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Our Voices

A Feminist's Response To COVID-19

Illustration by Cactus Creative Studio. On Stocksy.

As feminists, we know this about the COVID-19 pandemic:
It will show, with brutal clarity, what the 5000-year old patriarchal system and this modern incarnation of capitalism really is – a social construct created for the privileged few it serves and devastating for everyone else, including the planet.  It will also lay bare, especially for our friends in the United States, how fragile democracy has become in the face of unprecedented concentration of power and wealth.
Both history and lived experience tells us that this crisis will disproportionately affect women who will take on the bulk and danger of caretaking, as usual.
The crisis will divide us in two:  Those who believe this crisis is short term. A Blip. And those who believe it marks the birth of a new world.
More on the positive side, we will be astounded, even in this age of deep political and social divisions, by our capacity to reroute our lives, give and minister to disruption. The meaning of the term inter-independence is now on full display. Social cohesion, which we usually take for granted, is the platform that supports all of us. Self-interest overtakes long defended beliefs. Just watch those neo-liberals, meritocracy disciples and anti-government libertarians rush to fill out forms for government help.
As we enter into police or drone enforced lock downs, we now also know that this is not a simple interruption of business as usual.
This is a historical trigger event, an event so powerful that the entire world takes an abrupt turn down a new political, social and economic path.
Will it be a turn for the better, as when the bloody French Revolution gave birth to greater equality, expansion of human rights and political participation, and new ways of thinking about how government and economies can work better — to serve human flourishing rather than the other way around?
Will it be a turn for the worse, as when the scapegoat fueled evil of Nazism took hold of Germany during the world-wide economic collapse of the Great Depression.
The current pandemic, projected to sicken and kill in the millions, has delivered a severe shock not only to the global economy but our faith in the values that have been driving it. The trigger has been pulled. The question now is, how will we react to it?
A critical majority of people may well be open to new ideas previously thought too bizarre to challenge the current status quo or to change thought too painful to implement.
For feminist leaders, entrepreneurs and creators, our work in this new very moment is critical. We can’t unpull the trigger of the pandemic. But we can certainly summon our unique foundational strengths and serve as death doulas for the old; Midwives to the new.   We can shape the future that will emerge from it.
Consider this from Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower:

