Please join me for the virtual launch of my new book, On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation. Dan Wells, founder of Biblioasis, my publisher, has asked the wonderful novelist, non fiction author, and former Harrowsmith Editor, Wayne Grady to interview me. While the book has garnered interest from the CBC, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, there is a lot to discuss that newspaper articles and national news reports cannot convey which might be of interest to anyone getting ready to cast a vote in the federal election. The format permits us to take questions from any who have them.
Saturday, 11 September 2021
Thursday, 5 August 2021
On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation is the title of my new book. It is the product of more than a year's hard digging into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It will be out by the end of August in Canada, the first week in September in the US.
It is without doubt the hardest book I've ever written. Doing an investigation during a pandemic required me to reinvent the tactics I used when I started in journalism in the early 1970s. My first job for Maclean's Magazine was to research a story on the planned Montreal Olympics for a writer who had strong opinions about why it shouldn't go forward, but no facts to back them up. To do that project, I rarely left the periodical section of the University of Toronto's Robarts Library because what I found there about past Olympics --all had involved financial boondoggles-- was great support for the writer's argument. ("You found this in the library? In the newspapers? In magazines? Really?") To do this one, I rarely left the house, working instead on two computers and a smart phone which provided instantaneous access to a tsunami of information. In the beginning, when we were locked down, no one was allowed to leave their home for any reason other than to buy food (and toilet paper) or for a medical emergency. Even if I'd ignored those rules, it wouldn't have got me anywhere. Most of the researchers I wanted to interview don't live in Canada and weren't in their labs anyway. The borders were shut. Most government officials were working from home. Parliament was closed. So I was forced to develop my own imperfect version of the method of inquiry once wielded like a broadsword by the legendary US journalist I.F. Stone. His most important scoops came from careful reading of public documents and deft use of the Freedom of Information Act.
I read everything I could find in learned journals, in pre-print literature and on academics' blogs about the nature of SARS-CoV-2, its relationship to other coronaviruses, its chemistry, its evolutionary history, the very unusual structure of its genome and its near perfect adaptation to human beings from the very start of the pandemic. I scoured the worldwide daily press, dived down many internet rabbit holes, made too many access to information applications. Most knowledgeable researchers, to my surprise, didn't answer my emails. That was a first: usually scientists want to discuss their work with journalists. It helps them climb the tenure ladder to get their ideas circulating in the broader community. More astonishing was the lengths to which civil servants went to protect themselves and their political masters from embarrassment by means of improper redactions and outright refusals to comply with the access to information law. As I figured out who I had to talk to, if they responded (a few did) I interviewed them by means of email and telephone. But it was mainly through their published works that I came to know then. What I learned about the way globalized virological science has been practiced over the past twenty years surprised and enraged me. Certain names kept coming up: Shi Zhengli, Linfa Wang, Peter Daszak, Ralph S. Baric, Kristian Andersen, Zhihong Hu, Xianguo Qiu, Keding Cheng, Chen Wei, E.C. Holmes, George Gao.
The book is both a detection narrative and an exposition of the political and scientific context for the worst public health disaster since the great flu epidemic of 1918/19. It points fingers. It names names. It describes the way in which the government of China, from the very beginning, withheld vital information and promoted false-by-omission scientific narratives in order to deflect blame even as it permitted the virus to spread. China's relentless PR campaign began at the end of December, 2019 even as the first mention of a nasty pneumonia circulating in Wuhan found its way to social media sites and from there to the West. China was helped in its efforts by the WHO, whose job is to protect the world from such disasters, and even more shockingly by some of the world's best scientific journals, our leading coronavirus experts and the US institutions which fund their work. All were more anxious to protect their interests than to pursue the truth. The book describes in detail how China used the globalization of biological science as cover for dual-use research that could not be done at home, reaching into the most secure laboratory in Canada for the study of the most dangerous pathogens (Ebola, Marburg, Nipah). China's top military/civilian scientists (there is no boundary between them) used it as if it were their very own lab for years.
More than 4 million people are known to have died from SARS-CoV-2 since December, 2019. That number is at least twice as high if suspected, but not certified, COVID deaths in India are factored in. It will continue to grow as the virus wends its way throughout the mostly un-vaccinated developing world, mutating as it goes, stumbling on ever more clever means to infect humans and the susceptible animals that live near us. These deaths are not and will not be the result of an unavoidable accident of nature: they are and will be the product of the very best human minds.
