Saturday, 30 October 2021

Who's Afraid of Angela Rasmussen?



Once upon a time, scientists explained their findings and opinions in peer-reviewed journals or in carefully worded lectures delivered at scientific meetings. Now science moves at  internet speed and Twitter has taken the place of learned societies as a favored forum.  In the white hot propaganda war over the origin of SARS-CoV-2, scientists on opposing sides of the lab-leak versus nature debate have taken to Twitter like penguins in search of lunch in Antarctica's waters. There they heave nasty adjectives at their opponents with all the subtlety and care of the late Rush Limbaugh. Recently, a virologist named Angela Rasmussen (who claims over 200,000 Twitter followers), formerly of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, and now with the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, threw certain adjectives at me. I had been a guest on a Canadaland podcast explaining the findings of my new book, On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years, to Jesse Brown. Ms. Rasmussen, who, since the pandemic began, has turned into a one-woman defender of globalized virological science on as many TV shows, newscasts, magazines, and newspapers as are willing to quote her (see her cv), got herself invited to the Canadaland podcast to denounce my book and her version of the main theory it propounds.  

I  don't normally fuss over critiques of my published work. Journalists who throw stones are used to stones being thrown back and a good critique improves the work.  I also try to live by a line made famous by champion boxer John L. Sullivan when some drunken twerp challenged him in a bar: "If you hit me," said Sullivan, "and I hear about it...."On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years exposes undeclared competing interests, cover-ups by China's officialdom, the manipulation of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory by China's civilian/military virological establishment, and that labs outside the reach of US regulation have been doing dangerous gain-of-function experiments with USAID and NIH money given to them via a New York charity. The book follows the money and it names names. It shows that science done in authoritarian regimes cannot be trusted and why. So I expected pushback and I welcome it. 

Nevertheless, I must respond to Ms. Rasmussen. She makes too many untruthful claims to ignore. While Ms. Rasmussen is entitled to dump on my book if she's read it, her critique on the Canadaland podcast made it clear she hadn't. Though I wrote to Jesse Brown, as did my publisher, asking him to attach my rebuttal of her false assertions to her podcast episode, Canadaland decided not to "re-litigate" the matter. Thus, this blogpost.

I listened with amazement as Ms. Rasmussen began by accusing me of publishing a book  that is "riddled with error starting with the title." Why was the title in error? Ms. Rasmussen insisted that HIV/AIDS is the deadliest pandemic in 100 years, not SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19. While it is true that HIV/AIDS has killed about 35 million people over fifty years, Ms. Rasmussen must know that the WHO--which is the international body charged with declaring pandemics---did not declare HIV/AIDS to be one. Killing 35 million over fifty years is bad, but killing at minimum 6 million people around the world (while infecting hundreds of millions) in 18 months is the worst pandemic in 100 years.   

Ms. Rasmussen then asserted that my publisher failed to fact check the book as evidenced by the title. In fact my publisher had four fact checkers go over it from the cover to the acknowledgements--400 pages with over 400 end notes drawn mainly from scientific publications but also from interviews with virologists--  starting with the title.

Ms. Rasmussen insisted that if only I'd bothered to interview virologists, I would have been set straight on a number of points, including the function of a genetic sequence conserved in all coronaviruses known as the RdRp ( which stands for the RNA dependent RNA polymerase). That's when it became quite clear that she had not bothered to read the book but was responding to what she thought I said in the interview I'd given Jesse Brown. If she had read the book, she would have known how many virologists I tried to interview, and who among them finally agreed to speak with me. One who did consent to be interviewed, virologist Linfa Wang, is a close associate of Shi Zhengli, the so-called Bat Woman of China. It is Shi Zhengli's lab that has become a focus for those arguing that a leak from a lab may have caused the pandemic. I interviewed others as well, but in particular a Canadian government virologist, Basil Arif, who ,since 1998, has worked on the journal Shi edits, Virologica Sinica, which is  published by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Arif has also done  important papers with Zhihong Hu, the former director of the WIV and the former boss of  Shi Zhengli. Arif has been going annually to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for more than twenty years, which cannot be said of Ms. Rasmussen who admits she doesn't know Shi Zhengli, but knows "friends" of hers, and that she is "honest." Unfortunately, as my book shows, that claim is also far from true.

When Brown asked Rasmussen why, if my book is riddled with errors, the well-known science writer and editor, Nicholas Wade, had praised it, she replied that Nicholas Wade should be ignored on the grounds that a book he wrote in 2014  defines him as a racist. (Racist is a word she hurls around fairly frequently, along with the epithet grifter.) Wade's views on the subject of intelligence, the subject of his book, are beside the point. The article he wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists-- describing, among other things, his concern about how leading scientists tried to label as conspiracy theorists all who raised the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a lab--finally made it possible for leading major media in the US to publicly consider the question.  Instead of speaking to Wade's points, she used a vile name to try to write him off.

Similarly, she mis-characterized what I wrote about the unusual five year relationship between the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg and the leading military/civilian virologists in China, including George F. Gao and Major General Chen Wei of the Peoples' Liberation Army.

