Branching Out: Second-Wave Feminist Periodicals and the Archive of Canadian Women's Writing
Jordan, Tessa, English Studies in Canada
Look, I push feminist articles as much as I can ... I've got a certain kind of magazine. It's not Ms. It's not Branching Out. It's not Status of Women News.
WHEN EDMONTON-BASED Branching Out: Canadian Magazine for Women (1973 to 1980) began its thirty-one-issue, seven-year history, Doris Anderson was the most prominent figure in women's magazine publishing in Canada. Indeed, her work as a journalist, editor, novelist, and women's rights activist made Anderson one of the most well-known faces of the Canadian women's movement. She chaired the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women from 1979 to 1981 and was the president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women from 1982 to 1984, but she is best known as the long-time editor of Chatelaine, Canada's longest lived mainstream women's magazine, which celebrated its eightieth anniversary in 2008. As Chatelaines editor from 1957 to 1977, she was at the forefront of the Canadian women's movement, publishing articles and editorials on a wide range of feminist issues, including legalizing abortion, birth control, divorce laws, violence against women, and women in politics. When Anderson passed away in 2007, then Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson declared that "Doris was terribly important as a second-wave feminist because she had the magazine for women and it was always thoughtful and always had interesting things in it" (quoted in Martin). Anderson used a mainstream women's magazine as a vehicle for feminist advocacy, working within the Maclean Hunter publishing empire to bring feminist content to mainstream readers.
Chatelaines often-overlooked feminist past has been analyzed by Valerie Korinek in Roughing It in the Suburbs: Reading Chatelaine Magazine in the Fifties and Sixties, published in 2000. Korinek's study "demonstrates the gendered tensions at work in the often idealized suburban consumer society and restores Chatelaines role in the growth of second-wave feminism in Canada" (23). Roughing It in the Suburbs expands our understanding of an iconic Canadian magazine and of second-wave feminism. While it is not surprising that the first book-length academic study to address the connection between Canadian feminism and the periodical press is a study of Chatelaine--because of Chatelaines accessibility and continued prominence among Canada's magazines--Chatelaine is only a small part of the story of the intersection between feminism and periodical publishing in Canada. Chatelaine may have been "the magazine for women" in Canada during Anderson's tenure, but it was not radical enough for many Canadian feminists. Beginning in the late-1960s, first dozens and then hundreds of explicitly feminist periodicals were being published across Canada. Better-known titles include Tessera, Room of One's Own (now Room), Fireweed, Broadside, Kinesis, Herizons, and Status of Women News, while lesser-known but more radical titles include The Pedestal, The Other Woman, Prairie Woman, The New Feminist, The Northern Woman, On Our Way, and Webspinner.
In what follows, I provide a short cultural history of the lesser-known but only national feminist magazine published in Canada in the 1970s, Branching Out: Canadian Magazine for Women. I draw on book history, archival research, and interviews with Branching Out participants to tell Branching Out's story and locate this remarkable magazine within the Canadian 1970s and 1980s women-in-print movement, which was part of the international women-in-print movement that began in the 1960s with the rise of second-wave feminism and paralleled other forms of alternative publishing. During this period, increasing numbers of women began to establish feminist presses, publishing houses, periodicals, and bookstores as ways of countering women's exploitation in the mainstream media and as a reflection of the common belief, despite ideological differences among feminists, in the power of the printed word.
Publishing Canadian women's visual art and literature alongside overtly political articles, Branching Out sought to bring the work being done by Canadian women from the margins into the centre by producing a general-interest feminist magazine with the production quality to sit on the newsstand next to Chatelaine--a remarkable feat considering the magazine relied almost exclusively on volunteer labour, grant funding, and donations for its entire seven-year history.
In Anderson's quasi-autobiographical novel, Rough Layout (1981), the tension between mainstream women's magazines and feminist periodicals is played out with reference to Branching Out. The novel tells the story of Judith (Jude) Pemberton, a talented magazine editor working for Young Living, "a nice, middle-class, upwardly mobile magazine" for women (56). Jude has "feminist enthusiasm" (44), but she can only run a limited amount of feminist content in Young Living due to management and advertiser influence. A friend and former colleague of Jude's, Lenore, acts as a foil for Jude and her cautious approach. While Jude attempts to run feminist content without ruffling management feathers, Lenore is frank and unapologetic about her feminist politics.
Rough Layouts single mention of Branching Out comes when Jude and Lenore are out for lunch discussing the possibility of Lenore writing an article for Young Living about women in physically abusive relationships. Lenore wants to write a scathing critique of the nuclear family, while Jude attempts to persuade Lenore to write a more upbeat piece on support groups for abused women. In response to Lenore's resistance, Jude becomes defensive: "'Look, I push feminist articles as much as I can ... I've got a certain kind of magazine. It's not Ms. It's not Branching Out. It's not Status of Women News'" (56). In Jude's attempt to distinguish Young Living from overtly feminist publications, she names three periodicals that fit into distinct categories of feminist publishing. Ms., the most well known of the three, represents American influence on the Canadian women's movement and was one of the few feminist forays into the advertising-driven publishing sphere. Status of Women News, published by the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, represents the branch of Canadian feminist activism largely associated with legislative issues. Its central mandate was disseminating information to facilitate feminist organizing. In contrast, Branching Out was a literary, cultural, and political magazine that attempted to walk the line between radical liberation papers and mainstream women's magazines, addressing both the political and cultural lives of Canadian women from a Canadian perspective. Despite its broad appeal and large circulation numbers--four thousand, recorded by Ulrich's Global Serials Directory (1)--Branching Out is the least remembered of these three feminist magazines.
Rough Layouts reference to Branching Out concisely outlines the terrain of feminist periodical publishing in Canada and establishes Branching Out as well known enough that in a work of popular fiction in 1981 Anderson could contrast Branching Out with her protagonist's magazine in order to distinguish between what is viewed as mainstream and what is overtly feminist. Despite the fact that Branching Out folded the year before Rough Layout was published, Anderson could still refer to the magazine as a location for the feminist content that is ignored, watered down, or explicitly dismissed by the popular press.
Branching Out should have a prominent place in the history of Canadian feminist periodicals because it was the first and only national general-interest feminist magazine published in Canada in the 1970s. Produced in Edmonton by a women-only collective made up exclusively of volunteers, Branching Out published fiction, poetry, photography, and visual art alongside film, music, and book reviews as well as non-fiction and journalistic writings about feminist issues. When the magazine underwent a redesign in 1977, after a four-month publishing hiatus due to financial difficulties, the editorial group decided to organize each issue around a theme to prevent repetition in the magazines content. The themes included Fashion and Feminism, Shaking the Motherhood Myths, Women and Politics, Women and Work, Our Bodies: Taking Control, and Women and the Environment. As this list suggests, the magazine covered a range of feminist issues. Topics treated between Branching Outs covers are as diverse as women in sport, fishing rights for Inuit women, women's medical rights, and Canada's role in Vietnam. However, unlike smaller scale, radical liberation papers that emphasized political, manifesto-like writings, Branching Out highlighted women in the arts. While most second-wave feminist periodicals were committed to overtly political content, Branching Out consistently featured Canadian women's literary and artistic pursuits. In each of Branching Out's thirty-one issues there are an extraordinary number of full-page spreads devoted to poetry, visual art, and photography. These spreads are especially remarkable when compared to the dense, text-dominated layout of most feminist periodicals. For founding editor Susan McMaster, what made Branching Out politically radical was its mandate to publish creative work by Canadian women, work that could not find a place in the mainstream press or in little leftist and …
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Publication information: Article title: Branching Out: Second-Wave Feminist Periodicals and the Archive of Canadian Women's Writing. Contributors: Jordan, Tessa - Author. Journal title: English Studies in Canada. Volume: 36. Issue: 2-3 Publication date: June-September 2010. Page number: 63+. © 2007 Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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