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Feminist Practices Our Voices

What We Heard Report: Closing the Gap – Intersectional Perspectives for Realizing Economic Justice in Canada

A woman, Cass Rudolph, with long brown hair wearing a blue stripped dress, standing in an indoor garden. White brick walls behind her.
Cass Rudolph, founder, Lucky Ones | Photo by Ashley Senja and Cass Rudolph

On November 3, 2022, the Equal Futures Network in partnership with the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CanWCC), hosted an interactive incubator discussion examining the key challenges facing women, gender-diverse, Indigenous and racialized communities when it comes to advancing economic justice. This was the first Equal Futures Network incubator session dedicated to examining the intersection of economic equity and gender equality in Canada. A total of 35 participants attended the session and engaged in the Q&A session. Participants heard insights from the CanWCC, Moms at Work, Canadian Women of Colour Leadership Network, the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) and the National Collective of Women in Business (NCWIB) who shared their perspectives and insights about the issues, challenges and obstacles that create barriers towards achieving economic justice from their lived and professional experiences. 

Following this in-depth discussion, participants were encouraged to share their thoughts and experiences. This open dialogue was also an opportunity for participants to develop ideas into partnerships. Advancing economic equity will require a substantive shift from the status quo by addressing systemic and structural challenges with women, two-spirit, gender-diverse, LGBTQ+ and IBPOC communities leading the way and in solidarity with each other.

Here is what we heard:

Why Economic Equity Matters

Around the world, women, in all of their diversity, perform the most underappreciated work, earn less than cis-gender men and do more unpaid and care work. As a result, they are bearing the brunt of the widening wealth gap. The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis which has hit the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized communities the hardest.

Economic equity matters because women, racialized (Indigenous, Black and people of colour (IBPOC)) and 2SLGBTQ+ communities are the most at risk to experiencing the effects of a global recession and these communities are already at a place of disadvantage due to existing systemic barriers to equitable participation in the global economy. At a systemic level, social, political and institutional norms have created structures that support unequal policies, legislation and economic tactics that at best are exclusionary, and at their worst, purposefully perpetuating harm and create barriers for equity deserving and marginalized groups. 

Barriers to Achieving Economic Equity

Youth voices are missing from economic decision-making spaces

Youth are almost entirely left out of the conversation around economic equity. As a result, youth do not see a role for them reflected in the in the work being undertaken to advance economic equity. This work can be inaccessible for youth as it is discussed in technical language that is disconnected from individual lived experiences which further isolates and disengages youth from the process. In order to engage youth, they need to be talked to in accessible and relatable language that is grounded in shared experiences. This will build youth capacity to express their needs and shift the power dynamics so that their voices are heard and involved in decision-making. To see substantive change, we need to create an empowered generation of youth who are aware and understand how economic inequities impact individuals and their communities. 

Individual Economic Empowerment

In the push for advancing economic equity, the role of the individual is too often left out of the conversation as the focus is placed on the systemic level. We need to shift focus to the economic education and empowerment of individuals. Current systems underestimate the decision-making power that is held in the hands of the average person – for context in 2021, small businesses made up 98.1% of all employer business in Canada – this is where change is going to come from. Widespread access to economic education and advocacy is the path towards equitable solutions that shift the narrative, change minds and equalize the balance of power. 

Gatekeeping and industry siloes in the economic ecosystem continue to not only hold back individuals, but also our collective advancements for economic equity. For example, in advocacy spaces economic discussions are inaccessible. Economic equity is talked about in overly technical language, this creates an exclusionary environment that gatekeeps people with different lived experiences and backgrounds from accessing these spaces.   

Indigenous, Black and Racialized Erasure 

Indigenous, Black and other marginalized communities experience significant erasure, silence and barriers within the economic ecosystem. For example, there is a hundred billion dollar Indigenous economy that is being underserved by mainstream financial institutions because they are considered too high risk for investment. These economic policies further reflect ongoing colonial legacies in Canada and demonstrate the multitude of systemic barriers that IBPOC communities face when it comes to advancing their own economic capabilities.

