Contributors Pick the Best of 2013

photo of pink and white fireworksEach year I ask the Gender Focus contributors about some of their highlights from the past year. Here’s what they came up with for 2013:

Favourite Movie:

Chanel Dubofsky: I never go to the movies, but I did see American Promise in the theatres. It’s about two middle class black families who send their sons to an elite school in Manhattan. It was spectacular and troubling and all of the good things.

Jarrah Hodge: I saw a lot of good movies this year and I’d have to say it’s a tie between two amazing movies by and about women. The first is Wadjda, a movie about a 10-year-old Saudi girl who pushes the boundaries of her society with humour and joy, directed by Haifa Al Mansour. The second was a fabulous documentary that showed at DOXA: Anne Braden, Southern Patriot. Gender Focus was a community partner for the screening of this inspiring film, which uses one woman’s remarkable life to teach us about interconnections between racial, gender and class equality.

Jessica Critcher: The Heat had a few hang-ups with intersectionality, similar to my critique of Catching Fire (which I also loved). But seeing a female buddy cop movie was a rare treat. I want more of that, with a woman behind the camera as well. Baby steps, I guess. Did anyone else pretend it was a sequel to Miss Congeniality? I want more Sandra Bullock FBI agent movies. I’ll write them myself if I have to.

Roxanna Bennett: 12 Years a SlaveHarrowing but crucial film, based on the real life account of  Solomon Northrup, a free-born Black man in pre-Civil war America who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Directed by the inimitable Steve McQueen.

Cover of Life After Life by Kate AtkinsonFavourite Book Read in 2013:

Jenni Podolski: I love Morrissey, so I devoured Morrissey’s Autobiography in a weekend. It’s exactly what I expected; witty, smart, and so eloquent. The first 100 pages or so where he describes his upbringing in Manchester were incredibly evocative and real.

Roxanna: Life after Life by Kate AtkinsonCaptivating. The premise of the book, “what if you could live your life over and over again, until becoming conscious of the smallest events that change your destiny” at the outset seemed as though it would make for tiresome prose but instead is riveting. I mulled this book over in my mind for weeks after reading.

Chanel: Remember How I Told You I Loved You? by Gillian Linden. It’s very slim- about 100 pages, I think? It’s gorgeous and reminds me why I write fiction.

Favourite Band/Song:

Jessica Mason McFadden: Annie Lennox wins for this year; she is a politically and humanistically-conscious musician whose work evolves in surprising ways. She’s truly both an artist, a model of compassion and authenticity, and a mentor for civilization.

Chanel:  Lucy Wainwright Roche made a new record called “There’s A Last Time For Everything,” and I’ve been listening to it day after day after every day since it came out.

Jessica Critcher: Kings of Spade are my favorite local band from Oahu, and this year they released their highly anticipated second album with help from Kickstarter backers (like me). They’re urban funk mixed with rock and roll. Their lead singer has a flourescent pink mohawk and ovaries of steel. I can’t wait until they come my way again on tour. Read more

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Contributors Pick the Best of 2012

Person on podiumHappy New Year, everyone! As is our tradition, I asked the Gender Focus contributors about some of their highlights from how they spent the past year, and here’s what they came up with:

How to Survive a Plague PosterFavourite Movie:


Ashli Scale: Prometheus

Chanel: I have two: How to Survive a Plague is a documentary about the activism around the AIDS crisis. I went in expecting to spend two hours analyzing direct action tactics, and left feeling devastated, but weirdly hopeful.

From the Black, You Make Color is a documentary (yes, I only watch documentaries) about a beauty academy in Tel Aviv and its students and staff, all folks on the periphery of Israeli society. It’s an important, insightful piece about identity and class.

Jessica Mason McFadden: I’ll go with the one movie I saw: Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita.

E. Cain: The Odd Life of Timothy Green. I didn’t watch many movies this year, but this one is a super cute family film.

Favourite Book Read in 2012:


Sarah Jensen: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. A fascinating look into curb heights, street widths, and the importance of parallel parking. Really interesting to learn how crucial city planning is to building strong communities.

