Transcript: The Origins of Women Against Violence Against Women

Introduction: Susan G. Cole, one of the founders of Women Against Violence against Women describes how, in 1978, the organization catapulted the issues of violence against women onto the public agenda. Their plan was to bring attention to issues of violence against women by demonstrating publicly against the manifestation of this violence. Susan describes the demonstrations they organized against a Snuff movie, against a concert trivializing abuse against women by the group, Battered Wives, against the rape of women in War, and against the objectification of women in a Harry Rosen shop window.
Sue Colley: My name is Sue Colley and I am with Rise Up Feminist Digital Archive, and today I am going to be interviewing Susan Cole, who’s going to tell us about the origins and the activities of WAVAWW, Women Against Violence Against Women, which was founded many, many years ago.
Susan G. Cole: OK. My name is – my byline is Susan G. Cole – so that is who I am. I’m a Toronto born activist and writer and was a participant in a very exciting political moment spawned by Women Against Violence Against Women in 1978.
Sue Colley: WAVAWW was really well known for its launching of public demonstrations. And actually, it was quite unusual at that – I mean, there had been lots of demonstrations, obviously, against the war and about other things like that, but these were some of the first purely women’s demonstrations that happened. So, can you tell us – I know there’s the Snuff movie, the O’Keefe Centre, there’s the Harry Rosen window, maybe you can tell me about those first.
Susan G. Cole: Well, let me start by saying that we began as a group of – by the percolation of a lot of activity and a rising awareness of the incidents of violence against women. And we came together in the context of women recognizing and naming kinds of violence against women and the institution of our own feminist – well, I would call them institutions themselves like shelters for assaulted women and rape crisis centres. And there was a lot of energy that was coming together at that time. This is about late 1977, ’78. And I personally was looking for some kind of political action group. I had been working in the area of women’s reproductive rights for a period of time. But then, I wish I could remember exactly how we found each other, but I’m sure it was through these various agencies and women who were working together and already doing speak-outs on violence against women.
And we all came together, at a certain point decided that we would have a political manifestation, a public manifestation of our energy and commitment. And we were going to have a demonstration. It was just going to be a demonstration against violence against women. This is important in the telling of the story, we did have a permit for that demonstration. We wanted a permit so that we could march down Yonge Street, which was, at the time, the most – well, the centre of the universe in Toronto, and we thought, a good plan. And we would convene at the just-built Eaton Centre on the corner of Dundas and Yonge. But just days before we were going to have the demonstration, the film Snuff opened at Cinema 2000. And Snuff was a movie that advertised the real murder of a woman and it was available to viewers for their sexual pleasure.\
And it was a really interesting moment for us because it was so shocking and so enraging, and very easily coalesced this group of pretty disparate women. I mean, there were women of all – it was a predominantly white group, as were many feminist organizations at the time – or that’s not fair, there probably were women of colour organizing, but we weren’t connecting with them at the time. And – but what was interesting about it was that there were women of, like, pretty cross-class group of women, because we were very aware that violence against women has an impact on women, no matter their financial status. We knew that it was true that if you were wealthy, you were probably less vulnerable, had more mobility, were able, perhaps, to escape, but the incidence of violence itself definitely crossed classes. But this one really – I mean, we all responded to this in a huge way.
What’s interesting – and the reason why I mentioned the disparate class groups to that extent is that we weren’t sure how we wanted to respond. We knew we wanted to get ourselves in front of Cinema 2000, which was just a few stores north of the Eaton Centre. But we weren’t sure – we weren’t in full agreement as to what we wanted to do about it. Some people said shut them down immediately, the more radical, and there were a lot of radical women around at the time, these are women who had done the – but the Brunswick Five who had taken over the Brunswick and made a demonstration there. So, there were radical women who said shut them down. And there were other women saying, “Wait, we don’t want to alienate people, we don’t want to be too radical,” and of course, there were a lot of feminists who had a very strong anti-censorship position and really felt that it was a mistake to attempt to shut off anything. So, we decided, OK, you can all just do what you want. Right? Basically, that’s what happened.
