In our roundup this month, we’re sharing content from Rabble that looks at different themes, ideas, and conversations that feminists are engaging in right now. As a feminist, womxn’s entrepreneurship publication, we’re interested in what the feminist movement—and the action resulting from it—looks like at the moment. Here are our top picks for Rabble content that dive into this.
In this interview, Chelsea Nash writes: “Do women benefit in the workplace from assimilating into the male-dominated culture, or from resisting it? Put another way, is it better to focus on the similarities between men and women workers, or to point out gendered differences and vocalize the ways women don’t fit — literally and figuratively — into many non-traditional workplaces?”
These are the questions that biologist and ergonomist Karen Messing tries to answer in her new book, Bent Out of Shape: Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work, coming out April 5 from Between the Lines.
Through a deep dive into the work of Anjum Sultana, the national director of public policy and strategic communications for YWCA, Maya Bhullar writes about how a feminist recovery plan that is multifaceted and intersectional, focusing on the diverse needs of women, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people, is the starting point of the change the needed to address those who are often marginalized, especially during the global pandemic.
“April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and while there has been plenty of awareness this year, there remains precious little government action on ending the scourge of male violence against women and children, both at home and globally,” Matthew Behrens writes.
Since 1961, over 10,000 women have been victims of femicide in Canada. At the same time, spokespersons for male-dominated institutions like the military and the police are increasingly using the “Trudeau-esque language of acknowledging the failures to end violence against women as the standard response for failing to do anything about it.”
Behrens says it’s easy for men to be applauded for declaring that something must be done to end male violence, but such words ring hollow amidst the dearth of accountability mechanisms and system change required to ensure transformational change.
Well, I can tell you that I once received a bullet in the mail at my home in Toronto, one of twelve “prominent Jews” in the city to get that threat, serious enough for a police investigation. That was 1994, and I had just stepped down as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.
Like many negative things in our history we don’t like to talk about, Canada has always had fascists in our political spectrum. They had enough influence during World War II for the government to turn away a boatload of Jews fleeing the Nazi holocaust in Europe. Since Trump’s election in 2016, fascism — or at least far-right extremism expressing white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny — has been on the rise in Canada. As reported in NOW Magazine, there are now 300 far-right extremist groups in Canada, 30 per cent more since Trump came to office. Canada is among the most active countries on white supremacy discussion forums, just behind the U.S. and Britain. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise. A 2019 EKOS poll found that some 40 per cent of white Canadians now view immigration as a “threat.” And there has been more than a 700% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in Vancouver since Covid hit.
So how do we stem the rise of fascism and far-right extremism, even turn it back? From the 1980s, I was deeply involved in a battle to secure the most important victory the women’s movement in Canada has ever had – the legalization of abortion. There are important lessons to be gleaned from that struggle that might serve us well in the battle against white supremacy and neofascism.
Lessons Learned from Fighting Anti-choice Activists
The pro-choice movement faced a well-organized, ideologically rigid, anti-feminist, fanatical anti-choice faction not afraid to use violence and threats, and it had ties to both Church and the Conservative Party.
Beginning with the Abortion Caravan in 1970, pro-choice activists waged a nearly 20-year struggle — in the streets, in the courts and in the legislature, until the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law in a landmark decision citing women’s right to privacy—in effect women’s rights to control their own bodies.
I got involved in the struggle in the fall of 1981, when Carolyn Egan and her co-workers in a birth control centre called a community meeting with the idea of opening an illegal abortion clinic to challenge the law, along the model of Dr. Morgentaler’s in Montreal, which had been virtually legalized by the Quebec government after three juries acquitted Morgentaler of breaking the restrictive abortion law.
In Toronto, white middle-class women with connections had some access to abortion under the 1969 law, but birth control workers realized that poor women, immigrant women, rural women, and young women, couldn’t get access. So, they sought to open an abortion clinic and build a movement to support it. The Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics (OCAC) brought together pro-choice groups to generate public support, even before the clinic opened. A rally of 1,000 people at a downtown auditorium, featuring Dr. Henry Morgentaler and activist/journalist June Callwood, kicked off the campaign.
The mass movement in the streets was key, but so was our community work. We would speak and debate the anti-choice anywhere and everywhere. I don’t think I’ve been in as many churches in the 30 years since that time. While it’s hard to change the mind of a true believer, you can convince their followers. For instance, a lot people opposed abortion for religious reasons and fell prey to the anti-choice movement’s distortions of the procedure. We faced that head on.
