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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this Free Excerpt from the Book Here.

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


Author Lisa de Nikolits, The Rage Room (2020)

#2: THE RAGE ROOM by Lisa de Nikolits

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read this Free Excerpt from the Book Her


 

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

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

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

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

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

Action you can take: Support the Joy Smith Foundation. 


 

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

#4: Seeds and Other Stories by Ursula Pflug

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

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

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

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

Read this free excerpt from the book here.

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

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


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

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

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

Another Story Bookstore (Toronto)

Glad Day Bookshop

L’Euguélionne (Montreal)

Spartacus Books (Vancouver)

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

SPD Books (U.S.)

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Image of a south asian woman with mid length brown hair in a blue dress. Plants in the background.

DIVA OF DIVERSE ISSUES

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

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Women Talking Gives Me Hope for the Future

An image of Sarah Polley, a white woman wearing a whte tshirt with a movie camera in the background. She is wearing a mask.
Sarah Polley on the set of Women Talking. Credit: Sarah Polley / Twitter

I’ve known Sarah Polley since she was a young activist. Over the years, I’ve watched her career as a film and TV writer and director with some pride. She helped me enormously by telling me about a concussion clinic in Pittsburg a few years ago, so I was aware that she had been unable to continue directing because of her concussion. 

Polley has come back to directing with Women Talking, one of the most powerful films I have ever seen. Based on the extraordinary book by Miriam Toews, Women Talking is a powerful feminist film not only about women organizing to confront or escape male violence but also about the different ways trauma affects us and how to emerge from its grip. As the film begins we see this line “what follows is an act of female imagination.” I am struck by the fact that such a film could even be made within the Hollywood system.  

The story, as you may know, is based on a true horror story of an extremely conservative patriarchal Mennonite colony in Bolivia where seven men were convicted of drugging and raping more than 100 women and girls in 2011. The film, as does the book, imagines the women are meeting in a barn to discuss whether to stay and fight, leave or do nothing in face of the realization that so many of them and their daughters have been sexually assaulted over night after being drugged. The men have left the colony to bail out the rapists. There is not much time to decide what to do.

I’m not a film critic but the acting, cinematography, writing and direction is all wonderful enough that a film that is literally about women talking held my interest for the entire runtime without pause. It is a profoundly feminist film for the obvious reason that trauma from sexual assault is central to many women’s lives and gendered violence affects many more.  But more than that, we see a group of women who have not been taught to read or write as is the belief of their sect, who are basically slaves to the men in their community, who have taught their daughters to accept these conditions based on their religious beliefs are able to face the horror of what happened to them and then debate, discuss and sometimes fight about what to do.  

Most of them believe that leaving the community will mean that they won’t go to heaven. Despite the extreme circumstances, the debate reflects many of the debates we have had about how to end violence against women. Some argue that it is up to the police and courts to punish these men, not up to the group. Others argue that whether or not the rapists are punished doesn’t solve the problem faced by the women, or even guarantee the protection of their children. Can they leave and create their own beloved community? If they stay and fight  won’t they become like their assaulters taking their anger out in violence? Despite the extreme circumstance, the debate and discussion reminded me of some deep divisions I’ve been part of debating in the feminist movement and on the Left. 

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

Debates about violence and non-violence, whether to include men on a march, how to stand up to the Catholic Church on abortion, whether to defy the law. As sometimes the case in social movements, or in the decision of whether to become an activist, whatever they decide will profoundly change their lives. In the film we also experienced how different women are affected by their trauma in profoundly different ways from deeply angry to almost beatific. We also learn that it isn’t only the men who are responsible because mothers have taught their daughters to accept the conditions. And perhaps most extraordinary of all, Sarah respected the religious beliefs of the women.

In the Q and A after the film, Sarah talked about how the process of the film was also feminist. As the mother of three young children, she didn’t want the ten-hour days that are normal practice on a film so she organized it differently. There was a therapist on site to help actors and others deal with the psychological impact of the story. Instead of acting the usual role of the brilliant, domineering auteur writer-director, she encouraged her crew and the actors to contribute to how the film was being made, especially at crucial decisions.  

Women Talking made me feel hope for the future. It is coming to a theatre near you in December. Please see it in the theatre. I’m sure it won’t have nearly the impact on your TV or computer.

Publishers Note: This article was originally published in rabble.ca on September 30th after it was screened at the Toronto Film Festival (TFF) 2022. We are grateful for the opportunity to republish this review for our audience! Thank you rabble.ca!

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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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Our Voices

Chessica Luckett Takes a Stand

Chessica Luckett, 24, is the founder of Arizona-based Luckett Life Values

Just over two years ago, I created my company, Luckett Life Values, at the age of 22. As a young girl, I always knew that I wanted to inspire the youth but I never knew how I would do that. Before the existence of Luckett Life Values, I worked as a substitute teacher at the local school district. During my time there, I learned a lot about myself, about the students, and about the school.

In school, I was bullied for being a skinny girl, a nerd, and for being overall different. The guys teased me but so did other girls, which made me feel less than. When I was working as a substitute teacher, I saw that very same teasing happening with the students within the school. This was my defining moment. This was the moment when I realized I wanted to inspire the youth, especially young girls, to see past the comments of boys, men, girls, and anyone else telling them they don’t matter.

On the road to inspiring the youth, I tried creating an after-school program for the girls but the superintendent informed me that I couldn’t do that. “We already have too many after-school programs going on,” he said. “However, I will be creating my own after-school program in a few months so if you want to come work for me, you can.”

I declined. I declined because he rejected me due to his own selfish reasons. Before he offered, I made the mistake of telling him all of the details about my after-school program idea, about where he can create his own workbooks, about shirt designs, about hosting a “woman’s day” where speakers can come speak to the youth, and more. I had no idea that he would use my ideas even years after they were presented to him.

Despite what he had done, I was still determined to inspire the girls and other young people to believe in themselves. This led to the creation of Luckett Life Values, a business that is centred around motivating people, especially the youth, to believe in themselves, their dreams, and their education. I create my own activity books that have math, reading, and spelling lessons along with math flash cards for students who are in second to fourth grade. I form inspirational bags for the girls that are not only pretty but also serve as a reminder that they can get good grades, achieve their dreams, and be who they are supposed to be. Also, I created my own school project that allows the youth to receive tutoring packages, get access to a ninth grade prep class and audio teachings on subjects such as unity and respect, and gives the staff their own inspirational messages.

My job at the local convenience store allowed me to finance the start of Luckett Life Values. This job was beyond challenging. The work was easy but dealing with the daily “comments” from men (customers and co-workers) about my “size,” about me being or not being a virgin, and about what they would do to me if they had a chance all became too much. I quit. I quit before I fully launched my business, which delayed the progress of my company.

A week turned into a month then a month turned into a year and a half. My business was crumbling. I applied for grants, for sponsorship, and even for loans but I was denied. I was denied because my business wasn’t a non-profit although it could have been. To my surprise, I inquired about sponsorship through a globally recognized company and they agreed to be my fiscal sponsor. Now, I have the funds needed to launch the LLV Girl program for women and girls. This program will allow girls to receive the inspirational bags, and for women to get into college and receive job training.

The obstacles that have stood in the way have been big, some have been small, but none of them have been mighty enough to take away the passion I have for the youth. With Luckett Life Values, I get to comfort the little girl that was teased in school, the woman that was harassed in her place of employment, and all of the girls and women who think they can’t achieve greatness due to the comments of others. Luckett Life Values is, for so many, another option.