4.2 Navigating the Terrain of Canadian Feminism(s): An Interview with GUTS Magazine, Co-Founded by Nadine Adelaar and Cynthia Spring
In the summer of 2012, Nadine Adelaar and Cynthia Spring began an ambitious project: to establish an innovative open-access online magazine for the Canadian feminist community. As recent Master of Arts graduates in The University of Alberta’s Department of English and participants of a feminist reading group, Adelaar and Spring were inspired to think outside of the academy in order to resist patriarchal structures in their everyday lives, and to create a “forum for a new kind of correspondence” that might facilitate fresh perspectives on the state of Canadian feminism(s).
Working to support and engage with established online feminist communities from The New Inquiry to Canada’s own cléo journal, Adelaar and Spring and their volunteer editorial team actively share and cross-promote content published on the web through their weekly link roundup, and publish new contributions on their blog and in each of their biannual magazine issues. Currently releasing content for their fifth issue, GUTS Magazine assesses the state of Canadian feminist politics, builds communities and strengthens solidarity, and reaches out to other feminist online communities.
To do this, the magazine explores themes and topics as diverse as policies related to Canadian women’s reproductive rights (Spring) to gender biases in sport (Martin), the service industry (Knowler), the construction trades (Childs) and the academy (Prof X). Their inaugural issue, as well as their publications on labour (Issue 2),sex (Issue 3), moms (Issue 4), and food/land (Issue 5) acknowledge and scrutinize the complex history of feminist resistance in Canada and its entanglements with colonial settlement, racially-motivated violence, and inequitable or oppressive government policies. While the content of their magazine is wide-reaching, their contributors also produce inventive and experimental creative work - including avant-garde poetics and short fiction, and digital/new media art pieces. Together with the written content generated by their contributors, these pieces represent the proliferating possibilities of Canadian feminist theory and creative practice, and provide a unique space for the expression of lived experience within the Canadian feminist context.
GAUGING THE STATE OF CANADIAN FEMINIST POLITICS
Situating GUTS Magazine within a geopolitical frame, Adelaar and Spring are careful to avoid circumscribing limits or divisions between the Canadian national feminist community and its local and international affiliates. As they write in the editorial note of their first issue, “the attempt to represent Canadian feminism as a whole risks domesticating the political and social forces that have historically motivated feminist resistance in Canada.” Moreover, they note that “feminism in Canada, in its current state, cannot be unified by a nationalist politics without consenting to complacency, essentialism or even tokenism.” Endorsing a multiplicity of perspectives and experiences, GUTS Magazine is open and inclusive in its examination of Canadian feminist politics.
In my interview with Adelaar and Spring, they expressed their enthusiasm for the range of exciting initiatives and conversations currently taking place online. On their radar, they say, are issues such as “sex workers rights, labour relations/regulations for new comers/caregivers, access to abortion and reproductive justice, inquiries into murdered and missing Indigenous women, access to safe spaces and shelters for street involved people, rape culture, experiences of sexual assault - the list goes on.” But what is imperative, Adelaar and Spring emphasize, is mobilizing and promoting action. Their weekly round-up of links, for example, connects GUTS readers with events happening locally. The intent of the magazine, then, is not only to assess how the Canadian context shapes issues of interest to feminist politics, but also to marshal responders to these issues and assemble like-minded individuals who can share ideas and perspectives.
BUILDING COMMUNITIES AND STRENGTHENING SOLIDARITY
While GUTS remains both supported by, and supportive of, various online feminist forums, Adelaar and Spring (who both currently reside in Toronto) have strong ties with a number of local communities, including feminist groups in Edmonton, and are currently building ties with “a new set of fiercely active communities” in the greater Toronto area that regularly hold events and demonstrations.
Despite being an important resource and information hub for these events, however, Adelaar and Spring admit that the digital platform creates particular challenges for strengthening solidarity:
sometimes talking about feminism on the web makes it easy to lose sight of all the real struggles and problems taking place locally or elsewhere. Publishing Canadian feminist writing and art online for free is, in our opinion, political, but it’s not an end in itself. We want people to read our magazine but also get off the internet sometimes and do stuff in the world.
Similarly, doing feminist work in the academy can occasionally shut out marginalized voices and perspectives of those informed by non-academic experiences. Building community, then, depends on a recognition of privilege and identifying barriers to communication and connection. As Adelaar and Spring write in their inaugural issue, theory and praxis are not oppositional: feminist action occurs “alongside the women with whom we work and live.” A refusal to be silent and ashamed, and a willingness to share personal experience, Adelaar and Spring explain, are what define the GUTS community and what create powerful possibilities for change.
REACHING OUT/CREATING CONVERSATIONS
For all the topics and concerns that cannot be represented in their own publications, GUTS Magazine creates a space for conversation and reaches out to its affiliates most effectively through its weekly roundup of links. Online blogs like Hook & Eye, art collectives, reading groups like “Reading Alone Together,” and projects like the “It Starts With Us” database and community forum on missing and murdered indigenous women are among the resources shared by GUTS readers. The popularity of the “Open Secrets” anonymous sex survey (which appears on the blog) has also brought forth a provocative dialogue on topics such as porn, masturbation, consensual sex, and sexual identity. Readers, who can respond to this survey anonymously, have engaged in an honest and open way about these issues, Adelaar and Spring say. The success of Open Secrets has, most importantly, broadened the readership of GUTS and engaged individuals beyond the bounds of the magazine’s regular circulation.
By publishing new media and creative works, GUTS also devises new ways of engaging with important ideas and issues in Canadian feminist politics. The digital drama piece, “Digital Remnants: Sex Without Bodies?” by Elly Clarke, Amanda Turner Pohan, Robin Alex McDonald and Michelle Ty, along with Kara Stone’s creative fiction, “Sext Adventure” and Rebecca Roher’s comic, “Mom Body” are examples of how a bold and original creative practice can inspire new critical perspectives. In their sex issue Adelaar and Spring explain that they were “drawn to art that used technology to critique heteronormativity and generate alternative representations of sexuality, bodies, and relationships.” It is through the publication of online feminist art pieces such as these that GUTS most effectively engages with an increasingly diverse range of readers.
Along with publishing Canadian feminist art and provocative written work, GUTS moves forward with the intent to continue to publish and share content that addresses the various debates circulating in Canadian feminist politics. The articles that generated the most interest from earlier issues, including educator and writer Chelsea Vowel’s “Indigenous Women and Two-Spirited People: Our Work is Decolonialization” and Cynthia Spring’s “Charitable Misogyny” (which responds to the popularization of men’s rights groups in Canadian cities) were both explicitly political pieces. Others, like Katie Lew’s “Body of Work,” Kaleigh Trace’s “Wild Acts,” SLV and RJB’s “That Stayed”, and Natalie Childs’ review of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? are, as Adelaar and Spring note, “driven by personal narratives.” These political pieces and accounts of personal experience have received “quite a bit of attention and positive feedback,” Adelaar and Spring report, and will continue to shape the scope of the magazine as it looks forward to its sixth issue in 2016.
GUTS Magazine can be read at gutsmagazine.ca and followed on Twitter and Facebook.
Sarah Bezan is a PhD candidate at The University of Alberta and a Visiting Scholar at the Cambridge University Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Her doctoral dissertation, funded by SSHRC and the Killam Trust, examines the representation of human and animal death and decomposition in contemporary taxidermic art, fiction, and film. Her scholarly contributions appear in Mosaic, the Journal for Critical Animal Studies, Criterion, and theJournal of the African Literature Association.