Review: Wages for Housework

Monday, 12 November 2018
This review originally appeared on

Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77
By Louise Toupin; Translated by K├Ąthe Roth

In order to understand the context in which Wages for Housework — a global feminist movement organized around the idea that domestic (or reproductive labour) was as "crucial for the survival of the capitalist system as more typically male 'productive’ labour'" — was born, one must consider or recall what it was like to be a woman in the 1970s.

In the first chapter of her ambitious book Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77, feminist writer and retired university professor Louise Toupin provides a glimpse into daily life for women in the early 1970s — a time in which housework (also called domestic work or care work) was not considered to be real work, rather it was a "labour of love," or a biological duty imposed almost always upon women.

"In Quebec, for example, women could not serve on juries, and civil marriage and divorce had just been legalized, as had homosexuality 'between consenting adults,'" writes Toupin. She adds that access to abortions was only in the process of being liberalized, advertising of contraceptive methods was illegal, and "pay equity was an illusion." At the turn of the 1970s, "very few books dealt with the question of women as a political issue," and scholarly feminist studies were at their earliest stages.

Born in this climate, Wages for Housework saw the absence of earned wages as oppression, and waged men as the oppressors, giving women little, or no, bargaining power to negotiate their own conditions of work. "In reality, a wage is much more than money. It must be understood, in political terms, as a power relationship that structures society," writes Toupin.

Chronicling the Wages for Housework movement from its beginnings emerging from the International Feminist Collective in Italy in the early 1970s, Wages for Housework is divided into two parts — "The International Feminist Collective: Historical Overview and Political Perspective" and "Mobilizations around Women’s Invisible Work." It is the first international history of the Wages for Housework movement, which is much overlooked in the history of second-wave Western feminism.

Click here to read the rest of the review.

Review: The Amateurs by Liz Harmer

Thursday, 6 September 2018
This short review was originally published in This Magazine.

Quotable: I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy

"But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities."
— David Chariandy

I spent a lot of time reading in the garden across from my office this summer, and of all the books I read this season, none has stuck with me as much as I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy. Chariandy, of course, wrote one of my favourite books of last year, Brother. In both books, he reveals an ability to pack so much depth into small, tightly packed, volumes where each sentence is perfectly refined and meaningful. I can't recommend both enough.

Review: Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti

Tuesday, 24 July 2018
This review was originally published at the Hamilton Review of Books

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls
by Globe and Mail columnist and award-winning novelist Elizabeth Renzetti is dedicated to “my mother, the light at one end of the tunnel, and my children, the light at the other.” This affectionate tribute is a fitting introduction to a fierce and insightful collection of essays that draws on the heartbreaking injustices women have faced in the past, while looking toward a future that only sometimes looks bright.

In nearly thirty years as a journalist, Renzetti has written about the challenges, failures, and triumphs of the women she has profiled. This, of course, doesn’t make her an expert on all women, and in Shrewed, she’s careful not to make generalizations, noting the diversity of women’s experiences, especially among those in marginalized communities. However, as a woman in a male-dominated field, Renzetti has amassed insight into the many barriers women face in the workplace, in politics, online, and in the streets, forcing her to ask herself why and how the world is so inhospitable to women.

With pithy titles like “The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole” and “Weddings Are Satan’s Playground: A Letter to My Daughter,” Shrewed is conversational and funny, even when dismantling the cultural, social, and historical inequalities women are confronted with daily. While relying heavily on her own experiences and observations, Renzetti also shares the stories of remarkable women she has interviewed or admired who have “refused to be bound by convention,” including Germaine Greer and P.D. James.

What makes this collection spectacular is how nuanced it is, looking at the complexities of what it means to be a woman in a time of #MeToo and the persistent wage gap. This is no truer than when Renzetti talks about the "useless concept" of fearlessness that is drilled into the heads of young women everywhere, giving them just one more unattainable standard. “Of course young women will fear, and should not be ashamed of it. The structures of the world were not built for their comfort,” she writes.

Women of all ages will delight in Renzetti’s wisdom, and, often nod at her astute observations. This is especially the case when she writes about the ridiculous prices attached to gender and the $32-billion dollar women’s intimate apparel industry. In her chapter, “You’ll Pay for Those Breasts, or the Cost of Being a Lady,” Renzetti tracks her own spending, which included a $43 tube of lipstick, nearly $50 on waxing, and a $107 night treatment.

In Shrewed, Renzetti writes a letter to each of her children, and in the one addressed to her son, Griff, she tells him that, “Boys have been just as crushed and exploited by institutional sexism as girls have.” Neither letter is overly hopeful; however, there are shreds of optimism in Shrewed, especially when Renzetti writes about her mother, a former nurse, revealing how far society has come.

“As women demand more space, the backlash will continue. Enemies of our freedom will attempt to drive us inside; enemies of our power will attempt to silence our voices. We can answer the threat any way we choose. We can answer the threat with more freedom,” writes Renzetti in one particularly hopeful moment.

Shrewed isn’t eye opening. We already know the anxieties, complexities, and inequalities of being a woman in a male-dominated world; however, it’s Renzetti’s ability to capture these lived experiences with wit and candour that is exceptional. “The world would be a better pace if women had more say in the running of things. At the very least it would be less fucked up,” she writes.

Photos: Doors Open and Jane's Walks 2017

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Every year, I write about my favourite Doors Open Hamilton discoveries; however, despite taking dozens of photos last year, they never found their way to the site. Because Doors Open Hamilton,  Jane's Walks, and the City of Hamilton Museum Crawl are happening this weekend, I thought now was my last chance. (Please note that some of these sites aren't on the schedule for 2018). 