We said, you can make your own choices. So, we marched down Yonge Street, with a permit, and I remember – and we stopped at the corner of Dundas and Yonge, and I made a speech, – an incendiary speech, -I must say which was kind of my speciality at the time. And whipped them up into a frenzy, and indeed, after I finished, a group of us – and I wasn’t included because I was still up standing there just – I continued to talk and get people, you know, to talk, but a group just immediately repaired down to Cinema 2000, broke into the – went into the theatre, went up to the projection room and shut it down, basically. Now, I’ve always said that there was something kind of magical about that moment, because first of all, the police were completely unprepared, we had a permit, we were this nice group that had a permit; we’d done everything right. So, they were not expecting it at all, and were completely unprepared for this kind of action.
But more important, this was the kind of demonstration that could engage any woman who was walking down the street. And indeed, for days after, we demonstrated in front of that theatre, kept moving as you have to when you’re demonstrating, and handing out leaflets to say what our issue was, and making it pretty hard for those guys to get into that theatre. That was one thing we wanted to do was to stop them from going in. And the other was to engage women who were randomly passing by. And it was unbelievable how successful that was, to the extent that women would say, “Well, what are you doing here?” And we’d hand them a leaflet and we said, “This is a Snuff movie, Snuff movies are movies that advertise the murder of real women so that guys can get off on it.” “Well,” they responded, “give me a sign, I’m with you.” Like, instantly like that. And that was another way in which we developed our base for WAVAW proper.
So, we also – not everybody necessarily wanted to join an organization of this kind, but some people did, and certainly, at that moment, they were prepared to get in front. And there were times – we had almost 100 people there at a certain point circling in front of that theatre. So, that set the basis for Snuff – for WAVAW It was covered in The Star, it was a very high profile demonstration. I remember that – because I was one of the few people who they often turned to to talk to the media. And I did all kinds of media surrounding it. Mostly, we didn’t – we weren’t that kind of an organization with a structure – and we had a little media committee, and we put out press releases. We didn’t put out a press release for this demo. We just showed up, which turned out to be quite a successful strategy. So, that was how we first formed. And then, we started to meet. We met at some University of Toronto buildings, I can’t remember the exact name of it, it’s on St. George.
Sue Colley: So, you’re going to tell me about the meetings and – OK, so, how did you move forward after the Snuff demonstration? First of all, was it successful – the Snuff demonstration? Did it actually close down the film for good?
Susan G. Cole: I don’t think it did to that extent. We actually – and in fact we were so upset about it that we – engaged for just a nano second, almost, with the City Council and tried to engage them to shut them down. And we actually got support from one of the older people, Anne Johnston, whom some people may remember, she was a fantastic woman. But then, we started to get cold feet because we could feel what later became an important tension; at the same time, there was this rising movement in the wake of the killing of Emanuel Jaques in the Cleanup Yonge Street movement. And that really, first of all, cleaning up anything wasn’t our interest, we wanted to focus on violence against women.
Second, some of the follow-up, especially from the right wing to the Emanuel Jaques’ murder. He was a young shoeshine boy who was killed and sexually assaulted. There was a huge homophobic backlash to the Emanuel Jacques’ murder, and we didn’t want to have anything to do with that. And once we could see that people were trying to draw us into some kind of a coalition of that nature, we said, you know what, I think we like our surprise actions better, and really wanted to keep our own voice and politics to the forefront. So, I’m sorry, I just remembered that we did toy with the idea, but not for long.
Susan G. Cole: We met often, and each time, the object of the exercise was to think of our next demonstration. And we would just kind of cruise the city to figure out where we could put our spotlight One time, there was a phenomenon in the fashion magazines called “violence chic”, where you could see a lot of models with their kind of bloodied eyes and looking as if they’d just been assaulted in all these groovy clothes. And indeed, in the Harry Rosen window there was a woman presented there in that way, even though they were selling men’s clothes. So, we put ourselves in front of Harry Rosen to protest that, as well. And we had – I know, they seem kind of quaint now – I think we connected via phone tree or something like that and that was how we got women out.