E. Cain: Prisoner of Tehran, A Memoir by Marina Nemat. My boss gave me this book for Christmas, a powerful memoir written by a strong woman - I highly recommend!

Chanel Dubofsky: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg. If Jami Attenberg writes it, I will read it. The Middlesteins is her latest book, about a Midwestern Jewish family trying to avoid, deal with and make sense of each other. It’s startling, meaty and gorgeous.

Jessica Critcher: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti. The title is all snark– it’s a rhetorical question. It’s a great read for someone happily living child-free (who occasionally finds herself defending that lifestyle choice). It’s also great for moms because it gets past all of the “mommy wars” crap that the media keeps creating and circulating. My mom loved it too– we recommend it to all of the moms we know.

Issue/Cause That Most Inspired You:



Chanel: Occupy, Occupy, Occupy.

Jarrah: #IdleNoMore. It’s been incredibly powerful to see a grassroots movements led by Indigenous people for Indigenous rights spring up and spread so quickly across Canada. It’s an almost unprecedented opportunity for non-Indigenous Canadians to put action behind our words by standing behind and supporting First Nations people in Canada.

Sarah: Food. In the last year I’ve learned so much about the impact that food has on my own health and the health of our environment.

Jessica Critcher: This is always hard! But since I have to pick, I would say the WAM! (Women, Action and the Media) campaign to build a grassroots direct action network for gender justice in the media. They had an Indie-Go-Go campaign over the summer and raised more than $10,000 to build a new state of the art website. Pretty legit.

Ashli: I’ve been most active in the Body Acceptance movement by doing body image presentations in schools.  I’ve been so inspired by Kate Harding’s blog “Shapely Prose”, which closed up shop in 2010 but you can still access the great resources on it like Kate’s visual BMI Project.        Read more

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Short Film Attempts to Raise Awareness of Honour Killings

by Jarrah Hodge

Cameroonian-born Canadian actress and independent filmmaker Dorothy A. Atabong has found there are some things you just can’t stay silent about. So when she read in the newspaper about a 16-year-old Toronto girl being murdered by her father in the name of “honour” after refusing to wear the hijab, Atabong felt she needed to do something:

“One could describe it as a growing epidermic. I began asking people randomly if they had heard of honor killings and many were unaware of the subject. This is what propelled me to picked up a pencil and write what was the first of many drafts of Sound of Tears. To raise awareness and send out a large message to millions of people. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women are killed each year in the claim of having dishonored their families. Many cases remain unheard of, as they are never reported. In the UK alone last year, the police reported 2,823 so-called honor crimes. That’s nearly eight a day.”

Dorothy A. Atabong

Atabong has already put together her creative team for the short, fictional film. It includes cinematographer Ben Lichty and editor Jonathan Egan. Atabong feels the timing for the project is good, as there has been some movement at the federal level to develop policy on this issue:

“The UK is ahead of us and has hotlines. Forced marriage is a criminal offence and there is a police force and shelter in place trained to assist victims of such crimes. Karma Nirvana is a hotline for victims in the UK and I will be meeting with its founder next month.

Our government is on the verge of creating a platform for this issue. We are happy to say we have Dr. Amin Muhammad of Memorial University of Newfoundland as our supporter (author of the report for the federal government on honour killings. He has done extensive research, written several books and articles, appeared on TV shows discussing this topic).”

Despite this, Atabong and her team have had trouble getting funding from traditional sources. They’re turning instead to Indiegogo to raise the $25,000 needed to complete the film, hopefully with ACTRA actors and a professional crew. Atabong hopes that completing the project will lead to real change:

“The film will be submitted to film festivals all over the world and also made available to libraries and institutions. We hope to reach millions of people with the message “help stop honor killings”. We also will make available in the film and at festival screenings, pamphlets and other useful information about this issue so we can all engage in dialogue. It would also give anyone in such a conflict situation or who might know such a person, a place to go.”

