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Dr. Marie Lovrod - A study of six feminist art collectives on the canadian prairies, active between 1980-2005

Dr. Marie Lovrod


I also met with another member of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Marie Lovrod. Lovrod has expertise in the areas of autobiography, feminist theory, cultural studies, feminist documentary, and media. We talked at great length regarding feminist documentary and the evolution of story telling, discussions that will be invaluable to me when I begin the editing process for the documentary portion of this research project.

Towards the end of the interview, I asked Lovrod if she had anything to add, and she stated that she had participated in various feminist activist collective organisations, and asked if I would like to talk about her experiences. Lovrod stated she has worked in both consensus and consensual decision-making models and preferred the latter, as she believed that it provided a more transparent process; she added it was also speedier than the consensus model. I kept our conversation in mind, and, as I was going through my research data, it struck me that all of the collectives I studied described consensual decision-making processes, even though they defined their decision-making process as consensus.11, 12

Overview of Canadian Feminism and Feminist Activism

Canadian Feminist Activism’s Diversity


Describing and defining feminist activism in Canada is difficult for many reasons. Feminist activism in Canada is both complex and diverse, and the country’s large geography and the differences between the Anglophone and Francophone feminist movements add to that complexity. This is especially evident in Quebec (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988). Canada is multi-cultural and multi-dimensional, as are its feminist movements, and feminism in Canada has not ‘just survived, but thrived’ (Strong-Boag, Gleason, & Perry, 2003, p. 2).

The last thirty years of Canadian feminist historical scholarship have shown that there is no monolithic history of feminism. Meg Luxton (2004) argues that it is generally accepted that there are three feminisms in Canada: Francophone,13 First Nations, and ‘the rest of Canada’ (p. 4). However, Luxton also argues that women of colour and immigrant women have also organised into groups and challenged feminists from ‘the rest of Canada’ for their failure to address racism; therefore, to a certain extent, they have created a fourth group (p. 4).14

Many scholars have critiqued the way in which many historical accounts of Canadian feminism have excluded the Québécoise and Aboriginal feminist movements or have dealt with them incompletely (Durmont, 1992; de Save, 1992). However, for this brief overview of feminist activism, I have chosen to focus on the feminist movement within the rest of Canada, given that the collectives I researched are located on the three Canadian prairie provinces, are non-Aboriginal, and are English-speaking.

History of Canadian Feminism


Although feminism has conventionally been divided into three waves, Victoria Bromley and Aalya Ahmad (2006 ) caution that a ‘compartmentalized history of the women’s movement’ should be questioned, as feminist history is ‘interconnected and on-going’ (p. 67). For the purposes of this review of the history of feminism in Canada, I will examine feminism through the conventions of first, second, and third waves (Bromley & Ahmad, 2006).

First Wave


‘First-wave feminism’ is a label given retroactively to the suffrage movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century. First-wave feminists struggled to achieve basic political equality: the right to vote and some reproductive, education, and economic rights (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988). In Canada, this struggle was mostly led by middle-class white women, who at times were ‘intolerant of ethnic and class diversity and often unwilling to confront profound inequities in capitalist society’ (Strong-Boag as cited in Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988, p. 35). There are, however, many accounts of labour unions and of groups of black women organizing for suffrage in Canada (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988).

On the Canadian prairies, many first-wave feminists were farmwomen advocating for suffrage. In 1916, the three prairie provinces were the first to grant women the vote (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988). There was no national charter on suffrage, so each province had the power to reform their policies. Women campaigned in each province; by 1916, the five westernmost provinces had suffrage. By 1918, the federal government could no longer ignore the issue, and passed national legislation extending suffrage to most Canadian women. Chinese and Indo-Canadian women were granted the vote in 1947; Aboriginal women did not gain federal suffrage until 1960 (Citizen Shift, n.d.).15

Feminists of the first wave are often described as ‘maternal feminists’ and often thought of their work as ‘mothering’, believing equality was necessary in order to have the tools necessary to become ‘good mothers’ (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988). First-wave feminists were successful in their fight for political equality; however, even after attaining suffrage, women continued to face many inequities.