I can’t say that demonstration had the same enormous impact as Snuff did, but we, ourselves, were really quite energized, and any time we did something, we would get some media coverage. And you can’t really tell whether you’re getting the ideas out there, but looking back on it, I’m pretty confident that we did. The next one was a demonstration against the band called Battered Wives, who were playing at what was then called the O’Keefe Centre. It’s had so many name changes, I’m not even sure what it’s called now, I think it’s the Sony Centre. And we marched in front of that, of the O’Keefe Centre, chanting “battered wives don’t sing,” and our complaint was that the band’s name trivialized the experience of violence against women.
And what’s interesting, I remember, the contrast between the men who watched us at that demonstration as distinct from the men who watched us at the Snuff demonstration, because the men at the Snuff demonstration were full of shame, and really did not want to be seen or heard, they were lurking, they were hiding. But the supporters of that punk band really fired some hostility at us, and I think we were – I don’t know, we were naïve, but I remember, personally, being quite shocked by it. I don’t know if I’d call it a success. Again, it got attention, but I think our idea was that we wanted to do things differently and we wanted to be almost like gorilla activists in the sense that you never knew where we would show up.
Sue Colley: And frankly, the issue of violence against women was just not on the horizon at this point. So, what that all did was begin to bring it out into the open and begin to make it a public issue. And I think we’ve – even though we haven’t solved the problem, at least now there’s a lot more focus and concern about it.
Susan G. Cole: I agree, Sue, there’s no question that the public awareness of violence against women is just huge. And I have to say that still when the MeToo movement happened, we were saying “What took you so long”? But we were very happy to see that it happened, but for those of us who have been working and writing in the area for the length of time that we were, it just seemed wild that we were having those same conversations. But young women need to be educated every time – every year. So, it’s an issue that has to be at the forefront all the time. Now, I mean, Snuff was its own success, but actually, the action that I’m, in the end, most proud of, was an action we took on Remembrance Day, which would have been the year after Snuff.
And what we did is – and we were actually quite respectful about it – we made our own cenotaph, and after the official commemorations at City Hall, at the City Cenotaph, after everybody left, just as they were leaving, we came on with our own handmade DIY cenotaph, and it read, “For every woman raped in every war.” And the reason why I really liked that demonstration is because it so profoundly upended the narrative of Remembrance Day and how it’s held. It’s a little bit changed now, because now, people are talking about trauma and the trauma of soldiers, and the basic problem with war in the first place. But in those days, there wasn’t a shred of anti-war content to what was going on on Remembrance Day, and nobody really wanted to hear about it, even as late as 20 years later when I was writing about why I wasn’t wearing a poppy.
The hostility was unbelievably huge. And I think that for us to imagine war from a female perspective, and not the, “Oh, my son has gone to war and I’m a mother and I care about my children,” but from the experience of women in war, I thought was profoundly radical. I felt like it was exactly what we wanted to do; we wanted to shift the paradigm in how we were discussing something like Remembrance Day. And we were very solemn. We weren’t snarky about it at all. And we weren’t even saying, “You are all bad people out there who are commemorating Remembrance Day in a different way.” We weren’t doing that. But somehow, I mean, but it really did shift things, and I thought it was a really good demonstration.
Sue Colley: Yeah, I wasn’t at that but it sounds really neat to me.
Susan G. Cole: I have a funny story to tell you about it, you might think it’s that interesting. But I remember that – I mentioned about the different kinds of women who were at WAVAW, and one of the most influential of our members was a professor at OISE named Mary O’Brien who was a really good writer and just a lovely older woman. I found out somehow that she was leading a discussion group with my mother, my mother and her friends. And at one point, I told my mother about this demonstration, and she said, “That’s the most appalling thing I’ve ever heard.” Like, she was just – now, understand Jewish woman of a generation post-Holocaust who really was happy that fascists were defeated, so, all of that in the picture. And then, at the next discussion group, she said to Mary O’Brien, “Oh, my God, my daughter was involved in this demonstration where they did this horrible thing and put up this cenotaph at City Hall,” and Mary looked at her and said, “Yeah, it was my idea,”. Anyway, a lovely little story that I like to tell about –
Sue Colley: And so, did your mom come around?