If you’re interested in helping with the project, you can:


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Strippers Deserve Labour Rights Too

Filmmaker Hima B. shows the stage fees required at a particular strip club

by Jarrah Hodge

Imagine you have a totally legal job as – say – a waiter/waitress or maybe a taxi driver. You’re expected to make tips and you look forward to that. You actually usually do pretty well. So one day, your boss at the restaurant or taxi company says he’s noticed you’re doing so well that you will have to pay him an amount – say $75 – out of your tips by the end of each shift. If you don’t, you’re going to get suspended or fired. That would be unfair and illegal under employment standards laws.

Yet that is exactly what happens to many strippers working legally in American strip clubs, except they aren’t even offered any sort of guaranteed minimum wage. They have to pay these “stage fees”  to go to work. That’s why Hima B, herself a former stripper out of San Francisco, set out to make License to Pimp. License to Pimp will be a feature documentary about the choices that three San Francisco strippers make as their employers engage in illegal labor practices.

The film chronicles the choices of three strippers who adapt to, fight, or quit the industry:

Lola - a Latina immigrant who struggles to remain a lap-dancer while working alongside co-workers who prostitute in order to pay management their stage fees.

Daisy - a whistle-blower who lobbies city and state agencies and demands they enforce labor laws to protect strippers’ working rights.

Mariko - quits working in the strip clubs & works as an out-call stripper for an escort agency only to discover that they engage in similar labor practices.

Some other super sketchy labour practices  Hima found some clubs engage in include requiring strippers to tip other staff (DJ, Managers, etc.), charging locker fees and booking fees, mandatory uniform purchases, and making dancers purchase in-club merchandise with their own money to re-sell to customers. Read more

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The Secret World of Arrietty: For the Activist and the Child in All of Us

Ariettyby Jessica Critcher

To say that this has been a strange few weeks in the women’s rights movement would be an understatement. The Susan G. Komen foundation pulled its support from Planned Parenthood, and then doubled back with a faux apology in a manner of days. The president promised he would make birth control covered by all insurance, and a few members of religious communities cried discrimination. They then proceeded to lose their minds and host a panel on birth control and reproductive health, specifically without allowing any women to speak. An amendment currently being pushed argues that any employer can object to covering any medical procedure on moral grounds.

More and more states are pushing personhood bills, which would give fertilized eggs all of the legal rights of human beings.  The state of Virginia narrowly escaped a bill that would have forced women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory vaginal probing, or as I prefer to call it, state sanctioned rape. And don’t even get me started on the Republicans currently vying to run for president. I might just start screaming. I keep checking to make sure. Yes, it’s 2012, not 1512. No, this is not The Onion. This is the current climate of the women’s rights movement in my country.

Understandably I’ve been anxious. It’s been hard to write lately, for example. I feel too preoccupied with whether or not I will continue to have access to birth control, or indeed, bodily autonomy. I worry about the women I know who’ve had miscarriages, or those who might have them in the future, and about the sadness they would feel at being interrogated for murder under the conditions of zygote-as-person. Even though these ridiculous bills will not pass, the fact that they are actually being proposed is still depressing.

Meanwhile, I am writing less. My novel languishes in its awkward, unfinished second draft. I sit and hesitate on opinion pieces, wondering just how much rage is publishable. While my family planning has not been interrupted yet, my energy is still being wasted in keeping track of politicians and which or how many of my rights they want to take away. The effect is the same: my voice has to travel further to reach the global conversation. It would be irresponsible to ignore, but it’s not exactly helpful to let it eat me up inside.

