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The New Measure of a Womxn: Wielding Power

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash


Yesterday, while at a local theatre, I waited in line for the gender-segregated washrooms. As usual, the queue for the women’s went straight out the door and halfway down the hallway, while the men’s looked almost empty.

Most of us have grumbled about this poor architectural planning, but after spending this past week with Lauren McKeon’s No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, And Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules, I labelled the problem differently: this is yet another example of how the world is designed for cis men.

No More Nice Girls, Lauren McKeon. Released March 2020 by Anansi Press

No More Nice Girls is a well-researched and infuriating (in all the right ways) book about power and how women’s and non-binary people’s power is routinely undermined. It’s packed with statistics on how marginalized people are taught to shoehorn themselves into a system intentionally designed not to fit. With an intersectional lens, the author lays out the way power inequities play out in politics, the economy, law, media, science, technology, city planning, and other areas.

McKeon challenges the myth that more women need to just work harder (and be “nice” while doing so) to reach for the top of existing power structures. Here’s one of the shocking statistics: when women CEOs do manage to reach the top, they earn $0.68 to every dollar their male colleagues make.

She also takes on the #GirlBoss trend, which encourages women to contort and bend instead of working to change the system. “They must be a boss, but not bossy; authentic, but Insta-trendy; real, but not harsh; beautiful, but effortless; killin’ it, but not thirsty; busy, but glowing with Goop-ified self-care; vulnerable, but just the right amount; tough, but just the right amount; confident, but not extra; warm, but not weak; decisive, but not rude; your bitch, but not bitchy.”

What interested me most about No More Nice Girls were the examples of how power might be reimagined and redefined, and how this power can lead to social equity.

For example, what if we viewed power as breaking silence and healing from trauma? Citing Tarana Burke, #MeToo’s founder: “What we’re doing with #MeToo is building something that doesn’t exist. Literally. It’s an international survivor-led and survivor-focused social justice movement.”

Power can also look like projects that intentionally decentre cis men and focus on the needs of women and non-binary people. McKeon offers anecdotes about the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the co-working space The Wing, all of which were created to be safe spaces and “where men no longer write the rules.”

But feminism is a work in progress, and McKeon raises essential questions about who gets included and excluded in these spaces, urging feminists to challenge their intersectional praxis: “In many ways, the women-only movement has mirrored the challenges of feminism itself: the centering of biological definitions at the expense of transgender women; the exclusion of Indigenous women and women of colour from its most visible and influential positions; claims of battling tokenism while institutionalizing that same philosophy in its own histories and organizations.”

Another chapter is devoted to the power of feminist entrepreneurship, such as Ali Ogden’s Bon Temps Tea Company, which gives micro-grants to women to encourage and support their feminist work, and Taran and Bunny Ghatrora’s Blume, a chemical-free period-product subscription box that includes politicized information about menstruation. These and other examples spotlight ways in which “a feminist-first enterprise that’s built with sincerity can phenomenally change the economic landscape.” They can create kinder workplace cultures that value mentorship, collaboration, staff wellness, and are trauma-informed. Among other things, they can include breastfeeding rooms, child care, and be more intentional in their hiring practices.

McKeon ends with reflections on Women Deliver, a global feminist conference that took place in Vancouver in 2019. Moderators closed main-stage panels with a question about how speakers would use their power. McKeon optimistically writes, “This question was a way of reminding everyone there that they did have power, now, even if it didn’t always feel like it—even if their power didn’t look anything like traditional power…. All of it put a drop more power into this new bucket. It evened things out. It remade the world.”

No More Nice Girls made me ponder the ways I use my power. I’m an author working within a publishing industry context that is still racist, sexist, ableist, and heterosexist. I do my best to mentor, share space (and when appropriate, make way for others), amplify the work of marginalized writers, collaborate to create opportunities, and push from the outside to help steer the slowly moving literary ship in the right direction. It’s easy to grow cynical, to question whether these efforts drive real change, or are just drops in a bucket. But McKeon’s optimism made me reconsider the power of this work. Could it remake the world?

I know that it’s possible to design washrooms to be accessible, safe, inviting, and not segregated by gender. It’s possible because people have done the advocacy and work to design them. Now it’s time to use our power to disrupt oppressive systems and create a world that includes all of us.

Farzana Doctor is the author of four novels, including the forthcoming Seven (Dundurn, August 2020).

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The collage above is by Anne-Marie Hood. Artist Statement: What is growth? What is change? And how often do we misinterpret resonance with our own beliefs for growth? Perhaps it is time for a truly new approach where new ears take in sounds made up of the unfamiliar, singing unknown songs in unknown worlds.


A Reflection on Canada’s 2018 Gender Budget

Since the release of the Canadian federal government’s 2018 gender budget at the end of February, there have been dozens of follow-on announcements about initiatives designed to advance women entrepreneurs and women-led enterprises from all sorts of organizations across the country.

