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Far Flung Feminist Futures: Four Really Dope Canadian Sci-Fi Books You Can’t Miss

Image of a woman with a steampunk helmet, wearing green, long skirt and jacket standing in the middle of the road of a dystopian city landscape.
Photo collage: pk mutch with a mix of photos from Dreamstime.

At this time of year, media becomes preoccupied with predictions for 2023. But why stop at 2023? Especially given economic (recession) and political (more unrest) forecasts for the year are especially gloomy. 

Instead, why not imagine what the world could be like in 2060?  At least that way, you can better discern what changes we need to fight for next year, or equally as important, how to derail those leading to frightening future outcomes.

Enter the art of the long view: science fiction (sci-fi), also known as “the literature of ideas.”  

Sci-fi helps our shackled imaginaries pole vault over the present day so that we might inhabit both glorious and unthinkable emerging ecologies and alternative societies. Sci-fi literature provides us with insight into how emerging science, technology and our political actions today might impact our collective future. 

Feminist sci-fi, in particular, works to explode the concept of gender and opens our minds to what a society without patriarchy, colonialism, racism and capitalism might look like.  

Sci-fi stories are essentially like crystal balls made of words. 

Not surprisingly in these times of tumult, sci-fi is a fast-growing genre across cultural industry categories (movies, books, games). Last year, book sales were $590M in the U.S. alone). It is also an increasingly diverse (though women still represent just 22% of all sci-fi writers) and global community of creators.  

To get your imagination fired up, we invite you read the work of three Canadian feminist sci-fi writers.  We also invited Ariel Kroon to provide some additional framing. Kroon is a recent PhD graduate of English Literature (University of Alberta).  Her thesis work focused on crisis narratives found in Canadian post-apocalyptic science fiction 1948-1989. She is currently a research assistant with SpokenWeb, nonfiction co-editor at Solarpunk Magazine and co-host of the podcast Solarpunk Presents.

Is Canadian sci-fi distinct?  Kroon says yes.  “On the whole “Canadian sci-fi has historically been less focused on heroic protagonists or toxic power fantasies of violence, and more on helpers or passersby and their experience in that world.” Kroon adds “In my opinion, the best of the stories I studied were those that focused on how individuals relied on community to help build a better world going forward.”

These are some of those stories. Let’s dig in. 



Imnage of author Nina Munteanu, blonde short hair, black framed glasses and book cover.
Nina Munteanu. Canadian sci-fi author and her latest book.

#1: DIARY IN THE AGE OF WATER by Nina Munteanu

Who should read this? Eco-feminists, AI enthusiasts, water activists, post-capitalists, eco-entrepreneurs, environmental policy geeks, science buffs, Maude Barlow.

Kroon’s comments (paraphrased): I am familiar with Nina Munteanu’s work as a sci-fi writer. I see her work as an evolution of classic ecofeminist thought in her acknowledgment of the ongoing struggle of Indigenous leaders (especially women and two-spirit folks) in protecting water, warning the world that water is life and there needs to be respect for water, and respect for women as water-keepers.  

About the author and book: Bronze Medal winner of the 2020 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award in Science Fiction and a finalist for the International Book Awards in Science Fiction in 2021. Nina Munteanu’s chilling cli-fi novel follows four generations of women into a world nearly destroyed by the consequences of corporate greed, environmental desecration and the short-sightedness of humanity’s complacency towards capitalism. The book explores how the impact of climate change on biological life increasingly limits human existence and upends our social and political systems. 

If you believe Canada’s water will remain free forever (or that it’s truly free now) Munteanu asks you to think again. Readers have called A Diary in the Age of Water “terrifying,” “engrossing,” and “literary.”  We call it wisdom.

Read this Free Excerpt from the Book Here.

Action you can take: Sign up to defend our water.


Author Lisa de Nikolits, The Rage Room (2020)

#2: THE RAGE ROOM by Lisa de Nikolits

Who should read this? Feminist movement funders, people with unprocessed rage, humanists, politicos.

Kroon’s Comments: This book reminds me of the classic sci-fi premise from the late 1800/early 1900s where a time traveller arrives in a future society and the novel is a bit of a mystery/whodunit to figure out the traveller got there, and what to do about it. The theme of a feminist society or army was used in many 20th-century feminist SF as a device to explore what life would look like without patriarchal social discipline. What I like about Nikolits’s approach is that she updates how the trope is used and seems to have made her feminist army explicitly political.

About the book: In Lisa de Nikolits’s The Rage Room, family-man Sharps Barkleys–whose terrible mistake kills his entire family on Christmas Eve 2055–is given a rare opportunity: go back in time and undo the horrible thing he’s done.

As fans of time travel novels might expect, things don’t go quite as planned.

Instead of resetting his life to where he left off–with an alive family on Christmas Eve–his time travelling sets a series of events in motion which lead to murder and mayhem on a dystopian scale: In 2055 he returns home to a furious populous left to vent their boredom and discontent in prescribed visits to “rage rooms,” ruled by over by an artificial intelligence who manipulates both their lives and the planet, right down to weather-controlling satellites. As Barkley leaps back and forth through time in an increasingly desperate attempt to save his family and his world, he meets either someone who is a deadly enemy or an uncertain ally: the leader of the Eden Collective, a feminist army using the data gathered from rage rooms to analyze and predict the potential and actions needed to save the Earth–even, if necessary, at the expense of humankind itself.