Supporting economic development within Indigenous communities across Canada is a core part of NACCA’s mandate. Over the course of the pandemic. NACCA was able to provide over 1000 business loans of over 100 million dollars in total value and created 3800 full time jobs. This investment in Indigenous communities not only contributes to Canada’s overall GDP but creates a deep and meaningful social impact that drives community wellbeing and closes the dignity gap that many Indigenous and underserved groups face across Canada. 

Steps for advancing economic equity in Canada (and around the world)

Collaboration and Partnerships

Equity work must be done across the board and apply an intersectional lens by focusing on empowering individuals, building partnerships and inclusive spaces. When applying an intersectional lens, we must ask ourselves how to incorporate reconciliation and decolonization into our work. Progress is prevented by division, which is very prevalent in the not-for-profit sector as the system is set up to be inherently adversarial, especially when it comes to acquiring limited funding and resources. For example, a lack of sustainable and long term funding, strict eligibility criteria within the grant model (i.e. needing charitable status to have access to certain grants) and competition for minimal funding dollars pits organizations against one another and breeds a system of insecurity. 

Additionally, the constraints of grants around certain advocacy pieces means that you may not have the ability or freedom to speak/be an advocate for change as your financial security is bound within the constraints laid out in your funding agreement. All of this hinders progress and creates a system of competition that at the end of the day takes away from the work of the movement. We need to work as a collective to figure out ways to operate outside of these systems, to decolonize the spaces where we operate and create partnerships that are supportive and allow for collaboration as we will only see progress through collaboration and coordination. Coming together as an economic equity movement to build understanding and consensus on the issues that are impacting our communities will facilitate change at the individual, organizational and systemic levels and empower grassroots communities and movements. 

Pay equity

Pay equity is a powerful symbol of economic equity and a tangible step forward to rally around. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to close the wage gap.  Women’s labour continues to be undervalued. Additionally, globally, legislation and policies are still being created that are directly biased towards men and create situations where women, on average, are always going to be poorer than men. The wage gap is even larger when you consider intersecting identities like race, ability and sexuality and they are at a heightened risk of experiencing the negative effects of a global recession. Achieving pay equity would be a major step forward towards overall economic equity. 

Post-pandemic recovery and progress 

COVID-19 further exacerbated the economic challenges faced by women, racialized and gender-diverse people in Canada. Over the last two years, there has been a lot of discussion about what is needed in Canada’s post-pandemic recovery. Inequities were brought to the forefront of these discussions and showed us just how much work still needs to be done in order to achieve gender equality in Canada and around the world. Now is the time to think outside of the box and find innovative solutions while amplifying the voices of equity-deserving groups. There is a willingness from decision-makers for community engagement and community driven solutions to economic inequities Through partnerships and collaboration, we can create collective understanding and consensus by bringing people with different perspectives and lived experiences together to address key issues and advance them at all levels.

Lucky Ones Project: Open Studio x StreetARToronto

How do you do things differently?

With Lucky Ones, we prioritize people over schedules, over getting the best shot, over everything. For me, it’s about making sure that everyone working on a project with us is treated with equity and respect. I want to make sure that everyone can sit comfortably in their own values.

My company is small – it’s mostly just me until we’re ready to go to camera and ready to get on set. Staying small allows me the flexibility to make sure that people who are joining the team know what they’re in for. Letting people fully consent to what they are signing up for is so important to me.

I try to be as transparent as possible by sharing the scenes we’re going to shoot, the interview questions, the schedule for the project, the breakdown of where the money is going. We can all take care of each other if we know where things are going if we know schedules well in advance.

This transparency is integral to our culture at Lucky Ones. I want people to be able to come to me with any questions or comments. I want them to know I’m not running the show, I’m just guiding. What we’re doing is a team sport and I’m just shaping the pathway. From there, I encourage everyone’s input.

What are the challenges you’ve experienced in this industry?

 It’s still very male-centric. There is a huge barrier to entry to secure bigger commercial clients. If you want to work on a big commercial or TV show, you’re going to run up against clients who want a guarantee of who’s going to be on set. Pitching the fact that we are a people-first production company can hurt us in a lot of ways because these clients want a super tight turnaround, they’re reluctant to take a chance on a crew they haven’t worked with before, especially when the people you work with aren’t the people you typically see on set.

