, Ji took a new approach to gameplay  that included simulation plus role play about emotion.

However, the gaming industry faced many challenges in China. Software piracy and illegal licensing was a big problem in this country. Ji couldn’t see a future in her home country as a game developer and decided to immigrate to Canada in 2000.

The Path to Springbay

Her sister Grace was already in Toronto so Ontario was the obvious choice. Once Ji was settled, she sought out work at companies which were making games that aligned with her feminist mindset and values of learning and caring for others. She attended conferences like the Game Developers Conference to network and meet people in the gaming industry. Ji worked as a freelance consultant before co-founding Springbay Studio in the early 2000s with her business partner—also her sister—who had a degree in computer science as well as managerial experience.  

Springbay’s original tagline was: Create Fun Gameplay From a Feminine Perspective.

Original Springbay business card. Photo provided.

This perspective was – and is – how Ji sees the world. Her perspective includes nurturing and supporting people and preservation of the natural environment in which we live. Springbay projects reflect and promote the creators’ feminist values of equality and inclusion. They benefit women, men and youth, because players come in many shapes and sizes.  

Springbay’s early projects included games like the Living Garden at a time when Facebook games were gaining popularity. The game reflected feminist values “I always think, when we play something, I hope that we learn something,” Ji says.

Another early Springbay project was inspired by the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The game, Mark and Mandi’s Love Story was distributed by Big Fish Games and is still available for purchase. Ji worked with a team of artists, programmers and developers to create the game. Ji enjoyed the challenge of using game design to present the different ways that men and women view certain subjects in a fun and lighthearted way.

New Perspectives, Bigger Impact

After Ji had children—who are now both young adults who have attended university—she was motivated to create more meaningful gaming experiences that had a bigger impact. She had always been aware of climate issues but her research was an eye opener and as a mother felt a responsibility to take action to care for the future, for her kids. “We are biological creatures. If this biosphere is messed up, we do not get a chance.”

When Springbay looked at who their audience was and the content they were building, it became clear they should start with children. Screen time is an ongoing issue for young people growing up in today’s digital work and Ji is well aware of the pros and cons of what online learning can offer. “If we are developing a game, we’re not going to glue them to the screen, because this is not how you are going to build a foundation,” she says.

Springbay’s mission is to use gamification as a way to encourage young people to learn about and take action toward sustainable lifestyles. The innovative products are on a scalable, gamified platform for global educators to inspire greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The beauty and benefit of gamification is that it provides the feeling that you are playing a video game, but it’s not truly a game. Players are earning badges and points in a structured way that involves user interaction. The iBiome-Wetland game and app and the iBiome-Ocean school editions offer resources for students to build and explore natural habitats in virtual settings. The blend of virtual learning with real life field trips is a winning combination in that nature doesn’t necessarily guarantee results such as spotting a specific type of wildlife. But you can count on the online version to deliver. Educators have told Ji how the gaming components keep students engaged and complement their teaching units on the ecosystem and natural habitats.

Springbay’s recent endeavour is the League for Green Leaders.

Springbay Studios video that features youth talking about their experience with the games.

The goal of the League for Green Leaders is to give young people an opportunity to build a virtual ecosystem where they can learn about biodiversity. Including ‘leaders’ in the name was a deliberate choice says Ji: “We’re trying to make our children become the leaders rather than be the sufferers for the eco side.”

It’s Not Easy Being Green

What’s missing? What would help?

In addition to building sustainable lifestyles, sustainable funding is what Springbay needs develop their learning products. Ji says that guaranteed monthly income from donations or ongoing matching funds from accelerator or government programs would be a step in the right direction. 

But funding is hard to come by. Some days are more discouraging than others. In some cases, it has come down to a matter of semantics where Springbay has been excluded from government funding because they don’t meet the criteria requirements of ‘clean technology’. The term ‘clean technology’ is limited to tech such as solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars. Ji isn’t arguing that these sectors aren’t important but insists that environmental education needs to be part of the equation if we are going to limit global warming in the near future

Still, she has hope.

“Our games are not all gloom and doom,” says Ji. “I think people are trying different ways to convince people that if we work together, there is hope. We cannot change this by ourselves.” 

If people think that the younger generation aren’t mature enough to tackle these complex issues we need only look to examples such as Greta Thunberg, the origin of Earth Day or the success that Springbay has seen.