If you like multi-layered plots, feminist power plays and extrapolating on the courage it takes to save the world from the effects of the digital age has on our lives–and ultimately, our humanity–then The Rage Room is for you.

Read this Free Excerpt from the Book Her


 

Image of author Lisa Nikolits with black t-shirt that says fiercely feminist and book cover.
Author Lisa Nikolits and her latest book, Everything You Dream is Real, the sequel to The Rage Room (above).

#3: EVERYTHING YOU DREAM IS REAL by Lisa Nikolits (2022)

Who should read this book:  Edgy feminists, plastic surgeons, nefarious world leaders, anyone who read The Rage Room

About the book: The fabulous, adventure-filled sequel to The Rage Room by “The Queen of Canadian Speculative Fiction,” Lisa de Nikolits, Everything You Dream is Real drops readers into 2066, eleven years after the world war of 2055 brought an end to the plastic-based, consumer-driven existence of the previous novel. Amidst food scarcity, spotty electricity and terrible drought, a  group called “The Fountain of Youth,” has risen, a resource-rich compound whose utopian exterior belies a dark underbelly of drugs, kidnapping and sex trafficking. Searching for his stolen children, Sharps Barkley and some familiar allies square off against Alpha Plus, the power-hungry plastic surgeon–who also happens to be completely, utterly bonkers–behind the Fountain of Youth as he makes a play for his ultimate goal: global domination.  

Everything You Dream is Real was listed as one of CBC’s books to look out for in 2022.

Action you can take: Support the Joy Smith Foundation. 


 

Author Ursula Pflug and her recent book, Seeds and Other Stories

#4: Seeds and Other Stories by Ursula Pflug

Who should read this book:  Plant lovers,  feminist futurists, hopeful pessimists.

Kroon’s Comments: The title “SEEDS” is evocative and hopeful. The title itself is reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed novels. I want to read these stories!

About the book: In this bright new collection of darkly hopeful short stories by Ursula Pflug,  seers, vagabonds, addicts and gardeners succeed– sometimes fail– at creating new kinds of community in a world on the edge of total environmental destruction.

Where do you plant a seed someone gave you in a dream? How do you build a world more free of trauma when it’s all you’ve ever known? Sometimes the seed you wake up holding in your hand is the seed of a new world. In 27 separate apocalypses tied together by the theme of seeds, Pflug’s characters explore the courage and resilience necessary  to survive–and thrive–in the face of unthinkable odds with what Publishers Weekly calls a “striking juxtaposition of hyperrealism with delicate fantasy.”

Read this free excerpt from the book here.

Action you can take: Download this trauma resource list from CAMH (Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).

That’s it for our list! If you enjoyed these reads, please let us know in the comment section below.


Publishers Note:  This is a sponsored article. Inanna Publications is also offering 30% off until January 3! Visit Inanna.ca and at check out, type in the coupon code holiday22 to receive your 30% discount!

Inanna Publications and Education Inc. is celebrating 45 years in 2023 and is one of only a very few independent feminist presses remaining in Canada. Inanna is committed to publishing fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction by and about women. Its aim is to conserve a publishing space dedicated to feminist voices that provoke discussion, advance feminist thought, and speak to diverse lives of women.  Inanna is a registered charity.  You can donate here. 

To purchase any of these books elsewhere, we recommend that you support your local bookstore, or buy from any one of these feminist bookstores that will ship anywhere:

Another Story Bookstore (Toronto)

Glad Day Bookshop

L’Euguélionne (Montreal)

Spartacus Books (Vancouver)

Go to LiisBeth’s google map of Canadian indie bookstores.

SPD Books (U.S.)

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Breaking patriarchal bonds, defying age-old norms, fighting social injustice… this activist, feminist and humanist takes centre stage yet again to raise awareness about violence against women.

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Allied Arts & Media Our Voices

Serving up “MILF and Cookies”

Image of comedian Ann Marie Sheffler in the foreground and theatre billboards in the background highlighting her shows.
Canadian actor and producer of nine one-woman shows, Ann Marie Scheffler. Photo by Time Leyes

Look, between the ongoing global pandemic, crushing defeat of Wade v. Roe and an escalating international conflict low-key threatening to go nuclear, we at LiisBeth know it’s been a tough year (or three) but rest and pleasure are an important part of resistance work. To lighten things up a little (and help you get your laugh on) we interviewed Anne Marie Scheffler, a long-time career actor, writer and producer, about her new, up-coming holiday show MILF and Cookies.


Q&A

LiisBeth: Let’s start with the facts. Who is Anne Marie Scheffler?

Scheffler: I was born in Toronto, Rexdale in fact. I’m a first generation Canadian. My parents are German and Polish. My father was a bank manager and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I started getting paid as an actor at the age of 15. I went to the University of Toronto, got a degree in English, and was at the same time booking professional acting gigs while writing my university exams. From there I went to George Brown Theatre School for formal training. And TV. Oh boy, I wanted to marry TV. With TV you could talk to the world, and I really wanted to talk to the world. Not surprisingly, I’ve been in over fifty TV commercials and love being on TV.

LiisBeth: You’re an actor first and foremost. What led you to write and produce your own shows?