That’s the issue right now. We’ll put the representation on screen but when you go behind the scenes, it’s still very much status quo.

I read your equity and inclusion statement, and appreciated the recognition of representation both in front and behind the camera. Can you speak a little bit more to the importance of that?

I personally identify as being on the margins and so I know what it’s like to exist in environments where you’re not considered. For example, if you’re shooting a documentary and filming outside, most production companies would say that you need to hire people who are physically fit, or a Director of Photography who can lift 50 lbs. For me, you want to make concessions for people who are really good at their job. You want to give people opportunities to be good at their job.

If a good camera person can’t carry heavy equipment because they have a disability or are immune-compromised – especially now that we have COVID, many people have lower lung capacity – let’s just hire someone who can carry that stuff.

It’s important to me to hire neurodivergent people, to hire people who have disabilities – people who have great skills but are otherwise overlooked. Lucky Ones never wants to put the schedule ahead of people. We want to hire people who might not otherwise have this opportunity to flourish.

You identify as ‘being on the margins,’ can you share your social location and how that has informed your commitment to equity and inclusion?

I’m neurodivergent. I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). I also exist in a fat body.

I started my career in the music industry, I also do photography. These are industries that are super adverse to fat people enjoying anything. This is where I’m coming from. I’m used to being the person who is not necessarily considered for a lot of opportunities, like being a camera person or taking part in projects where there is a lot of travel involved. I want people to know that regardless of what other barriers they may have faced in other companies, that won’t be an issue with Lucky Ones. We can make it work.

What does the future look like for Lucky Ones?

We want to move into additional language markets like French and Korean. I’ve always had an interest in language learning. I grew up in French immersion and in high school, I learned Spanish and still carry that. For the last five years, I’ve been learning Korean and for me, it just adds to the richness of the stories I can tell.

To be able to communicate directly, even if just a little bit, can put people at ease. It also allows me to hire people from different countries and integrate them into the production of the project without having them feel othered. I would love to be able to travel and tell as many stories in as many languages as possible.


At a time when we are inundated with headlines about ‘The Great Resignation,’ ‘Quiet Quitting’, burnout, and the push for unionization, it’s rare and refreshing to meet business leaders who are prioritizing the needs and well-being of their staff. Leading with care and transparency is a much needed and radical rebuilding of the systems that no longer serve us.

Cass Rudolph’s model at Lucky Ones is one I hope we see much more of in the years to come.

Publishers Note: Lucky Ones participated 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 entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce 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 a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level

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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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Feminist Practices Our Voices

Leading with Care and Transparency

A woman, Cass Rudolph, with long brown hair wearing a blue stripped dress, standing in an indoor garden. White brick walls behind her.
Cass Rudolph, founder, Lucky Ones | Photo by Ashley Senja and Cass Rudolph

Getting to the heart of a story is integral for every production company, but in a world that prioritizes growth and efficiency, what is often lost are the people creating that story. Lucky Ones aims to change all of that by being a media production company focused on prioritizing the wellbeing of their staff while also telling stories with heart and stories that give back. They always try to include an element of community building and aim to highlight women and marginalized people.

I sat with Cass Rudolph (she/her) founder of the company, who shared the ethos and vision behind Lucky Ones.

 

What’s at the heart of your story?

 Part of building Lucky Ones was to circumvent the traditional career path. It was a conscious decision to grow slow and avoid the politics and dangers of male-dominated spaces. The initial vision was to stay small, maybe grow to a team of five. But after working as a production coordinator for a much bigger show, it’s made me realize that I actually want to grow to scale because there is such a need for people-first productions.

The truth is that I was sexually harassed out of a job. I started in the music industry where I was working in-house creating for a record label. It was an incredibly toxic work environment. I was then given an opportunity to work at an advertising agency with one other person. I was treated even worse than at the record label, and there was no one to talk to about what happened. There was no HR department to report what had happened to me. That was the last straw.

I decided to do it alone and do it better. I carved my own path and now I’m working on bigger projects that are much more rooted in who I am and what I believe in.

Lucky Ones Project: Open Studio x StreetARToronto

How do you do things differently?