On March 6, the Ontario provincial government added its voice and announced that it will also be investing in improving support for women entrepreneurs by launching a new set of initiatives that will “help young women develop an entrepreneurial mindset” through the creation of the Ontario Women’s Entrepreneurship Association.

To date, Ontario is the only province without a women’s enterprise centre or women’s entrepreneurship strategy in Canada.

Sure. Canadian women entrepreneur advocates have already expressed concern that the money designated is long overdue and “not enough”. Many more critics are rightly questioning the implementation strategies. There is legitimate concern that unchanged parental leave pay and child care policies mean continued discrimination against startup founders and small business owners in an economy increasingly characterized by precarious employment gigs. In Ontario, leaders in the field are debating if launching a women’s entrepreneur association is the right approach or first step.

Me? I still remember the Stephen Harper days. So, I am reservedly pleased with the initiatives our various levels of governments are pledging to undertake this year to advance gender justice.

I also appreciate that in both provincial and federal budgets, women entrepreneurs are at least starting to be recognized as a distinct, large, economically vital demographic whose prioritized equality and equity needs are markedly different from those of our corporate sisters.

On this, and to activist women entrepreneurs everywhere working to be heard, I say congratulations. It’s high time that your street-level, in-the-trenches voices finally pierced the routinely media-privileged corporate coterie that tends to dominate the women’s economic advancement public policy conversation.

So when it comes to Budget 2018, I have to agree with Astrid Pregel, a woman with an impressive 20 years of experience advising governments around the world on women’s advancement who wisely quipped the other night, “Sometimes, you gotta know when to clap.”


CV Harquail Reviews Lauren McKeon’s book, F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism

We just finished a week full of activities related to International Women’s Day worldwide.

Feeling alright? Things heading in the right direction?

Maybe. But not so fast. Welcome to the anti-feminist movement in Canada, as illuminated by Lauren McKeon, an award-winning Canadian feminist author and the current digital editor at The Walrus, in her fall 2017 book, F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism.

We felt this was an important book. So we commissioned LiisBethian CV Harquail to conduct a book review from an American feminist entrepreneur’s perspective. Harquail concurs with McKeon that “the anti-feminist movement remains strong and [therefore] feminists must find ways to be stronger.” Harquail suggests that this starts with trying to understand their limited world views and better yet, how other systems of oppression are shaping anti-feminist movements.

Read her review here.

The Artivist Woman’s Playlist by Aerin Fogel

What’s the best way to honour International Women’s Day and the art + activist women in our society who use pens, instruments, their bodies, and their voice to advance justice—often at great personal expense?
Answer: Take the time to listen to LiisBeth’s Stand Up, Get Up playlist, curated by Aerin Fogel and featuring 10 women whose songs and performances help up see the world differently.

MK Asante, who is an American bestselling author, award-winning filmmaker, recording artist, and distinguished professor, wrote: “The artivist knows that to make an observation is to have an obligation.”

Fogel is a regular playlist contributor for LiisBeth, and founder of Toronto’s fall feminist music festival, Venus Fest. Listen here.

Highlights from Toronto’s International Women’s Day March on March 3, 2018.
It was hailed as the largest IWD March in North America. Toronto’s theme was liberation and justice for Indigenous women, particularly Tina Fontaine. We estimate approximately 3,000 to 4,000 participated.
LiisBethian’s had a busy IWD week: the IWD march in Toronto, the SheEO Summit, several workshops on the feminist business model canvas, and a grand finale at the Social Innovation Bootcamp on gender and the economy held at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. Go team!

SheEO Entrepreneurship Clubs for Girls is coming to Ontario High Schools!

When SheEO founder Vicki Saunders began her quest in 2015 to create a billion-dollar loan fund for women founders, there were naysayers galore. But no more.

SheEO has found its stride. And then some: Starting this fall, SheEO will be launching entrepreneurship clubs for up to 1500 girls in Ontario high schools.

Just three years in, the fast-growing organization now has 3000 activators globally and 17 Canadian ventures (32 worldwide) under its belt, including seven new SheEOs for 2018, announced at the annual SheEO Summit & Cocktail this week:

Applications for the 2019 investment round will open August 2018. You can sign up to be notified when the application portal opens here!

On Tuesday, March 13, LiisBeth had an opportunity to visit the new feminist bookstore in Montreal called L’Euguélionne. What a treasure trove! The store was well-stocked with feminist, LGBTQ+ and queer books, zines, pamphlets, and more (including this one featured above) in both English and French. The staff were super helpful and knowledgeable. We Say. Just. Go. And if you are interested in what makes an enterprise feminist, check out this zine!