Susan G. Cole: I don’t know that she fully came around, but she was certainly surprised that that was the response she got to that.
Sue Colley: That is very neat, yeah. So, how many of you were there, do you think?
Susan G. Cole: Hard core?
I mean, it was a few enough so that a conversation was manageable. It was one of those situations where it had all of the pros and cons of loosey goosey organization, right, that some people went on too long and some people were angry and some people weren’t always focused with their eye on the prize. But I think in the end, it still was a very vital and important event. Now, there was something else I think I should mention, Sue, I don’t know how important this is to you, but before I came to do this interview, I was talking with some people about some of the conflicts within feminism that WAVAW was involved in. And I actually think that it’s important – and even the people who were on the other side of WAVAW said, “Oh, no, you have to talk about that, for sure, it was really important.”
Sue Colley: OK. So, there’s about 40 of you and you don’t have newsletters, you did some pamphlets from time to time, like the Snuff one. Did you have the kind of meetings where you set goals and you figured out what your objectives were and what your strategy was? Or was it just more loosey-goosey than that?
Susan G. Cole: Well, I think that we lit upon the strategy with Snuff and then said, “OK, we should continue to have demonstrations like that,” demonstrations which pointed out the ways in which popular culture in all of its forms – whether it’s pornography or rock and roll or fashion – were promoting violence against women, whether consciously or not. And I think once we lit upon that, we really were very clear that we were going to keep trying to find things that we could do. So, we were purely an action-oriented group. We didn’t want our own building; we didn’t want our own office, That wasn’t our interest. And I think we had a sense that we weren’t going to last forever. But we would keep going, because it got, to be honest with you, once you do four or five demonstrations of this kind, burnout can become a factor, and I’d like to talk about that in terms of what happened at the end of WAVAW, because I think it’s important and interesting.
Sue Colley: OK. But anyway, one of the other important things that happened with WAVAW was that at the same time that WAVAW existed, and you were doing these demonstrations, it was the same time that the International Women’s Day committee got started, right?
Susan G. Cole: Correct.
Sue Colley: There was a big [May 10th] – in 1975, there was a big May 10th demonstration, which surprised everybody in terms of the numbers of people that came out. And it was out of that, I think, that the suggestion came forward that there should be a regular International Women’s Day, and a committee got set up. Were you on that committee?
Susan G. Cole: No. In fact, I didn’t come back to Toronto until 1976, I was away at college and then I was on a travelling fellowship, and I didn’t get back to Toronto until like, ’76. And then, I really didn’t get involved in anything much until around ’77, which is, as I mentioned, when I got involved with a reproductive rights group. So, no, I wasn’t involved in that. But we did know that it was very important – that organizing around International Women’s Day was a very important organizing tool, and we definitely thought we could bring new energy to it. And I think – I can only speak for my own perspective, but I realized too late that – well, first of all, I didn’t respect where International Women’s Day came from, which was from the labour movement, by the way, in the early 1900s.
So, I’m absolutely prepared to acknowledge that. And that it had had a strong base with labour centred organizers and socialist women and that was really where the political base was. So, I think, naively, we thought we would just kind of arrive and everybody would be really appreciative of our presence and that because we were the most visible manifestation of feminism going on at the time. I mean, we eventually found ourselves in conflict with the organizers of International Women’s Day, very specifically about the presence of men on the march. That was what our tensions coalesced behind. And so, here was –
Sue Colley: I can’t forget how much time we spent talking about it.
Sue Colley: We ended up deciding they could go at the back, wasn’t that the compromise?
Susan G. Cole: I’m not quite sure.
Sue Colley: I think it was, yeah, yeah.
