From Ghomeshi To Weinstein: The More Women Share Their Stories, The More Powerful We Become

The past four years have been an extraordinary time to cover women’s issues. In her final column for Chatelaine, Rachel Giese reflects on what’s changed and what’s remained the same.

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women shouting and holding placards at TimesUp march in London, England

Photo, Daniel Stephen Homer/Getty images.

Four years ago, when I wrote about the abuse allegations against Jian Ghomeshi for Chatelaine, I was aware I was witnessing a shift in women’s responses to violence — and the headline, #YouCantShutMeUp, made it extra clear. But what I didn’t realize at the time was just how profound that shift would be.

The news about the former CBC Radio host had only just broken, but had already spawned viral online movements like #IBelieveThem and #IBelieveLucy (for Lucy DeCoutere – the first woman to attach her name to allegations against Ghomeshi). Soon thousands had added their voices in support and solidarity and with stories of their own, experiences of sexual abuse and harassment that in many cases had never been shared before.

These weren’t the first hashtag feminist movements. Months earlier, #YesAllWomen circulated after the man responsible for a killing spree near the University of California was connected to the incel movement. #AmINext was utilized by Indigenous women to express their fear and frustration over the lack of attention to the violence directed at them. And decade earlier, pre-social media, Tarana Burke founded what would later become the #MeToo movement.

But collectively, following the Ghomeshi case (one of the first in which a high-profile man was forced to reckon with his behaviour), these movements signalled a tipping point.
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Women were furious. Women were outraged. Women were speaking uncomfortable, painful truths about a world that was not safe, that did not recognize our humanity and agency, and that did not believe us.

But alongside that anger and feeling of powerlessness (especially when those reckonings did not turn out as we hoped) there was, we learned, power in this: we could listen to each other, we could try to make each other safe, we could see each other’s humanity and we could believe each other.

Over the past four years that power has sustained us: as populist and nationalist movements traffic in deadly xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and racism; as conservative movements threaten to enact more control over women’s bodies; as brave survivors of sexual violence are treated with indifference and scorn; and as we have hard, necessary conversations about privilege and power, and about which women’s concerns get attention and which women continue to be ignored.

Critically, that power has also fueled us: as we marched and cried and laughed together; as we stood witness and protested; as we wrote, made art, played sports and celebrated each other’s talents; as unprecedented numbers of women signed up to run for political office and to organize in their communities.

It’s been an extraordinary time to work in women’s media and cover women’s issues. While newer online publications, like Jezebel and The Cut were born with a decidedly feminist orientation, older legacy publications and mainstream media also became politicized. Fashion titles like Elle, Glamour and Vogue started tackling issues like discrimination and sexual violence, while the sexual assault allegations about Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, were broken by the New York Times and the New Yorker and covered extensively elsewhere.
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If I can boast a little, this was not at all new territory for Chatelaine. Women’s issues and women’s rights have long been part of the publication’s 90-year history. The advance of gender equality in Canada in the 20th century, particularly the second wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, was documented and advanced by Chatelaine. It was within the magazine, alongside helpful parenting tips, stylish (but always affordable!) fashion layouts and its famous triple-tested recipes, that Canadian women first read about domestic violence and sexual liberation, racial discrimination and the wage gap.

More recently, Chatelaine — along with sister publications Flare and Today’s Parent — once again invested in political coverage, in stories about power and justice, race, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. The work has been vibrant, thoughtful and challenging and it’s tracked with what Canadian women want at this unprecedented moment — journalism that takes their lives and interests seriously.

But the media industry in Canada, the U.S. — just about everywhere — is shrinking, and no publication is immune. Chatelaine went through its own downsizing in June, and there are reports that Rogers is looking to sell it and other titles. What that means for this still-feisty nonagenarian publication, I’m not sure. But I do know that telling women’s stories has never been more important and that this work will continue. Too many of us have too much to say — #YouCantShutUsUp.

As editor-at-large and columnist these past four years, it’s been an honour to work alongside the many brilliant editors, designers, writers, photographers, illustrators, video makers and chefs who have been part of Chatelaine. But it’s also time for me to move on. This is my last regular column. I will continue to contribute in other ways and I look forward to seeing what Chatelaine’s — and all of our — futures hold. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comments over the years. It’s been a joy to write for you.