Debate Needs Action
In the fall of 1982, we introduced a resolution supporting the legalization of free-standing abortion clinics at the Ontario Federation of Labour convention. It was controversial but we mobilized almost all the women in the room to line up at the microphones to support it; the ones who spoke were passionate about the importance of the issue to working-class women.
The clinic opened in June 1983 on Harbord Street in downtown Toronto. Dr. Morgentaler arrived in the afternoon. It was my job to escort him across the street, which was crowded with both supporters and reporters with a huge bank of cameras waiting for something to happen. And it did. Half way across the street, a man leapt out at Dr. Morgentaler, threatening to stab him with garden shears. I blocked the attack and chased the man down the street. Courage in the face of threats and attacks is a must in fighting fanatics. Not everyone is able to do that, but some people have to and the rest have to back them up. Those of us who were spokespeople would get threats regularly at work, at home and sometimes in the street. Part of the job of fighting right-wing fanatics is facing their threats.
Three weeks after the clinic opened, the police arrested Morgentaler and the two other doctors working there. Dr. Morgentaler closed the clinic until the trial. Once again, as in Quebec, a jury acquitted him. That outraged the anti-choice activists, and we had to confront them. As the Crown prepared their appeal, the anti-choice faction demonstrated regularly in front of the clinic and harassed women seeking a procedure. We deployed people to be there every day, to help the women through the lines and keep the anti-choice off the property. Direct action, we might call it today. Labour activists who knew how to hold a picket line helped us a lot.
A critical point came when the Catholic Church decided to call out their troops, asking priests to give their sermon on the evil of abortion and call on all their constituents to demonstrate in front of the clinic. Every day of that week, Monday to Thursday, 2,000 people, including children from Catholic schools, were bused in to demonstrate in front of the clinic. They garnered media coverage night after night.
Agree to Disagree, But Act
By this point, we had held many rallies, but none bigger than 2,000. We didn’t think we could mobilize that many people. A less radical but very important pro-choice group – the Canadian Association for Repeal of the Abortion Law (CARAL)—argued against mounting a counter demonstration, feeling it would make us look weak if fewer numbers showed up. OCAC discussed it and decided, whatever numbers, we had to fight back. Otherwise our people would get demoralized. We called a counter demonstration on Friday. CARAL was furious, but they pulled out all the stops trying to make to make the demonstration a success. At that moment, I learned something key about building a movement: You have to build broad coalitions with people you might disagree with, but it’s winning the struggle that matters. OCAC and CARAL had differences but both were committed to building the movement. Even though CARAL was sure the demonstration was a mistake, they knew once OCAC called it, they had to put everything into supporting it, even if it proved they were wrong. Here is another lesson: Unite in action, even if there are doubts.
In the days leading up to our rally, every media report of the Catholic protest announced the time and date of our rally as balance. People who had been quietly cheering on Dr. Morgentaler in the privacy of their own homes decided now was the time to show their colours. More than 15,000 people rallied at Queen’s Park, with people spilling out into the streets, then marched to the clinic. Until then, the anti-choice thought the majority sided with them, and I guess the government may have as well. But that night it was clear, as Henry had always said, “the people are with us.”
The pro-choice movement was the broadest and most successful social movement I have ever seen in Canada. We were able to turn back and marginalize a strong fanatical movement with strategies that might serve us well today in confronting the ugly rise of white supremacy and neofascism.
We’re kicking off the first Rabble Roundup of 2021 with a look at the riots in the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, the Proud Boys, and how the attacks reflect the interconnectedness of white supremacy, racism, and inequality. Here are our top picks that dive deeper into this.
As its title suggests, this Rabble article by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and columnist Denis Moynihan look at the experiences of racialized congressmembers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz and Pramila Jayapal during the riots at the Capitol. It also looks at how “the violent white-supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 put the ugly realities of racism and inequality in this country in stark relief. Taking these on remains the urgent challenge of our time. Trump’s departure from the Oval Office is only the first step.”
Through the experience of the wrongful arrest and consequent imprisonment and torture of her husband Maher Arar, Monia Mazigh looks at the complexities of defining a person or and organization as a “terrorist.” She talks about the not-so-distant past when the “mere pronouncing of this word signified mobilization for human rights, activism against security certificates, pushback against Bill C-51, and the physical and emotional drain these campaigns meant for me and many activists. When you have been labelled a terrorist, you are usually a Muslim man — and by all legal standards it is one of the worst accusations, if not the worst, to have made against you.”
Nevertheless, Mazigh says she believes that the Proud Boys must be labelled a terrorist group, “Not because I like the labelling, but because it is a matter of simple coherence. Up to now, white-supremacy violence was hidden and protected by mainstream institutions — until it exploded in the world’s face in front of the U.S. Capitol.”
