TEN THOUSAND ROSES: THE MAKING OF A FEMINIST REVOLUTION by Judy Rebick (Penguin), 280 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Speaking as a proud third-wave feminist, I'm embarrassed to admit that, until very recently, I knew way more about the pioneers who fought for women's rights stateside than the history of the movement in my very own country.
I have Judy Rebick to thank for raising my consciousness. In her new book, Ten Thousand Roses (the title refers to the flowers handed out to members of an anti-poverty march in Quebec in 1995), the famed feminist and publisher of the excellent rabble.ca webzine of progressive thinkers offers a comprehensive history of just over 30 years of second-wave feminism in Canada, from 1960 to 1995.
This is a book that was sorely needed, and there's lots to like about it. Rebick wisely formats her discussion as an oral history, incorporating interviews with grassroots community activists alongside well-known feminist leaders. Not only does that challenge the notion that there's a single voice of authority, but it also allows you to grasp the rich diversity and contradictions within the movement itself.
The minds in conversation here are fascinating: socialist feminists clash with radicals, white women deal with their latent racism while women of colour fight for issues important to immigrant and aboriginal women, disability activists challenge the ableism of their feminist sisters and sexism within the disability movement. In one particularly feisty section, NOW's own Susan G. Cole clashes with leftist anti-censorship activist Varda Burstyn in a heated debate over pornography and censorship.
But Rebick fails to provide enough context for the issues and individuals who tell their stories - and, save for tiny biographical blurbs buried at the back of the book, few who weren't actually active in the second wave will have a clue who these women are. Without understanding how the tiny battles fit into the bigger picture, you can't grasp their import.
The section on the December 6, 1989, massacre at L'Ecole Polytechnique, recounted by documentarians Francine Pelletier and Monique Simard, among others, is devastating. Once you appreciate the gains women made after so many years of struggle, the horrific rage of anti-feminists like Marc Lepine is a powerful reminder that we ain't done yet, baby.
Which raises another problem. Rebick notes the frequently voiced opinion that feminism died in the 90s, but never refutes the claim entirely.
But there is a third wave. Rebick should know about writers and thinkers like Lisa Bryn Rundle, Lara Karaian and Allyson Mitchell (editors of the awesome Turbo Chicks collection), or brownstargirl production's fearless activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. Shameless, anyone?
I hope that despite this, Ten Thousand Roses registers with those who really need to read it - the vast majority of us who are clueless about what it took to achieve women's rights in Canada.