"I think of Michele Landsberg's book as a clutch purse, in the sense that I tuck the gleaming thing under my folded arm, clutching it for safety and comfort and for the treasure it holds. Open it and jewels spill out: the stories of lives lived by women during feminism's second wave. Love, humiliation, struggle, pain, small triumphs, great victories, all dressed in this great woman's words imbued with the warmth for which she is famous. It isn't the book of the year or the decade, it's our own personal true story. "
It's a fascinating read that put recent history into perspective for me. All I know is that she got a lot right. She advocated for causes like the right to abortion, better child programs, same-sex marriage and ending the war in Iraq, but she also put her personal life - her issues and experiences - from becoming a mother to surviving breast cancer out there, too.
Michele Landsberg's columns in the Toronto Star were the first of their kind in a daily newspaper - fearless and unabashedly feminist. Her book mines the best of these passionate pieces that gave women a voice where there was none. It's easy to see how Landsberg inspired an entire generation of women - and men, including husband Stephen Lewis, who never gives a speech without mentioning her influence on him.
Writing the Revolution, Ms. Landsberg's passionate repository of wit, wonder and worriment offering her unique and unforgettable views upon those heavenly hellish years she spent as one of The Toronto Star's most influential and controversial voices.
She brought legitimate left political cred to what began as a place in the "Women's section" and morphed over the years to front-section prominence. Long before she left the Star in 2003, Landsberg was renowned as one of the nation's clarion Second Wave feminists. She was the very model of the journalist-as-social activist, no mere recorder of the heady parade.The Globe and Mail
October 21, 2011 Why We Still Need Booster Shots of Feminsm
by Judith Timson
True or false: Young women today don't need a booster shot of feminism because so many women are achieving more than their mothers (or fathers) ever dreamed they could.
In Canada we now - suddenly! - have four female premiers. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin heads our Supreme Court, and there are three other women on the country's top bench plus another nominated this month.
Female students outnumber males in universities. In international activist circles, it's recognized that women's rights are human rights, and no country can truly progress without educating its female citizens and giving them opportunities to achieve.
In fact, there has never been a better period to be a woman. For the first time in its history, The New York Times just appointed a woman, Jill Abramson, as its executive editor. The three Nobel laureates for this year's peace prize are all women.
So why would any young woman need to worry about equal rights or - groan, cue the retrospeak - the confining demands of "the patriarchy"?
She would need a feminist booster shot because women, however much in the ascendancy, have new problems (the hypersexualization of young girls, economic viability in a global recession, creeping conservatism) and many of the same old problems (domestic violence, poverty and unequal pay). If they don't know their own recent history, they won't know how to solve these problems.
Consider a minor but intriguing example, the latest cover story in The Atlantic, All The Single Ladies, in which 39-year-old author Kate Bolick argues that as women like her have educated themselves and grabbed good jobs, men have sunk into underachievement and underemployment, creating a new "dating gap" in which eligible women are not finding suitable mates. Panic in singledom. You can almost see the jokey Hallmark card: "I can't believe I got a graduate degree instead of a husband!"
It could be, with marriage rates dropping like a stone, that educated women will miss out on marriage, but this also sounds suspiciously like a variant on that famous 1986 Newsweek magazine scare story. It warned that a 40-year-old college educated woman had more chance of being killed by a terrorist than finding a husband.
It wasn't true then, and it isn't now. In fact, New York Times health reporter Tara Parker-Pope wrote in 2010 that studies confirmed that "women who drop out of high school are the least likely to marry, and college educated women are the least likely to divorce."
So young women, be proud of your educational achievements.
And know thy history. If you don't know that abortion was once illegal in Canada and that, eventually, after a public battle, the Supreme Court struck down the law, then you can't be ready for the next assault on that right. It's already here - Conservative MPs such as Saskatchewan's Brad Trost, who despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assurance that this issue will not be reopened, are vowing to put an end to reproductive freedom.
I got my own booster shot this past week at a rollicking and inspiring book launch for feminist activist Michele Landsberg's latest book Writing the Revolution. The book is an eye-opening collection of some of the 3,000 columns she wrote for the Toronto Star from 1978 to the early 2000s in which she took women's issues and turned them into human issues so fearlessly, doggedly and articulately that it still makes my head spin.
From equal pay to sexual harassment at work, child care to false memory syndrome at home, from a tax on tampons to a pox on lap dancing, Ms. Landsberg passionately pulled apart each issue and then denounced politicians, judges and even the media if she thought they were holding women down.
In a packed Toronto church, there were almost 500 people - more than half made up of women like me who consider ourselves "second wave" feminists, but also a significant portion of younger women, one of whom declared of feminism, and I'm paraphrasing here, "screw the waves, we're the ocean!" There were young and older men there too.
They had come to honour Ms. Landsberg, now 72 and surrounded by her remarkable family: her daughters Ilana and Jenny; her husband, former NDP politician and current humanitarian Stephen Lewis; her son, Avi Lewis, a broadcaster and documentarian; and her famous daughter-in-law, global activist Naomi Klein.
I listened, extremely moved, as younger women thanked Ms. Landsberg for tackling so many issues pertinent to the quality of their lives, but for also getting them to understand their mothers' lives. Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told the crowd she had viewed her immigrant mother, who worked in a factory to support her kids, as "a victim." "Michele's writing taught young women to respect their mothers," she said.
What impressed me most was this intergenerational reach of Ms. Landsberg's work. It's up to younger women to define feminism now, but if they care to avail themselves of it, they have a generation of older feminists with experiences and strategies to share.
And of course there was her usual joyful and raucous take on the world. She had just returned from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, and, as she told the crowd, when she walked through Zuccotti Park, one sign, held by a middle-aged man, delighted her: "We're here, we're unclear, get used to it."
Come to think of it, that kind of sums up the very early days of modern feminism, and "the problem that has no name" as American feminist Betty Friedan labelled housewives' discontent. This begat a movement, which of course turned into one of the great revolutions of our time. Know thy history.
The book is an eye-opening collection of some of the 3,000 columns she wrote for the Toronto Star from 1978 to the early 2000s in which she took women's issues and turned them into human issues so fearlessly, doggedly and articulately that it still makes my head spin. From equal pay to sexual harassment at work, child care to false memory syndrome at home, from a tax on tampons to a pox on lap dancing, Ms. Landsberg passionately pulled apart each issue and then denounced politicians, judges and even the media if she thought they were holding women down.Quill & Quire
December, 2011 * Starred Review
While second-wave feminism had been mounting for more than a decade by the mid-1970s, there was scant evidence of it in mainstream Toronto media. For "libber" news, you needed to seek out Broadside
, Toronto's feminist newspaper, or out-of-town rags like Vancouver's Kinesis
or Edmonton's Branching Out
This situation changed dramatically in 1978, when the Toronto Star
became the first Canadian daily to employ a "feminist" columnist. The intent was admirable, but their hiring choice caused some skepticism. Michele Landsberg was an ex-Globe and Mail
reporter and a Chatelaine
staffer during the reign of editor Doris Anderson, who raised the consciousness of Canadian women b slipping in articles on domestic abuse and abortion among the magazine's recipes and beauty tips. What could this comfortably middle-class, married (granted, to a career politician too far left to count among the Toronto establishment) woman tell us about life in the gender trenches?
Plenty, as it turns out. The columns selected for Writing the Revolution, from more than 3,000 written between 1978 and 2005, demonstrate just how fearless Landsberg was, particularly in her early years at the Star, when sexism was still rampant and the public less than enlightened.
Her columns hit on hardcore feminist issues -- equal pay, rape, sexual exploitation, child abuse, lesbianism -- with the precision of a laser and the force of a hammer. She refused to make feminism palatable, polite, or easy, in the process of calling out judges, lawmakers, police, and the church. Hers was a tough and compassionate voice in what amounted to a chauvinistic wilderness.
The collection is organized by theme rather than chronologically, and few of the pieces feel dated, which is a tribute to the author but not exactly good news for women. While readers who followed her in the Star
may feel a certain nostalgia at rereading these pieces, what's even more interesting is Landsberg's running commentary of back stories, details about sources, and other asides, fascinating additions that make this book much more than a mere collection of newspaper columns. Writing the Revolution demonstrates how Landsberg took feminism to the masses with intelligence, passion, and wit, and illustrates the enormity of the role she played in changing the lives of Canadian women.
Writing the Revolution demonstrates how Landsberg took feminism to the masses with intelligence, passion, and wit, and illustrates the enormity of the role she played in changing the lives of Canadian women.
Even more interesting is Landsberg's running commentary of back stories, details about sources, and other asides, fascinating additions that make this book much more than a mere collection of newspaper columns.The Toronto Review of Books
May 2, 2012
Having begun life as, in her own words, "a docile little girl," Michele Landsberg became a journalist whose descriptions in a 1981 column on female genital mutilation smacked a reader so hard that he fainted dead away while waiting for a flight to arrive at Pearson Airport.
That column is included in Writing the Revolution
, a new collection of some of the 3,000 columns she wrote between 1978 and 2003, as the Toronto Star's "woman columnist." The Feminist History Society, whose stated mandate is to "create a lasting record of the women's movement in Canada and Quebec for the period between 1960 and 2010," approached Landsberg to curate a selection of her columns, and the book was born.
Landsberg is considerate of her readers: opening, for example, the column advocating Canadian support for African women's organizations working to end female genital mutilation with a gentle caveat: "this is not going to be a pleasant column to read, so put it aside if you're feeling squeamish or the kids are around."
But the polite caution is also a challenge, characteristic of Landsberg's work, inviting the reader to join her unflinching eye with our own, so that together we can look closely at the "women's hidden realities" that she has teased out "from the male-dominated news of the day" with painstaking, evidence-based research.
Reading her columns is sometimes difficult work, and rewarding for that very reason. One cringes, clenches, sometimes has to shut one's eyes for a moment of respite before re-embarking down the page. But you end up caring. "Caring is a form of connectedness; most people would rather be alive to the world and hurting on its behalf than to be withdrawn into a numbed apathy," writes Landsberg, reflecting on how her "drive to advocacy" has "fired" her analysis of current events for Star readers.
In some ways, Landsberg's personal introduction to the collection is the most interesting part of the book, because it reveals the chronicle of her own history: the story of an outsider, who used her difference to her own advantage as a columnist.
The docile little girl in bows transformed herself into a rebellious teenager, by ditching the pressed dresses of her peers in favour of a pair of fly-front blue jeans borrowed from her older brother. Her early years were difficult not only because of the frustrations she experienced watching others heap entitlements on to her brother, in which she had no share, and no one in whom she could confide, but also because she was Jewish, experiencing the "main-stream anti-semitism of Toronto in the 1940s and 50s which singled us out and held us at arm's length."
These facts expose her double outsiderness. She was different, and, she says, "difference made me what I became."
When the editor of the Toronto Star hired her, and "handed [her] the slingshot to aim straight at the forehead of male hegemony," Landsberg joyfully embraced her outsiderness, using her column as a platform to question the logic, evidence, and views put forth in news stories written by the "entire jackal-pack of journalists" who could often be relied upon to "howl the same tune of male sexual entitlement" in their coverage of "women's issues."
In fact, whenever she heard them yelp in unison, Landsberg writes, alarms would sound in her head, tipping her off to a new subject that needed tackling, and she would be off, working on another column, in the fight to include women, on their own terms, in the conversation of this country.
You can see Landsberg speak tomorrow in an interview with Susan G. Cole at the Toronto Reference Library from 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm.
Reading her columns is sometimes difficult work, and rewarding for that very reason. One cringes, clenches, sometimes has to shut one's eyes for a moment of respite before re-embarking down the page. But you end up caring.
As a record of feminist organizing over the past fifty years, I doubt "Writing the Revolution" can be beat.herizons Magazine
Summer 2012, Vol.26 No. 1
Michelle Landsberg, the award-winning pioneer in feminist reporting, has put together a collection of carefully selected articles she wrote for the Toronto Star
between 1978 and 2003. It's called Writing the Revolution
, and the most prevalent issues documented in the book include sex work, women's reproductive rights, violence against women and gun control.
Readers will realize quickly that Landsberg's greatest strength in writing about the women's revolution extends beyond her superior and largely accessible writing skills. Lansberg actively participated in shaping the revolution by joining picketers, protesters and lobbyists, and these activist engagements earned her credibility as a feminist journalist. Writing the Revolution
is more than just a historical collection of newspaper articles on the women's movement in Canada. For starters, Landsberg provides commentary on the articles presented in the book. Her witty, intellectual and grounded voice is highly apparent and consistent throughout. In addition, she animates the newspaper articles by shedding light on how she had - and, in some cases, continues to have - personal connections with the various subjects. Many times, women contacted Landsberg to ask that she pen articles on their experiences of gendered injustices.
One drawback of the book is its organizational structure. At times, the ordering of the columns, which is no chronological, is a bit choppy and leaves the reader slightly confused. Regardless, Writing the Revolution
remains an enlightening and inspiring read.
Indeed, the book is an important text for the younger generations of feminists who might be more likely to take the right to abortion or the passing of sexual harassment laws for granted. At the same time, the book, and particularly the added commentary, serves as a reminder that despite the incredible advancements made by the women's movement we still have a long way to go before we fully achieve society-wide equality.
The book, and particularly the added commentary, serves as a reminder that despite the incredible advancements made by the women's movement we still have a long way to go before we fully achieve society-wide equality.
Landsberg's passion for and hope for the future of feminism is inspiring and this book is essential reading, providing the kind of perspective that's entirely necessary if feminists want to keep moving forward.
"The text educated me to what I had missed and reminded me of the battles we have won and those we continue to fight."
As a writer Landsberg holds nothing back! Landsberg gave the female perspective, encouraging and supporting courage - a true Canadian hero.
Landsberg wrote (and continues to write - in her prologues to each column) with clarity and passion. Writing the Revolution is enjoyable and thought provoking!
In my books, she remains revolutionary.