As the 4th wave begins, it's time to hold some of those humans to account.
Sunday, 8 March 2020
Neither Feminist Acts nor Inside Broadside bring the story of the women's movement up to date. Both publications were shut down before, or as, the Second Wave was supplanted by the Third. And much later, the Third gave way to the Fourth. These publications were also gone long before gay marriage became legal, and the Government of Canada apologized for the way it had treated gay men and lesbian women in the armed forces, before Canadian women flew fighter jets, captained ships, won Nobels in literature and physics, floated around in the international space station, before the Prime Minister of Canada called himself a feminist, made sure his cabinet was 50% female, and appointed as the second most powerful person in his government Chrystia Freeland, a woman raised in part in a feminist collective in Edmonton.
Yet it is the writers of the Second Wave who may best explain what troubles us still--the awful hinge that ties women of ambition to predatory men. This is where the Fourth Wave, better known as #MeToo, enters the narrative. I've lost track of the number of cases of powerful men (like Cosby, Ghomeshi, Schultz, Ailes, O'Reilly, Epstein, Prince Andrew, Trump, etc. etc.) who have been made to answer the accusations of once ambitious women (both of colour and white skinned privilege) who turned to them to advance their careers and found themselves being raped, groped, or threatened instead. As Brownmiller showed us so long ago, abusers enabled by Patriarchy take particular pleasure in putting women of ability and ambition back in the old place, the subjugation and silent place, by means of verbal and physical assault, followed by non disclosure agreements.
Just as mainstream publications featured the works of the ambitious female journalists who led the Second Wave, the Fourth Wave now gathers momentum from the published stories about talented women, many of them journalists, who decided to take on those predatory men in the public sphere and in the courts. The abused female journalists of Fox News decided to sue the bastards. Others told their stories in public with the help of reporters and major media. These include Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey of the New York Times; Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker; Jesse Brown of CanadaLand, and Kevin Donovan at the Toronto Star. These reporters and publications gave ambitious, but silenced, women, a platform to call out the powerful men who'd used their determination to contribute to the world as the means to lure them in. After the newspapers and magazines ran their stories, the police and prosecutors got involved.
This is why Mr. Weinstein is now sitting in the medical ward of an American prison in New York having been found guilty of rape. More charges await him in California
Maybe sisterhood will make a comeback too.
The Third Wave took the Second Wave discourse on power and gave it a hard twist. Third Wave activists looked askance at the institutional power that had been gathered by Second Wave feminists as they built shelters, rape crisis centers, abortion clinics, legal aid clinics to serve women suffering in a misogynist world. Third Wave feminists insisted on the handover of this sort of power acquired by "women of white skinned privilege," as many Second Wave feminists came to be called, to women of colour. This notion of "white skinned privilege" struck me as plain bizarre when I first heard the phrase used at a women's conference financed by the Government of Canada. I thought it was a truly weird form of inverse racism, a divisive idea at odds with the feminist ideal of a sisterhood that includes all women regardless of class, race, or religious inclinations. I could not see how applying preference and deference by race would help anyone. Aside from the fact that the whole concept of race has no scientific validity--just appalling social power-- I also could not see how this "white skinned privilege" applied to me. I am Jewish, and for a large part of the last century, Jews were considered a race apart, not white at all. (As we have learned recently, white supremacists still insist that Jews are a race apart and shall not "replace them".) I didn't feel privileged, I felt as if I'd earned my way.
And yet: I had clearly acquired privilege, like so many of my peers all of whom were "white." The friends I grew up with had acquired professional credentials or gone to graduate schools and carved out careers for themselves with significant hope of achievement and recognition. Yes, we all had stories to tell about the jerks at the office who thought our bodies were theirs to manhandle. Yes, we could regale each other with hard truths about the boss who refused to pay to us what was being paid to a man doing the same job on the grounds that the man was married. As if marital status mattered a damn to the work done. Yes, we all experienced making an argument in a meeting that wasn't heard or acknowledged until a man repeated it-- as if it was his idea. Yes, we had all experienced a sense of encroaching danger when walking by a man on any urban street at night. But I was also one of Maryon Kantaroff's ambitious women, born lucky into a middle class family that educated me, with a mother pleased to see me use my talents, and all women did not have that experience. The magazine that most allowed me to invent myself as a writer, City Woman, aimed its ads at women like us. I was not seen as a woman of colour when I went out in the world, so: I wasn't routinely followed to make sure I wasn't shoplifting as I walked through a supermarket or a clothing store; I wasn't selected for arrest if I participated in a demonstration because of the tilt of my eyes of the nap in my hair; I wasn't stopped and asked to show my driver's license and ownership while driving because of how I looked.