With Lucky Ones, we prioritize people over schedules, over getting the best shot, over everything. For me, it’s about making sure that everyone working on a project with us is treated with equity and respect. I want to make sure that everyone can sit comfortably in their own values.

My company is small – it’s mostly just me until we’re ready to go to camera and ready to get on set. Staying small allows me the flexibility to make sure that people who are joining the team know what they’re in for. Letting people fully consent to what they are signing up for is so important to me.

I try to be as transparent as possible by sharing the scenes we’re going to shoot, the interview questions, the schedule for the project, the breakdown of where the money is going. We can all take care of each other if we know where things are going if we know schedules well in advance.

This transparency is integral to our culture at Lucky Ones. I want people to be able to come to me with any questions or comments. I want them to know I’m not running the show, I’m just guiding. What we’re doing is a team sport and I’m just shaping the pathway. From there, I encourage everyone’s input.

What are the challenges you’ve experienced in this industry?

 It’s still very male-centric. There is a huge barrier to entry to secure bigger commercial clients. If you want to work on a big commercial or TV show, you’re going to run up against clients who want a guarantee of who’s going to be on set. Pitching the fact that we are a people-first production company can hurt us in a lot of ways because these clients want a super tight turnaround, they’re reluctant to take a chance on a crew they haven’t worked with before, especially when the people you work with aren’t the people you typically see on set.

That’s the issue right now. We’ll put the representation on screen but when you go behind the scenes, it’s still very much status quo.

I read your equity and inclusion statement, and appreciated the recognition of representation both in front and behind the camera. Can you speak a little bit more to the importance of that?

I personally identify as being on the margins and so I know what it’s like to exist in environments where you’re not considered. For example, if you’re shooting a documentary and filming outside, most production companies would say that you need to hire people who are physically fit, or a Director of Photography who can lift 50 lbs. For me, you want to make concessions for people who are really good at their job. You want to give people opportunities to be good at their job.

If a good camera person can’t carry heavy equipment because they have a disability or are immune-compromised – especially now that we have COVID, many people have lower lung capacity – let’s just hire someone who can carry that stuff.

It’s important to me to hire neurodivergent people, to hire people who have disabilities – people who have great skills but are otherwise overlooked. Lucky Ones never wants to put the schedule ahead of people. We want to hire people who might not otherwise have this opportunity to flourish.

You identify as ‘being on the margins,’ can you share your social location and how that has informed your commitment to equity and inclusion?

I’m neurodivergent. I have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). I also exist in a fat body.

I started my career in the music industry, I also do photography. These are industries that are super adverse to fat people enjoying anything. This is where I’m coming from. I’m used to being the person who is not necessarily considered for a lot of opportunities, like being a camera person or taking part in projects where there is a lot of travel involved. I want people to know that regardless of what other barriers they may have faced in other companies, that won’t be an issue with Lucky Ones. We can make it work.

What does the future look like for Lucky Ones?

We want to move into additional language markets like French and Korean. I’ve always had an interest in language learning. I grew up in French immersion and in high school, I learned Spanish and still carry that. For the last five years, I’ve been learning Korean and for me, it just adds to the richness of the stories I can tell.

To be able to communicate directly, even if just a little bit, can put people at ease. It also allows me to hire people from different countries and integrate them into the production of the project without having them feel othered. I would love to be able to travel and tell as many stories in as many languages as possible.


At a time when we are inundated with headlines about ‘The Great Resignation,’ ‘Quiet Quitting’, burnout, and the push for unionization, it’s rare and refreshing to meet business leaders who are prioritizing the needs and well-being of their staff. Leading with care and transparency is a much needed and radical rebuilding of the systems that no longer serve us.

Cass Rudolph’s model at Lucky Ones is one I hope we see much more of in the years to come.