I needed to escape, if just for an afternoon. So I went to the movies and saw The Secret World of Arrietty. The film comes from Studio Ghibli, the makers of Ponyo and Spirited Away, just to name a few examples of their stunning work. They are known for producing strong female characters as much as they are for beautiful animation and captivating stories. The movie is based on The Borrowers, a novel by Mary Norton about tiny people who live in secret among humans. As I sat wide-eyed, munching popcorn in a theater full of children, I allowed my expectations, both as a feminist and a lover of stories, to soar. I was thrilled to see them met and surpassed. Read more

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Gender Focus Best of 2011

Fireworks in Adelaide


Last year I asked all the Gender Focus contributors about their highlights from the past year. This year we’re keeping with the tradition and I’m combining my favourites into the list. Without further ado, here’s the Gender Focus Best of 2011 List:


Best Book

Jessica: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Roxanna: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Alicia: Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor

E. Cain: Room by Emma Donoghue

Jarrah: Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The book was not without its problems – importantly, it was begging for an additional layer of analysis based on gender – but otherwise I really enjoyed the premise that there is no such thing as a “self-made man” and that luck, social class and upbringing play a huge role in success.” - Darcy

Best Movie

Alicia: The Muppets

Jessica: The Line (documentary by The Line Campaign, a non-profit dedicated to empowering young leaders to end sexual violence worldwide)

Jarrah: The Muppets

E. Cain: Miss Representation

“2011 was a disappointing year for movies but I did love Hanna, a surprising and bleak modern fairy tale with two incredibly kick ass female characters.” – Roxanna

Coolest Place You Travelled

E. Cain: Vancouver

Darcy: Calgary

Alicia: Road trip to Nevada

“Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. It is face-meltingly gorgeous. And as an added bonus, walking on the rim of a volcano that has been around for eons and will be there long after I die really put me in my place in a speck-in-the-grand-scheme-of-the-universe kind of way. Seriously, profoundly humbling.” - Jessica

Best TV Show

Darcy: The Colbert Report

E. Cain: Damages

Jessica: Adventure Time with Finn and Jake

Alicia: Parks and Recreation

Roxanna: Archer

“The only shows I watch faithfully every week are Chopped and The Good Wife. The latter isn’t always feminist but it passes the Bechdel test and more importantly, it has complex characters of both genders. It keeps me watching because no one on the show is wholly good or bad.” - Jarrah

Best Experience of the Year

Roxanna: “Getting a book deal for a poetry manuscript. I’ve spent five years working on it and I’m glad it’s out of my hands.”

E. Cain: “May 2, 2011 at the NDP election night party in Toronto after a grueling (but ultimately rewarding!) 5 weeks working the campaign.”

Jarrah: “Celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday on Hornby Island with my dad, step-mom, 3 older siblings, and boyfriend.”

Jessica: “Earning my bachelor’s degree. I don’t know why, but I thought once I finished, people would stop asking me what one does with a degree in English. Nope.”

“Burning Man! Surviving my ‘virgin’ burn in the desert was an amazing experience for me.” - Alicia

Favourite Band or Song

Darcy: “Shake it Out” by Florence and the Machine

Alicia: Said the Whale

Roxanna: Wilco

Jessica: Kings of Spade

Jarrah: The Zolas

“Shameless plug coming up -The Manhattan Plot, Vessel. It’s my friend’s band. They’re Canadian, they’re great, take a listen.” - E. Cain

Favourite Blog You Read Other Than Gender Focus

Jarrah: “I’m going to cheat and name a few. For fun & entertainment it was definitely The Mary Sue, but Racialicious and Bitch Blogs had the most interesting range of issues and voices.”

Jessica: “It’s hard to pick a favorite but I would say Feministe.”

Alicia: Ikea Hackers

E. Cain: Feministing

Feminists for Choice. Continues to keep fighting the good fight for reproductive health choices around the globe.” - Roxanna

What Issue Most Inspired You?

