Meral Jamal (she/her) was born and raised in a family of 20 in Dubai, UAE. She is a journalism and history student at Carleton University in Ottawa, ON, and the newsletter editor and editorial assistant with LiisBeth. You can find her sharing her favourite books and movies on Twitter and Instagram.
In our roundup this month, we’re sharing content from Rabble that looks at different themes, ideas, and conversations that feminists are engaging in right now. As a feminist, womxn’s entrepreneurship publication, we’re interested in what the feminist movement—and the action resulting from it—looks like at the moment. Here are our top picks for Rabble content that dive into this.
In this interview, Chelsea Nash writes: “Do women benefit in the workplace from assimilating into the male-dominated culture, or from resisting it? Put another way, is it better to focus on the similarities between men and women workers, or to point out gendered differences and vocalize the ways women don’t fit — literally and figuratively — into many non-traditional workplaces?”
These are the questions that biologist and ergonomist Karen Messing tries to answer in her new book, Bent Out of Shape: Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work, coming out April 5 from Between the Lines.
Through a deep dive into the work of Anjum Sultana, the national director of public policy and strategic communications for YWCA, Maya Bhullar writes about how a feminist recovery plan that is multifaceted and intersectional, focusing on the diverse needs of women, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people, is the starting point of the change the needed to address those who are often marginalized, especially during the global pandemic.
“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and while there has been plenty of awareness this year, there remains precious little government action on ending the scourge of male violence against women and children, both at home and globally,” Matthew Behrens writes.
Since 1961, over 10,000 women have been victims of femicide in Canada. At the same time, spokespersons for male-dominated institutions like the military and the police are increasingly using the “Trudeau-esque language of acknowledging the failures to end violence against women as the standard response for failing to do anything about it.”
Behrens says it’s easy for men to be applauded for declaring that something must be done to end male violence, but such words ring hollow amidst the dearth of accountability mechanisms and system change required to ensure transformational change.
Samah Ali remembers being struck by a disconnect between Black creatives showing their work on social media and the near absence of racialized content on streaming platforms. The self-proclaimed “binger” spent nearly eight years streaming movies and TV series on Netflix, but still found herself hungry for satisfying content. A Somali-Canadian, she didn’t see stories relevant to her community and life.
“I was just really tired of scrolling through Netflix for hours,” she says and finding little relevant to Black folks or other racialized or Indigenous people, certainly nothing sophisticated or nuanced. “I would watch terrible movies that were being distributed because they had a Black face or brown face. At the same time, I was on social media and I just saw all of these brilliant artists that I was following.” But getting access to those stories took time and work to find and follow the artists.
Ali felt there needed to be a single digital space where audiences could access all the work of racialized artists, whether video productions, music or podcasts. And those artists could reach their communities in one place.
In 2017, Ali launched Sisterhood Media, a content production and distribution company with a streaming platform to share stories by racialized artists, from racialized communities, for racialized people.
From creating to educating
Ali says her first hurdle was raising the initial seed funding to kickstart Sisterhood Media. Producing and distributing content is expensive and she did not hail from a family that has millions “to just give for love money for a passion project or business.” She joined Western University’s Propel summer incubator and the Western accelerator program to help her get started, but she says they did not really understand what she was trying to build.
Ali grew frustrated by investors and accelerator programs who wanted Sisterhood Media to become a tech company because it was more sexy. She saw Sisterhood Media less as a tech company than an organization that builds community by sharing content from diverse creatives—using tech as the medium to achieve that.
Ali hired a team of three other Black creatives, and together they chose to create two separate entities under the banner of Sisterhood Media: a distribution arm and platform for streaming content called Sisterhood Media TV; and Sisterhood Media projects, which create safe spaces such as movie nights showcasing short films and connecting racialized audiences with filmmakers. A screening series called What If Media Looked Like Us? addresses representation in the media industry.
According to Ali, these spaces help racialized people and artists come together and talk about importance of their stories, as well as exchange filmmaking and digital media skills that they can’t just learn from YouTube.