She also insisted that I believe the genome sequence known as RaTG13 is the viral ancestor of SARS-CoV-2. In fact, the book makes clear that I believe RaTG13 is a red herring and a symptom of the many things we have not been told about work done in Shi Zhengli's lab. While until recently RaTG13 was the closest published viral sequence to SARS-CoV-2, it is fairly distant and does not have the furin cleavage site which makes SARS-CoV-2 so efficient at causing infection. (We now know that Shi Zhengli, Linfa Wang, and American colleagues Ralph Baric and Peter Daszak sought $14 million from DARPA in 2018 to, among other things, insert furin cleavage sites into SARs- related coronaviruses isolated by Shi's lab. They didn't get that grant, but we don't know if Shi Zhengli got grant money elsewhere and did the planned experiments herself. ) My book makes clear that I like best a quite different origin theory proposed by plant virologist Jonathan Latham and his partner, Dr. Allison Wilson. They sought to explain why SARS-COV-2 appeared to be so well-adapted to human beings from the start of the pandemic. If it originated in a bat or jumped to humans through an intermediate animal, why were there so few mutations in the first few months of its circulation? This adaptation to humans from the start was pointed to by Alina Chan and colleagues who compared it to SARS's rapid mutation in the first quarter of its circulation. Chan's work was only published as a pre-print (and poohpoohed as such by Rasmussen) but many other scientists in peer-reviewed papers pointed to the same issue, including one paper published in the journal Cell and commented on by Rasmussen herself. 

Latham and Wilson argue that SARS-COV-2, or its direct ancestor, became well-adapted to humans in the lungs of six miners back in 2012. They had been hired to clear bat feces out of a copper mine in Yunnan, China. They got terribly sick with a SARS-like pneumonia. Three died. Samples of serum from them, taken over the course of several months, were sent to Shi Zhengli  at the Wuhan Institute of Virology because she was by then expert in SARS-like coronaviruses. Shi only admitted she had those samples after a Masters thesis and PhD thesis describing the miners' illnesses, treatments, and where their samples were sent, were discovered by members of a group of curious volunteers called DRASTIC. Shi Zhengli has still not published anything about what she found in those samples but has confirmed that they remain in her lab and that she revisited those samples "recently." Latham and Wilson argue that studying those samples would have given Shi a ringside seat  as a bat virus evolved in real time into something that could easily infect humans. When challenged by Jesse Brown on that point, Ms. Rasmussen said Latham and Wilson are plant virologists, so their argument holds no water. In fact, their argument had already been supported by a study done in the UK  and published in a medical journal in February. Doctors there took a series of samples of the virus over several months from a man infected with SARS-CoV-2. These samples were sequenced and showed in real time how the virus adapted through mutation to the different treatments tried.

Toward the end of the podcast, Brown asked Rasmussen if she knew why W. Ian Lipkin-- one of the coauthors of an early paper published in Nature Medicine that claimed a lab leak to be highly unlikely-- had changed his mind and wanted a proper investigation of that possibility.  Over most of 2020, that Nature Medicine paper was pointed to again and again as the refutation of any who dared to say a lab leak might have been possible. That paper served the propaganda interests of China, but also the interests of the American institutions that had funded Shi Zhengli's work--USAID, the NIH/NIAID--through EcoHealth Alliance, also a major funder of Lipkin's work at Columbia's Mailman School. Most of the papers' coauthors, including Lipkin, failed to acknowledge any competing interests, such as their relationships with those funders and with China. Ms. Rasmussen told Brown that though she used to work for Lipkin  (until 2020), she did not know why he'd changed his mind. Yet Lipkin had been widely quoted on that subject. He said information had emerged about very dangerous gain-of -function experiments done by Shi Zhengli and her colleagues in low security labs which was "unsafe." Even if Ms. Rasmussen did not read those articles, if she'd read my book she would have known exactly why Lipkin changed his mind.

Ms. Rasmussen may be a terrific virologist but critiquing a book she did not read is a dubious scientific practice. She might want to reconsider as well her strong support of global cooperation among scientists without regard to the conditions under which some scientists work. In particular, she should rethink whether we can rely on science done by colleagues working in authoritarian regimes. Early in the pandemic, China's officials made clear to its scientists that they must get official permission to publish anything on SARS-CoV-2, or else, and that getting that permission would depend upon whether an article fit the propaganda interests of the government of China. Scientists in the west need to take care to avoid being dragged into China's propaganda machinery, which is extensive. The Propaganda Department of China regards scientific publishing as part of its purview and reports directly to the highest leadership.

Ms. Rasmussen's appearance on the Canadaland podcast was clearly useful to China.  CGTN-- the China Global Television Network-- took note of it and published on its website an  article that bears this false title: "Virologist refutes Dewar's theories....'"  

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Virtual Book Launch for On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation



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.

The interview will be live-streamed starting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. You can view the live stream and participate on Facebook or YouTube.

Hope to see you there.

Elaine

Thursday, 5 August 2021

My new book: On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation

On the Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation


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.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Part V: Reflections on the Second Wave: A Feminist Journalist Remembers Herself



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.

Part IV: Reflections on the Second Wave: A Feminist Journalist Remembers Herself


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.

Part III: Reflections on the Second Wave: A Feminist Journalist Remembers Herself


In Feminist Acts, Tessa Jordan suggests that hundreds of small, Xeroxed feminist newsletters plus a few magazines and journals with tiny circulations, carried Second Wave ideas to Canadian women. Apparently, Canadian feminist scholars refer to these homemade publishing ventures as the Print Project. But again, that is not the whole story, not even the main story. Television may actually have played a more formative Second Wave role in Canada, thanks to Bonnie Kreps.

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."

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Part II: Reflections on the Second Wave: A Feminist Journalist Remembers Herself



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.

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