Susan G. Cole: Actually but let me just say that we – to situate it properly Women Against Violence Against Women, were women working consciously to create women spaces. So, many of us came from the shelter movement, the rape crisis centre movement, and from feminism first. I’m not saying best, but feminism first in the sense that all women’s spaces were a given. We didn’t think we needed to talk about it – well, of course you wanted an all-women’s space. The members of IWD committee, of course, had been working very, very hard to get feminist values into unions and into all kinds of progressive groups, and really felt like of course you had to march with men, you wanted the presence of men there. Well, we didn’t and they did. And the conflict was intense, and I remember it was kind of terrible, I have to say.
I don’t think we were all terribly skilled in the way that we handled it and the way that we talked to each other. And I mean, there were a lot of lesbians in Women Against Violence Against Women, and we sensed a certain kind of homophobic response from – which I’m not even sure was there, but that – I’m saying that’s how we interpreted it, so you could see how these tensions arose. And then, there were a lot of strong anti-censorship activists within IWD who thought we were all pro-censorship, which really wasn’t the case. Although, later on, I began to write and be critical of free speech issues. But there was tension. And at a certain point you’ve mentioned – I don’t remember what happened, did they go to the back? I think they may have.
But really, we decided to have our own International Women’s Day event. And here’s the thing, too, that was kind of important to us. We did not want to replicate old left, shall we say, political aesthetics. So, we were, like, we thought the idea of walking down the street with a banner was just the dreariest thing you could imagine. And we really wanted our – we wanted to challenge that paradigm of protest. And so, we had a celebration. And I think I can present the poster for it. And it has a woman eating a piece of watermelon. I mean, it’s kind of beautiful. and we didn’t have a demonstration. We had a rah-rah celebration with balloons and the kids were there and we didn’t – I don’t even think at any time did we say any kind of familiar slogans of that kind and those kinds – so, that was another element of our politic was to kind of redefine activism and not have it look the way activism has looked since the early 1900s. Like, we really wanted to make that kind of shift.
Sue Colley: One of the things that actually I think happened was that – I don’t suspect this was the first year, because I think you had your celebration on your own – but after that, there was a recognition that this was really a good idea. And so, do you remember? We had the IWD marches, and then, we’d have this fantastic party in the evening.
Susan G. Cole: That’s right. We wouldn’t have gone to a party if men were invited. And I think many of us, if we were going to say, well, how do we feel about that now? Like, I think, obviously, I think it’s important that men be involved in fighting for women and supporting us and – I had said, put them at the side of the street, let’s set up places where they could be on the side of the street, and clap for us and tell us how fabulous we were. But, anyway, those tensions didn’t – they persisted through the 80s, long after WAVAW went away.
Sue Colley: Yeah, I just wanted to say here that I think it’s a very interesting observation that you would embrace feminism and spaces for women. And the socialist feminists had a different perspective. And what it was, was it was completely class driven. So, the primary thing was class, not feminism, right? And it was a time when the left and socialist feminist were all looking at getting jobs in factories and buses and industry, that kind of thing.
Susan G. Cole: And all worthy. And a completely worthy pursuit, for sure. And we just thought International Women’s Day should be a women’s day. I mentioned before that violence against women was a cross-class issue and I was perfectly happy to engage ruling class women in a conversation about violence against women, right? And I think that it’s not just where the politics kind of went that way. It’s not even this, but we were on a kind of different dimension.
Sue Colley: I wonder how we ended up that way. Here we are, all in North America, in Toronto, and we’ve experienced the same kinds of things, and we become feminists, whether we’re a radical feminist or a socialist feminist. Somehow, we end up in this huge conflict, which always seemed a bit strange to me.
Susan G. Cole: I know – but that’s why I’m saying, I’m not sure that in that moment, in that context, we were going to figure it out. But I do remember, as I mentioned, that at the height of our conflict, and through the ‘80s when the so-called sex wars were happening, and when Morganthaler got busted, many times – every time – there we all were together. So that we did know, and we would kind of look wryly at each other going, “Hm.” But we knew we were connected – that ultimately, we were – in moments in time, in the process. I think it’s kind of like this. We were all working for women to have dignity and be safe and be able to work and all of those things.