As barriers fell, and we climbed up, my friends and I, getting closer and closer to those who exercised real power, closer and closer to achieving our ambitions, it was easy to forget that we were leaving sisters behind. Nothing better illustrates where our ambitions took us--took me--than what happened when Judy Chicago's Dinner Party came to Toronto.
The Dinner Party is a fascinating visual argument about how women artists' works were ignored by the male art world even as their talents were taken advantage of. It was shown at various galleries across North America in the late 1970s, and Chicago published an art book to go with it. Leading male art critics pissed all over the Dinner Party. The New York Times' critic called it vulgar. But museum goers loved it and turned it into a major gallery money maker. Fifty thousand people went to see it when it came to Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario.
Branching Out reviewed the book. Broadside reviewed the show. Both found considerable fault. In her "scathing" review of the book, entitled "Vaginal Hype," author Cathy Hobart declared she had spent four days visiting Chicago's studio which she accused Chicago of running like a sweatshop. In Broadside, Susan Crean critiqued the show on the grounds that a fee was charged, that the iconography was too obscure and the artists referenced too unknown to mean anything to anyone unless they paid for the guide, and that "nine of the 13 guests on the third side of the triangular table are American and all but Sacajawca and Sojourner Truth are white, middle class artists and social reformers." The point, said Crean, is that "Chicago's politics are not particularly radical. Her visualization of feminism, rhetoric aside, fits right in with the trendy notions of 'liberated' upper class matrons."
City Woman also ran a story on Judy Chicago and The Dinner Party, written by Natalie Veiner Freeman who helped bring the show to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Veiner Freeman definitely fit anyone's idea of "upper class." She was from a wealthy family and was the spouse of Senator Jack Austin, then a member of Pierre Trudeau's cabinet and inner circle. The night before the show opened in Toronto, Veiner Freeman organized a dinner party to celebrate it. It was held in an empty house rented for the occasion with a marquee attached. Judy Chicago was her honoured guest. So was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who arrived in a limo with Sylvia Tyson as his date. Maurice Strong, the founder of PetroCanada among so many other achievements, came too, and read contracts all night. Other guests included Adrienne Clarkson and her partner, author John Ralston Saul, who had worked with Strong at PetroCanada; Margaret Atwood and her partner, author Graeme Gibson; the Editor of City Woman and her then beau; my husband (ordered to keep his mouth zippered as Trudeau knew him all too well from his days on W-5), and me. We all got a private preview of The Dinner Party with Judy Chicago explaining it to us, just us, no line-up, no crowds. As we walked around her three tables, the Prime Minister and Sylvia Tyson went first with Chicago, followed by Adrienne Clarkson, then a national television star who, in twenty years, would be the first woman of colour appointed Governor General, and Margaret Atwood, already Margaret Atwood though The Handmaid's Tale had not yet emerged from that fertile brain. The two of them walked side by side, they'd been friends for years. The rest of us fell in behind, our positions in the line emblematic of the gradations of social power. Back at the house, Veiner Freeman's dinner tables had been set up like those of The Dinner Party. There were a few small plaster sculptures of black jockeys in livery set out at the door and near the tables, the kind seen on front lawns in the deep South, as if to suggest we were in some southern ante-bellum mansion.
I learned something that night-- that feminists and journalists must never get cosy with the powerful. It makes us forget where we've come from, it makes us susceptible to inappropriate demands, it makes us blind even to our own interests.
It was exclusion from this sort of power that made women of colour demand that white middle class feminists step back from the organizations they'd founded, and hand them over. It was exclusion from government grants in favour of immigrant and black women which made the collective that published Broadside hand the magazine over at the end of 1989. As Masters explained at the time:
"The government's supposed commitment to funding 'doubly disadvantaged' groups (Black women, immigrant women, visible minority women--though clearly not lesbian women) is a reflection of a social movement affecting all feminist groups in Canada. The most crucial aspect of feminism in the past few years has been the efforts to incorporate anti- racist perspectives into feminist practice and analysis. White women have been forced to deal with the issues raised, forced to face the fact that it may no longer be the role of White women to frame the debate and direct the struggle. With the growth of global feminism in the past decade, White feminists are no longer the majority if they ever were."