E. Cain: Jack Layton’s letter to Canadians

“The fight against homophobic bullying in Burnaby schools and for GSAs in Ontario. I think it’s also created a lot of great discussion around the language we use (bullying vs. harassment or even assault) and about why we need to be looking at gender-based and homophobic ‘bullying’ as a systemic issue.” - Jarrah

Roxanna: “Inspired is a tricky word. The Pickton Inquiry inspired me to dig deeper into the case and to further research the lives of the women who were murdered, the indifference of the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP and their treatment of their female colleagues. Maybe disgusted is a better word than inspired.”

Jessica: “Women in impoverished countries often lack basic feminine hygiene, which means, among other things, that they have to miss school and work during their periods. I am in love with Days For Girls and the work they do to help.”

“I am very interested to see the ongoing development of the Polygamy Reference as it makes its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. It’s a topic that involves several touchy subjects – including women’s rights, freedom of religion, changing notions of the family, cultural relativism, and ethnocentrism.” - Darcy

(Fireworks photo by Alex Sims via Wikimedia Commons, Hawaii photo by Mila.)


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Gender Focus Contributors List Best of 2010

I asked our Gender Focus contributors to come up with what they thought were the highlights of the past year for them. Here are their answers.


“The best book I read this year was Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet. The physicists responsible for the Manhattan Project are projected forward in time from the moment of the blast of the first atomic bomb test to the present day.” – Roxanna

Kaitlin: Seeking Spatial Justice by Edward Soja

Darcy: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

E. Cain: Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda



Darcy: The Kids are All Right

Kaitlin: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

E. Cain: The Maid – from Chilean director Sebastian Silva.

“Hands down The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Riveting, fantastic acting, and a hero that I think has changed the cultural landscape for the better. Lisbeth Salander is the most importantfictional character of the last decade, easily.” - Roxanna



Kaitlin: Amsterdam

E. Cain: Chicago

Darcy: Paris

“I didn’t travel in 2010 but spent a lot of time at The Station Gallery volunteering and teaching.” – Roxanna


“The coolest experience I had was getting my Masters of Arts. After 19 consecutive years of school, it feels great to finally be done.” - E. Cain

“I had the privilege of reading one of my poems at a Take Back the Night rally in front of a large audience. It was a very difficult and rewarding experience.” - Roxanna

“The best experience I had was falling in love with an amazing woman.” - Kaitlin


Roxanna: Feminists for Choice

E. Cain: Facebook

Kaitlin: Shakesville

Roxanna’s favourite show was Community

TV Shows

Kaitlin: True Blood

“There’s been a shocking amount of really good and tremendously terrible television made in the past year. Probably Community, it’s very funny, meta-humor and nothing is sacred. Any television show that can do a full episode satire of a post-apocalyptic film and make it hilarious and also run a holiday episode that addresses the different belief systems of each character while still making you laugh is a smart show.” - Roxanna

E. Cain: The Good Wife

Inspiring Issues

“The main issues that inspired me in 2010 were poverty, homelessness, and trans rights.” - Kaitlin

“I’ve always been a strong advocate for women’s representation in government. I have been very inspired this year reading stories about female leadership in other countries – Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad & Tobago’s first female Prime Minister (May 2010); Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister (July, 2010), Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president (Oct 2010). Im also proud of Waterloo Ontario, the little city where I lived for most of 2010, for electing a female majority onto their city council back in October.” – E. Cain

“Bill C-510, Roxanne’s Law, a blatant attempt to exploit domestic violence to further the aim of the Conservative party to gain further control over women’s reproductive health rights.” - Roxanna

In Case You’re Interested – Top Posts

The following were the most popular posts on Gender Focus in 2010 (purely counting hits):

1. American Apparel: Ironic – Don’t you think?

2. Gender, Race, and Halloween Costumes

3. Sh*t my Roommate Says

4. Banned Books Week

5. Re-Branding New West

6. Annoying Dating Stereotypes? There’s an app for that.

7. Violence Against Women in Law and Order: SVU

8. Girly Movies, Manly Cupcakes, and Girly Men

9. Two Views on Helena Guergis: 1) R-E-S-P-E-C-T

10. Ms. Gets it Wrong on Forever 21

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment