Faces of Feminism: Portraits of Women across Canada // Review

Article excerpt


You might never guess it from mainstream media coverage, but Canadian feminist are an irrepressibly varied lot.

Their faces reflect diverse backgrounds, regions, ages and socio-economic classes. Feminist faces belong to women who play guitars together, hug their cows, cook huge communal meals, work in construction, read in bed, practise law, deliver babies, create art, lobby politicians and write poetry. And the voices to go with these feminist faces? They're articulate, visionary, humorous, wry, angry and down-to-earth.

Now, thanks to Toronto photographer Pamela Harris and the hundreds of women who supported her six-year odyssey, we can `visit' these activist women between the coves of the thoroughly engaging Faces of Feminism, a coffeetable art book with an activist edge.

Featuring 75 images from Harris's black-and-white portrait show of the same name, Faces of Feminism is co-published by Toronto's Second Story Press and The Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. Released as both a $29.95 paperback of exceptional quality and a $42.95 hardcover, it's the sort of book you browse through, or get caught up in, drawing repeated sustenance.

In Faces of Feminism, I met the Quebec Immigrant Women's Collective and Le Point de Railliement Des Femmes Haitiennes, both from Montreal, as well as internationally renowned scientist Ursula Franklin; I gained a glimpse into the life of New Brunswick Native activist/artist Shirley Bear and admired the strength of Vancouver carpenter/poet Kate Braid and Manitoba midwife Darlene Birch.

I didn't agree with all the women I met in the book, but I loved their spirit and their energy. I applauded the audacity of women like Toronto writer/publisher Eva Zaremba: "For almost twenty years I have played the part of one of those proverbial loud, nasty, bra-burning, shit-kicking, radical `women's libbers' that everyone is warned against. Of my almost sixty years these have been the best. And there is more to come." I was moved by the honesty of women like Scotsburn, Nova Scotia dairy farmer Jane Morrigan: "I farm for a living, and I do it for the pleasure of friendship with these Jersey cows and for the love of hard work on the land."

Indeed, the core strength of the book is its fearless embrace of diversity. Harris has, as she tells us in her Afterword, "nervously set aside [her] photographer's ego, giving the writing equal weight, maintaining the balance of face and voice."

And what voices these are: they range from Quebec feminist writer Louky Bersianik's enraged salvo following the murder of 14 women: "Patriarchal cultures are all violent towards women, a violence not isolated, not accidental and not the work of madness, but a systematic daily violence..." - to the simply delightful comments from a group of Manitoba girls who "couldn't understand why most girls wanted to be princesses while we admired the Amazons," and so founded GAP - Girls Are People - as a vehicle for activities ranging from writing a play about Prairie suffrage to holding a menstruation party.

"I felt empowered by the women I met," Harris says in a telephone interview from her home in Toronto. …