It was not, Masters continued, that women of colour did not share the issues Broadside covered (which she lists as violence against women, pornography, and, oddly, nuclear arms), it was that Broadside's White lesbian collective had a lopsided view of things, given its makeup, even though it had tried to be anti-racist. The collective, she said, had negotiated with the Black Women's Collective to send their own offering, Our Lives, to Broadside's subscribers instead of giving them their money back. Broadside was therefore folding, but not feminism, Masters insisted.
In this Masters was also wrong: Second Wave feminism, in particular its ideal of sisterhood, was folding. And that too had been signaled in major media first.
At the end of 1988, writer Marlene Nourbese Philip, a woman of colour, picketed as racist an international PEN Congress attended by writers from all over the world. Author June Callwood, one of Toronto's leading White feminists, was then president of the Canadian PEN chapter and had organized that event. On her way home after it was over, the sight of Nourbese Philip with her sign made Callwood so mad she told her to fuck off. The story made the Globe and Mail. Callwood quit the paper, where she was "un-fireable," to save it from the problem of her presence. Three years later, Callwood was again pushed to resign from the board of Nellie's, a feminist women's shelter she'd helped found, not long after Prime Minister Mulroney named Callwood to a blue ribbon panel to convince Canadians to vote in favour of the Charlottetown Accord in a national constitutional referendum. NAC, then led by Judy Rebick, a Trotskyite who had worked on behalf of Morgenthaler when he was criminally charged for performing abortions, and then as an NDP activist, was opposed to the Accord. A group of Black women, some also NDP activitsts, moved in on Nellie's, getting themselves appointed to its egalitarian staff and board. At one memorable board meeting one of them called Callwood a racist and out the door she went again. I wrote a long story about the who, what, where, and why, for Toronto Life. While it was hard to get the women involved to talk to me ( mainstream press after all) I eventually found that the motive behind Callwood's ejection was that her absence made it easier to take control of Nellie's, attractive due to its institutional power (not to mention $600,000 squirreled away in its bank account through curious means.) For putting this story in print, Toronto Life was picketed, scaring the crap out of the woman running reception. Judy Rebick wrote a letter of complaint to the Editor. Failing to mention that she had known me for twenty-five years, that we had lived in that commune together for some of those years, she referred to my work as the worst example of yellow journalism she'd ever seen in the mainstream press.
So much for sisterhood.
Kreps, a Danish immigrant to the US, was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Reed College with an MA in English from University of Pittsburgh when she arrived in Toronto in the middle 1960s. Her husband had been appointed an assistant Professor of high energy physics at U of T and they had a young daughter whose care had fallen primarily on Bonnie's shoulders as she was earning her Ph.T. ( otherwise known as Putting Hubby Through). She knew the Problem With No Name from hard personal experience and was a committed radical feminist. She was in close contact with women in New York, especially her sister Anne Koedt, who were reformulating de Beauvoir's ideas, women whose seminal feminist works would be published only a few years later.
Kreps, representing no one but herself, presented a Second Wave brief to the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1968. She set out the radical feminist analysis of the damage done to women by socially constructed and discriminatory gender roles, and why there must be a radical change in belief systems, not just laws, if women were ever to get out from under them. In other words, she demonstrated how it is that the personal is political, the core idea of the Second Wave, an idea later reflected in the Commission's report. By 1969, Kreps was working at CTV. She launched what became a distinguished filmmaking career with a special documentary for CTV's flagship public affairs show, W-5, called After the Vote: A Report from Down Under. The show went to air before an audience of millions and introduced many Canadians who did not read Chatelaine to Second Wave ideas-- even to those of Ti- Grace Atkinson who called for female separatism. That show was made five years before Branching Out published its first issue, ten years before Broadside was launched.