Sue Colley: Did you see yourselves differently from – well, actually, I mean, we had a lot of service organizations, like, the interval houses and rape crisis centres and working women centres and so on and so forth, bookstores and so on. Did you see yourself as a part of that movement or separately from that? As a political organization. WAVAW I mean.
Susan G. Cole: Well, I think we felt very strongly connected to the shelter movement and to the rape crisis movement. And I think we understood that a woman’s bookstore is a woman’s bookstore, and last time I looked, they weren’t selling books by men. Mind you, we don’t have a women’s bookstore anymore, but you catch my drift. In fact, I think there may still be one up in North Bay, but even that one may not exist. But I think one thing I should mention is that I do think that we reacted to – because we were a rising political force. And not that familiar to a group of activists who had been doing the same thing for a long time, and I’m talking about not just them, but their predecessors over years and years and years and years. And, like, who were these people coming out of nowhere, I understand why they might have been, I don’t know, surprised by it.
Susan G. Cole: I remember how passionate we were. We were so passionate. And it wasn’t so good; we were screaming at each other, it was not our best – any of our best moments.
Sue Colley: But the IWD was a terrible organization at the beginning in that sense. It had no structure, no means for shutting people up or letting people – or giving these people space who were too afraid to speak, all of the kind of dynamics that existed, I’m not even sure there was a real Chair. I think there might have been a Chair, but it was more, like, keeping a speaker’s list.
Susan G. Cole: So, were you involved in NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women)?
Susan G. Cole: No. We were not – some of our members were. I mean, we had women in our group who had been members of the Voice of Women, who were older than me, they were elders, they were in their 40s. And I was, like, 20-something. There were women who had been doing politics through the Voice of Women and there were others that eventually would get involved in – because that was a very particular time when feminism was on the rise everywhere and making inroads in the state in a way that was kind of stunning, and I’m looking back on it, it’s kind of while we had the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1975 that instituted all of these activities in the state. But we were not that; we were pretty funky I’ll tell you. We were kind of street fighters, really, when you think about it, so. But I have only respect for those people who went into – started working inside the government to open up pathways for women, especially via funding. So, I’m – I wasn’t derisive of it at all; we were just not that. Or I was not, anyway.
Sue Colley: No, that’s right. Well, there was another huge debate, or kind of – or not so much a debate, but a tendency, and that was for those people that just did demonstrations and sit-ins and those sorts of things. And other women that felt that you actually had to go talk to government and [unintelligible] tended to be the people who were involved in services like [Interval] House and like childcare and rape crisis centres that knew that they couldn’t continue unless they got funding. I mean, they weren’t going to get the funding by just going to Queen’s Park every Saturday. So, that was a tendency that began to happen and began to also break people up a bit, or else perhaps bring them to their senses, one or the other, I don’t know.
Susan G. Cole: Well, I think that both things are true. I mean, for the people I know who were, like, involved in the rape crisis centre and the Interval House were the most radical people I knew, and had to figure out a way to engage with government in order to get funding. And almost – it took them a long time to get more than just a drobble. I mean, it took them a while to get funding every year and it was a big – that was a big struggle. And they struggled with having to spend all their time doing that instead of doing the public education they wanted to do.
Sue Colley: Was it still around at the time of the Take Back the Night?
Susan G. Cole: Yeah, when did they start? I don’t even remember when they started. I don’t think we were.
Sue Colley: No, I think it was ’78.
Susan G. Cole: Well, then, yeah, we would have gone to the Take Back the Night marches, for sure. Those marches, they put the men at the sidelines, if you wanted to support – at the side of the street.
Sue Colley: How did WAVAW wind down then?