Alexandra Ketchum, author of the zine How to Start a Feminist Restaurant, says, “Feminist restaurants are spaces that take their food and labour politics seriously. They challenge the status quo…and provide a space for political organizing, recreational activity, and commerce.” Ketchum also holds workshops on the topic. To connect with her, visit her Facebook page. To learn more about feminist bookstores, read our feature story here.

  • Have you heard of the term “stretch collaboration”? While conventional collaboration tends to be organized around like-minded people working together, stretch collaborations involve working with individuals or groups that can actually tighten your throat at the mere thought of their name. According to author Adam Kahane, “…stretch collaboration encourages us to use the power of discomfort to craft and experiment our way forward with multiple options or possibilities…”
  • Calling LiisBethians in STEM: Is your business about A.I., Big Data, or 3D Printing? Innovative Solutions Canada is a new program with over $100 million dedicated to supporting the scale-up and growth of Canada’s STEM-based innovators and entrepreneurs by having the federal government act as a first customer. The program is designed to encourage government procurement from companies led by under-represented groups, such as women, Indigenous, youth, disabled individuals, LGBTQ+ and others. You can find more information here.
  • Calling LiisBethians under 25! You might want to apply to the Youth Can Do It! initiative where 25 diverse young entrepreneurs will be selected to come to Ottawa in June to connect with inspiring business experts who will support their journey forward. Can’t hurt, right?


Understanding Your Taxes: Knowledge is Power, For Women Entrepreneurs
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
2:00 PM–3:00 PM
2111 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON
Cost: FREE. Register here.

How to Create Multiple Sources of Income
Thursday, March 29, 2018
6:00 PM–9:30 PM
Baka Gallery Cafe
2256 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON
Cost: $25. Register here. ​

CryptoChicks Hackathon and Conference
Friday, April 6 to Sunday, April 8, 2018
MaRS Discovery District
101 College St., Toronto
Cost: $50–$500. Register here.
Details: “This is an open invitation to take part in a bold blockchain event. Women are underrepresented in the crypto space and with your help, we want to change that.”

Walking Your Why: Discovering Your Values Perspective
Thursday, April 12, 2018
6:00 PM–8:00 PM
School for Social Entrepreneurs
CSI Annex
720 Bathurst St., Toronto, ON
Cost: $50. Register here.

That’s it for our mid-March International Women’s Day roundup newsletter!

Like what we do? Support us! It’s easy! Subscriptions are $3/month, $7/month or $10/month. We accept PayPal and credit cards. And we also now have a Patreon page!

Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permission fees, and illustrators. Remember, there is no other feminist business media voice dedicated to supporting those looking to build and grow ventures in alignment with their feminist values.

The next newsletter is scheduled for the end of March 2018. In the meantime, enjoy the better weather!

Petra Kassun-Mutch
Founding Publisher, LiisBeth

Featured Our Voices

Another Brick in the Wall: Anti-Feminists in Canada

CV Harquail, Feminists at Work

Yes, Virginia. Canada has an anti-feminist movement too. So, in February 2018, LiisBeth invited feminist and management science scholar CV Harquail to review Canadian award-winning author Lauren McKeon’s book on Canadian anti-feminism which was published last fall by Goose Lane Editions. 

Lauren McKeon, an award-winning, Canadian feminist author wants us to know where feminism has gone wrong. She’s worried that women are “abandoning” feminism, can’t agree on what it means, and assume they don’t need it. In F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, she invites us into the anti-feminist universe so that we can listen directly to our biggest critics, learn from their views, and develop some kind of coordinated response. Her argument: we need to listen to those who despise feminism because their views are becoming more hateful and contorted yet better broadcasted than ever before.

I’m not as confident as McKeon that feminism has gone wrong or that people are “abandoning” it rather than increasingly adopting feminism as a perspective and an identity (as data shows). But her larger point remains: there are folks out there, organized into movements, who hate feminism and everything they imagine feminism stands for.

McKeon proves a trustworthy and entertaining guide taking us through the tangled mess of lies, deliberate misunderstandings, and sad self-centredness that characterize the groups arrayed against the progress of feminism. Occasionally funny and appropriately snark, she introduces us to five.

First up are the female members of the pro-patriarchy men’s rights activists (feMRAs) who use the voice and the social power that feminism earned for them to spit invective in feminism’s face—and McKeon’s too. Stepford doyennes of New Domesticity invited us “back to the kitchen,” cloaking their arguments in a comforting nostalgia for a gendered simplicity and social peace that never actually existed. A well-documented and rangy chapter about women and paid employment reminds us of nagging questions about the wage gap, the mom penalty, and the dearth of feminist business leaders, and offers a succinct review of the Gamergate scandal as an example of how tough it is for women to make a living doing work they care about.

And then McKeon takes us into the “bucolic” guest room of a woman I can only call a “Mother Defending Misogyny,” a woman who simply can’t believe that her own son might be capable of sexually assaulting a woman. As a mother, I can understand the emotional and cognitive distortions these women might go through wanting desperately for their children to be innocent, indeed, incapable of intimate, dehumanizing cruelty. It’s simply easier to see a frat boy son as a target rather than a rapist. But did these moms ever consider the harmed daughters, or the moms of their sons’ victims? At this point, I had to put the book down for a few days.

For the final stop on this tour of anti-feminist hell, McKeon takes us to the anti-abortion movement to meet activists who proclaim they are “pro women” while working to constrain the rights of those facing unwanted pregnancies and to undermine the autonomy of all women.

What we learn from our travels with McKeon is that Patriarchy and its nasty buddy, Misogyny, are powerful, resilient, and sneaky. Patriarchy doesn’t fight fair. It doesn’t use science or recognize facts. It nurses emotions like bitterness, fear, and, on a nice day, nostalgia for a fictional past. Patriarchy values illegitimate power—hoarding it, wielding it, normalizing it—to fight liberation, not just for women but for everyone.

McKeon writes of these anti-feminists bending to that power: “I needed to know more, and also maybe barf a bit.”

The quality of her writing—empathic, funny, curious, skeptical, open-minded—kept me attentive as I held my nose through this well-researched tour. And then I exhaled during her final chapters. Here, McKeon makes an important feminist move by adding her own life experience to her avalanche of interviewees’. She lets down her cool-girl posing (a nice counterpoint to the ugliness of the anti-feminist rhetoric) to share her own story of being raped as a teenager.

For me, this was the moment McKeon revealed the high stakes of this conversation, when the weight of anti-feminist attitudes shifted from offensive to acutely, personally painful. As McKeon writes: “Rape culture doesn’t happen in a bubble. It happens because women (like these) are telling other women their experiences, while unpleasant, could have been stopped if only they’d said no, emphatically.” My takeaway: These anti-feminists are crazy and they are actively hurting us and each other. As McKeon writes later, “I can tell you that rape breaks us, even when we want to be strong.”

In the final chapter, McKeon returns to her old high school, to the gender studies class where she got an early dose of consciousness raising. Here, she finds hope in feminism among the teens, their level of engagement and quality of thought and advocacy. As an “old,” I must challenge the inference that we need the young’uns to save us. They are able to do what they do now because they stand on the feminist foundations built by the waves of activists who came before them. No one wave is going to wash away patriarchy, no matter how pretty or hip that wave looks on Instagram.

Given how much louder and broader the anti-sexism conversation has gotten in the last ten months, with #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #TimesUp, McKeon’s book might already feel a bit dated. Unfortunately, it is not. The anti-feminist movement remains strong and feminists must find ways to be stronger.

But I remain unconvinced by McKeon’s argument that doing so requires knowing more about these anti-feminists. Or feeling sympathy for them. Or getting in touch with their hurt or their fear, much less their bile. And it’s not because (as McKeon seems to assumes of her readers) I’m willfully ignoring them or self-righteously disdainful of them. I don’t think that anti-feminists are stupid, necessarily. But they are misinformed and so misled as to be unable to think their way to a more positive future.

So how could it be useful to try to understand their limited worldviews? Perhaps it might be more beneficial to look at the ways that racism and other systems of oppression are shaping these anti-feminist movements. McKeon herself says, “We (feminists) are unequivocally failing” when it comes to opening doors and including more than upper middle–class white women in the feminist movement. Yet she fails to investigate the whiter than whiteness of the five anti-feminist movements she discusses. If women and men of colour, newcomers, the working poor, and other marginalized groups are absent from anti-feminist movements, doesn’t that say something? Isn’t that important for us to understand? Would this help us find useful ways to crack the rigid worldviews of these anti-liberation movements?

McKeon talks a lot about “feminism” and what “feminism” has done wrong and needs to do. For example, she says, “If feminism wants to survive and grow, it is vital that it learn to communicate within itself.” She treats “feminism” as a big F thing, with its own independent agency. If “feminism” has the ability to act that means we can hold feminism responsible for its shortcomings. Certainly, that’s how anti-feminists treat feminism, as a thing we can fault.

But what—or rather who—is this “feminism” that McKeon and the anti-feminists are wagging a finger at? Feminism is not a unified, monolithic entity that can be faulted; rather, dear readers, “feminism” is us. As activists, we are diverse, we are many, we connect and work together and, because we are so varied, sometimes we don’t. While McKeon’s book is useful in showing how anti-feminists mischaracterize feminism, that’s about as much time as I want to spend thinking about them. Personally, I would rather look at the many dimensions of feminism and consider ways we can move forward. Where should we look for more leadership, where can we find energy to persist with change efforts, and what new actions might we try to make things better? After finishing this book, I wanted to get right back to work doing that.

Other articles on LiisBeth by CV Harquail: