Jun 16 2013

Of privilege and prostitution

Women advocating for the abolition of prostitution on the steps of the Supreme Court (source: www.ctvnews.ca)

For a few years in the 1990s, I had the privilege of bylining a column in the Vancouver Sun. Every week, I’d write 750 words on pretty much any topic I wanted, and the Sun (a broadsheet not affiliated with the tabloid chain) would disseminate it to hundreds of thousands of readers.

That’s where the privilege came in. Pre-Facebook, Twitter and widespread Internet use, having a newspaper column gave you a singularly influential platform.

After three years, a new editor-in-chief decided to replace my overtly feminist voice with that of another more conservative-minded woman whose opinions more often aligned with those of the new owner (and yes, his name was Conrad Black).  I doubt that my views ever registered on Mr. Black’s consciousness, but from the day he became the major shareholder of the paper, my own editor began second-guessing my commentary, calling me up to inquire, “Are you sure you want to (write about breast feeding, contradict yesterday’s editorial about same-sex parents, or encourage police to do a better job of investigating the disappearance of aboriginal women on the Downtown Eastside)?”

(This was years before the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was finally identified as the man behind those disappearances, and I continue to regret that I only devoted one column to the topic, instead of 5, or 10.)

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen gave me space to write about some of the issues currently being considered by the Supreme Court regarding the decriminalization of prostitution. The debate over the wisdom of what’s being advocated by Bedford and company is one that divides feminists, and I respect the perspectives of those who take a different view on the matter.

But I’m siding with Aboriginal women on this one. The Native Women’s Association of Canada is one of seven organizations that make up the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution. The Coalition used its intervener status at this week’s Supreme Court hearing to advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women, but not the legalization of brothels or pimping. (You can read the full column here.)

Although mainstream newspaper columns don’t have quite the same dominance as they once did, being able to focus thousands of readers’ attention on an issue you think is important remains a privilege. I appreciate it every time I’m given the opportunity.

And I am genuinely thrilled every time a woman who has attended an Informed Opinions workshop, or heard me speak, takes advantage of a similar forum to amplify her voice on a topic she knows and cares about.

Our site now features more than 100 of these interventions, with many more to come. And royalties from the sale of every copy of I Feel Great About My Hands support more women in being heard.


Jul 17 2012

Reading and Singing Farewell Tribute to Mother Tongue Friday July 20th


How would you like to share the stage with a jazz vocalist who one critic describes as having

A voice so rich it makes me crave a glass of milk.

Friday night at the final in a series of farewell soirée for the venerable Mother Tongue Books, I get to do just that.

Fabulous Ottawa singer/songwriter Renée Yoxon will be performing her magic, and I’ll read brief bits from some of the funniest and most poignant essays and poems by the likes of Mary Walsh, Lorna Crozier and others who contributed to I Feel Great About My Hands.

I’ll also tell a story or two about Informed Opinions, the project the book is supporting, which is designed to train and inspire women to share their ideas, analyses and informed opinions more often and more widely.

 7 pm  Friday July 20th

Mother Tongue Books

1067 Bank Street

If you’re in town, come join the celebration of an Ottawa institution that has supported local authors and featured a diverse selection of feminist, lesbian and queer literature.


Apr 23 2012

Great opening lines

“I remember the exact day it happened — the very moment I became invisible.” (From “The Pleasures of An Older Man”)

“Hello, My name is J’moi White. I am in grade 10. For my history assignment I was assigned Judy Rebick. Hopefully this is you.” (from “Struggling to Become an Elder”)

“Let’s be candid: no one wants to be known as a ‘mature student’.” (from “Back To School”)

Are you intrigued by one or all of these sentences? Does your mind immediately respond to the implicit questions they evoke with questions of your own?

Mine did, which made me happy to include them in I Feel Great About My Hands. (They begin the reflections by Harriett Lemer (at right), Judy Rebick (below), and best friends and co-authors, Susan Delacourt and Susan Harada.)

There were other reasons, too, of course: each of the essays made me laugh, resonated with some aspect of my personal experience, and contained a few insights about aging that hadn’t occurred to me.

I’ve always been a critical consumer of opening sentences, but in an age of humming bird attention spans and 140-character Twitter posts, they’re  more important than ever.

And in the context of the Informed Opinions workshops I lead these days (Writing Compelling Commentary), I’m regularly reminded that investing a few minutes in coming up with a strong opener is well worth the effort. (Op ed page editors are busy people who have to sift through a lot of submissions, some of which are dreck. You don’t want to give them a reason to lump your insightful analysis in with those who can’t conjugate a sentence by putting them to sleep with your first paragraph.)

And yet sometimes in an attempt to establish the relevancy of the topic they’re addressing, aspiring op ed writers will start their pieces with an unassailably true declarative statement that everyone will recognize as such. (“The population is aging.” “Wait list lines are too long.”)

This is not a good strategy. What’s the incentive to read further when the opening line tells us something we already know? (“News” is, by definition, ahem, new.)

 


Nov 9 2011

Chris & Sonia met over the phone

Informed Opinions – the non-profit project that’s benefiting from every copy of I Feel Great About My Hands you buy for your sister, mother, friend or colleague — sent out electronic postcards this week to everyone on our mailing list, as a reminder of what we’re up to and why. If you’d like us to email you a copy, so you can share it with friends likely to smile at how the relationship turns out, just visit the project site here, and sign up in the box on the right hand side of the home page.


Aug 23 2011

I Feel Great About My Hands: officially launched in Halifax

By the numbers…

2 beautiful venues (check out the Halifax Club and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia)

2 profile-raising, audience-attracting interviews with lively and engaging broadcasters (tune in to CBC radio’s Stephanie Domet and Starr Dobson on CTV’s Live at 5)

4 happy authors (witness smiles above)

1 pair of bright orange boots (see Sheree Fitch, page 138 – and yes, they matched her outfit!)

1 reference to the irrelevance of cottage cheese and orange peel thighs (see Carol Bruneau in blue, page 230)

? (too many to count) references to peeing (see Dawn Rae Downton in black, pages 130 – 137)

1 supportive, independent bookseller (thank you Bookmark, regrettably not pictured)

45 books sold (all royalties generously donated to Informed Opinions) and

1 extremely grateful, fish-filled editor/catalyst thankful for the support of her roadie/chauffeur/photographer/husband and eager to return sometime soon to deliver workshops to smart women who should speak up more often!