My fourth graders really enjoyed tracking their CO2 footprint by participating in the League for Green Leaders Pilot Program.”  – Lynne Caffee, Pennsylvania, USA

“This smartly designed environmental sim lets kids explore three wetland habitats. By drawing connections between different species and creating a web, kids learn about producers and consumers, and about predator/prey relationships.” Common Sense Education, Best Learning Apps

“See what happens when you add extra of one species to your biome. Students will see right away how species depend on one another and how easy it is for an ecosystem to get off-balance.” American Association of School Librarians, Best Teaching and Learning App

 


Publishers Note: Springbay Studios is part of the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse levelApplications for Cohort 5 are open. Apply here

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Allied Arts & Media

A Queer Evangelist Who Preaches Hope, Risk and Doing the Impossible

A photo of Reverend Dr, Cheri DiNovo.
Toronto Reverend Dr. Cheri DiNovo. Photo from Facebook.

The Joy of Sin

Reverend Dr. Cheri DiNovo C.M. was the guest on  the November episode of The Fine Print  an online conversation series with contemporary feminist authors. Hearing DiNovo speak truth to power ended the 2021 season on a note of hope, joy and resilience.

“We’re all joyously fallible, traumatized, wanting humans,” writes DiNovo in the epilogue of her compelling memoir, The Queer Evangelist. “If we are loved by anyone and love anyone, our lives include holiness,” said the former politician turned radical reverend. ‘The joy of sin’ is how she prefers to reference the mantra ‘progress not perfection’.

DiNovo understands progress. During her tenure representing Parkdale-High Park in the Legislative Assembly on Ontario she passed into law more pro-LGBTQ2+ legislation than anyone in Canadian history, including Toby’s Act which added trans rights to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 2012, the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act which banned conversion therapy for LGBTQ2+ youth in 2015, Cy and Ruby’s Act which established parent equality for LGBTQ2+ parents in 2015, and the Trans Day of Remembrance Act in 2017.

“I hope this book can be seen as something of a manual for how, in spite of our ‘messiness’, we can be change agents.”

The memoir is a brutally honest tale of how a queer teen who was addicted to meth and left home at the age of fifteen went on to get elected to provincial office, change laws and save lives.

From her lived experiences activism and politics, DiNovo learned that reform and revolution aren’t contradictory. We’re living in a time when reforms are happening all around us. Anti-Black racism, reaction to the climate crisis, Indigenous rail blockades, to name only a few. Revolution, on the other hand, is a loftier goal. And it’s unlikely the reforms we’re seeing today—critical as they are—will upend capitalism and displace a system that is designed for people, not profit. But DiNovo will take what she can get. “Like the tale on one woman’s life, reforms are not nothing. Reforms are crucial. Reforms change lives as they are lived now, not in some utopian future,” she writes.

Working with the Enemy

The Queer Evangelist includes the full text of a sermon DiNovo gave when she first started at Trinity St-Paul’s. The text is based on the Beatitudes and aims to shed light on the ‘hate your enemies’ mindset. She also used the sermon to help explain her move out of politics and to help those who find church as a whole, incomprehensible.

“But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you,” DiNovo preached.  

Impossible, right?

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 27-31)

Who does this?

Those with nothing left to lose.

“If we’re going to have differences of opinion and ideological debate in our governments, then we better learn to work with somebody who doesn’t always agree with us,” said DiNovo. “And so I did. And that’s how I got a lot done.”

She learned to respect people who had integrity and principles, no matter their political persuasion. She sought out people she could work with from the other parties and got most of the bills passed as tri-party bills. Eventually she became known as the tri-party bill queen. Further testament to befriending the enemy is the fact that Kathleen Wynne wrote the foreward to the book. After one of the worst smear campaigns that was hurtful and attacked her past and her family, the former Liberal Premier wrote: “Cheri’s telling of the story of that campaign is chilling for me to read as it lays bare the worst of the political process—a personal smear campaign. It was my party that would have supported, if not initiated, the campaign. But more than that, as an openly lesbian candidate, I have lived through my own personal smear campaigns. They are exhausting. They damage families ad they damage democracy.”