Second Wave


The origins of second-wave feminism coincide with the Second World War, as many women began, for the first time, to work outside the home, filling jobs vacated by men who had gone to war (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988; Cohen, 1993). When the war ended, many women were pressured to return to the home so that men coming back from the war could return to their jobs.16 By the mid 1950s, women were beginning to voice their unhappiness, and in the late ’50s the Canadian magazine Chatelaine began publishing feminist articles detailing the growing frustration of its readers regarding inequalities in the home and workplace, as well as women’s growing dissatisfaction with domesticity (Rebick, 2005).17

As an identifiable movement, second-wave feminism is generally considered to have coalesced in the early 1960s and to have started to fracture by the late 1980s (Cohen, 1993). Judy Rebick (2005) states that many American and Canadian feminists credit Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, with giving impetus to second-wave feminism. Many middle-class women, both in Canada and the Unites States, related to what Friedan termed ‘the problem with no name’ – a general dissatisfaction with the notion that women found fulfilment in domestic duties such as homemaking, childbearing, and childrearing (Rebick, 2005; Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988).

The ’60s were a time of colossal social and political upheaval and dissatisfaction with their limited roles in society led many women became involved in various activist social groups, particularly those dedicated to peace and racial equality. Even within these groups, many women continued to experience barriers and inequality related to the hierarchical structure of some organisations, leading many to embrace the feminist movement (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988).

The Second Wave in Canada


Canadian women organised to advocate for local, provincial, and national social change. The Abortion Caravan (1970) was the first national action of Canadian feminists. Originating in Vancouver, this independent group of feminists organised a pivotal activist act, in which women from across Canada set out for Ottawa, gathering more members as they went. By the time they gathered in Ottawa, they were 500 women strong and protested for two days on the steps of Parliament. Thirty women chained themselves to the gates, closing Parliament for a day, the first time in history that Parliament had been closed (Rebick 2005; Pro Choice Action Network, n.d.). Similarly, groups of rural women, such as CORA in Ontario, organised road trips to educate communities about feminism (Cohen, 1993).18

In order to collaborate on larger issues, such as abortion and day-care, and to overcome the problem of small rural feminist populations existing within large geographical areas, Canadian women later began to organise on provincial and national levels (Black, 1992 ). Using consciousness-raising and study groups, second-wave feminists began to foster a sense of sisterhood among women (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988). Many feminists, in Canada and elsewhere, chose to organise into non-hierarchical, horizontally structured collectives rather than reproduce the hierarchical and patriarchal structures characteristic of the patriarchal workplace and family (Wine & Ristock, 1991 ).

Second-wave feminists focussed on issues such as ending violence against women, reproductive choices and rights, universal childcare, pay equity, and ending harassment and discrimination in the workplace. They believed in the possibility of change, and their commitment to bringing about that change is demonstrated by the staggering accomplishments of feminists during this period (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988), including, in Canada, the establishment of the National Action Committee of the Status of Women (NAC), an umbrella group for over seven hundred feminist organisations across Canada (Begin, 1992; Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988)19 and the striking of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1967, which ‘played a key role in creating and accelerating the process of a feminist evolution in Canadian women’s associations’ (Blackhouse, 1992, p. 7). Prairie women were very active in second-wave feminism: The first national conference on the women’s movement was held in Saskatoon in November 1970 (Adamson, Briskin, & McPhail, 1988).

Despite all of these accomplishments, second-wave feminism has been critiqued as being highly essentialist: ‘[M]any women, particularly women of colour and lesbians’ (O’Neill, 2002, p. 2), felt excluded and felt that the mainstream movement did not recognise the diverse – and different – issues they faced.

Third Wave


The term ‘third wave’ identifies the feminist movement from the late 1980s to the present. Many women who identify themselves as third-wave feminists grew up with the benefits of second-wave feminism, and so questioned – and pushed at the boundaries of – feminist theory and discourse (O’Neill, 2002 ). Third-wave feminism is difficult to define because it embraces diversity, inclusivity, and multiplicity; ‘third wavers’ critique identity politics and strive for multiplicity, inclusivity, and recognition of diversity of race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and age amongst women.

The third-wave feminist movement is described as having everyday ‘niche events or protests’ and as being ‘driven by temporary leaders who take up a particular cause at a particular time’ (Ducan, 2005, p. 161) rather than being defined by big accomplishments. Third wavers assert that small, issue-specific groups can collaborate, collectively and cooperatively, to achieve their goals. Sometimes the tactics they employ are criticised as unorganised and ad hoc, but Victoria Bromley and Aayla Ahmad (2006) indicate that third wavers see this inclusivity as a ‘strength rather than weakness’ (p. <#>), and Rebecca Walker argues that the ‘messiness’ is actually more simplistic than second wave organizing: ‘[C]onstantly measuring up to some cohesive fully down-for-the-feminist-cause identity without contradiction and messiness is not a fun task’ (cited in Whittier, 2005, p. 60).

Third wavers transcend definition as they mix various feminist models: For example, they often advocate legislative reforms, much like liberal feminists, but they also use radical feminism’s approach to grassroots activism (Whittier, 2005). Third wavers have learned from their second-wave sisters that they can do anything, and they use every tool available to them today in the attempt achieve everything (Whittier, 2005). While technological advancements have allowed women to publish and print from their homes and to organise and network through the Internet, these online communities are also ‘fragile and unstable’ (Duncan, 2005, p. 171), and traces of their actions are even more ephemeral as Web pages disappear.

Fourth wave?


Have young women started a quiet revolution against previous waves of feminism to define their own wave? Anita Harris prefers to call it a redefinition (). Third-wave feminists have used alternative media for activism, creating blogs, e-zines, and electronic mailing lists both to disseminate information and to organise political actions, and the Internet is filled with Web sites and electronic mailing lists of women discussing and theorizing a new wave of feminism. Young women question some of the second wave’s hard won battles, and want to reject stereotypes of feminists often portrayed in the media (Ansell, n.d.). They find labels restricting:

I don’t like the label ‘feminist’ or ‘feminism’,; I don’t like –ims in general,. aAn –ism is like a pin in the back of a butterfly,; it kills it and makes it something to look at, instead of something active. (Jenny, Interview, p. 9).

Over the past few years, I have discussed the definition of feminism with many young women who readily admit to being feminist activists but are not sure that the label ‘feminist’ still fits. Joan Borsa believes the discourse surrounding the rejection of the word ‘feminist’

. . . is a healthy resistance…. . . . I think it is an important and timely discussion, it just pokes away at all the assumptions, and if we really want to work at the boundaries of gender, if we want blur that a lot more than we even have, then we need to start talking. (Interview, p. 12).

Young women are talking, and like young women from all waves of feminism, they are learning and critiquing previous movements and defining a wave of their own.

‘Post’


Post-feminism, a term journalists began to use in the 1980s, is ‘neither feminist or activist’ (Bromley & Ahmad, 2006, p. <#>); rather, it is a product of the backlash against feminism, identified and studied by Susan Faludi in Backlash . In ‘Wa(i)ving solidarity: Feminist activists confronting backlash’ (2006), Victoria Bromley and Aalya Ahmad suggest that the media and political institutions have promoted ‘tensions’ within feminism in order to weaken the feminist movement and advance a neoliberal agenda. Groups like REAL Women of Canada20 accept, promote, and support neoliberal claims of reached equality. REAL Women’s influence in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper negatively affected financial support of organisations such as the Status of Women Canada (SWC).21 The fact that many young women today do not consider themselves feminists (‘I am not a feminist, but . . . ’) can be attributed to the feminist backlash that continues to be promoted in popular culture and media.

Feminism continues to thrive, despite the media’s melodrama regarding its supposed death (Bromley & Ahmad, 2006). Brenda O’Neill recently (2002) completed a research project studying the attitudes of generations of women toward feminism and found that young women tended to feel positively about feminism and related to feminist thought. Faith Wilding warns ‘there are many strong voices calling for a new activism and vision in global feminisms today’ (2006 , p. [or ¶] <#>). Feminists have not ‘worked out yet in practice how to live in a house of difference’, and when women of diverse backgrounds work together in groups we have to make concerted efforts to resist ‘resorting to quotas, tokenism, political correctness, or “special” considerations. It is crucial for the development of contemporary global feminisms that we acquire this experience’ (Wilding, 2006, p. [or ¶] <#>).
2014-07-19 18:44
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