Publishers Note: Lucky Ones participated 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 entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce 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 a minimum of 50% participation per cohort by members of underrepresented groups. The Fifth Wave is a LiisBeth ally sponsor at the Lighthouse level

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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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Our Voices

Big Business is Killing the Fourth Estate

An image of Faye Dunaway in the Movie Network
Faye Dunaway in NETWORK, 1976, Allstar Picture Library Limited. / Alamy Stock Photo

When audiences were made aware of the news of Bell Media’s sudden firing of CTV News anchor Lisa LaFlamme at the end of June, Canadians erupted with collective outrage. Whether, as speculated, her dismissal was the result of ageism and sexism or whether it was a clash of newsroom personalities, Bell’s tepid excuse that it was a “business decision”—a corporate-speak version of a patronizing pat on the head—found little traction. The giant communications conglomerate’s arrogant expectation that  “60 years of trust” would eventually override the public’s memory hangs in serious doubt. LaFlamme was one of Canada’s most beloved and—more importantly—most trusted anchors.  

The issue roiling beneath the anger at Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal isn’t going away: it isn’t specifically an issue of sexism or ageism, or an issue of race (LaFlamme is a white woman who has been willing to age publicly; Omar Sachedina, her replacement, is a man of colour), although each of these facets of the problem is quite enough on its own.

The crux of the matter is the conflict between what is good for news (and audiences) and what is good for business. 

Who Does Modern Media Really Work For?

What is good for business—traditional business, that is—is anything that will produce profit. The greater the profit, the greater the success. But throughout the pandemic we have become increasingly aware that this approach has its price. While some reap the benefits, more face lives of greater insecurity. But how can we track the success or failure of this system if the very ways by which we share information no longer report on it? It’s not until the cracks start to show, until the harm the system causes is too great to be ignored—too many people of colour shot by police, too many immigrant workers dying due to substandard living conditions and inadequate pay, too many people losing their homes due to a lack of affordable housing—that we question the information we have because it doesn’t match the world we live in anymore. Celebrities, sex scandals, and outrage garner clicks that increase profits. The slow swell of inequity and destabilization is more newsworthy, but unless it can be blamed on a scapegoat, it is not lucrative.

We have watched with growing anxiety the rise of Fox News, the proliferation of clickbait headlines, and the erosion of our core institutions (media, academy, government) as “business” decisions have disrupted their function and challenged our confidence in them.

The fourth estate, our press in Western democratic nations, was conceived as a place of checks and balances for power, which includes systems of power as much as actors within that system. Our business culture is driven by a pursuit of power that is linked to money. The commodification—the Foxification, even—of public information has resulted in a media system where checks and balances are compromised. News media cannot remain accountable to the public good through transparent and unflinchingly ethical information production AND be accountable to the interests of advertisers and corporate owners—at least not sustainably. Information can be entertaining, and its dissemination can even support business, but in order to function as intended, the news media must be free to ask any question, unconstrained by consequences to the interests of the parent company/owner/powers that be. 

Video clip from “Network” (1976) during which the Network CEO explains the true relationship between big business and media to TV anchorman, Howard Beale played by actor Peter Finch. 

People in the media have known about these issues for a very long time. The black comedy Network spoke to the problem in 1976. Following the mass purchases of media outlets in Britain, Australia and the US by Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch in the late 20th century, the news satire Drop the Dead Donkey was born in 1990. The concerns these programs aired (and they are extensive) were then more than validated by criminal violations by both magnates, most notably by Murdoch, with his wire tapping scandal, and then reports of rampant sexual harassment at his wildly financially successful media outlets. However, the warnings have continued to go unheeded. The result is that today we have a fragmented information production system distrusted by an increasingly polarized public sphere, creating an information miasma from which we have not yet begun to emerge.    

The answer to this fracture is a system of information production that people feel they can trust—one that produces stories that share facts and information, question norms, and help us face our problems so that we can solve them before they hurt us. Ethically produced information is not only accountable to ethical standards set for journalism, but it seeks to find ways of telling stories that reduce bias and increase accountability, not only to readers but to the people being written about and to the ways in which we make the information in the first place. Ethical outlets challenge implicit bias in their newsrooms, in the management of their teams, and in the structure of the stories they tell. Ethical information production asks us to break down the things that we take for granted before they do damage—overreporting of minority crime, the subtle shifts of language that betray double standards, the long-held unspoken assumptions that prove, on examination, to be completely wrong. But to accomplish this, ethical media has to be able to challenge the very system that validates “success” or “failure”, the dominant system of power. Which is precisely the object lesson we have witnessed with Bell Canada’s approach to firing Ms. Laflamme. Their inept response speaks to their conviction that they don’t have to tell the story we are demanding to hear. And THAT is what makes it so hard for Canadians to swallow—the knowledge that Bell is not replacing trusted storytelling with more trustworthy storytelling. It is already replacing it with more spin.