“[The educational component] has been by far the best driver of our impact because not only are we getting more folks involved in the industry and [getting] people who are already involved in the industry learning new skills, but also they find out about Sisterhood Media TV and end up wanting their films distributed on our platform as well.”
Sisterhood Media TV operates on a membership basis, with a monthly membership costing $5.99 and a yearly membership $54.99. The educational component and support for racialized creatives is supported by a three-year funding grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Raising the funding for Black creatives
One of the things Ali’s most proud of is how the organization is creating investment opportunities for racialized artists in the media industry through its partnership with Snail Mail Media, an independent production company based in Toronto. It specializes in narrative projects with a focus on diverse, commercially viable, impact-driven films for niche audiences.
That collaboration offers filmmakers early investment in their projects, from pre-development through post production as well as guaranteeing video on demand distribution on Sisterhood Media TV.
Ali wants to make it easier for young filmmakers, new filmmakers, and especially racialized filmmakers to find investment without having to go through a lengthy application process where they may be competing with thousands of other, more seasoned applicants.
“They simply have to submit their films Sisterhood Media and we’re able to look at their assets, look at their pitch deck, look at all the information that they’re offering us, and then we let them know if we want to be an early investor and offer them a pre-sale deal, or if we want to distribute other films that they’ve made in the past.”
Ali says this process of “acquiring content and pushing it out” helps create exposure for short films and web series because they may make it through festival rounds and receive exceptional acclaim, but don’t always get the distribution deal from broadcasters the way a television show might.
“It’s all about exposure, it’s all about showing content, and how people can produce these brilliant stories in these very short episodes, which need not go to some television broadcaster—it can go right to the user,” she says.
From producing to collaborating
As a feminist content production and distribution company, Sisterhood Media created a nonhierarchical structure, with a core team consisting of four members: Ali; Shewit Kalaty, who is the marketing director; Mandeq Hassan, who is responsible for programming and acquisitions; and Zenab Hassan who oversees the digital content. Ali says all four all have a say in decision making because “all our voices matter.”
The team makes decisions about the organization and direction as well as what content they choose to support. One of the main questions they ask every time they watch a movie or receive a pitch is who the audience is. They want to make sure the content they’re sharing reaches a diverse audience.
She says they ask themselves key questions. “Who is going to be brought in with this film? Who are we attracting around the world and around the entire globe? What geographical region do we think that this is going to be most applicable to?”
“What we’re trying to do is not just serve one audience—we’re trying to serve a plethora of audiences and that’s very hard to do.”
To do so, they collaborate with other BIPOC media makers, to achieve the “impact together.”
An example is a three-episode web series Somewhere In, created by Muna Dahir. Set in Scarborough, the series follows two young girls, Amina and Sara, who are going out of town to “save face” with family members. Amina’s mother trusts the two girls with money to deliver to the neighborhood auntie, but the pair get themselves into a sticky situation after losing it along the way.
Sisterhood Media co-produced the series with Badass Muslimah, a digital content creation project that launched in Toronto in 2016. It provides access to skill training through podcasting, filmmaking and web development programs for young Muslim women.
The project, says Ali, proudly, brought young creatives into the process of filmmaking. “Everybody behind the scenes is a racialized person. It was their first opportunity to be on a film set. Everybody who worked on it really saw their impact on what they can make, not only as a personal artist and a creative, but also as a team.
From cultivating to sustaining
This year, Sisterhood Media joined the Canadian Film Centre’s (CFC) Fifth Wave accelerator, created to accelerate and sustain the growth of women-owned and led enterprises in southern Ontario’s digital media sector.
Fifth Wave is the fourth accelerator that Ali has taken part in, but she says the CFC program is unique because of the kinds of conversations it provokes, most notably what it means to build an ethical, sustainable business that puts people at the heart of all its work.
Ali says becoming a business owner was challenging as she saw capitalism as a trap. She wanted to build an organization where members are seen “as people—not as numbers, not as dollar signs.” Fifth Wave helped her meet other women entrepreneurs who share those same basic principles.