In order to rise

From its own ashes

A phoenix




So what to do at this critical moment, beyond social distancing, washing hands, keeping sane, staying afloat economically?
All of that is important, of course, but I want to talk about the future – or what kind of work we need to embrace if we are to create the kind of future we want to emerge from this shocking, painful rupture.
I have five suggestions — informed by the thought leadership of such feminists as CV Harquail (feminist values), adrienne maree brown (Emergent Strategy and pleasure activism) and Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower; God is change) — that I believe can help us find our feet during this cosmic interruption and work with others to shape and accelerate a world without partriachy, greed and gross inequality.
1. Create a new-world vision board: Pull out that Bristol board (or the online version). Take the time to think deeply and engage in wide-ranging conversations about the world you want to see emerge in the next 24 months. Consult with friends and family. Make it a staff and team activity. This is a given: Pandemic measures will be with us now in some way for up to 18 months and this experience will change the world irrevocably. Everything we do now and moving forward is based on assumptions we make about the world, what and who we are, what and who will be here for us, what systems we can rely on and what systems have failed us. Our assumptions need a reset, so a few questions to ask: What role does/should government have? What are/should be its priorities? What policies matter/should matter most? How will enterprises and communities change/should change? As feminist entrepreneurs, we must ask ourselves this: How relevant is my enterprise and creative work in light of the change I want to see? Is my lifestyle in step with emerging realities and opportunities? What inner work do I need to do in order to figure out how to engage with new opportunities and ways to serve?  We don’t have to finish this work in a week. In fact, we can’t. So let’s put time into creating a new vision board for our world, enterprises and ourselves. Read visionary fiction to open your mind to possibilities. Step back from the process. And repeat the process.
2. Take action because activism matters, now more than ever: With the pandemic, critical issues did not suddenly disappear overnight. Climate change, Indigenous rights, the rise of hate, racism, ageism and weakening democracy in many parts of the world will, in fact, be more amplified by this crisis. We need to continue fighting for a world in which all can flourish. As feminists, we need to be vigilant — to speak loud and clear — to ensure that the specific needs of womxn and other marginalized communities are appropriately addressed in government aid packages. They must apply a gender and social-justice lens — rigorously. If you don’t have time for activism, support organizations whose mission is to advocate on your behalf. The Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce are just two of many (and yes, LiisBeth too). Go ahead and sign one of the many important petitions going around, but they come and go. We are better off strengthening organizations who will advocate for us over the long haul.
3. Respect and value the dynamics and power of inter-independence: If you have never mapped out or “pod-mapped” your personal and enterprise ecosystem, now is a good time to do so. Pod-mapping is a term that arose out of specific transformational justice work but is now broadly relevant. Even if you are a sole-preneneur, you have clients, suppliers, professionals, colleagues and numerous others who make up your enterprise pod or web. Map them. Analyse them. Find ways to strengthen this ecosystem. Think about ways to lift all boats as we transition to a new world. Consider each action, as Harquail recommends, by asking these three questions: “Who might benefit? Who might be hurt? Who might be left out?” Or, using management guru Mary Parker Follet’s framework, ask “who do I have power over, where do I power under, and where can I exert power with.” If you have power (and we all do, to a degree) use it fairly and in ways that serves many rather than one or a few. Remember, this moment will change but people have long memories.
4) Spark generativity: The world has just cracked open, and paused in many ways! What a tremendous time to apply your imagination, experiment and play. Get out the paints. Make art. Journal. Connect with strangers (at a socially distant space!). Join a new think group such as LiisBeth’s Feminist Enterprise Commons. Create a group by inviting 10 people from your social media lists you have never met but always wanted to get to know. Get creative in how you engage online. Interact in new ways. Take chances. Play music together or share poetry. All this can lead to uncovering new opportunities, connections, interesting solutions and recovery ideas. For example, Catherine Chan, founder of Fit-In, was inspired by conversations she had on social media and subsequently pulled an all-nighter to come up with a new service for her customers — a live feed during business hours that keeps kids engaged while parents work at home.
LiisBeth advisory board member Valerie Fox now actively looks for international futuristic think tank conversations and Zoom talks that have popped up online. “I didn’t have time for this before. I just love what I am hearing and learning—it gets me outside of my bubble.”
Creating new conversations and tapping into communities you don’t normally hang out will generate a sense of greater belonging and maybe even the “AHA” you need in your life right now.
5) Focus on Pleasure: In her prescient book Pleasure Activism, adrienne maree brown writes “I touch my own skin, and it tells me that before there was any harm, there was a miracle.” Allowing ourselves to feel pleasure, intimacy, desire, and lead erotically powered lives — even in times of pain — is a precondition towards becoming truly liberated from oppressive narratives. It will break open what limited our imagination, will lead us to live in right relationship with our full personal and collective potential. Now is the time to explore our desires as living, sensual beings capable of accessing incredible relational, creative and communal power. Don’t worry, shelves will get stocked with toilet paper. Free your mind to connect with long-forgotten or new sources of joy. Surrender. Adapt.
Afterall, what is a better world, if not one that capable of generating danceable levels of joy.

Storytelling is now more important than ever.  If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our work which in turn, helps us create income opportunities for feminist writers/journalists and creators.  LiisBeth is 100% reader supported led by a volunteer publisher.   [direct-stripe value=”ds1562331144158″]

Related Reading

Activism & Action Body, Mind & Pleasure

The Revolutionary

adrienne maree brown author of both Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism addresses social change makers at Lula Lounge in Toronto, ON on May 6th, 2019.


Detroit-based feminist philosopher, doula and social-change strategist Adrienne Maree Brown has written works described as “luminous” in its “imagining the future of climate change, making different worlds through direct action and social movement-building, and creating transformative change through visionary speculative fiction.”

Brown is just as luminous -and visionary-in real life.

Judging by the engagement and enthusiasm from the more than 2000 who attended her recent talk about her new book, Pleasure Activism, at Toronto’s Lula Lounge earlier in May, her work is more compelling than ever.

Pleasure Activism aims to “explode the dour myth that changing the world is just another form of work” when, according to Brown, that work can be a source of great personal healing and pleasure. Brown believes it’s important for those choosing to make a living via alternative world-making to take the time to heal from day to day grappling with darkness and systems of oppression that comes with the job.

Going against the grain is heavy lifting and recovery from that intense emotional labour is difficult.  Pleasure Activism is a form of slow-release medicine for those battered by the work.

After the program, LiisBeth had an opportunity to talk to Brown about how and why we need to move beyond reform to radical systems change;  the role of social change organizations, leaders, and individuals in that fight; and her views on implementing feminist ideas as an organizational leader.

You can read the interview below. But you can feel the interview by listening to the audio recording below.

Listening to the audio will take only 12 minutes out of your day and and we guarantee you will be blown away by Adrienne Maree Brown’s powerful and inspiring personality.

Alternatively, the transcript of the interview, edited for clarity and length, is below.

LiisBeth:  You mentioned tonight that you believe our institutions and systems are beyond repair.  What else can we do if what we want is a fair and inclusive world?

adrienne maree:   Your asking me how, right? (Laughing). Revolution [versus reform] is something I’m really committed to, and I try to talk about it a lot. I try to get a lot of people to be thinking about it. I encourage them to be in relationship with the idea of revolution. To me, it’s fine to be involved in activities or reform as long as you understand that they are not the outcome.

A slightly improved system is not actually a liberation for most of us because the current systems are set up to [foster] such an extreme level of inequality that small changes won’t make a difference. I always talk to them [reformers] like, it’s great to be taking steps to have more equal rights. It’s great to be moving towards more equity, but if you have an entire society that is based in white supremacy, an entire society that is based in competition rather than cooperation, then it’s always going to be a marginal [part of the program] to be bringing all identities of all people in when making decisions about the world.

So, a lot of the work that I do is about revolution but, I also really believe in building the new in the shell of the old.

LiisBeth: If revolution is what we need, how can we invite more people in to the be a part of it?

adrienne maree:  I tell people, everyone can be a revolutionary. Wherever you’re sitting right now is a potential revolutionary space. Where you are right now is the revolutionary front line. If you’re a banker [or entrepreneur] what can you do to change the system? What can you do to make it more fair? What can you do to create more access no matter where you sit?

Actually, the greatest changes in the world have happened because people who thought of themselves as ordinary people were willing to develop and [put into motion] subversive strategies within whatever systems they were in.

I also think it’s important to invite people to think about why they exist because all of us are in a lineage of survivors. Everyone can trace their personal lineage back to people who were revolutionary and come to realize that they exist today because of their work. Even if you think you’re too scared to be a revolutionary in this lifetime, your ancestors somewhere along the line were revolutionaries. Somewhere along that life your job is to pick that up and bring it to present.

LiisBeth:  Let’s talk more about fear and the role that fear plays in preventing people from doing what’s needed or right for the world we live in right now.

adrienne maree:  Audrey Lorde is a writer I recommend to everyone [who is thinking about this]. She talks about the fact that we’re going to be afraid no matter what. Why not be scared and try to intervene? We need to actually learn, that being scared is a social control mechanism. As long as you’re scared of creating a change, as long as you’re scared of disrupting the status quo, nothing will change.

Left to Right: Co-presenter Chanelle Gallant (activist, writer and educator with a focus on sex and justice), adrienne maree brown and on-stage interviewer, Yami Msosa, a grassroots feminist organizer, frontline worker, consultant, and educator.  