My husband, Stephen Dewar, was Krep's colleague at CTV which is how I met her, became her friend, and joined the radical feminist group she co-founded called The New Feminists. Its meetings, its consciousness-raising sessions, allowed me to hash through with older and more experienced women the ideas still burning in my brain from reading de Beauvoir. They shared with the group their lived experience of how gender roles oppress: how raising children fell unequally upon women regardless of how much they earned; how men at the top of institutions thought it reasonable to promote men ahead of women regardless of competence simply because they were men; how rape and other forms of physical brutality were used by men to keep women in fear and in their place; how ignorance of our bodies denied many women sexual pleasure; how Patriarchy amounts to a socially organized and socially sanctioned abuse of power. At first there were only a few women in this group. By the time it fell apart a few years later it had 300 members and many other such groups had formed across the country. In a few short months as a New Feminist I learned that if I didn't set aside the notions drummed into me since childhood concerning motherhood, wife-hood, and femininity, I would live and die without ever having a voice of my own. And I wanted that voice.
To give Jordan and Masters their due, their books made me remember my own feminist history. Until Jordan described Branching Out's organizational issues, I'd forgotten how important it was to Second Wave feminists that our organizations be feminist in their internal operations. A vital insight of the Second Wave-- a corollary of the dictum that the personal is political--is that socially approved abuse of power in all its forms-- legal, economic, social, but especially physical-- is what circumscribes women's lives. Radical feminists argued that the way out of bondage was to be the opposite of the male slave master, to embrace egalitarianism, to operate through consensus and without leaders so as to refrain from imposing new structures of power on the previously voiceless and powerless. The opposite of the feminist was the Queen Bee--a woman who fought her way to the top of an organization only to use her power to suppress her sisters.
Both Jordan and Masters discuss how this discourse on power permeated operations at both Branching Out and Broadside. Though Broadside was incorporated as a for profit entity ( to avoid being "taken over" by hard left groups trying to foment a different kind of revolution), it functioned as a leaderless collective. Masters asserts that not one single vote had to be taken in ten years, because, as she put it, its members knew to step back when someone else knew more. By contrast, Branching Out started as a non profit, consensus-driven feminist collective, but according to Jordan, soon discovered that a rudimentary hierarchy was needed. There had to be an editor to drive the publishing process or deadlines would be missed and the magazine would not get to the newsstands. Editing was also necessary for clarity and readability (though at other feminist journals editing was deemed to be power abuse and therefore verboten). Instead of power-free egalitarianism, Branching Out offered its volunteers colleagial autonomy, similar to the way we worked at Maclean's Magazine at that time. We had a boss, Peter C. Newman, who could fire us if we screwed up, but we dreamed up our own story ideas which were then thrashed out further in editorial meetings. Submitted pieces were circulated to all editors for comment and if there were disagreements they had to be resolved or the piece would not be published. At one editorial meeting when Maclean's still had an outside editorial board, I had a fight with Barbara Frum, then a member, over whether or not I should ask Myrna Kostash to write a piece on rape as a crime of power aimed at the mental as well as physical subjugation of women. Frum insisted rape is an assault like any other: I countered with Brownmiller's argument, that it is the very definition of the abuse of power by men over women, the fear of which keeps women in their place. Maclean's ran Kostash's story.
But as with so many theories about social change, the main product of this insight about power was not freedom from it, but endless disputes in feminist groups over who was acting like a leader when there weren't supposed to be any, who was hogging the limelight, who was actually making decisions while merely pretending to honour consensus. While we recognized how we suffered from the abuse of power, we failed to appreciate that social hierarchy is basic to all primate societies and not easily curtailed. More to the point, we failed to appreciate how consensus could become a vise throttling the ambitions of the women who drove the Second Wave.
Renowned sculptor and fellow New Feminist Maryon Kantaroff explained this to me when I interviewed her in 1977 in Toronto for a story in Weekend Magazine on why the New Feminists folded. ( This piece is referred to in Inside Broadside with some disdain). Kantaroff explained that she had grown tired of moving at the pace of the slowest, but even more tired of being the group's workhorse. "All of us who were the real driving forces were, without exception, very personally ambitious women. Feminism liberated our personal ambitions," she said. "...There came a time when we could say, now, my work. I've got to go ahead." Kantaroff by then had come to believe that to make change, power had to be grasped, it would never be given up voluntarily by those wielding it. That's why she intended to start a political party --The Feminist Party-- that would be "totally elitist, totally elitist...They'll be knocking down the doors to be in this elite group of feminists who are organizing a political structure."
# # #
Betty Friedan's ideas were old hat in Canada by the time The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963. Canadian women had been writing and publishing on legal and cultural means of suppression ever since Doris Anderson became the Editor of Chatelaine in 1958. Doris' managing editor, Jean Wright, refused a chance to excerpt The Feminine Mystique because Chatelaine had already covered everything in it.
Yet Tessa Jordan appears to accept Branching Out's founding Editor Susan McMaster's claim that in 1972, before Branching Out was first published, " there was no feminist periodical in Canada that sought a national audience and had the newsstand appeal of Ms. or Chatelaine." She is right about the newsstand appeal of Chatelaine, but this suggests Ms. and Chatelaine were equivalent, though they were not, while simultaneously implying that Chatelaine was not a feminist magazine. And yet it was. Regardless of its ads and fashion features, under Doris Anderson's editorial direction Chatelaine carried feature after feature, column after column, editorial after editorial, detailing the unfair laws and social restrictions which hedged women (and men) in coffin-like sex roles. Her editorials urged women to get up off their knees and change them. She raised Chatelaine's circulation from about 460,000 to over a million not by shying away from feminism, but by featuring it, and pointing out that thanks to the First Wave, her readers had the right to vote, to make their views known to MPs, to stand for election and get things done.
Without Chatelaine and its wide audience, there would have been no Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1968. When feminist activist Laura Sabia threatened then Prime Minister Lester Pearson that he'd better set that Commission up or she'd have two million women on the front lawn of Parliament Hill protesting, Chatelaine's popularity and seriousness made that threat credible. And without that Royal Commission reporting its 137 recommendations in 1970, (the same year Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Millett's Sexual Politics, Anne Koedt's The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm, Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex were published) there would have been no National Action Committee on the Status of Women, better known as NAC, funded by Ottawa. NAC hounded politicians on important issues year after year: its arguments about how and why immigrant and racialized women were being left behind ushered in the Third Wave in Canada.
Without that Royal Commission, there also wouldn't have been an Advisory Council set up to advise the Minister of the Status of Women (another product of the Royal Commission). The story of the blow-up over that Council is only touched on in Inside Broadside but it really matters. Doris Anderson was appointed to it and then became its President after she left Maclean-Hunter in a blaze of fury because its board did not appoint her Editor of Maclean's. She then ran but failed to get elected in a federal by-election as a Liberal. By the time she joined the Council in 1980, it had become a tame extension of the Status of Women's Minister's will. Thinking of Doris Anderson as a political hack who would do what he deemed to be politically useful may have been the biggest political mistake ever made by Lloyd Axworthy, then Minister of the Status of Women.
By 1982, a joint committee of the House of Commons was voting on the wording of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the framing document for the about to be repatriated Constitution. Needless to say, the Charter mattered to the future status of Canadian women. It was well known that some leading feminist constitutional lawyers were very concerned about how the Charter's proposed wording would affect women. Yet Axworthy twice cancelled a national conference on the Constitution organized by his own Council. So Doris Anderson resigned. Inside Broadside republishes a report of the eruption that followed written by activist Kay Macpherson. Her piece is interesting, but it is only one woman's view of events, not journalism. It took a mainstream, ad-driven, controlled-circulation women's magazine, City Woman, and its Editor (and my friend) Dawn MacDonald, to help raise a national hue and cry called the Butterfly Campaign to get women's views proper attention on Parliament Hill. In three weeks flat, an ad hoc group including Macpherson, Linda Ryan Nye, and Marilou McPhedran organized an alternative national constitutional conference in Ottawa. The 1300 self-selected and self-financed attendees who came from across the country, met for two long days in premises supplied first by Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar and Conservative MP Flora MacDonald. They voted on a list of recommendations, including that the Minister of the Status of Women resign. ( He did not. But Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau eventually replaced him with MP Judy Erola.) Attendees lobbied all political parties on what women wanted to see in the Charter. And it was ad-driven City Woman which, several months later, carried a long and careful piece of real journalism about these events and their aftermath, written not by a participant with only her own part of a big story to tell, but by then journalist Anne Collins. Collins interviewed most of the important actors and was able to lay out what happened, why, and what it might mean.