“We are focused on our clients and our people first, rather than our shareholders and the dollars that we bring in.” In Fifth Wave, she is able to connect with founders who share the same mindset and values.
Through the program, Ali wants to focus her work in 2021 on making Sisterhood Media a more sustainable enterprise.
“Last year, we were focused on cultivating. This year, we’re [focusing on] sustainability. We’re really focused on perfecting everything that we have started, and then building on it and making it better by building more partnerships and by funneling more money into filmmaker-driven programs.”
Racialized creatives looking for a Canadian streaming platform to share their work and distribute their films can submit their idea for consideration to Sisterhood Media here.
Publishers Note: Sisterhood Mediais a participant in Canada’s first feminist accelerator program for womxn in digital media, Fifth Wave Labs. 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.
Darlene Tonelli foundedInter Alia Law seven years ago. The boutique firm specializes in tech, media and entertainment law. She also co-hostsLawyer Life Podcast, which explores the personal, political and professional lives of lawyers. We spoke with Tonelli about her journey into law and feminism.
LiisBeth: How did you get into law?
I grew up in a small town, and am the first kid in my extended family of many, many, many, people to go to law school or any kind of professional school. I was a figure skater in my youth, which was a good training ground for competition; individual sports helped shape my discipline and sort of going after things that I was interested in doing. I went through political science at the University of Calgary (1994-1998), and most of my work there [was] on feminist issues. I wrote almost every single paper on the looming dangers of pornography to women and the movement. It wasn’t a very popular position at the time, but I certainly wish I had kept working on it because it’s now an epidemic. But it wasn’t clear then what a big thing it was going to become. When I went to law school, I just took a big corporate job to pay off my student debt.
LiisBeth: How did you come to create your own law firm?
I did work in a traditional law firm setting for two summers and three years. It wasn’t a structure that made sense to me for the things that I wanted to have in my life. I wanted freedom over my time—I didn’t mind working long hours, but I didn’t want to be in a position where I couldn’t call my own schedule for like 10 to 15 years, which is the model and how it works. I was also lucky to get on a file early on that was really on the wrong side of my principles. Working for a big corporate law firm, I would not be able to honour my own values all the time. You have to work on what you’re given, and that that wasn’t something that I was cool with.
I transitioned through [working] in house at a record label, which I loved. Through that experience, I realized that [I didn’t want to] work for these big organisations where I was just a cog in the wheel. [I wanted] to create my own organisation where I could really shape the culture, the people, the projects that we took on, the approach that we take. So when I started Inter Alia law, I was really just trying to make a law firm that I wanted to work at.
There are now 10 of us, and we focus very much on creating a real sustainable life of authenticity. We focus on giving clients a level of service that comes from empathy and emotional intelligence to get better results for them.
LiisBeth: What are some of the gaps in Canadian law that you’re trying to fill?
I think there are a couple of big issues in law, and we’re addressing two of them. One is the cost of legal services, which is very, very high. There are statistics, something like 80 per cent of people who need access to lawyers don’t have it for financial or other reasons, so we try to make our services pretty accessible.
We’re also very affordable in a range of other things, which is facilitated by the type of model we run, which is a low overhead where everyone has a predictable share of revenues. So a normal model is a partnership where you buy in and you get to work your way up the ranks, and the higher up you are, the more business you bring in, the more money you make. We definitely reward in our model; for example, high performance is something that’s rewarded, but we don’t set it up so that, if you’re not a partner, the way you make money is by oppressing other people. That’s a very standard feature of the current legal landscape.
The second thing is we’re very focused on taking an educational approach with our clients. So, we don’t talk to them like they don’t know what they’re doing and we’re the gurus; we talk to them about what their needs are, what they would like to see out of a situation. And we try to get to know them as people, to help them get a better result that actually fits with what they need. We’re sensitive to what they need in a way that I think is increasingly important, but I don’t think is yet the norm.
LiisBeth: How do you embed feminist practices in the work you’re doing?
I would say it’s not been by design, it’s been more by accident. We don’t, for example, define ourselves as a feminist law firm. We are five men, five women, very gender balanced. But I would say we have real allies on the team for feminism, who really support a different way of doing things and understand the challenges that we experience.