Scheffler: When I got my first agent in my 20s, she got me film and TV auditions. And I was thrilled! Until I saw the roles: rape victim. Go into the audition room and scream. Look, I did go into the audition room and scream. But I kinda didn’t want to get the booking. And another audition was “girl number 1” and I went in with “guy number 1” and we had to neck. That was the actual audition. No lines. So, I’m thinking, “maybe I need to write the roles I want to play.” And so I wrote funny monologues for myself. Honestly, I wrote my first play in grade 3 that our class put on in front of the whole school. I had always been writing for myself. Doing improv. Imagining the possibilities.

When you’re hungry and ambitious in your twenties, you want to act as much as possible. My fellow actor friends and I would do open mic nights, fundraisers, anything to see if our stuff worked. I had about five monologues in my back pocket that I wrote for myself and auditioned with. Artistic directors would be like: “That was great! Where did that come from?” And I’d say “I wrote it.” And that sometimes got me writing job offers which I never took because I was an actor!

In 1994, I had a spot in the Summerworks theatre festival in Toronto. Basically you pay for a spot to put on a show in a respected theatre festival. I had been doing clowning at the time, but my clown partner had left me, and all of a sudden, I didn’t have a show! The producer Benj Gallagher said to do a one woman show. I was like, “Hell, no!” but I was working at His Majesty’s Feast as a singing wench, and my fellow wench, Sarah Sked, said she’d be my director. I sewed my five funny monologues together and created my first solo show Situation: NORMA. 

NOW magazine’s late, legendary and much-beloved theatre critic, Jon Kaplan, was at my show on opening night. He loved it so much that he sent a photographer to my house the next day. My picture appeared in the theatre section, with Kaplan’s glowing review in which he called me “a gem.” My career took off. I got a better agent, I worked even more in TV and film, and I wrote two more Norma shows: Watch…Norma’s Back and Leaving Norma.

I toured my Norma shows at fringe festivals in Canada and the US, selling out and getting rave reviews and honing my comedy chops on stage, really poking fun at what it was like to be (supposedly) following society’s norms. I make fun of myself in my comedy, spoofing the conditions I find myself in, to actually shine a light on the ridiculousness of the roles we play in order to be good.

In 2001, I went to a taping of Everybody Loves Raymond at The Warner Brothers studio in Burbank, and the penny dropped. At this point, I was doing TV roles, TV commercials, doing my own live shows, and here was a multicam sitcom. A marriage of theatre and TV. I fell in love with multicam. Soon after, my live comedy show Not Getting It long-time into a one-hour Comedy Now! special for CTV/ The Comedy Network by SFA Productions. A seven camera shoot. Of course, I’m still priming the pump for the seven season multicam series–or single camera, I’m flexible–but the path was unfolding.

Ironically, my old agent said to me: “I can see you being like the wife on Everybody Loves Raymond!” And I said “I’m Raymond!”

LiisBeth: What is your relationship to feminism? When did feminism come into your life? 

Scheffler: In terms of feminist influences, I can start with my mother. She taught me unconditional love. She is a walking love machine. My mom is, literally, love

My father told me that to have my own money is to have my own freedom. That shaped me a lot. I didn’t think in terms of being a dependent, or a wife, I wanted to make my own money, make my own success, in the way that I wanted to.

That worldview was ingrained in me. It’s why I said no to demeaning roles. I wasn’t up for a career of playing victims. I lobbied with my actor’s union to influence producers to have more women roles that reflected whole, real women.

I knew how to write, and I took charge of my career and wrote and produced “myself.” As Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) told me in an article I wrote for the Alliance of Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) on women in the business: “Don’t wait for the phone to ring–call yourself.” Now that I am older and coming from a place that is so much more whole, I have moved way beyond the “pick me, pick me, pick me!” approach to my career to one where, basically, I pick myself. 

LiisBeth: So as a woman actor making her way in a Harvey Weinstein world, how do you reconcile a highly sexualized approach to comedy and use of the term “MILF” in a world where sexualization of women in entertainment is seen by many as problematic? 

Great question. So, as a comedian, it’s my job to mirror our shared experience as a society back at that society. I push the boundaries. I say what we are all thinking but I’m not afraid to say. To quote my comedy special: “I’ve achieved my goal! I’m fuckable! But now I’m offended by it!” Honestly, the comedy special is partly based on my experiences as an actor in really inappropriate situations with a producer. Which could have been victimizing, but instead I turned it into comedy gold.

Turning on your sexy and beautiful self shouldn’t be bad and unsafe. And if it feels bad or unsafe, I’m happy to shine the light of love and humour on it and expose it.

Collection of comedy clips from Anne Marie Scheffler shows (4 minutes)

As for MILF, I renamed and reclaimed a term that really offended (some people) but now has become less charged. Maybe soon you’ll be able to google ‘MILF’ and instead of porn, mostly comedy will come up. MILF and Cookies is sexy and hilarious.

LiisBeth: What’s next for Anne Marie? 

Scheffler: Like other actors/producers such as Reese Witherspoon and Pamela Aldon, I’ve been a great artist, now I want to shift to be an equally great business person.

I’d like to turn my one woman show MILF Life Crisis into a limited series like Phoebe Waller-Bridge did with her show Fleabag, and create blockbuster comedy movies. I’ve written myself two comedic vehicles–The Bachelor Whisperer and Princess Candy Cane–and am looking for the right producing partners. 