# # #
As conspiracy theories flourished about how and why Jeffrey Epstein met his end in a New York prison, and anticipation built over the Harvey Weinstein rape trial, I dipped into two books presenting worm's eye views of the most important revolution of the last two thousand years-- the rise of radical feminism. Now referred to as the Second Wave, the second feminist revolt (the first focused on the right to vote) helped vault women from voiceless, impecunious, cowering semi-slavery to leadership positions throughout the western world. Anyone trying to craft a narrative of the way the Second Wave affected Canada might find it useful to read Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism by Tess Jordan, and Inside Broadside: A Decade of Feminist Journalism edited by Philinda Masters. But be warned. Much is left out, much is plain wrong. In particular, both purvey the false notion that mainstream journalism stood in the way of the Second Wave. In fact, journalists were the movement's leaders, and mainstream publishers and television networks showed why feminism mattered.
Feminist Acts is a biography of Branching Out which author Tessa Jordan calls "Canada's first national second-wave feminist magazine". It published its preview issue in December 1973 and folded in 1979 when its second full time unpaid editor, Sharon Batt, had to get a job and no one stepped up to take her place. According to Jordan, Branching Out wanted to provide a place for what she calls female culture (stories, poems, art, photographs, essays by women and about women). But contrary to Feminist Acts' subtitle, Branching Out Magazine, with a circulation of 4000, reached very few minds, never mind playing a significant role in "making" Canadian feminism over its seven years of operation in Edmonton. The product of unpaid volunteers and sold on some newsstands across the country, Branching Out offered little that was unavailable in much more widely distributed media.
Inside Broadside reprints some of what this monthly Toronto-based newspaper, published by a lesbian collective, offered its readers between 1979 and 1989. The selected works are organized thematically, each section set up in a short essay by editor Philinda Masters. Though its subtitle claims Broadside published journalism, it is not journalism as I understand it--carefully checked reporting on matters of public interest. Broadside presented something akin to the citizen journalism circulating now on social media-- advocacy, single point of view reports, opinion pieces, and reviews of cultural offerings, all shaped by political beliefs. Broadside prided itself on being outside what it calls mainstream media which its founders viewed as biased in favour of the misogyny of the day. With a circulation of only 2500, it lived off bits of classified ad revenue, subscription income, donations, government grants, the kindness of contributors and volunteers willing to work hard for no remuneration. This is a source of pride to Philinda Masters but it is also an admission that Broadside could not support the digging that real journalism entails even if it had wanted to do it.
Yet that work needed doing. The 1980s were crucial times for Canadian women: we had to fight hard to be properly written into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to be freed from the criminal law on abortion, even as the backlash against Second Wave feminism turned ferocious. And things were worse in the US. The Equal Rights Amendment, outlawing discrimination based on sex, moved so slowly through the ratification process that Viriginia became the 38th and final state necessary to get that job done only last month. Feminists in both Canada and the US were bedeviled by pro-lifers and anti-feminists who insisted women preferred to remain on our knees and should be forced to have children against our will. Even the word feminist (like the word liberal) became a dirty epithet and the vile term feminazi was brandished with pleasure by the loud men of the political Right. By the end of the 1980s the Second Wave had lost momentum and direction. As the Third Wave emerged from it, common cause, the idea that all women suffer from the same social forces in the same way and should therefore help each other as sisters, was abandoned in favour of factions obsessed with class, ethnicity and sexual proclivities.
Neither of these books tells that story well, though Inside Broadside presents slivers of it. Neither is of literary interest either: they display less than sparkling critical writing and story-telling. And yet: they engaged me. Reading them was like plowing through shoe boxes full of the old letters and coffee-stained notes of forgotten but important moments in the Canadian women's movement (and my own life). They shoved me deep into the well of memory, sent me running down to my basement to paw through my own archive of the period, the better to refute or reformulate.
I found myself shouting out loud at certain shared assumptions and assertions. For example: in Philinda Masters' introduction to Inside Broadside she describes the book this way:
"The pieces in this book are a snapshot of ten years of activism, contemplation, creativity, and reporting on what was in the early days called the women's liberation movement. When the mainstream press caught wind of it, it came to be called 'women's lib,' and we became 'women's libbers.' It was their attempt to trivialize what was becoming an enormously threatening trend. And in case you're snickering at how dismissive and odd this sounds, consider what the movement is called now: #MeToo!
To see how it all began, how some things change and some things don't change, read on."