Read her words in rabble.ca on the harm caused by both the word “terrorism” and the act itself, and how we must move from calling out white supremacy to actively condemning it.
In the wake of the Washington insurrection, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh suggested the Canadian government list the far-right group Proud Boys as a terrorist entity. Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole were quick to say Singh’s idea sounded like a good one. And yet, many activists believe it may not be.
In this rabble.ca article, rabble’s politics reporter Karl Nerenberg looks at the consequences of listing an entity as terrorist in Canada. This includes the fact that authorities could seize a listed entity’s property, or they could force the terrorist-listed group to forfeit some or all of its assets.
In our roundup this month, we’re sharing content from Rabble that looks at different themes, ideas, and conversations that feminists are engaging in right now. As a feminist, womxn’s entrepreneurship publication, we’re interested in what the feminist movement—and the action resulting from it—looks like at the moment. Here are our top picks for Rabble content that dives into this.
As the headline suggests, this Rabble article looks at how the Trudeau government’s broader foreign policy is decidedly non-feminist, and their “feminist” marketing legitimates those policies.
The article looks at how the Liberal government has responded to some key feminist foreign policy issues, including its opposition to negotiate a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons, remaining silent on the feminist win in Bolivia, and trying to oust a Nicaraguan government in which women hold half of all cabinet positions and 45 per cent of the legislature.
Building grassroots, decolonial, intersectional feminism
In this episode of Rabble’s Talking Radical Radio podcast, writer and media producer Scott Neigh interviews Angela Marie MacDougall and Jennifer Johnstone, about Women Deliver—an international non-governmental organization focused on gender equality and women’s rights they have cofounded together. We also hear from Rhiannon Bennett, a Musqueam woman and the decolonization and accountability consultant for Feminists Deliver.
Through the podcast, we hear about the work Women Deliver has done, especially during the pandemic. This includes online public education events focused on things like anti-Asian racism, anti-Black racism in Canada, decolonization in the age of reconciliation, and most recently one called Towards Liberation: Beyond 21st Century Capitalism featuring luminaries like Angela Davis, Pam Palmater, Harsha Walia, and Erica Ifill.
‘Take Back the Fight’ should be mandatory reading for young feminists in Canada
In this book review by Vancouver writer and organizer Rayne Fisher-Quann talks about why Nora Loreto’s new book Take Back the Fight: Organizing Feminism for the Digital Age is “a manifesto, a scathing criticism of the status quo, and a call to action for the next generation of feminists all in one.”
Fisher-Quann talks about how Loreto’s book covers everything, and “meticulously examines Canadian feminism’s past, present and future,” creating a blueprint for feminist movements in the modern age.
It’s April 2019. How difficult is it to launch and grow an innovative an independent journalistic media enterprise as a woman? Especially since the industry appears to be financially collapsing all around us. What unique barriers do women media entrepreneurs face? Is there any equity inspired public support?
Three years ago, along with the support of a few advisors and friends, I launched LiisBeth. We noticed and became increasingly concerned about the significant and persistent gender, diversity and inclusion issues in the growing entrepreneurship and innovation economy. We saw that no one was dedicated to interrogating it from a feminist point of view. We ignored the fact that media enterprises were folding all around us. In the Canadian news media space alone, over 260 outlets have closed in the last 10 years. The fact that there are fewer journalists today than ever before didn’t give us pause either. Since 2011, for every job lost in journalism there have been 17 jobs added in public relations and advertising (-1,230 vs. +21,320). We tenaciously believe the fourth estate—versus spin doctoring—remains important to any functioning democracy, and that storytelling can change lives, society, and the course of history. We persist despite the odds. We pivot and iterate. That’s what entrepreneurs do.
But back to what it’s like to grow a media enterprise as a woman? Two quick answers come to mind.
It’s beyond hard. Investors love media tech platforms. But are wary about investing in journalistic content. Even fewer want to spend money investing in feminist-led editorial programs that might upset the status quo. Or unnerve friends in positions of power who helped them get to where they are. Fear of reprisals for truths told are a real concern for many. Society also doesn’t like to hear women who think. Feminist writer Rebecca Solnit notes: “Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. Those who embody it [the status quo], often at the cost of extraordinary silences with themselves, move to the centre; those who embody what is not heard, or what violates those who rise on silence, are cast out.” What she is telling women media entrepreneurs is this: Starting a fashion blog or parenting media property would be far less risky. And likely more successful in attracting readers and growth bucks.
Barriers? Plenty. Starting with having an opinion, and a vagina—especially a mature one. Women publishers in search of truth, with iron stomachs and interrogative skills, scare people. Women entrepreneurs face significant access to investment capital barriers. Women over 50, like myself, are ineligible for the majority of publicly funded entrepreneur support programs which generally favour youth. As if that demographic, lovely and challenged as it is (I have an 18-year-old), is the only one capable of innovating and in need of income. We end up bootstrapping and growing our ventures one relationship-based subscription at a time, only scratching the surface of our true potential, feeling very much alone.
Yet, we need more women-led news media entrepreneurs than ever before. If what we want is a more inclusive society—and democracy—we need more women of colour, Indigenous women, feminists, and LGBTQ media enterprise founders in this space.
A report released in December 2018 by The Discourse underscores the need even further. The report says, “…the majority of [news media] upstarts are founded by men, and predominately white men. Most female founders are also white. If news outlets owned and operated by women and people of colour cannot access support to start and grow, the next generation of Canadian media will not represent Canadians in their ownership, newsrooms, stories published, and communities served.”
The good news is that many enterprising women of all backgrounds are beginning to notice the opportunity. Toes are in the water.
Yet unless readers and innovation economy ecosystems begin to support promising, diverse, women-led media outlets with their dollars, these new enterprises and their hungry journalist freelancers will experience the life-span of a Mayfly.
For those of you who have been reading about the Canadian federal government’s new $645M news media support fund and think this might be the answer—it’s not. At least not if what we are looking for is the development of diverse media enterprises. The fund’s criteria excludes small startups because it’s a tax credit, which means it’s only helpful if your enterprise generates a taxable profit in the first place (highly unlikely for a startup). Applicants are also disqualified if they “significantly promote a particular interest”. For example, outlets with a mandate to advance gender equity as part of their reporting work. Throughout, it favours large, established patriarchal print-led news organizations over startups that can add new voices to the mix.
Erin Millar, the founder of SheEO supported and venture funded news media startup, The Discourse Media, expressed similar concerns. In The Discourse March 30th newsletter, Millar writes “As currently described they [funding program criteria] will disincentivize entrepreneurship and investment in early stage startups, and will ultimately chill innovation.”
The Canadian Periodical Fund’s business innovation grant program is also startup phobic—set up to fund “new projects” like consultant-led strategic planning exercises and small “i” innovation band-aids for established, large magazines. Versus supporting a digital startup’s growth phase with operating grants that can help them grow beyond the tadpole stage. At present, its idea of what a startup needs is a mere $5000 in seed money. If you are in the biz, you know that $5000 doesn’t even cover the cost of funding the development of two decent stories—if you aim to pay fairly i.e. at minimum writers’ union wages.
Given these facts, it is remarkable that entrepreneurs exist in the media space at all. Especially since industry analysts and experts routinely point out that in a social media-for-free world, traditional news and magazine industries are dead. Adding, “Besides, millennials don’t read.”
No wonder even patient social impact investors run for the hills.
However, my observation is that millennials do read and there are studies that back me up. In fact, people of all ages are reading more than ever. People are tired of vapid and often sponsored content, and are increasingly willing to pay for what they read—if they trust and find value in a publication’s editorial program. People are also realizing one media source—just like one doctor— can’t meet all of one’s needs. We need a variety of sources and formats to make healthier sense of what’s happening in an alternative fact, AI infected, digital media world.
So is there hope for entrepreneurs thinking of starting the next “Canadaland” or “Atlantic Monthly”? According to a recent research report by newcomer Discourse Media, “..there is a promising, emerging sub-sector within the media industry consisting of independent, digital media outlets using audience-pay models to deliver public service journalism in communities underserved by existing media. This sub-sector is innovative, dynamic, fast-growing and positioned to have a disproportionate impact on the renewal of the Canadian news ecosystem with a relatively modest investment.”
As a reader-supported feminist media upstart, LiisBeth is proud to be part of a rising tide of original content-creating entrepreneurs. And we hope you, our donating readers, are equally proud to be part of an indie media movement. A movement that will one day topple today’s dominating, but weakening, thunder-foot media giants and give way to an emergent landscape of vibrant, flowering and taproot-like ventures which will add texture, balance, and colour to today’s civic discourse.
History is full of examples of the power of the pen.
If you are keen to make a difference and help drive much needed systems change but not prepared, or in position, to start your own news media enterprise, consider at least emailing your local MP and ask them to advocate for a gender-based analysis of media ownership in this country, and the incorporation of a “set aside” in this fund that will ensure the advancement of women-owned media outlets.
Our hopes for a future gender-just world just might depend on it.