And as far as influences, just to give a little bit of a shout out to some of the stuff that LiisBeth publisher PK Mutch and feminist author CV Harquail are doing, in educating women about being part of a bigger ecosystem of entrepreneurs. I built Inter Alia on my own and then I encountered CV and PK maybe a year ago and I thought, ‘Oh, [Inter Alia] is a feminist business.’ I didn’t realize that prior to meeting them. I think there are a lot of us out here doing what we do, just understanding that things are still quite oppressive in the workforce for a lot of people. And I think that the women who are building businesses from scratch are taking a really different approach—it might not be the one that you read about a lot in the press, but we’re out here.
I also think the general feedback that you get from people in traditional business models is that feminist business is not about profit maximizing. My answer is that feminist business is profitable, but not to the exclusion of people. I don’t want to make my profit by hurting other people, and I think that a lot of women share that approach.
If we want to create a gender and eco-just inclusive world, we need to be able to grow sustainable social enterprises. Supporting startup co-operatives are part of the answer. Are today’s startup ecosystems up to the task?
Five U.S. ventures led by five Black women entrepreneurs will get a major injection of cash from SheEO’s global community of radically generous investors.
SheEO announced today that, for the first time in its history, all five enterprises that activators chose to fund for its U.S. cohort of investment are owned and led by Black women and non-binary people.
Vicki Saunders (she/her), founder of SheEO, says the organization made a targeted investment because of the lack of funding and support available to women entrepreneurs.
“If you’re a woman of colour, it’s virtually impossible [to get funded]—it’s less than point 0.01 per cent,” she says. “But all of a sudden, you have a huge community of people who are like, ‘We love you, how can we help?’”
Saunders launched the Toronto-based non-profit in 2015 with a goal of building a global community of “radically generous” activators to build a fund to invest in women entrepreneurs building equitable and sustainable ventures.
In the U.S., 500 activators every year, gift $1,100 to a perpetual fund that provides zero-interest loans to the selected Ventures, voted by the Activators. As the loans are paid back over 5 years, they are loaned out again and again to more women-led Ventures, keeping the Activators gift in perpetual flow.
The “one activator-one vote” democratic, participative and non-hierarchical selection process is what sets SheEO apart from other non-equity fund initiatives.
Since the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement following the George Floyd protests last summer, Saunders says the activator community has been engaged in conversations about how they can better support Black entrepreneurs, including creating the Racial Justice Working Group within the SheEO community with S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective, a U.S. SheEO Venture.
This year’s announcement of the first all-Black U.S. cohort, she says, is an example of how successful those conversations have been.
“I think the original reckoning is really a gift to all of us to step back, pay attention to our role in keeping the world the way it is—and to decide to shift that.”
One of the activators is Jamie Gloshay (she/her), a Navajo White Mountain Apache and Kiowa entrepreneur and co-founder of Native Women Lead. This year, she voted for ventures she felt had under appreciated potential while keeping in mind the significant challenges so many women have faced due to COVID-19. She says she hopes the selected entrepreneurs feel supported in their journey.
For Gloshay, value comes not only in investment but in building community – and inviting entrepreneurs into it. “I often find that entrepreneurs feel like it’s a lonely journey,” she says. “Being able to access tools and resources and a community—especially with women who have already committed to being radically generous—I think that is so supportive and so needed in the world that we’re currently living in. With COVID-19, a lot of women are having to carry their families and their communities through, so it’s necessary to have that extra support system.”
Terri-Nichelle Bradley (she/her), CEO and founder of Brown Toy Box, is one of the five ventures selected for funding this year. She’s thrilled to join a community of women supporting other women leading enterprises focused on working on the World’s To-Do List, co-creating an equitable and sustainable equitable world, together.
“I love the fact that it’s women investing in women with capital, but also with their time and their expertise,” says Bradley. “I thought, just to have that affiliation with really impact-minded women—how cool would that be?”
Bradley leads a multimedia company that produces and curates STEAM toys, media, and experience for Black children. Through STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, math) education, cultural representation and educational play, Brown Toy Box aims to normalize Black excellence and create prosperous career pathways for Black children.
Bradley is excited to join a community of women who share similar goals. “I definitely believe that you should cultivate people who share the same values and same priorities in as many ways as possible. The fact that these are women that are really focused on changing the world for the better […] that’s exactly where I want and need to be.”
A 19th century successful, edge-walking feminist entrepreneur, publisher and leading suffragette who racked up a number of firsts—in politics and business—suffered harsh consequences. What can we learn from Victoria Woodhull experience that still applies today?
The first time Anya-Milana Sulaver (she/her) went back to visit her extended family in former Yugoslavia, she was trampled by a herd of pigs while picking tomatoes with her grandmother. It was the early ‘80s. Her grandmother had taken her there for the summer. She recalls how different the whole experience was for an urban girl who grew up in the West.
Years later, the culture shock from that first trip made her realize how different her family’s upbringing and context had been from her own.
This realization fascinated her. On subsequent trips there, Sulaver found herself increasingly interested in culture and communities. The duality of her experiences, that she was living through two cultures, drew her to “spaces of translation”— where she could understand the interconnectedness of her family’s history and identity with Yugoslavia and her own identity as a Canadian.
After completing her first degree, Sulaver started working as an associate producer for a company that focused on telling the stories of Indigenous communities in Canada. The documentary she’s most proud of investigated the signing of Treaty 7 by speaking with elders from the Blood, Siksika and Peigan reserves who retained the treaty’s oral history. The final documentary was broadcast nationally and shown to students from Blood 148, a First Nations reserve in Alberta that was established under the provisions of the treaty.
“The course of the work that’s followed has supported [my] lifelong ambition to ensure that when you’re speaking about a culture or peoples that those people [are] given the opportunity to ensure that representation is true to their values.”
The path that followed included getting two more degrees: a BA in International Development and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies (Anthropology, Humanities and Film), culminating in the founding of Peeps Magazine in 2015. An independent digital publication, Peeps shares insights into people and cultures around the world.
Tapping into Deep Research
Peeps, supported by Ontario Creates funding and a membership subscription ($21 quarterly/$70 annually), is produced by a team of 14 design, development and editorial staff, along with two curatorial managing editors who are experts in medical anthropology, and race and gender studies. Initially a print publication, Peeps transitioned to an online platform to reach a wider audience, providing readers with long-form articles that are often described as anthropology for non-anthropologists.
Sulaver founded Peeps because she wanted to bring knowledge to lay readers that was trapped in academic conversations, journals and conferences. Peer-reviewed and verified research takes years to trickle out to mainstream media—she estimates five to 10 years. She had a hunch that people were hungry for the information, especially published by an organization that takes care to verify the facts. So she built Peeps to help fill this gap.
A Peeps story, based on solid research and verified information, provides context and history to help readers gain that understanding.
Examples of this include the ways residents of post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa, confronted social inequalities in shared spaces; how “a clan of femcees” or female rappers were united by “a drive to dismantle gender stereotypes” in Iceland; or the role superheroes play in understanding contemporary society and how women are perceived. Authors bring hyphenated experiences – anthropologists/artists/filmmakers – to the writing of the stories.
The magazine was shortlisted for the Stack Independent Magazine Awards in 2016 in two categories—best launch and best original non-fiction story, “Winning and Losing in Modern China,” which investigated online vigilantism and gaming culture in Hangzhou, China. Written by Graham Candy, a PhD candidate for anthropology at the University of Toronto at the time, the article was also awarded Best Special Interest Story by Magazines Canada.
Sulaver describes Peeps approach to story telling as “participant observation.” Writers are usually historians, ethnographers and anthropologists who have spent decades in a particular community, bringing an academic rigour to frame their understanding of their experiences. Accurate analysis coupled with empathy, personal accountability and discipline are hallmarks of their storytelling.
