by Jarrah Hodge
Since it launched in 2004, Toronto-based Shameless Magazine has been making an impact, as an “independent Canadian voice for smart, strong, sassy young women and trans youth”.
My sister got me the first issue of Shameless when I was in first-year University and I immediately wished I’d had something like it when I was in high school to counter all the toxic messages I was getting from the beauty, popularity, and celebrity focused mainstream teen magazines.
Now, almost eight years later Shameless is still going strong, publishing three times a year, keeping up their excellent website. Last year they started podcasting, and they even recently launched an iPad app through which you can download their most recent issue.
I interviewed Shameless Magazine’s Editorial Director Sheila Sampath about the years she’s spent with Shameless and how she sees young feminist activism in Canada today.
Jarrah: How did you get involved with Shameless?
I started as Art Director in 2006. My background is in grassroots, anti-oppression activism in the anti-violence movement, and then later, graphic design. At that time, I was working at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multi-cultural Women Against Rape as a feminist peer counselor and was co-editing a zine for and by women of colour called Big Boots. Shameless seemed like a great opportunity given my political and creative interests and I was lucky to be brought on board by co-founders Melinda and Nicole.
Two years ago, the magazine was facing some organizational issues: we were publishing less and finding it hard to cover our expenses. Staff had left, so a few of us decided to revive it and that’s when I stepped into my current role as Editorial Director. As a group, we re-wrote the mandate, which outlines the political focus of the magazine. It’s my job to make sure that our content is in-line with that mandate, and to help that living document grow over time.
Jarrah: Can you tell me a bit about how the mandate of Shameless has changed over the years?
The challenge with doing a feminist magazine or, a feminist-anything, is that people define feminism in all different ways. It’s been exciting to reflect back on old issues and to see how the feminist lens has shifted there. Now, Shameless aligns itself with an intersectional feminism; it may start with gender-based issues, but moves beyond to talk about race, colonization, capitalism, class, (dis) ability, status. It moves beyond acknowledging those kinds of intersections; it focuses on them.
Jarrah: What’s been the most rewarding thing for you?
I feel really proud of the simple fact that we are still publishing after almost eight years — that’s kind of unbelievable when you think that we’re a independent feminist magazine for teen girls and trans youth. It’s rewarding that we’re afloat. It blows my mind when I see us alongside the Justin-Bieber-glossy-teen-mags. When you see shelves full of stuff that makes young people feel bad about themselves, it feels rewarding to be able to produce something different, and important.
Jarrah: Can you pick one or two articles that have really stood out for you?
It’s hard to say. Every time an issue comes out, I look at it and think, “This is the best one yet.” — a lot of that has to do with having such an amazing Shameless staff — a staff who is constantly challenging themselves to out-do themselves every time, and then, well, doing it. Predictably, our current issue, on labour, is definitely the one that I’m the most proud of to date. We touched on some really big issues, like unions and youth, and unpaid internships. And we touched on some really intense ones too, like youth sex work — something around which there isn’t a lot of dialogue. That article is of particular importance to me — and has also inspired an upcoming panel we are co-hosting on youth sex work, labour and media accountability.
Jarrah: What impact does it have to have the magazine located in Toronto?
We’re a national magazine, and so it’s challenging trying to maintain that broad focus when we’re operating out of a single city. Moving forward, we’re trying to address that by hiring a team of “Shameless Correspondents” who let us know what’s going on in their local communities via podcasts and short updates. We’re hiring now.
Jarrah: As someone who works with young people getting active on feminist issues, what do you think of the feminist generation gap – the idea that young women are apathetic or don’t appreciate what their foremothers fought for?
I think it’s imagined — a lot of people who think that young women aren’t doing anything are people who just aren’t connected to young women. Young women and trans people are creating their own media — making zines, writing music, keeping blogs — they’re engaging in conversations, fighting for gay-straight-alliances in their schools, starting social enterprises and mentoring even younger young women and trans youth. When I think about it, I don’t see apathy, I see movement, and it’s exciting.
I know there is often hesitation on labeling this kind of work as ‘feminist’ work, but even if someone doesn’t want to call themselves a feminist, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing feminist work or making a feminist impact. I see young women and trans people empowering themselves, talking back and taking ownership. That’s not apathy, that’s my feminism.
Jarrah: Do you think it’s harder in Canada to get feminist activism going because there’s more of this view that we’ve already achieved equality?
I don’t think anyone who stops and thinks about it can actually argue we’ve achieved equality with gender, especially with this government. The Conservative agenda is one that specifically targets women and trans people, let alone Indigenous women, queer women, women of colour, etc. I think that people who subscribe to that viewpoint are either people in privilege who can ignore the fact that there is still a lot of systemic oppression, or they have low expectations of the world around them.
Shameless Magazine is currently looking for volunteer contributors across Canada, particularly people living outside of urban centres. If you’re interested, you can find more information here.