Herizons Magazine (Fall 2009)
I had never heard of the Canadian feminist news magazine Herizons before receiving my copy of the Fall 2009 issue in the mail. In fact, I often avoid globally-oriented, North American feminist articles, because they too often read like a contemporary version of the white man’s burden (“Oh dear, look at the how the brown barbarians treat their women”). While Herizons didn’t completely escape this snare, on the whole it was a refreshing surprise.
The most striking feature of the publication is its emphasis on women’s power to create change in local struggles. The opening letter from the editor, introducing the issue’s theme, is entitled “The Unstoppable Women of Asia.” In glowing prose, editor Penni Mitchell describes the determination and savvy of the women behind each of the political struggles covered in the issue (including the Nepali fight for “substantive equality” to be written into the new constitution, as well as Afghan women’s protests against the patriarchal Shia Personal Status Law). This is a welcome departure from so many Western portrayals of developing countries—rather than emphasizing the repression of brown women by “uncivilized” brown men, and the oh-so-noble efforts (by Westerners, of course) to “save” those women, Herizons puts the focus on the women themselves, and in particular, their dynamic acts of resistance and their creative visions for change.
The one article that misses the mark in this regard is “Making a Statement: Gender Roles in India Slowly Changing,” which unfortunately takes the all-too-familiar stance that Westernization automatically improves the status of women. (Really, Kaj Hasselriis, does the fact that you saw a young girl in “an unusual outfit—jeans and a t-shirt” indicate that sexism in India is on its last legs?) However, thankfully, Herizons does acknowledge that sexism is also a continuing reality “at home”—in addition to the international coverage, the issue also places a focus on Canadian feminist issues, including the fight for Canadian custody laws that acknowledge the impact of domestic violence. Another “local” feature article profiles Canadian Aboriginal theater director and playwright Yvette Nolan.
On the whole, the magazine takes an optimistic, visionary tone. In fact, at times I felt that the magazine was almost too upbeat, and ran the risk of idealizing some of the activists profiled within its pages. However, the parting shot (a one-page piece by Lyn Cockburn entitled “Fall of Patriarchy Imminent”) restored the balance. In a cheery satirical tone, Cockburn reminds us that the struggle is far from over: “Given the wild success of both post-feminism and post-racism, it is no wonder that I...await post-patriarchy with barely restrained enthusiasm.” As those of us involved in activism know all too well, it’s often difficult to strike a balance between clearly naming oppression and celebrating our progress toward ending it. Herizons walks this line skillfully, emphasizing the dignity of struggle without sugarcoating the context.
While the overall quality of reportage is high, not every article makes the grade—such as Susan G. Cole’s poorly written, barely relevant column entitled “Michael Jackson’s Swan Song.” On the other hand, the feature article “Is Feminism Men’s Work, Too?” is a gem—a great short introduction to doing political work from a place of (relative) privilege. Finally, the issue closes with a multitude of engaging, well-written, and useful book and music reviews.
I’ll be picking up future Herizons issues to find out about women’s current political struggles and successes both in Canada and worldwide—and I’ll look forward to enjoying some quirky, heartening editorializing along the way.