A recent feature looked at the New Zealand government’s recognition of the Whanganui river as a living being, possessing human rights. Written by Anne Salmond, a distinguished professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland, the article recounts her personal relationship with the Maori community and how Maori chiefs, mayors, ambassadors, and local residents pressed to have the world’s first waterway gain this “person” status, considered revolutionary in placing the vital waterway “in a new relationship with human beings” and securing economic and legal support to protect it.
Sulaver says the editorial team confirmed permission from the Maori community, especially elders, to publish photos from Salmond’s time there. The Peeps team, led mostly by feminist women, are focused on building relationships, empathy and trust through their work. “We don’t want to prescribe solutions for people with the information—do with it what you will,” says Sulaver. “We’ve given you the information. We’ve given you resources to learn more about this. You know who the expert is on this. You can ask them on our website. But by not being prescriptive, the point is still there: the point is learning about other people and being an active listener to how they are in the world and how they see themselves in the world.”
She adds, “The goal is to have a product that people read and go, ‘I feel like I know those people so much better.’ Rather than, ‘Okay, this is how I invest my money, or this is how I can do this.'”
As the publication enters its sixth year, Sulaver says Peeps remains devoted to verification as antidote to the exponential growth of disinformation in journalism. “We knew that fake news was a big problem six years ago—soon to be seven years—when we first started developing the core concept for the magazine. And it was something that I was adamant that we have an answer to in our infrastructure.”
The problem of fake news began long before The Donald was elected president of the United States, and Sulaver believes it will continue to exist long after Trump leaves. “This conversation is not new. I think that Trump is simply the giant snowball at the end of an avalanche. And [it] isn’t just the media—it’s politics, it’s academia, it’s all of our institutions that have been run by people who look the same, and who forgive the same flaws and sins in themselves. And over time, cumulatively, that adds up.”
For Sulaver, combatting disinformation moving forward involves giving people the power to share their stories and culture in a way that’s research-based and verifiable. With a small, devoted membership, she believes Peeps provides a platform to do just that.
The new $645M Canadian government news media fund mostly bails out crumbling traditional media and fails to advance diversity. Despite facts that start up companies rushing in to fill the gap are largely founded by men–and white people. Is this going to help us build a more inclusive democracy?
We’re kicking off the first Rabble Roundup of 2021 with a look at the riots in the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, the Proud Boys, and how the attacks reflect the interconnectedness of white supremacy, racism, and inequality. Here are our top picks that dive deeper into this.
As its title suggests, this Rabble article by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and columnist Denis Moynihan look at the experiences of racialized congressmembers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz and Pramila Jayapal during the riots at the Capitol. It also looks at how “the violent white-supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 put the ugly realities of racism and inequality in this country in stark relief. Taking these on remains the urgent challenge of our time. Trump’s departure from the Oval Office is only the first step.”
Through the experience of the wrongful arrest and consequent imprisonment and torture of her husband Maher Arar, Monia Mazigh looks at the complexities of defining a person or and organization as a “terrorist.” She talks about the not-so-distant past when the “mere pronouncing of this word signified mobilization for human rights, activism against security certificates, pushback against Bill C-51, and the physical and emotional drain these campaigns meant for me and many activists. When you have been labelled a terrorist, you are usually a Muslim man — and by all legal standards it is one of the worst accusations, if not the worst, to have made against you.”
Nevertheless, Mazigh says she believes that the Proud Boys must be labelled a terrorist group, “Not because I like the labelling, but because it is a matter of simple coherence. Up to now, white-supremacy violence was hidden and protected by mainstream institutions — until it exploded in the world’s face in front of the U.S. Capitol.”
Read her words in rabble.ca on the harm caused by both the word “terrorism” and the act itself, and how we must move from calling out white supremacy to actively condemning it.
In the wake of the Washington insurrection, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suggested the Canadian government list the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole were quick to say Singh’s idea sounded like a good one. And yet, many activists believe it may not be.
In this rabble.ca article, rabble’s politics reporter Karl Nerenberg looks at the consequences of listing an entity as terrorist in Canada. This includes the fact that authorities could seize a listed entity’s property, or they could force the terrorist-listed group to forfeit some or all of its assets.