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the making of a feminist revolution Ten Thousand Roses four young feminists talk about the book

by Judy Rebick | April 11, 2005

After Judy Rebick finished writing the first draft of her book, Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution, she asked four young feminists to comment on the manuscript.

Denise Campbell has been the youth vice president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC) and then, briefly, its president in 2002.

Audra Williams founded the spunky feminist website Marigold in 1998 and later became the moderator of babble, a message board for the alternative news and information site rabble.ca.

Lisa Rundle edited a book on third wave feminism called Turbo Chicks and writes a regular column for Herizons magazine.

Annahid Dashtgard is an activist in the anti-globalization movement. She was the co-coordinator of the Common Front Against the World Trade Organization.

What follows are highlights from a discussion these four women had with Judy Rebick about Ten Thousand Roses.

Denise Campbell: It didn’t seem that long ago that some of the things I take for granted and benefit from were really struggled for. While I think of myself as quite knowledgeable about this movement, there are many things in here that I didn’t know. I felt a bit rejuvenated as I was reading some of the things of how women came together, how some of the different things that they tried worked – all that.

Audra Williams: To see all of the different perspectives, to have all of the perspectives in there is really great. I found it really inspiring to see how much got done on how few resources. I went through these waves of getting really excited and inspired, and then feeling, oh, we are so far from ever getting there again. It has been a bit of a roller coaster to read it, from getting really pumped to getting down, and then pumped again. Overall I think it is inspiring in a way that is not a creepy chicken-soup-for-the-feminist-soul.

Lisa Rundle: I felt the exact same way about the emotional roller coaster. I found myself getting mad. I found myself crying. Taking notes furiously.

Some of the things that were really recent just hit me. One of them was that there were no texts about women, about feminism, until 30 years ago. I guess that one really hit me because I have often felt so overwhelmed by all of the texts that I should be reading. It is just such a huge field that it is overwhelming, and the fact that that didn’t exist 30 years ago – that is incredible.

Annahid Dashtgard: It blew my mind, how many of the gains we’ve made in the country are due to women’s organizing; that it happened in spite of so many differences; that everybody’s efforts were important, even though there was disagreement – like women’s roles in the anti-free trade stuff, because that is what I’ve been most involved with. I worked with Maude Barlow and never once did I realize that it was women’s organizing that made it such a big issue.

The other thing that struck me is how some of the gains that have been made have disappeared from mainstream society, but also from movement circles. I looked back at how many discussions I’ve had with male activists, how many times I’ve had to call them on blatant sexism.

Denise: I think that just seeing the longevity of these women’s lives in this movement reconfirmed for me on a political level that this is a messy thing and that it is important at times to keep it messy because otherwise we rush to really simplistic solutions that aren’t as revolutionary as we want them to be.

Audra: What surprised me the most was the conflict and working through the conflict. There could be that conflict – being totally polarized on some issues, but not retreating from it.

Lisa: I wasn’t surprised by the conflict because I think we have been left with a lot of the legacy of that conflict. But I was surprised by how open people were about it, and by how fresh some of the wounds seemed after 20 years. I was thinking about how strong that legacy has been for our generation of feminists. How there are certainly ways that we have retreated from working with older feminists in some instances.

In some ways, even calling it a new wave – calling it a young feminism – is a way of distancing ourselves from the emotional legacy that I think is difficult and painful for the women who were involved, and really difficult to resolve for the women who were not a part of it, who just had it passed down.

I found the book so moving emotionally because it wasn’t trying to smooth over the contradictions. I think not being able to air our dirty laundry is the usual way of writing history – having just one story. That is a very male way. I really like that there doesn’t have to be only one story.

Once a lot of laws are changed – once the most hideous things that bring you all together and make you desperate are gone – it is actually harder; you are left with the harder bits, the things that are harder to organize around. You are also left with trying to keep the gains that you’ve fought for. There is sort of split energy there. No one is coming from that same place anymore.

Annahid: I think that is true, that partly it is just a different reality for women than it was thirty years ago. I think the political reality – the consequences of being active are very different. Certainly, a lot of people who are of colour are much more afraid of the consequences of being active.

I’ll speak for myself. I took a big step back after September 11. There was a lot of fear that came up, and I didn’t find a lot of support in the movement or amongst activist friends. I’m still working that out for myself on a personal level.

My family left a country because of revolution and because of a threat of violence. All of that stuff comes up at a really unconscious level, and that affects how much freedom you feel in being active. I think that, for certain communities of people, there is more consequence, but at the same time there is a lack of faith in our past strategies.

The amount of people who came out to protest the impending invasion of Iraq was phenomenal, throughout Canada and globally. But it didn’t seem to have much of an impact. I think that left a lot of people wondering how we can be active in a way that is going to make a difference.

What can we do that is going to make an impact on this huge military, corporate infrastructure that has grown so powerful, and that is based on patriarchy, or where patriarchy is a fundamental part of it? How can we make inroads in a way where we are going to be safe?

Lisa: The comments about how young women think this or young women think that bugged me. The quick answer is that young women think lots of different things. We are not plugged into the Borg. This book shows better than anything else that second-wave feminists weren’t, either.

I have heard young women group second-wave feminists together and make comments about them, but it is just as inappropriate for second-wave feminists to lump the third wave together. It actually made me a little bit sad because women my age have tried so hard to find different ways to bridge those gaps.

Annahid: Judy herself says that feminists today don’t see any validity in working for change within the state – that they are just interested in looking for alternatives. I’ve worked in both – pushing the state and working outside the state, and I have friends who do one or the other. It is not homogenous.

It is easy to say that young people are disenchanted with the state, but again, if you are a young person who comes from a particular cultural community, you know early on that the state is a valuable vehicle to bring about change.

I find that statement kind of white-centric, too.

Denise: I read about using a bureaucrat’s office – how the women in the bureaucracy were angry, so they were taking risks. What I found interesting was this sense of cooperation, even though some women were in government and some were not. I have never seen that happen in the time I’ve been around. I wish there were that kind of cooperation, with women across whatever sectors they work in.

Not everybody can be in the feminist movement in a paid capacity. Not everybody is going to work for an NGO. I’ve seen a tendency to demonize women who choose other places to work. Maybe that is something that our generation can change, as many of us are activists, not in a paid capacity, and are going into other things. I’m hoping that is something we can pick up, rather than feeling a sense of loss, of “Oh, that was 1982, and never again.”

Annahid: I think a lot of young women do not call themselves feminist because of the legacy of second-wave feminism, which means that, if I’m a feminist, I am against men and I hate men. Let’s get beyond the victim/perpetrator dichotomy.

I’m not saying that there are not differences in power between women and men, but I have enough friends who are extremely sensitive, who carry this ton of guilt on their shoulders that I think is crippling in different ways than what women are facing. We need to figure out different ways to work to fight patriarchy, as well as having women-only spaces.

Denise: In talking with young women, the ridiculous stereotype that feminists are man-hating lesbians comes up. This book is important, because it deconstructs that. I don’t have any patience for the perception that feminism is against men; I just see that as the success of the backlash.

When I was president, media would say NAC doesn’t represent women. I’m sure it’s been a refrain since women of colour took positions of power in NAC. I thought, well, at this point in its life NAC has lesbians in power and women with disabilities in power – it is more representative in some ways than it has ever been.

Lisa: Some feminists have said things like “I don’t have much use for men,” which were then reported over and over and over again. It is amazing how the accusation of being anti-male is still used to keep young women who are starting to find their feminism in line. The threats are the same threats they used to be – that you are a dyke, that you hate men.

Judy’s book reveals how many of the problems are similar, how many of the dynamics are similar. I was thinking about how some of the problems we had faced where I used to work, Walrus magazine, were just typical sexist patriarchal stuff. It shocked me how I had to go through the exact same thing that women have always had to go through.

Denise: Two falls ago, some young women of colour came together as a result of frustrations over the sexism that we were encountering within our other movements. We decided to have a retreat. This was the birth of our Resista movement – mini-movement – with the idea that the first thing was to come together and spend four or five days chilling out and getting to know each other.

Then – when we went back to where we came from, because people were from all over, and were back at our organizations and movements – there would be this affinity to be able to respond to each others’ calls in need.

Annahid: I’ve moved from doing broad political work. In the last couple of years, I’ve been teaching a course around body image in relationship to food and eating. Women’s self-hatred is still alive and strong. It is internalized.

Women need to recognize all of these environmental and social factors that influence their own perception of themselves. I think that the same sort of feelings that women faced thirty years ago – that motivated them to get involved in a broader way – are still just as present, if not more so today. There is a need to make those connections, to create those spaces.

Lisa: It is important not to think that our generation has failed, that we have not picked feminism up, that we’ve been duped by the backlash. It is really easy to get those messages and to feel that the women’s movement is critical of us and that society thinks that we don’t even exist. That can be very overwhelming. It is not very motivating in terms of feeling like you can get something done.

I think that is why I was so moved in reading this book, to feel like women can get something done. Because I don’t feel that way – I feel much less confident that anything I put my energy into is not just going to be squished.

Annahid: Did feminists of the previous generations never get tired? Because that is how it feels sometimes. Obviously there is not a chapter in the book called “When we all got tired.” When do you just hang out and have dinner and go to movies?

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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