Just Do the Impossible

In our time of ongoing uncertainty about our environmental future and political divide, DiNovo uses the phrase ‘Do the impossible’ as a guiding principle in her life and work. She was inspired by this piece: graffiti is from Paris, France in the late 1960s when students protested the closure of the Sorbonne.

May 3rd 1968: French students protest the closure of the Sorbonne, setting off the May ’68 wave of demonstrations and strikes by millions of students and workers. “Be realistic, demand the impossible.” —PARIS GRAFFITI. Image by Verso Books

The idea resonated strongly enough that she used it as the title of the book’s epilogue: Just Do the Impossible. 

Because if you’ve got nothing to lose, why wouldn’t you do the impossible? Or at least give it a try.

The Queer Evangelist is DiNovo’s second book. It was shortlisted for the Speaker’s Book Award, Legislative Assembly of Ontario 2021.

She was the featured guest in November 2021, on The Fine Print, a conversation series with contemporary feminist authors hosted and produced by Lana Pesch in the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC). Watch the video highlights of the conversation here on YouTube. 

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Activism & Action

A Fictional Political Forecast: Windy with a Chance of Democracy

A photo of a white red headed woman named Riveral Sun. She is outside. There is snow in the background.
Rivera Sun, protest novelist and peace activist outside her home in Taos, New Mexico

The Author’s Note in Rivera Sun’s Winds of Change reads, in part: “The Dandelion Trilogy has always stood in a time that looms around the corner of today, in a place on the edge of our nation. It is fiction that reveals the problems and possibilities lurking in the shadows of our work.” The trilogy sparks ideas and provides examples of how grassroots organizing and nonviolent activism results in true change. The books are about resistance and resilience. They’re about recognizing a system that’s not working, and doing something about it.”

Protest novelist and nonviolence activist Rivera Sun was the featured guest on October’s episode of The Fine Print, an online conversation series with contemporary feminist authors. Like previous episodes, a group of feminist changemakers gathered on Zoom to hear the writer discuss ideas in her novel, Winds of Change—the third book in the Dandelion Trilogy

The evening did not disappoint.

(Watch video highlights from the evening’s conversation below, or on LiisBeth’s YouTube channel.

The trilogy follows protagonists Zadie Byrd Gray and Charlie Rider— a feisty and passionate young couple—in their leaderful movement that challenges the existing government structure in the United States and hopes of replacing it with a people-powered, representative democracy. The stories involve conflict with oligarchy and the wealthy elite. “If this sounds a little familiar to U.S. culture it’s because it is a little familiar to U.S. culture,” Sun said on the video call from her Earthship home in New Mexico. She started writing The Dandelion Insurrection, the first book of the trilogy, back in 2013, just a few months before Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA spying on American citizens. “I was a little paranoid for a couple of months as the reveal came out because I had actually been writing about that, as a speculative fictional scenario,” she told the group 

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Protest novels are books defined by their intent that often challenge political views, depict social injustices and/or offer alternative perspectives from underrepresented groups. According to Sun, “In a world like ours where injustice runs amok and so many are crying out for change, I think all of us can bend our talents and skills in solidarity with demands for respect, dignity, fairness, inclusion, safety, and sustainability.”

Sun has a few favourite protest novels she uses for inspiration including  Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing, Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables and Ursula K LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness. For more examples of books written in response to, or inspired by, political strife, check out the list compiled by Electric Lit.

The author’s writing is influenced by her lived experiences. 

Sun described herself as someone who was once an ‘ignorant activist’ who has since come a long way in her activism journey. The 39-year-old has been involved in participatory democracy from bike messenger co-ops to member-mechanic operations, leaderful movements to consensus-based nonprofits. “I believe in this kind of democracy the way I believe in nonviolence. They both have challenges, but they offer more hope than any other system I’ve seen.”

Not sure what leaderful, non violent movements or actions might look like?  Watching starlings in murmuration provides a useful way to imagine it. 

Winds of Change largely focuses on the belief that for participatory democracy to work, “People need to have a direct and active role in determining the laws and policies by which our lives are impacted.” Sun was quick to address the idea of participatory democracy as a lofty goal but also something that is not entirely out of reach. “We’re at such a point of division that sometimes it’s hard to believe, or imagine, or trust that humanity as a whole has this kind of inherent wisdom…but we do have a pretty innate sense of wanting to solve problems together.”