Similarly, according to Jordan in Feminist Acts:
"...because of the limited publication opportunities available to women in Canada in the 1970s, for the Branching Out staff, the very publication of artistic and nonfiction content by women was a feminist act."
These assertions are nonsense. Masters' description of the mainstream media and its coverage of the women's movement bears no relationship to my own experience with either. And as for the notion that merely publishing women's works was a feminist act: please. Female writers of fiction and nonfiction flourished in all major media during both the 1970s and 1980s.
I was a committed feminist and had been living in a commune with my husband and our friends for four years by the time Branching Out published its first issue. Why a commune? Because feminist theorists had argued persuasively that the nuclear family is a prison for ambitious women and I was an ambitious woman. That same year--1973-- I was hired at Maclean's Magazine as a researcher and soon became an editor. Maclean's Deputy Editor at that time was Christina McCall Newman (later Clarkson) by then acknowledged as one of Canada's most astute writers on national politics. Erna Paris, who would become known later for her book on the Holocaust in France and another on the International Criminal Court, was a colleague. The writers I worked with at Maclean's were fearless and accomplished journalists such as: Heather Robertson, Myrna Kostash, June Callwood, Marci McDonald, Dawn MacDonald. I left Maclean's to freelance and for the next thirty years wrote for most of the other leading Canadian magazines. The only one I didn't write for was Chatelaine ( though I was featured there in a Q and A on radical feminism in 1969). In all that time, the only story dealing with Second Wave issues that I was unable to place was a story about the Pill as the largest, uncontrolled experiment ever conducted in medicine.
Contrary to Masters, the phrase "women's liberation" was not imposed on feminist women by misogynist reporters out to mock us, but adapted for use by feminist writers from the liberationist/anti-colonialist literature of the 1950s and early 1960s. And the mainstream press didn't catch "wind" of women's lib: this makes it sound as if feminists, working away in secret, were exposed to the world by reporters seeking to shut us down. In fact, the major works of Second Wave feminist writers were published by leading houses (like William Morrow, W.W. Norton, Random House), as well as by major newspapers and national magazines, especially the women's magazines so disdained by the founders of Branching Out and Broadside for carrying ads for beauty products, clothes, and housewares. Ms. Magazine was launched in 1971 as an inclusion (to gauge reader interest) in the very popular, style conscious, and ad rich New York magazine, whose editors had been publishing leading feminist writers for years. The Second Wave changed minds and laws because so many of its thinkers were either mainstream journalists themselves, or worked very hard to get the attention of the press, and succeeded. You don't make change by hiding your ideas in the basement.
And Inside Broadside's pieces do not deal with how Second Wave feminism began. The Second Wave was launched thirty years before Broadside's first issue with the publication of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. In this two volume work, de Beauvoir, by then a renowned existentialist philosopher as well as an editor/publisher of leftist journals in France, laid out the methods and means by which constricting, stultifying, imprisoning gender roles are imposed in patriarchal societies. It is the Ur text of the Second Wave, and it was hugely popular, selling 22,000 copies in its first week. When it was published in English translation in 1953, it was widely read and it greatly influenced Betty Friedan who published her own national bestseller, The Feminine Mystique, ten years later. By then Friedan, formally trained as a psychologist, was a well known writer, having done stories about these issues for leading magazines and newspapers.
I read de Beauvoir, and everything I could find about her, when I was 17 or 18. She was the first female philosopher I'd heard of and I wanted to be one just like her. In The Second Sex she lays out the various ways in which the nuclear family, political and economic structures, religious beliefs and mythologies, combine to reinforce the suppression of women, to make us conspire in our own subjugation. It was brilliant, insightful, and wildly ambitious. The Feminine Mystique was a book of lesser social and historical scope which aimed more at institutional than cultural change. But Friedan wrapped her hands around what she called The Problem With No Name--the dissatisfaction experienced by so many highly educated women, like her, who, after World War II, found themselves relegated through marriage and motherhood to the socially enforced role of perpetual helpmate.
Friedan's broadside kicked off a geyser of Second Wave organizing and publishing in the US. Though author Susan Brownmiller would later call Friedan hopelessly bourgeois, Friedan's success led major publishers to bring out Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, Shulamith Firestone's The Dialectic of Sex, Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, and later, Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. These works were avidly read and relied upon by the women who organized Second Wave groups in the US, UK, France, Europe, and Canada over the next decade.
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