LiisBeth:  You served for a while as the Executive Director of The Ruckus Society a small but long-established non-profit focused on supporting activism.  What was that like for you? Was it an easy job?

adrienne maree:  I went into it with a lot of ego. I looked at how everyone else is doing the executive director role, and decided I was going to totally do it differently. I was going to make sure we were super fair, flat structures, all the things. And then I got into the job and I was like, oh, actually, the system of philanthropy actually constructs how things work—not the person leading it. The current system of [funding] makes it almost impossible to have integrity and be a boss. You’re constantly being asked to jump through hoops for what big philanthropy says are the goals of what the work you’re doing should be, rather than trying to make sure the work is actually serving your community.

So as an ED, you get hired because you have all these visions, values and ideas, but then quickly realize, especially in a small non-profit, that you are continually in a desperate financial situation, and, rightly, also need to prioritize the welfare of the six people whose healthcare and income relies on the organization’s financial sustainability, which translates into me getting the resources in.

So, I think being a non-profit ED is an impossible job. When I am coaching others doing that job, I remind them that they have been asked to do an impossible thing. The board expects them to be great at budgets, managing people and fundraising, plus have and be able to implement a great, new vision.

Most people are good at one or two of those things, maximum. So, I think it’s an impossible job. I think we should stop having it as a singular job. In most institutions the strength would come from having two to three people sharing the role.

Lisbeth: When it comes to feminist leadership, what have you found works? And doesn’t work?

adrienne maree: I think it really, really works to have spaces informed by feminism. However, if those ideas are not embraced at the board level, it doesn’t work.

Your board should also reflect the community that you’re trying to serve. If the board is only the rich people and then the community seen as down there, there’s going to be an impossible tension that the organization is trying to hold and manage between what far away funders and the community want. So, a board should be in a space where there’s a balance.

I also think that a lot of times people assume that if a woman is in charge, it signals that it is a feminist institution. I think we have to really challenge that.

It’s not enough to just have literally a woman there. I think that we have to think about what are the aspects of feminism that person is trying to bring in. To me, that means thinking about how the person approaches the Collaborative [ecosystem around you] and the Care. Think about not just being collaborative, but how are we being collaborative with each other. We need to ask how is this person or organization working with others to share limited resources versus how men get trained to be alpha males competing over those same resources.

adrienne maree:  We also must ask how does this leader care for the entire structure? How is this person developing the deep connections needed to withstand the pressures of oppression? How do you deal with all the “no’s” in the system?  Everyone in a feminist organization should be cared for. They need to feel like a valuable member versus working in a type of ‘Top is cared for, but the bottom can be fired anytime’ type of hierarchy.

I think another practice that’s really important is to look at how maternity, paternity and parental leave happens. To me, a feminist institution is a place that says to both parents “if you have a baby, you got a lot of time to go take care of that kid, you don’t have to worry about it, and you get to come back [to work].” In my view, whoever made this baby has to go take care of this baby.

Lisbeth:  Tell us about your new institute?

adrienne maree: I recently founded something called the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute. A few years ago, I put out this book called Emergent Strategy, which is about how do we learn from natural operating systems to do our organizing [and planning] in right relationship with the planet. The institute is basically offering intensive training, facilitation, coaching and mediation to help people who are interested in taking that path, do it as well as they can.

Last year, we held several “immersion” workshops where people would come and play with adaptation, play with fractals, and play with how to create more possibilities. So, this year we’re doing seven that are spread out across the U.S. We are also conducting facilitation training in Detroit. I brought on a team of about 20 people who are all incredible facilitators, coaches and other things who I know are all practicing it, so that I know it doesn’t get bottle-necked with me.

LiisBeth: Amazing. Well, hopefully you’ll be doing services in Canada.

adrienne maree:  Oh yes, oh yes. I’ve got Canadians on my team. I’m ready to come to Canada.

LiisBeth:  So, thank you so much

adrienne maree:  Thank you. I appreciate you (Hugs)

LiisBeth:  I appreciate you, too. (Hugs back)