Susan G. Cole: Well, as I mentioned before, I think there was a point where demo after demo after demo has its burnout effect. And I think that some of us were looking to do something different. For example, I went on to be one of the founding members of the Broadside Collective to put out a newspaper. And think of it, the difference between fighting in the street for a demonstration that just goes then, poof, it’s gone, and making a newspaper that you can hold and hang on to and keep; it was just – it was a completely – different thing. And I think it was really good for me in that it was concrete. We worked as a collective, for me, it was where I became a writer to the extent that it gave me a voice. I wrote every month, I kept getting stronger and stronger in that respect. And I think that a lot of energy went from – well, I mean, there were 10 of us, so, at least 10 of us were involved in WAVAW and then came to the Broadside Collective. And I think others, too, moved on to things that were more structured and not as, shall we say, fly by night. So, I only know that that was where mine and a lot of energy. And once – there’s a certain group of us that if we weren’t there, it wasn’t going to keep going.
There was a kind of critical mass that started to dissipate at a certain point. So, some people went and got more involved in the Lesbian Organization of Toronto (LOOT), some of us had already been involved with LOOT and came to WAVAW there. Or we were doing both at the same time and knew that wasn’t going to last. So, we just found new venues, I think, Sue. I think that’s how I remember it evolving. And I think we were meeting at least once every two weeks, when Broadside came along. Broadside was for us two nights a week and all weekend, once a month. Which is a huge commitment. And there was no way that we were going to be able to do any more than that to a certain point.
Sue Colley: That’s an awful lot to sustain. And I do remember that IWD meetings were once a week for two years, yeah. Yeah, it was amazing. And lots of other organizations worked at that pace, and nobody could keep it up in the end, right? So, how do you think this story will go down in history? What was the importance of the story? Or the history of WAVAW and its events in the struggle against women and in the future?
Susan G. Cole: Well, I think it was a kind of flashpoint of consciousness to a great extent. I think that we were calling attention to … to something that actually when you think about it wasn’t that hard to call attention to, because every woman experiences it! Everyone. I mean, OK, I think the stat is 93% of us will experience violence against women of some kind in our lifetime. And I remember – it’s so interesting, because during the Jian Ghomeshi trial, which was just a horrible experience for all of us, I was working at NOW Magazine. And we had this big, wide open space, it was an open concept, and we were all there, it was about 25 of us making that newspaper in the editorial section. And I stood up in the middle of it and I said, “How many of you have been sexually harassed in your lifetime?” And every single one of those women, whether they were 19 or 75, put up their hands.
And that’s the truth of it. I mean, that was why I was so surprised it took so long for MeToo to happen, I said, “Wow, what’s new here?” But the truth is, women really connect to the issue because we know our own experience. And I think that WAVAW was one of the first groups to put it on the table in a way that women could connect to. Now it wasn’t a state institution and we were radical, so we weren’t going to engage on the street with every woman under the sun, but there was a lot happening among women. There were women who came down from the suburbs down to join that Snuff demonstration. And they may not have joined WAVAW, or joined a feminist group, but they came back to their homes and among their friends and really had the conversations that had to be had about this issue.
And we know that that’s basically the way that you generate action if you start talking to each other about it, and a lot of women hadn’t been talking to each other, right? They’re sitting there with their own experience and keeping it inside and keeping our fear and thinking it only happens to us, and it’s so important for women to understand that it happens to us all, that we’re not alone, that it’s not our fault, that there’s something else going on that has to be dealt with. And I do think we definitely put that conversation out there so that women could have it.
Sue Colley: I think that after that there was never, ever, I think, a feminist action or a group an action that had a number of demands on it that did not include against violence against women, right? I mean, it just became in-built after that.
Susan G. Cole: And I credit those women who started Interval House and those women who were starting rape crisis centres, so it’s not all one group and it’s kind of this rising, surging tide of energy, and it really was quite powerful at the time.
Sue Colley: Well, that’s great. I’ve only got this one other question, which I think is about the same thing, you might want to add to what you’ve said. What do you think might be most interesting about this story for activists today and researchers today?
Susan G. Cole: I think the tensions – I mean, we never like to air our dirty laundry but there were tensions within feminism, there was an attempt on our part to kind of redesign activism so that it didn’t look the way it had looked for decades. I think that was important. And I think that it was definitely a fem – capital F, feminist organization, it didn’t have – we didn’t have a hyphen!
Sue Colley: Yeah, very good, very good, excellent.