Through wars, intense polarization of the political sphere in Canada, and pieces on gross inequities in our communities here and abroad, Ms. LaFlamme gained the respect of diverse audiences. As one of Canada’s many “hyphenates” (Canadian-nameyourcountry), and, more importantly, a hyphenate of a country that at one point was vilified by Canadian media during one of the many conflicts we’ve watched in the last 40 years, I, like many Canadians, have grown very cynical and very selective of the news reporters I will listen to. It was while Ms. LaFlamme was interviewing someone on the conflict in Iraq that I realized that her questions allowed for more nuanced understandings of conflict and of the contextual realities of those simply identified as “evil” or “bad” or “other” on other networks. And when she spoke of the conflict in my father’s homeland, the way she spoke of the country and the people shared their lived experience of the conflict they had been involved in. She was still reporting the news, and with it the actions the people involved could not and should not hide from, but she was also able to relay the stories without seeming to paint the people “evil” with a single broad stroke. She was able to speak to bad things being done, sometimes, by good people.

This is the news that we all need—the news that allows us to look at what it means to be human and to do things that might not be right, or seen as right, by others. To open conversation is to allow for understanding. Judgment and vilification create conflict and close off opportunities for dialogue, contact, and peaceful solutions. This empathy was the real gift of Ms. Laflamme’s reportage. And because of this unique ability of hers to convey the complexity of human experience, audiences from diverse groups in Canada were willing to use what she had to say as a foundation for discussion. That is the best that we can hope for from news. And because of this, she was, at the end of her time at CTV, the anchor of the highest-rated news program in Canada.

Ratings aside, Canadians describe her and her work as being marked by journalistic integrity; she’s been called “fantastic” and a “journalism hero”. Yes, she’s won awards and has been graced with the Order of Canada, but what matters is the fact that Canadians chose to tune into CTV to hear Ms. LaFlamme speak about the world so that we could better understand our place in it. Bell’s oafish and disrespectful mishandling of Ms. LaFlamme is, in short, a mishandling of our trust and our support as viewers.

It is, of course, possible, even likely, that Mr. Sachedina will also produce stories of this quality and level of care. I won’t know because I, like many Canadians, no longer trust the way the stories are made at Bell Media: The commitment to ethics over business values, which is needed in order to tell stories that we as Canadians can build community on, has been shown to be grossly absent.

Which brings us back to the problem Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal underlines. What is the meaning of Lisa Laflamme in this tumult? Is she merely a former employee of Bell Media? Or is she a public figure, a trusted voice of Canadians understanding Canada, who stands apart from business interests? Her work should stand above the needs of the businesses that pay for Canadian communication infrastructure. The anxiety and anger at her dismissal has been born of the fear that the Canadian public is losing a baseline by which to understand ourselves in a collective context.

When do we acknowledge that the fourth estate is crumbling because of a values takeover? Or that this same takeover may be endemic to all of our institutions? The issue is not with business per se but with the fact that business values have infused themselves in all of our institutions, even those that are not best served by them. 

How To Take Back Media 

To get out of this mess, we need to create a conversation led by people – thinkers, researchers, writers, journalists – we can trust. We need media that is made by people who look different and have values and expectations of the world other than those of the dominant culture. We need media made with empathy and respect for the experiences and choices of others —that is committed to investigating itself as much as the world around it, created by people who have been trained to challenge their own ideas of themselves and the way they see their world. Can this kind of media make the same kind of profits as a National Enquirer or a Daily Mirror, or the clickbait stories that have come to replace them as “popular” news? Absolutely not. Ethically produced stories are more labour intensive to make, and they are not pitched to attract sales, but to create thought and consideration of the world we live in. They require more hands and more voices to be made, and they require that those hands and voices be paid respectfully for their work. But what they produce is an information landscape that we can rely on to create the kinds of conversations that create greater security and respect for one another—the kinds of stories Ms. LaFlamme was trying to tell.