While Sun isn’t alone in recognizing that our current systems aren’t working, she attributes the lack of change to the fact that people aren’t meeting and discussing issues in a room together whether it’s virtual, physical or metaphorical. “They’re not actually engaged in collective problem solving and they’re often spouting political opinions in reaction to the lines and the commentary that are fed to them by elite groups to keep them divided and disempowered,” said Sun.

Writing the trilogy allowed her to grow both as a writer and as an activist. For example, while researching how to bring her stories to life, she actually Googled “How to bring down dictators non-violently.” She discovered plenty of people are already out there doing it.

Sun said there are no shortage of examples of nonviolent activism successful in heralding change. “We have to remember there are over 300 different methods of non-violent struggle ranging from holding that sign, to civil disobedience, to shut downs, blockades, boycotts, occupations, covert actions, refusals to comply with work, slowdowns, walkout strikes. The list goes on. So that’s the kind of hopeful news that people are engaged in.”

Spreading the Word Like Dandelion Seeds

By self-publishing her books through Rising Sun Press Works and printing copies on demand, Sun doesn’t feel the pressure of answering to a publisher’s vision of her work.

Where does Rivera Sun find hope?

Through crowdfunding different projects, she has built an audience of loyal followers and created uniquely community-published work. She is encouraged and humbled by the amount of support and positive feedback she receives from readers. For example, commenting on Winds of Change in Transition US, Marissa Mommaerts wrote, “These practical and inspiring examples of direct democracy are exactly what we need to move forward as society.” Tom Altee at the Co-Intelligence Institute and Wise Democracy Project also has high praise for Sun’s work. “I was totally captivated [by] Rivera’s vision in Winds of Change. It was the best participatory democracy imagineering creation I’ve ever seen.” 

Sun is mindful about the message of Winds of Change: “I hope no one takes this book as a blueprint. It’s not. It’s a story that is meant to spark ideas, thoughts, and reflections in the reader. It’s intended to provide more questions than it answers.”


BONUS! Download and read an excerpt from Winds of Change © Rivera Sun 2020.

Plus! You can watch all previous episodes of The Fine Print with authors including Shaena Lambert (Petra), Leanne Betasmosake Simpson (Noopiming) and Farzana Doctor (Seven) on YouTube.

GOOD NEWS! THE FINE PRINT returns in 2022. Free for FEC members or you can purchase access tickets on Eventbrite. 

Watch for updates! 

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Feminist Practices

Reimagining Our Financial Future

Shannon Pestun. Photo provided.

Shannon Pestun followed her own advice when she started her financial literacy training business: Know yourself. Figure out why you’re doing it. Who could you partner with? 

“The system is always telling women to fix themselves,” Pestun says. “But we’re making it about her first and foremost and what her goals are, and then building the company around that.”

The Finance Cafe is an Alberta-based incorporated for profit social enterprise that was formed because its two female founders understand firsthand the barriers that women entrepreneurs face, primarily around financial literacy and confidence. 

The Path to Entrepreneurship 

Pestun spent the formative part of her youth working in her parents office furniture company. She and her younger brother spent summers cleaning and doing accounts receivables for the family business in Alberta, Canada. 

She also grew up around horses and loved spending time at her extended relatives’ farms. In her first job she worked for free mucking stalls in exchange for riding the horses.

She fell in love with the animals and went on to become a competitive show jumper. 

Riding provided her with a sense of comfort and freedom and trust that is present to this day. 

“A horse will know how I’m feeling before I do,” she says.

Shannon Pestun with her horse, circa 1981. Photo provided.

But the outgoing, horseback-riding girl turned inward after she was sexually assaulted in her teens. Pestun dropped out of high school and ended up working two minimum wage jobs just to keep a roof over her head. There were times she had four hours of sleep between her shift selling hot dogs at a nightclub (while underage) and being a sales clerk at a Merle Norman cosmetics store. 

“I know what it’s like to be at the poverty line. I understand what it’s like to live in fear of finances.” 

Fierce tenacity and the generosity of others — like the Merle Norman shop owner and the guy at the night club who allowed her to work underage — enabled Pestun to get her life back on track. 

Pestun eventually went back to high school then on to college and university where she got a degree in management.

She landed a marketing job at ATB, a financial institution with a focus on small business owners. Before she became ATB’s first Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship, she jumped at the opportunity to become a lender even though she had little experience in finance. 

Her tenacity returned and Pestun taught herself how to be a banker after hours by going through finance and business rules to understand what the lending business was all about. Soon, a pattern emerged. She had no female clients. Where were all the women? 

Pestun took to social media under the alias @agirlsbizbanker to have conversations and learn why women weren’t coming to ATB, or anywhere else, for financing. 

“The banking system was never designed with women in mind,” she says. It was impossible to ignore the financial industry was not effectively serving women and systemic barriers were being upheld. 

As an advocate for women in business, Pestun is a mentor for Fifth Wave, Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for women in digital media.

Pestun knew of Shauna Frederick because they were both on the Board of Directors for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). When Frederick, a respected chartered professional accountant (CPA) invited her to lunch in 2020, Pestun knew she’d found someone who shared her passion for supporting women entrepreneurs. 

The two finance pros knew that confidence and financial know-how impacts women’s emotional connection to their businesses. Together they realized their combined knowledge could help women overcome these challenges of confidence by creating a hub for business financial literacy. The two women holed up in a Canmore hotel room for a weekend in the fall of 2020 to hash out the details of new business. 

The duo officially launched the Finance Cafe in 2021.

Confidence is Key  

Pestun and Frederick teamed up to change the narrative about how women talk about money. They wanted to create a place where women could ask all their financial questions without being judged or feeling berated. How am I going to earn money from this? Will it be enough so I can pay myself a living wage? I don’t want to have investors or take out big loans. How else can I finance my business? 

“We have a very gendered focus on the curriculum,” says Pestun. “We’re aiming to make financial literacy not feel judgmental when it’s being led by two women, particularly an accountant and a former banker.”

A 2020 report by Scotiabank’s Women Initiative found that, “women business owners are 56 per cent  more likely to be ranked as ‘below average’ in financial knowledge than counterpart men business owners.” They are also less confident about their knowledge of small business finance. The full report — Financial Knowledge & Financial Confidence – Closing Gender Gaps in Financing Canadian Small Businesses — indicated that closing gender gaps in small business financial knowledge, financial confidence and financing will further women’s economic security. 

The report also revealed that fewer women are applying for loans, but when they do apply, they get funding. 

Among study participants, 7 per cent  of women and 11 per cent of men had applied for a business loan in the 12 months leading up to the survey. However, among loan applicants, 88 per cent of women and 77 per cent  of men had their loan applications approved. 

Why don’t more women apply for loans? Financial literacy is a factor. 

For women about to put their savings on the line for a business, adding a loan can be scary. Knowing when a loan makes sense, what type of loan to apply for and basic loan terms is something training in financial literacy can help with. 

Women face additional barriers than men in terms of starting their businesses as well. This includes accessing social capital and political power to impact policy that would assist in unlocking potential opportunities. Male-centered entrepreneur narratives and stereotypes are another huge barrier for women entrepreneurs. 

One of The Finance Cafe’s goals is to help women understand the current mindset, system and how to wrangle it to meet their authentic needs. Things like being told that you need to make a certain amount of money to be successful. 

“Screw that,” says Pestun. “We want to give women the confidence to say I’m doing this on my terms and this is enough. Let’s quit treating women like they need to build  massive corporations. Because who wants to enter entrepreneurship with that being the guiding principle?”

To make the course as accessible to as many women as possible, the seven-module online program is priced purposely low at a one time payment of CAD$379 + GST or four payments of CAD$99 + GST. The program includes access to the course for a year, video tutorials, quizzes, worksheets and priority support. There’s even a free financial literacy quiz you can take to test your knowledge.

The lived experience between the two financial gurus is priceless. 

“We see some of the mistakes women entrepreneurs make and we share our own stories about mistakes we’ve made,” Pestun says. “We know the importance of role models for women so it’s about information, mentorship, capacity building, all those wraparound services.”

The New Return on Investment (ROI) 

But what if success was measured not only in terms of profit? What if it was about physical wellbeing, mental health and safety? What about environmental impact or community impact? How could we measure the stronger family aspects of your enterprise? 

Pestun is a proud Métis woman who credits her grandmother, a Métis elder in Manitoba in the 1930s, with learning about resilience and resourcefulness. As farmers, her grandparents lived off the land. They valued family and community and were always willing to share what they had. Pestun’s ideas for the future mean revisiting the past. 

“When we think about Indigenous communities and how they functioned, I think the principles are changing now. We’re seeing women entrepreneurs starting micro-sized businesses or working together to form co-ops.”

Greater accountability and different measurements of value are starting to happen with organizations like B-corporation and the rise of ESG reporting. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is at the forefront for many organizations, even though the idea has been around for decades. 

Gro Harlem Bundtlund, Norway’s first female prime minister and Chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (known as the Brundtland Commission), put sustainable development on the international agenda with the Commission’s landmark report, Our Common Future

Leslie Kern is a Canadian scholar, geographer and author focused on feminist cities, city-building and reimagining home and family

Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa is founder and chair of the non-profit organization 8 80 Cities and is the first ambassador of the World Urban Parks with a mission to create safe and happy cities that prioritize people’s wellbeing. 

Kate Raworth has been talking about doughnut economics for years. Accountability and social impact is being addressed in the finance community with Leanne Keddie’s research on sustainable accounting.

But profit is still a driver for banks. We live in a capitalist society and by its nature, capitalism is not inclusive. 

“If you look at the financial system or angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders, they all want to see how profitable the company is–or will be,” Pestun says. 

So what will it take for change to happen? 

A revised definition of success? Redefining value? More data to prove that women entrepreneurs are profitable? Agreeing that a micro-sized business can have major impact?  

Want Different Metrics? Ask Different Questions

Lenders use the traditional five C’s of credit to gauge the creditworthiness of potential borrowers. The five C’s are: character (read: credit history), capacity (debt-to-income ratio), capital (how much money you have), collateral (assets that act as security for a loan) and conditions (purpose and amount of the loan, prevailing interest rates). 

But what if the five C’s aligned more with values and purpose over financials. We need money, yes, but what if there was greater emphasis on why the enterprise was being created?

What if the business was going to create a healthier neighbourhood, or safer schools, or increase the overall wellbeing of a population? What if a product or service provided food, shelter or educational outcomes? What if a business was about art and creativity that was measured in community impact? 

What if it was a different system altogether?

Flash Forward 20 Years 

It’s 2041. Rural Alberta. Shannon Pestun is 65 years old. She is out riding her horse on the property she shares with six other women and their partners. A billion people died from the novel Ceasariovirus (CEASE-55) that swept the globe in 2032. Water is scarce in many regions. Border patrol is enforced. Global trade has come to a halt. There is life on Mars.

Two thousand kilometres away, in Tkaranto (formerly Toronto), purposepreneur Lee Ladybug puts the finishing touches on their info kit for the CEVO (Care Economy Virtual Office) where Pestun is an advisory board member. The bi-monthly review is in 24 hours. Applicants are judged blindly and most are approved and given a purposepreneur lender grant (PLG). 

Racialized barriers don’t exist. Capitalism is no longer toxic. There is no stereotyping. 

Lee Ladybug is one third of Insectifit, an enterprise that produces protein beverages from locusts. They have crowdsourced production of their test product, Beetlejuice, that won best new beverage at the Canadian Natural Exhibition (CNE). Predictive modelling shows that if Beetlejuice is distributed to learning centres and care hospices across the country, Insectifit will be able to create 100 PLGs to give back to CEVO. Their products are sold on a subscription-based model, sliding scale. Insectifit is made up of three sub-companies: Bug Out, the farming collective that grows and harvests the insects in an ethical manner; Venus Source, an electric energy enterprise that packages and ships the product; and Spidey Sense Marketing who promote the wellness, environmental and social stability benefits of Insectifit. 

Pestun arrives at the stable and watches the sunset. She dismounts the horse and lands on solid ground with her riding boots.

She loves what she does. 

She is grateful to have the opportunity to give back and to use her life experiences to pay it forward to the next generation. The Gifting Circle Bursary for Indigenous Women in Entrepreneurship at Mount Royal University that she started just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Pestun is honoured and thrilled there are now thirty-two other similar bursaries associated at post-secondary institutions across Canada. 

She reflects on The Finance Cafe and how it has grown into the hub for girls and women across the country and beyond. The original vision came to fruition.  

She thinks back to her fortieth birthday, twenty-five years ago, when she gave herself the gift of riding again. She remembers how her best ideas came to her when she was out riding. Solutions arrived when she was galloping in the field with the wind on her face, the sound of hooves on the soil, deeply connected to the natural world.

Pestun strokes the horse’s neck then lets it run free into the field.


Publishers Note: The Fifth Wave is a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women entrepreneurs in the digital media sector in southern Ontario. All enterprise founders in the Fifth Wave community are selected for both their potential and commitment toward weaving intersectional feminist ideals of equity and fairness into sustainable and scalable business growth strategies. Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to 30% participation by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth Media partner and ally. Apply here.

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Allied Arts & Media

How To Navigate a World Designed To Fail You

Screenshot via The FOLD’s Instagram.

Imagine being saddled at birth with a debt you must repay to gain your freedom? That question fired up the imagination of author and activist Jael Richardson as she created the dystopian world in the novel, Gutter Child, where a nation is divided into communities of the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. Is it a metaphor for racism?

As a recent guest on The Fine Print, a conversation series with contemporary feminist authors, Richardson teased out this interpretation with attendees, reminding them that while she mentions the skin colour of her characters, no one is labelled Black or white. There are Olo people and Sossi people in this world, and readers project the systemic oppression on her disadvantaged young protagonist, Elimina Dubois, and other students who attend an Academy where they train and learn how to work off their debts to society. Elimina was taken from the Gutter at birth and raised in the Mainland as part of a social experiment initiated by the Mainland government. But when her mother dies (on page five) she ends up at the Academy, alone and afraid.

“I started thinking about laws and constitutions and how they’re designed,” Richardson told the attentive audience when asked about the catalyst for the book. “How systems are built, and who builds them and who they’re built for.”

Richardson admits she had endless discussions with her editor as she worked out the logistics of her imagined have- and have-not world. What did the geographical landscape look like? How many socio-economic classes were there? What resources did they have? What opportunities or employment options were available to some and not others? Why?

Though fictional, the world is remarkably recognizable as any society where race and class determine who is privileged and who is disadvantaged. The book adds gender to that mix — women struggle against harsh and unjust situations and are forced to make hard choices. “What happens to women and their children in any world says a lot about the conditions of that world,” Richardson said in the interview. The difficult circumstances in which she placed her characters compelled her to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book:

“This book is a work of fiction that explores a perilous world rooted in injustice. As in life, the effects of injustice impact many of the characters. Take care with your heart and your mind as you read. Pause and rest as required. These are difficult times.”

As in the real world, Gutter Child offers no quick fix to systemic racism. Systems protect the people who created them. And Richardson isn’t optimistic of that changing anytime soon. “People at the top would have to be willing to acknowledge that they [systems] are built on lies and falsehoods, and be willing humbly to take it all apart and give it to all of us to help build them.”

To avoid being overwhelmed by what isn’t changing, Richardson focussed on how people create bonds and community, even when forced into disadvantaged spaces. “Why do people make choices? And why do other people make different choices? And what makes each of those things different or important to pay attention to?”

Ultimately, Richardson hopes to get people reading and that Gutter Child can start conversations about oppression and how to break down unjust systems. The book certainly got the conversation flowing after the formal interview on The Fine Print as guests lingered to chat to the author about how the book jolted them into seeing and thinking in new ways about systemic oppression. One person said she was reading it with her twelve-year old son; another planned to do so with their young niece.

Richardson is considering a sequel to Gutter Child, which has become a national best seller since its publication in January 2021 and is a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award that will be announced May 27, 2021. The follow up book promises to be another dystopian tale – set in a nowhere land that could be anywhere. “As a Black woman who has sort of only lived in one place, but also felt like I belong to no place…dystopia is my favourite place to play.”

You can “play” more with Jael Richardson, who founded and serves as the Artistic Director, at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), which runs until May 15, 2021. If you’re late to sign up, recordings of author interviews, workshops and readings are available to watch and re-watch until May 31, 2021.

The Fine Print is hosted and produced by Liisbeth Media and Lana Pesch in the Feminist Enterprise Commons (FEC).

Watch the video highlights of the conversation here on YouTube.

Read an excerpt from Gutter Child (Harper Collins, 2020) © Jael Richardson 2021.