LiisBeth: Congratulations on an incredible journey as a woman in a tough industry! What advice do you have for others? 

 I remember being in my early 40s, and being a new mom with two little boys. I was juggling childcare to go to auditions, and lying in bed at night, thinking it’s very possible my life and my career are both over. And then I turned on the TV to a new show: 30 Rock. What? A new face? Tina Fey? A woman in her 40s? A mother? Who created a TV series she wrote and stars in herself? Again, the penny dropped. There was still hope. There is always hope. The only one who can limit you is you. Find your own voice and work it. There are a million different flowers in the garden. There is room for everyone. Decide what stories you want to tell, and then tell them really well.

LiisBeth: Speaking of stories, tell us about your upcoming holiday show, MILF and Cookies. 

MILF and Cookies is Anne Marie 2.0. It’s our sexy, single lead from MILF Life Crisis, with a woman who now has decided to be comfortable as a single MILF. She owns her MILFdom but then finds herself spending Christmas eating pot cookies with her BFFs and examining all the men she’s loved, all the men she didn’t love, and the men she is about to love. People walk away feeling lighter. And stronger.

LiisBeth: Sounds a lot like you Anne Marie! Thank you for sharing your talent with the world. 


MILF and Cookies plays December 15- 23rd at Toronto’s Comedy Bar Danforth’s main stage. Tickets available at comedybar.ca/shows/milf-and-cookies

Not in Toronto? You can catch Scheffler’s one-hour comedy special, Not Getting It, Monday December 19th on MTV2.

Publishers Note: Anne Marie Scheffler is a member of Fifth Wave Connect, a community of feminist women entrepreneurs who participate in the Fifth Wave  Initiative, a year-round program offered by CFC Media Lab and its partners to support the growth and development of women self-identified feminist entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce sector in southern Ontario. Fifth Wave sponsors a series of profiles highlighting their work.  Fifth Wave Initiative is committed to a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level. Fifth Wave 

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Allied Arts & Media Systems

Opening the Door for Men?

On September 29th, the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario is hosting its second  one day, virtual and in-person “Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion” conference at Fanshawe College in celebration of Gender Equality Week 2022.

But who founded this new organization? Why now? And what’s the difference between feminist organizations and gender equality organizations?

To find out, we spoke with Dr. Amanda Zavitz, the Coalition’s Leadership chair, small business owner, former small-town truck stop waitress, scholar, Marxist, labour activist, mother of two, conference lead and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Fanshawe College for over 20 years.

LiisBeth:  Tell us about the coalition—how did it get started?

Zavitz: So the gender equality coalition is an Ontario registered nonprofit organization based in London, Ontario. Linda Davis and Danny Bartlett co-founded the organization in 2019 because while there are several women’s advancement groups in the area, there was no organization that fought for gender equality for all genders, including men. The coalition is funded in part by the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE). Any individual or organization can become a member. At present, coalition members include Champions of Change (London), Urban League (London) and Unicef (Western University). 

I joined as Chair of the nine person (five women, four men) board in 2020. Coalition members believe that gender inequality, patriarchy, colonialism and white supremacy also negatively impacts men. In feminist spaces, we focus on women and talk a lot about the social construction of femininity being damaging, but we also think that the social construction of masculinity is equally damaging for men and boys. We believe this gap needs to be addressed.

LiisBeth:  What does the gender equality coalition do that feminist organizations don’t already do?

Zavitz: I think that one of the things our coalition achieves is that it helps us move beyond the ill-informed, but still broadly held stereotype that feminism is anti-men. It invites a broader, intersectional conversation about gender and creates a space where we can talk about how its social construction impacts all genders. So by simply saying that we think that men are affected by gender inequality as well, we create a space where men, including queer and trans men feel as though they can be part of the feminist conversation and be heard. Since we’ve started, I’ve noticed it really does allow all people, men, women, gender, diverse to let their guard down and feel as though they can be part of a conversation about challenging gender constructs together.

LiisBeth:  The idea of gender equality organizations, for many feminists, is problematic. Some feminists see it as watered-down, corporatized version of feminism (all genders matter) which detracts from the real and more dire, urgent work of ending the systemic oppression of women. Thoughts?

Zavitz: I don’t necessarily disagree, but we ultimately need to have gender equality for all in order to realize the ultimate feminist dream, or at least to move the feminist movement forward sustainably. I don’t see the two things as separate. So, I get what feminism is. I understand the importance of women-only, women-led spaces. Women will always be the torch bearers of the fight. I am an active participant in the feminist movement, but we need an evolved feminist movement that has gender equality for all at its roots.

If we look at where we are today, rollbacks included, we actually need to have a feminist movement that’s more inclusive of men. Not because men need help getting equality, but because men are also impacted by gender constructs in ways that allow them to justify their role in the perpetuating harms and prevents them from participating as informed allies in the feminist movement. The gender equality space can serve as an alternative gateway for men who are keen to learn more about feminism—and want to amplify its work.

LiisBeth:  Men have always been part of, or served as allies in the feminist struggle. There were men supporting the suffragettes, men marching alongside women in the 1960’s and again in the women’s march of 2016. Allyship between male-led social justice organizations has always been there. And look where we still are.

Zavitz: That’s true. If we look today, we find some men still marching alongside a lot of women. At a recent protest against sexual assault at Western university where I work, men were included in the organizing. There were some men that were marching alongside a lot of women.

We are not saying men have not been allies or supportive of feminist work. But not enough of them have signed on to tip the scales. What’s different about our organization is we’re willing to understand the extent to which men, your average Dick and John, have also been impacted by systems of oppression and make this part of the feminist conversation. We know that today’s definition of masculinity remains toxic for men and boys. By creating a space where all genders can talk about this together, we believe we can mobilize higher levels of allyship.

There’s been so much debate about what feminism is and what feminism isn’t. For me, feminism is about ending inequality and all kinds of systemic oppressions. And if we really understand that, then we know we have to include men in not only the discussion, but also in the movement.  I argue in class that the next wave of feminism should be a much more gender-diverse, collective movement; An inclusive, intersectional gender movement of both individuals and allied organizations that work together intentionally to dismantle power structures that are actually killing us all.

Intentional, Intersectional, Inclusion conference speaker line up, September 29th, 2022. Click to register.

LiisBeth:  Wow. OK. We hear you! Now tell us what you are most excited about regarding the upcoming conference.

Zavitz:  Oh, so many things! But I will mention two.

First, our speaker lineup is incredible. Secondly, our activists-at-large program design feature.

On the speaker front, we have Jeff Perera, a well-known North American activist who talks about the construction of gender, helpful versus harmful ideas of manhood, race and masculinity, the importance of empathy-building and who calls on men to help end gender-based violence. We also welcome the incredible Dr. Raven Sinclair who will provide an indigenous perspective on gender equality, and Teneile Warren, playwright, community organization, plus intersectional equity educator, transformative justice practitioner specializing in anti-Black racism education who will talk about how gender was built on the foundation of racism.

The activist-at-large idea is a new exciting experiment! Here we invited well-known, and lesser-known feminist, anti-oppression activists and authors to participate in the conference, not as speakers but as people charged with the task of mingling with the attendees and participating in, versus leading, round table discussions. We want them to share their wisdom but also encourage connections that continue to develop well beyond the event. We believe that this is better done on the floor rather than mediated by the stage. Among those attending as activists in residence are Joseph Pazanno, equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) professional, strategist, and attorney, Judy Rebick (socialist feminist, reproductive rights), Nora Loreto (feminist and union organizing) and Lori Fox (queer, working-class rights and anti-capitalism).

Oh! And we also have a terrific panel discussion focused on the future of feminism.

It’s going to be a great day!

LiisBeth:  It sure sounds like it! And we will be there. Thank you for speaking with us Dr. Zavitz!


Publisher’s Note:  This is a sponsored feature. Thank you to the Gender Equality Coalition of Ontario for its support of LiisBeth.com. You can still register for the event. Price is $25.00 for students or $75.00 for general admission. 

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BCE has five women on its board; will that help Lisa LaFlamme?

Photo of woman helping another women climb a cliff. Background is a sunset.
U_Photo on Shutterstock.

In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the 50-30 Challenge, a new initiative in partnership with Canadian businesses and diversity organizations to accelerate diversity actions and improve equity for women and BIPOC identified folx. It calls for all (for profit, nonprofit, cooperatives etc.) organizations to aim for 50 per cent women and 30 per cent BIPOC and or 2SLGBTQIA representation on their boards and in senior management. 

The assumption is that if you change who is at the table, equity will seep into the organization like a teabag in hot water. Some hope it might also change the table itself. With diversity, so it goes, oppression will be dismantled—at least in the workplace; the result is a less extractive, life-sucking economy. 

But does increased representation of oppressed groups, in this case, women, on corporate boards result in less oppression in the workplaces they govern? 

The high-profile ageism + sexism-based taser-like firing of prominent journalist and TV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme will give us a chance to find out.

Why The Board Matters

Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) owns Bell Media which in turn owns and operates CTV, as well as brands like Noovo, TSN, RDS, Crave, and iHeartRadio. The whole kit and kaboodle of media brands and distribution enterprises are governed by the BCE board which as of today is made up of 13 directors, five of which are women all of which are over 55 and none have visible grey hair.  BCE is Canada’s 15th largest publicly traded corporations. 

A board’s job is to mostly protect shareholder interests, primarily stock price, return on investment and risk management. They are also charged with keeping an eye out for bankable talent and company reputation. The board are also expected to keep an eye on management. If management makes decisions that hurt the company, the board will, should, step in to protect the enterprise-namely its owners. Which by the way, includes many mutual fund holding Canadians. BCE is (25 per cent+) owned by our major banks, a variety of investment firms, pension funds plus others.   

Last week, a 12-year rising CTV star employee but still newbie Vice President, Michael Melling (age mid-forties), spear-headed and executed a decision that hurt the company: He abruptly fired Lisa LaFlamme, a 58-year-old CTV news journalist veteran who commanded an audience of close to 1 million daily viewers. She had worked at CTV for 35 years. Melling and his team maintained terminating LaFlamme was for business reasons. Everyone, and I mean seemingly  EVERYONE inside CTV and in the industry say it was blatant ageism, sexism plus the presence of an unclean spirit known as grey hair. 

A week later, the story dominated Canadian news. There are over 12 petitions on Change.org calling for retribution (Fire Melling!) or the reinstatement of Lisa Laflamme. Collectively they have secured 167,366 signatures—and the list grows daily. The Deep Dive newsletter reported that one of the LaFlamme petitions “generated twice the number of signatures that a petition for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to end the domination of Rogers Communications Inc.

Meanwhile, Bell Media has quickly erased Lisa LaFlamme’s existence as an anchorwoman on their network and digital footprint. Reports say her phone was immediately disconnected. Bylines erased. Any trace of her—gone from their website. It’s not an uncommon strategy in situations of harassment and corporate wrongdoing.  Senior executives somehow believe that if we unplug a person’s existence online, they no longer exist and the issue will magically go away. 

In a show of solidarity, women’s professional networks and feminist groups across social media networks appealed to their followers (by our estimate, Canadian women’s business networks alone represent over two million women) to drop their personal Bell Media subscriptions as an act of protest and solidarity.

There are, by the way, almost seven million women over 45 in Canada. Women make the majority of purchasing decisions in their household. Any sales manager in any industry knows it’s not wise to annoy them. 

Advertisers are watching closely too. And they should be. We know where their products live. 

The whole thing adds up to a huge business crisis for BCE.

So,we have to ask, what is the BCE board going to do about it? 

More importantly, will the five women (38 per cent) on BCE’s board step up—and out. Will we ever hear from them? If not, why not. 

And what if anything, as board directors, can these women really do? 

A lot.

The women on BCE's board.

Bell-Let’s Talk

For starters, these five women could join forces, re-imagine conventional board protocols, and raise a little collective hell.  

They are all independent directors. It’s not often done but they can individually, or together, bring forward a statement as the women of the BCE board. A statement we would all be interested to hear. 

They can choose to challenge the standard “all for one, one for all” cabinet solidarity protocol—used to silence dissenting views. Sure, they could be dismissed as Directors as a result (and lose their $258K annual director paycheck—a lot to ask). But at least then 15 million women would know the truth about BCE’s culture—even at the board level. 

According to BCE’s Corporate Governance Practices document, they, as a group or individually, can ask to meet with senior management on any and all matters –alone—without male board members present– to create a safer space for employees to tell the real story. Especially women employees. 

They could file a motion to launch a specifically intersectional feminist inquiry into whether or not Melling and his accomplices violated BCE’s own code of conduct which says all directors, executives and employees must undertake to:

  • Perform our work duties and conduct our business relationships with integrity and in a dynamic, straightforward, honest and fair manner;
  • Foster a work environment based on mutual trust and respect and that encourages open communication. 

Violations, according to the Code, can result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. 

And finally, the women directors could work with public relations professionals, and convince them that it would be to BCE’s advantage to let them lead communications on this issue. Women don’t want to hear from another white, male board chair. They want to hear from professional women on big boards—especially those whose bios include working to advance women. 

By all accounts released so far, CTV’s Michael Melling stewarded and executed a decision that has hurt CTV’s reputation, likely caused significant mental health trauma (ironically, given BCE’s commitment to mental health causes) to LaFlamme and other women who work at Bell Media and elsewhere, and set in motion dynamics that can result in a tumbling revenues and impact key talent acquisition for the foreseeable future. 

So far, the women on BCE’s board, for anyone following the story, appear to the public as silent, invisible and ergo, impotent. Leaving us to ask why bother advocating for women on boards? 

So how about it #katherinelee#shielamurray#jennifertory #karensheriff and #moniqueleroux?

Keep Being There

Women who end up being appointed to big corp boards worked hard to get there and they are professionals. But they didn’t get there on just merit—many women, feminist activists paved the way. 

Now it’s their turn to use their power and privilege to send a decisive message that ageism, sexism and the ridiculous teenage supermodel beauty standards many men–and yep, some women–impose upon female professionals in the industry ends here.

So will women on the BCE board leverage this opportunity and their post and voice to make a difference –not just at BCE but across the industry? Or will they quietly continue to collect that $258,000 a year director pay cheque, pour coffee every so often to make the men around the table comfortable with their formidable presence (been there myself) and hope this blows over soon. 

Or, and this is the bigger question, will they remain silent because they are worried they might be next?

Millions of women in Canada are waiting to find out.

Publisher’s Note: This op-ed by pk mutch (also publisher of LiisBeth) was originally published by rabble.ca.  We invite readers to comment on what solution they would like the board to pursue.  Bring Laflamme back?  Implement anti-ageism policy? Please share!

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Our Voices

The Equal Futures Summit Delivers

An image showing four panelists at the Gender Equality Summit 2022. All women.
(Advancing Gender Equality in Canadian Politics Panel, from left to right: Moderator Kylie Adair, Future of Good, Raine Lillifeldt, Interim CEO, YWCA, Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), Fae Johnstone, Wisdom2Action, and Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.) Photo: pk mutch

Big tent gender equality events are high wire acts.

They involve juggling multiple feminisms plus deft handling of picky funders and powerful politicos in the room. It also requires mastering the aerial feat of balancing the needs and expectations of two distinct changemaking cultures—non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and grassroots feminist organizations.

The recent and first Equal Futures 2022 Gender Equality Summit, aced the first two. The latter? Not so much.

NGOs are insiders, researchers, and focus on mobilizing government. They prefer polite, parliamentary style interaction and connecting over LinkedIn. Grassroots feminist organizations are outsiders, revolutionaries, and work to mobilize people. They crave voice, action and prefer to connect in more informal ways—like a hot tub after hours.

Of the 10 leaders of organizations and student attendees interviewed, all agreed that the format and ambience was pretty institutional, meaning top down and polite, with little room for attendee-led discussion or debate. No action plans or collective next steps were co-created. Panel moderators did not make space for questions, comments or counterpoints from the lecture hall’s continuously seated audience, in which case, we could have saved travel costs, and simply watched the moderators and panelists talk among themselves on ZOOM.

However, there were bright spots.

Image of indigenous woman on stage speaking with a mic wearing black and white jumpsuit
Keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, Shaneese Steele. Photo: Equal Futures Network

On the second day, Shaneese Steele, a 28-year-old Mukaade Anishinaabe Kwe (Afro-Indigenous person) took to the stage to lead over 100 BIPOC, Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, Queer and White participants in a two-hour talk about how to be an Indigenous ally. Addressing the diverse crowd of predominately Gen+Z and Millennial folks, Steele began by presenting Canada’s indigenous history. 

Not long after her presentation began, a woman in the back (let us call her Justine) broke the Ted Ex flow and asked for the mic. “With respect” she said assertively, “I have to tell you your definition of Metis people is incorrect.”  Steele received the outburst as a gift. However, there were more gifts to come from Justine: A self-identified Alberta-based, Blackfoot, indigenous activist, traumatized mother of four, forty plus woman at the back of the room who made it clear that she didn’t just study the history with the intensity of a scholar; She had lived it–and still lives it today. Justine didn’t–wouldn’t– let anything slide.  Justine was not going to go unheard. Her interjections were just the kind of thunderclaps needed to change the energy in the room.

Just like that, the two-hour session transformed from being a institutional workshop—to a truly messy, emotional, interrogative feminist space. Many hands went up. Folks of all genders told their stories. Sometimes tears were shed. Steele embraced the flow and transformed from speaker to facilitator.

Indigenous history and the nature of feminist and ally work was not just learned that morning. It was felt.

You can’t get that stuff on ZOOM. It made attending in person worthwhile.

The rest of the summit was more conventional in format and experience.

It featured a stellar lineup of NGO CEOs and other organizational leaders, not one but two Liberal Ministers (The Honorable Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE), The Honorable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of International Development) and a former WAGE Minister, Maryam Monsef. Monsef lost her home riding seat (Peterborough) in the last election. Her message was about rest and the impact of burnout on progress and the sector.

Hella yes to that.

Other bright spots included the incredible knowledge and insights shared by top tier panelists and keynote speakers. Key insights and calls to action include:

Erosion of democracy leads to the erosion of women’s rights

Panelist Meghan Doherty, Director of Global Policy & Advocacy for Action Canada for Sexual and Reproductive Rights says “We cannot rest easy.”

The panel on Health and Gender Equality cautioned participants not to underestimate the impact of this emerging double whammy: The weakening state of democracy coupled with the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion regarding Roe v. Wade will ultimately erode women’s reproductive rights globally. That includes Canada. Citing Poland’s recent decision to create a pregnant woman registry as an example, panelists agreed the number of nation states providing access to safe, affordable, shame free abortions could be expected to decline. The panel reminded everyone that while abortion is a legal procedure in Canada, access can still be deeply undermined if political will was so inclined.

The recent occupation of Ottawa by the so-called, trucker led, Freedom Convoy and rise of the alt right in Canada shows that democracy is also subject to attack in Canada. History, past and present, shows that when democracy weakens, so do women’s rights and freedoms.

We need anti-hate legislation now

“I have been an LGBTQ+ activist for eight years now and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared,” says Fae Johnstone, a trans woman, small business owner, feminist, writer, and Executive Director of Wisdom2Action, an 2SLGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

Johnstone adds “I don’t think we have fully opened our eyes to the degree of backlash that is coming in the very near future. We know there are far right groups who, today, specifically target school boards, lobbying for policies that are harmful to queer and trans youth.” 

Canada is home to 100,815 people who are transgender or non-binary, including 31,555 who are transgender women. As awareness of trans folks increases, so does trans hate. Panelists agreed that Canada urgently needs to monitor all forms of hate and move forward on creating strong anti-hate legislation.

Let’s shift the relationship between grassroots organizations and institutions

“Grassroots movements have forced us to think differently about policy and I think we need to give these groups more credit,” says Anjum Sultana, Plan International Canada.

Our decades old legacy civil society institutions were a part of our white supremacist, colonialist past, and today, are often still part of the problem. Working more closely with grassroots groups, investing in local organizations, and directly funding these organizations will help us identify, amplify and implement ideas that often don’t get enough credit. “

It’s all connected

“So, Ghana introduced an anti-LGBTQ+ “family values” Bill in August 2021. When you read it, you see right away that it wasn’t homegrown,”says Debbie Owusu-Akyeeh, a Ghanian-Canadian and Executive Director for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD)

The Bill was, for all intents and purposes, a copy of a similar bill introduced in the U.S. “If this law can successfully pass in Ghana, considered a to be like a social justice golden child in Africa, this type of bill can be fair game for every single country on the continent.

Feminist groups in Canada need to pay more attention to happenings on the international stage because it informs what we may experience here.

An image of diverse women facing forward to hear a speaker talk at a conference
Attendees at the Equal Futuress Summit Evening Keynote Talks. Photo: Equal Futures Network

What happens next?

The Equal Futures Summit, funded and coordinated by Equal Futures Network (a project of CanWaCH)  may not have met everyone’s expectations, but Julia Anderson, CanWaCH CEO, was pleased with how it all went down.

“I was so energized to see how people didn’t just show up, they were truly ‘present’. To me, this is critical as the road ahead is going to require us to continue to work hard together through the ever-growing challenges,” says Anderson.

There will be more big tent events to come.

The Summit reminded us why rebuilding our capacity for effective feminist organizing and creating spaces for learning and dialogue in Canada is both medicine for what harms us today, and a bridge to the future.

The Gender Equality Summit was a strong, post pandemic lock down event where in addition to seeing each other’s feet for the first time in two years, we saw each other’s feet, and together, watch them take a first collective step.

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Activism & Action Our Voices

IS FEMINISM DEAD-AGAIN?

Dragon fly coming out of its nymph shell against black background that says "feminist"
Photo collage by pk mutch

Feminists everywhere are buzzing about Michelle Goldberg’s recent op ed column published by the New York Times, ‘The Future isn’t Female Anymore’.

I circled it three times. Then took the bait. 

Goldberg suggests feminism is fizzling out—along with puffy sleeves and tie-dye sweatpants. And provides reasons for believing this to be true.

I too can see what she sees.

But only if I use a pair of American opera glasses and focus on an American feminist stage (Note: I sincerely grieve for our American sisters). The thing is feminism exists in hundreds of countries around the world. And sure, as a Canadian feminist publisher who monitors trends, I see why American Gen Z, Millennials – ‘Me-lenials’ (a distinct subgroup), are losing faith and yep, even the over-55 comrades in arms are tired. But what they are tired of, in my opinion, is marketplace feminism, #girlboss feminism, and the big one – white feminism.

The thing is, feminism is not just a soprano performance – it’s a whole global opera. And just because the star spangled soprano leaves the stage—or messes up an act, doesn’t mean the whole show is over.

Yes. Bitch closed. The news knocked me back too. But feminist media is a fierce hydra. Capitalism’s axe can and does routinely chop of a Bitch of a limb here and there. But only fair-weather feminists would conclude that that this means feminist media, or feminism on the whole is losing the battle. There remain thousands of feminist zinesters, newsletters, micro publishers, podcasters, and bloggers ready to serve and continue the work of their newest ancestor.

So no, from what I see, feminism is not retrenching. It is, thank Goddess, once again, evolving. Like a dragon fly, coming out of its nymph stage after seven years under pink water. 

Feminism is not a chartable Fortune-500 trend. It is a diverse, living, indeterminate, mycelial-like being. It lives, breathes and thrives mostly underground creating the conditions for deep change. Branches of it need to die so that others can grow.

With the worrisome erosion of democracy everywhere (bad for women and all marginalized folks) and the alt right movement’s growth, it’s about time individualistic girl boss power and corporate-led representational feminism– itchy protuberances that have dominated media, preoccupied elites and North American policy makers over the last 10+ years– gives way to something more relevant for the coming times.

What I see happening now, in my feminist world, is a long overdue revival of radical, socialist, solidarity and grassroots organization-led, feminism; The kind that has marathon legs, knows when to rest, and how to pass a baton because no one or organization or celebrity, no matter how big, can run this race alone.

This feminism prioritizes big picture revolutionary change versus seats at the table. 

For lack of a better, term, let’s call it solidarity feminism. 

Solidarity feminism is prepared to protect its past wins and ready to work collaboratively for new ones like defunding the police, abolition, gun control and ending racism. This feminism is quietly mobilizing millions of progressive micro entrepreneurs, resourcing the experimentation and discourse needed to nourish the emergence of a post-work, post growth, accessible, post capitalist and planet-first economy. Such an economy will enable all to thrive in accordance with their personal or community’s cultural definition of thriving; A peaceful pluriverse.

Solidarity feminism is hella intersectional, inter-movement, and international, because as the pandemic made clear, the fight for gender justice and liberation is all interconnected.

The new, emerging take on solidarity feminism understands that this work moves in sync with natural cycles. A pause from organizing global marches is simply wintering—reflecting, recharging–not the end of a movement.

For me, the future is not – was never – female. It is, and always was, feminist.

There is a difference. You see, feminism does not equate to female. Feminists come in all genders–and to fight what’s coming, and to birth real liberation, we will need all feminists, all grassroots and large feminist non-profits, for profits and NGO’s in every nation, on well funded front lines.

If  Susan Faludi looked beyond U.S. borders, I think she might agree. Feminism isn’t retrenching. It’s morphing. Wisely shedding what is no longer useful; A more relevant kind of feminism for a world facing the triple threat of Covid, climate and conflict is about to take off and fly. 

A part of feminism may indeed be dying. My kind of feminism is just getting started. 


This Op. Ed. was written and published by pk mutch, founder and publisher of LiisBeth.com.

Tired of just reading about feminism? Looking to practice feminism? Or a like minded, feminist community to be part of?  Check out the Feminist Enterprise Commons here.

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