How can we do this when the cost of launching a media source REQUIRES accountability to a system whose interests conflict with the demands of ethical information production?

There is a solution. It’s not perfect. It’s small. It lacks the audience breadth and access that Ms. LaFlamme achieved. But it’s here, a tiny heartbeat fighting to grow. Independent news agencies such as LiisBeth, The Narwhal, The Greenline, rabble.ca, and yes, full disclosure, my own publication Peeps, among many others all fight to get readers information that does NOT place business accountabilities first. Rather, they place sound, reliable, well-researched, and nonpartisan (in most cases) information production at the centre of their daily work. Among these publications, you’ll find that many of them (all those listed in this publication) were started by women, notably many of whom are women of colour. It should be no surprise that those who receive the least representation in media are looking to create space for our voices. But what women founders of new media outlets lack most is policy support, access to capital, plus marketing and exposure that generates large audiences which, in turn, bring fresh ideas and emerging female journalists into the centre of the Canadian conversation. What these pioneers also need is an audience that is willing to look for us rather than have us served to them by Apple News or commercial broadcasters: an audience willing to invest in the development of this work and the ways we make it.

The most distressing lesson we take from Ms. LaFlamme’s dismissal is that even when we do get the audience, depending on the whims of telecom giants, it might not be ours to keep no matter how many people want to hear what we have to say.

Publisher’s Note:  Please consider defunding profit first corporate news media outlets by shifting your subscriber dollars to indie outlets. You can find a partial but long list of outlets here.  

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Feminist Practices Our Voices

Secondhand Culture – How Canopy Kids Help Parents Beat Inflation

Image of mother with her baby
Nyla Obaid, Founder of Canopy Kids, mother of three, with her six month old, Idris. Photo: Zurry Donevan.

It’s the day of the nationwide Rogers outage. There’s a feeling of abject fear and desperation in the air. Most storefronts have these hastily drawn ‘CASH ONLY’ signs. Worse, emergency 911 services are unavailable to many. It’s lights out for the economy –  at least for a while.

Despite the chaos, Nyla Obaid (she/her), founder of Canopy Kids, an online, second-hand clothing shop, warmly greets me on ZOOM from her backyard on the traditional lands of the Mississauga’s of the First Credit, Mississauga, Huron-Wendat and Anishnabeg nations (under Toronto Purchase Treaty 13) and immediately lets me know she’s on her neighbour’s Wi-Fi as she’s without Internet. Nyla is calm, self-assured. She’s got an energy about her that’s instantly resonant. 

We get talking. She tells me more about launching her new second-hand clothing business for kids.

For many reasons, the timing for such a business could not be better.

Consumer inflation rates continue to rise and exceeded 8% year over year as of June. People are paying more for everything -cars, services, gas, and housing – putting financial pressure on everyone.

Embracing secondhand culture is one way to stay ahead of these unprecedented increases in inflation and make those proverbial ends meet in style – especially for parents like myself needing to stretch a dollar during the back-to-school shopping season. It’s also good for the planet.

Furthermore, the second-hand clothing market is booming. According to an extensive 2021 industry report released by ThredUP, a leading US-based online retailer, the North American secondhand apparel market will grow 8x faster than the overall apparel market by 2026. The market is expected to grow 24% in 2022 alone. Projections indicate that 50% of all second-hand sales will be generated online.

Reclaiming Secondhand Culture

For Obaid (she/her), a tight family budget and secondhand culture are core elements of her lived experience. Born to Bangladeshi immigrants, Obaid is a first-generation Canadian who cites this culture as the inspiration behind her startup dream.

 “I grew up in secondhand culture. When I was growing up, my mom would go to some church basement and all the aunties from the area would show up with their kids’ stuff and swap and sell and buy. Everything was already thrifted. So when my kids came around it was very natural to me to dress them in second-hand clothes and [I bought] second-hand toys [for them]”.

While ‘thrifting’ today is increasingly about foraging for stylish bargains, for Obaid’s family, thrifting was done out of sheer necessity. She remembers how her mother would thrift by default and not by choice.