Click to read posts from previous years:

Century Manor 
(Part of a Jane's Walk)

Auchmar Manor House
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)
See more photos of this visit over at The Inlet

Mohawk Trail School
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)

The Barracks Inn
(Part of Doors Open Hamilton)

Fieldcote Memorial Park & Museum
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)

Griffin House
(Part of City of Hamilton Museum Open Houses)

Quotable: The Virgin Suicides

Saturday, 14 April 2018

“We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.” ― Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Favourite Reads of 2017

Sunday, 7 January 2018

In no particular order, here are the books that floored me, caused me to take pause, or entertained me in 2017. They are books that I dog-earred, wrote in the margins of (unless they were library books, obviously), and, in many cases, reviewed either here or elsewhere. I recommend each of them without hesitation.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Doubleday Canada
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

The first books you read at the beginning of the year risk being forgotten by the time "best of" lists roll around in December and January. That wasn't the case for Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, one of the first books I read in 2017, that remained one of my favourites. Seeing Maclear read from it at the Hamilton Public Library during gritLIT Festival weekend was a literary highlight of 2017.

To read my review of Birds Art Life, click here. Here's a snippet of it:
"Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them."

Brother by David Chariandy
McClelland & Stewart
"Memory's got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory's the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power."

David Chariandy's Brother — a coming-of-age story that takes place in The Park, "a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city" — should have won the Giller Prize, or at least, found itself on the shortlist. Small, at only 180 pages, it packs so much emotional force and each sentence is intentional and perfect. If there's one book from 2017 that I've been telling people they have to read, it's Brother.

All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber
McClelland & Stewart
"Still, his memories live in these streets — all those nights of dancing and drinking and swarming with joy — and the degradation brought with it a kind of decadence and seediness he has sometimes sought."

Sarah Faber's All Is Beauty Now is a stunning debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. With lyrical prose and complex characters, Faber has the ability to whisk readers away to the beaches of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, where the Maurer family is engulfed in tragedy after Luisa, the eldest daughter/sister, walks into the waters of off a crowded beach and is presumed drowned.

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
House of Anansi
"I watch his back as he disappears and I wonder about the kind of love that exists before you really know someone. The kind that seems so pure but never lasts. The kind that is light, unencumbered by damage and issues and talking. Just I love you as you are right now in this breaking moment."

Quotes like the one above from This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stunned me. I was lucky enough to review this one for THIS Magazine:
"Unique in its fragmented and casual, yet lyrical and elegant language, This Accident of Being Lost introduces readers to memorable and resilient characters, most grappling with uncertainty. From boreal forests to the Great Lakes, and from urban centres to rural communities, This Accident of Being Lost forces readers to look at Canada differently."

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly
Like most people, I had never heard of William Buehler Seabrook — the journalist and bestselling travel writer who "was willing to go deeper than any outsider had before" — until I read Joe Ollmann's graphic novel, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Advertised as "the daring and destructive life of the man who popularized the word "Zombie," The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is much more than that. To read about The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, read the glowing review in The Guardian.

The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy by Julia Cooper
Coach House Books
"The eulogy is a particularly vexed art form, partly because it's a necessity, and partly because at its very heart it is an amateur's art."

I love each book I've read in Coach House's Exploded Views series; however, Julia Cooper's The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy is my favourite so far. Exploring public mourning in the age of social media and celebrity culture, it's a tiny glimpse into grief in the modern age. As someone who is guilty of offering "bite-sized condolences" and "micro-eulogies" for favourite celebrities on social media, I was instantly intrigued from the first page.

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Harper Trophy
In Quill and Quire, I called Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant a near-perfect book, and I stand by that. I have no doubt it is highly entertaining for children, but it's also a great example of a YA book that will be enjoyable for adults as well.

From Quill and Quire:
"Short for Chameleon is a near perfect book. It bursts with a unique voice and a delightfully surprising plot. This is a novel with incredible heart, telling the story of a boy who can “fade into the background with the rest of them,” but who slowly begins to create his own identity."

The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books
"Snow fell in a light dusting now. It looked like glitter scraped from the underside of clouds by the scrubby top branches of the pines. The skeletons of the green trees curved under the elegant weight of the snow, bowing and twisting like ribbons in the wind."

When I reviewed The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline for Quill and Quire, I knew it was something special; however, I didn't know that it would quickly become one of the most talked about books of the year.

From my Quill and Quire review:
"Dimaline thrusts readers into the complex lives of rich and nuanced characters forced to navigate a world that too closely resembles our own. At first glance, the book appears to be dystopian fiction swarming with adventure and danger; however, readers with an interest in social justice and a grasp on colonial history will extract much deeper meaning. The book is, above all, a cautionary tale, revealing an exaggerated version of what could happen to Earth in the not-so-distant future. It is a timely and necessary read referencing pipelines, melting northern territories, rising water levels, and the consequences of government policies that don’t protect the environment. Powerful and endlessly smart, it’s a crucial work of fiction for people of all ages."

Read. This. Book! It's so important, but also endlessly entertaining.

Honourable Mention
Here are the books that I loved this year that were not published in 2017:
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993)
  • Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman who Loved Him by Roy MacGregor (2010)
  • In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life by Soraya Roberts (2016)
  • The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young (2016)
  • You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (2016)
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