Getting Into Recommerce

In May 2020, Obaid was growing increasingly frustrated with purchasing items for her children on Facebook Marketplace. She then had an idea to recreate the swap, sell and buy experiences from her childhood and add an online element to it with community building being the thread that ties it all together. Obaid called it the Lode Store and much to her surprise – in her words – “It was immediately successful.” This, despite an atypical startup approach. 

Entrepreneurial training rooted in the male-dominated entrepreneurial industrial complex typically focuses on engineering and executing an extensive customer research plan as a path to knowing exactly what the ideal customer wants and how to serve them.

Instead, Obaid’s approach is much more relatable. She is her customer. Her startup actions trusted that insight. 

Store offerings are chosen by Obaid herself for functionality, appeal and use. She tests toys out on her kids – if they like them, it goes in the store for sale. Obaid trusts her choices and her kids’ reactions when it comes to curating content of her store. Her clients save 60-80% off retail. 

Obaid also didn’t have time for a business plan, development of a minimally viable product, pitch decks to potential investors and a go-to-market strategy. Obaid simply collected some items together and started selling them online. She sourced more items and sold those too. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sales grew.

Even though Obaid’s post-secondary education ascended into the upper echelons of business academia, she felt that it wasn’t a path she wanted to pursue. “I do not like theoretical business, marketing and strategy background… I’m very uncomfortable with a lot of that. I’m uncomfortable with capitalism as a concept. So then when I started my business, [I asked myself] how can I still run a shop and not feed into all of that stuff?”

Building what worked and what her community (customers) wants, Lode Store rebranded as Canopy Kids. Today it offers thoughtful curation of clothes and goods for newborns up to age 14, plus an innovative time-saving, cost-saving subscription service and free delivery across Toronto. The company also offers kids’ room organizing, birthday parties and curated capsule shopping. The enterprise also leads mutual aid initiatives plus donates 15% of its proceeds to organizations working to end oppression.

With her partner’s second income as a safety net, Obaid started her business with just $500 of her own money and didn’t draw out any income for six months in order to get the business off the ground. 

A ‘real’ business

Obaid sometimes wonders if she’s running a ‘real’ business. She actively rejects anything related to ‘girl boss’ culture and hustle culture. “It does feel like this can’t be a real business because it doesn’t meet all of these business-y qualifications,” shared Obaid. “… [This] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] scaling. [It] can’t be a real business unless [it’s] giving the people what they want and giving it an end and making it bigger and bigger. It is, [however] me living out my values and making a living at it so I think I’m okay.”

She recalls how her recent experience in one business incubator made her question her business structure. Did she have a growth plan that equates to 3% annually? Did she have an exit strategy? She was recently advised to cut back on donating 15% of monthly sales to charity because it took too much from the bottom line.

Why do businesses (especially female/non-binary-led) have to conform to widely accepted definitions of what it’s supposed to be or look like? Who does it serve to have us conform to these definitions? Is there only one way to run a business? As our conversation progresses, I’m beginning to think the global answer to these questions is a definitive no. 

Secondhand culture and community 

Even though Obaid ran into some resistance to her business model, she knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with Canopy Kids. The community she’s created – especially during a time when contact with other humans was severely limited due to the ongoing pandemic – is a necessary one.

 “I didn’t even realize it was possible to participate in capitalism in this way…this business feels good.”

Obaid’s next milestone is to work fewer hours to spend more time with her growing family while still supporting the enterprise’s growing community.

The Future?

I believe secondhand culture is not only here to stay; it’s the new normal. 

As a progressively minded parent, making the choice to shop at Canopy Kids is a no-brainer.

I’m supporting a business run by a feminist woman of the global majority who’s chosen to run her business in alignment with her community and her values. Canopy Kids is intentional about providing for others in a sustainable and just manner.

Take that inflation! Pow! Extractive capitalism.

We need to rethink how businesses are created and run especially under a feminist lens. We need to accept the fact that there’s really no set way to run a feminist business.

What if we instead, as feminists, created spaces for founders like Obaid to envision businesses that align with their values, meet their needs, work to end oppression and create communities that genuinely support each other through acts of commerce? Creating said space, heck, an entire economy like this, would be a much-needed radical act.

Publishers Note: Canopy Kids participated 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 entrepreneurs in the digital media and commerce 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 a 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 August 25. Apply here

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