O Canada… Oh, Canada

A few years ago the Conservative government threw a bone (briefly) to Canadian women, and (rashly, as it turned out) promised to update the lyrics to our national anthem to include the 50% of the population currently excluded. (Rumour has it that outspoken advocate for women, Senator Nancy Ruth, pressed her colleagues into doing the right thing — one of the many reasons we’re proud to call her an honorary patron.)

I celebrated by writing an op ed for the Ottawa Citizen saluting the measure, but by the time the paper hit the newsstands, backlash from the Conservative party base had caused the government to rescind on its momentary burst of fair-mindedness.

Along with, I suspect, millions of other equality-supporting citizens, I remain irked about this. I think it’s a national shame that O Canada continues to cite only the nation’s “sons”, when it could easily substitute a gender-inclusive reference.

Indeed, many Canadians already replace the official wording with lyrics that more accurately reflect the country’s reality.

This week, Ashley Armstrong, who is currently providing invaluable admin and communications support to Informed Opinions, created the impactful 86-second video campaign above that draws attention to this issue.

As the country prepares to celebrate Canada Day, we urge you to watch, tweet, share, like, link to and talk about it. “Daughters” everywhere will thank you!

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Of privilege and prostitution

Women advocating for the abolition of prostitution on the steps of the Supreme Court (source: www.ctvnews.ca)

For a few years in the 1990s I had the enormous privilege of a regular column in the Vancouver Sun. Every week, I’d write 750 words on pretty much any topic I wanted, and the Sun (a broadsheet not affiliated with the tabloid chain) would disseminate it to hundreds of thousands of readers.

That’s where the privilege came in. Pre-Facebook, Twitter and widespread Internet use, having a newspaper column gave you a singularly influential platform.

After three years, a new editor-in-chief decided to replace my overtly feminist voice with that of another more conservative-minded woman whose opinions more often aligned with those of the new owner (and yes, his name was Conrad Black).  I doubt that my views ever registered on Mr. Black’s consciousness, but from the day he became the major shareholder of the paper, my own editor began second-guessing my commentary, calling me up to inquire, “Are you sure you want to (write about breast feeding, contradict yesterday’s editorial about same-sex parents, or encourage police to do a better job of investigating the disappearance of aboriginal women on the Downtown Eastside)?”

(This was years before the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was finally identified as the man behind those disappearances, and I continue to regret that I only devoted one column to the topic, instead of 5, or 10.)

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen gave me space to write about some of the issues currently being considered by the Supreme Court regarding the decriminalization of prostitution. The debate over the wisdom of what’s being advocated by Bedford and company is one that divides feminists, and I respect the perspectives of those who take a different view on the matter.

But I’m siding with Aboriginal women on this one. The Native Women’s Association of Canada is one of seven organizations that make up the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution. The Coalition used its intervener status at this week’s Supreme Court hearing to advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women, but not the legalization of brothels or pimping. (You can read the full column here.)

Although mainstream newspaper columns don’t have quite the same dominance as they once did, being able to focus thousands of readers’ attention on an issue you think is important remains a privilege. I appreciate it every time I’m given the opportunity.

And I am genuinely thrilled every time a woman who has attended an Informed Opinions workshop, or heard me speak, takes advantage of a similar forum to amplify her voice on a topic she knows and cares about.

Our site now features more than 100 of these interventions, with many more to come…


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The twins have arrived…

… and we’re all in love!

Madonna and the boys

We are thrilled to announce that earlier this week, Informed Opinions’ Executive Director, Claire Bellefeuille, gave birth to two healthy, precious, beautiful baby boys. Kobe and Cameron arrived Monday April 29th.

The extent to which I miss Claire’s wise counsel, efficient administration and wonderful sense of humour, is offset by both appreciation for her current preoccupations, and the extremely competent part-time assistance of Ashley Armstrong, who’s in the office Mondays, Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons.

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Gloria Steinem: why the women’s movement is more important than ever

source: BBC Online

In the following 3-minute clip from a recent BBC interview, Gloria Steinem explains why the women’s movement is more important than ever. (Spoiler alert: Yes, it does relate to the fact that more American women were killed at the hands of their partners than all of the US citizens who died during 911 and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period of time.)

Gloria Steinem on BBC World News

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Overcoming Anonymous: In Search of More Fully Clothed Female Role Models

… that’s the title of the talk I delivered three times this past week — and I didn’t even need to explain the context for the title to get a laugh. A wide variety of women working in high tech (Girl Geek Dinners Ottawa), education (symposium hosted by the Canadian Teachers Federation), and the non-profit sector (Skills Institute put on by the Canadian Women’s Foundation) understood the reference even before I clicked through my illustrative slides.

Lily Cole, left, outgoing President of the Newfoundland Teachers Association, bought multiple copies of I Feel Great About My Hands at an event in Ottawa

The stories and statistics, quotes and encouragement seemed to resonate with many (all I have to do is ask: “How many of you have ever declined a speaking opportunity or interview with the words, ‘I’m really not the best person’?”, and a sea of hands get raised).

Gratifyingly for Informed Opinions, many of the women present also expressed support for the project by purchasing one or — in some cases 5! — copies of I Feel Great About My Hands – and Other Unexpected Benefits of Aging.  

This is the collection of reflections featuring the provocative and poignant voices of 41 women over the age of 50 that we released two years ago as a fundraiser for our work. It includes funny and powerful pieces by comedian Mary Walsh, poet Lorna Crozier, journalists Susan Delacourt and Susan Harada, and politicians Sharon Carstairs and Elizabeth May. And the royalties from every book sold support the training and editing we offer for women whose perspectives can add value to the public discourse.

Now a best-seller, the book has been cited as an ideal mother’s day present for those on the mature side of 40, and it remains widely available in bookstores and online. But I’m also happy to ship or schlep a box of books to speaking engagements, offering a discounted purchase price and personalizing copies with a note to the intended recipients.

To book a presentation or inquire about group book sales, contact shari (at) informedopinions.org

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Media exposure creates ripples of influence

Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell is an Honorary Patron of Informed Opinions

There’s no predicting what impact your media intervention might have, but here are a couple of recent examples of the ripples created by published op eds…


Two days after Kathleen Wynn was elected leader of the Ontario Liberal party, becoming the sixth female premier in the country, The Globe and Mail published a thoughtful commentary by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

Her uniquely informed perspective about women’s political leadership referenced the great work of Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada. This profile helped to reinforce Equal Voice’s position as the go-to source on the issue, and gave Executive Director Nancy Peckford broadcast exposure on two CBC Radio programs later the same week.


My own recent op ed in The Globe about the regrettable use of sexist stereotypes in ad campaigns (the ignorance and ineffectiveness of which was illustrated by the Canadian Wheat Board in February) didn’t generate any broadcast requests. But a week or so after it was published, Sarah Barker at the Canadian Women’s Foundation told me that more than a dozen people in her network had emailed her the link asking,

“Do you know this woman? You should be working with her!”

(We’d already found each other, but it was nice for both of us to have the value of our collaboration re-affirmed!)

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When they get it wrong

It’s one of the most commonly-cited deterrents to doing media interviews: not having control over how the words you speak will be used in the resulting story, whether it’s in a newspaper, on the radio or on TV.

But just because you can’t oversee the editing or transmission process doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate — even when a journalist or news outlet occasionally gets it wrong.

Consider Elizabeth Sheehy’s recent experience. The University of Ottawa law professor appeared on CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning to provide context about violence against women and the impact of granting bail to men accused of abusing their partners.

Disappointingly, the public broadcaster got the title of her new book wrong on its website and edited the interview in a way that cut out some information she felt was critically important.

However, when her initial request to correct the title and provide a link to the missing information failed to elicit a response, she contacted CBC’s ombud’s office, and within an hour, the website reference was corrected, and a note about the excluded information was posted, along with a new link to the original interview.

Which just goes to show that a little persistence pays off.

As importantly, the broadcast generated some great letters that were read on-air the following week, expanding the conversation and allowing more perspectives to be heard.

Because the internet allows information to remain accessible indefinitely, if and when a reporter misquotes you or relays inaccurate information (usually inadvertently), it’s important to request that the record be corrected.

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“It’s not about you”

Will Dena McMartin’s recent op ed in the Regina Leader-Post help prevent a flooding disaster and save lives?

It just might.

And even if it doesn’t, the informed analysis of the University of Regina professor of environmental systems engineering offered citizens valuable and timely information about her city’s pending spring thaw.

At the same time, its existence underlines one of the key messages of the workshops and guest lectures Informed Opinions delivers:

“It’s not about you.”

Because we’ve found that’s the best way to motivate educated, articulate, expert women who decline media interview requests because they don’t cherish the limelight or want to be seen as promoting themselves.

First we invite them to share some of the specific changes they’d like to see in the world. Then, after we’ve filled a whiteboard with their goals for greater social equity, better environmental sustainability, and more comfortable footwear (ok, that’s just me), we point out that media engagement is one way to amplify their voices, increase their power, and make it easier for them to bring about the changes they seek.

Being reminded of the bigger picture — the potential for enhanced impact on an issue that has significant implications for the lives of others — makes all the difference.



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Weighing In On the Work-At-Home Debate

Even if you lament some aspects of how the media cover Marissa Mayer (Yahoo CEO) or Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO), or note how different their realities are from those of most women, their significant responsibilities and high profiles offer strong role models and inspire more public attention to issues affecting women and families. In response to the furor that greeted Meyer’s new policy on telecommuting, the Globe and Mail commissioned an op ed on the subject by Informed Opinions’ Catalyst Shari Graydon:

Telecommuting is not a right
The Globe and Mail by Shari Graydon 7 March 2013

Give Marissa Mayer a break – not to mention a little credit for showing leadership.
[Read more]

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The Motivational Power of Guilt

Guilt didn’t play a big role in my upbringing: I was never discouraged from having sex in order to prevent my mother from having a heart attack, nor was I warned to do well in school to compensate for any sacrifices my parents suffered in raising me.

So it comes as a surprise to me to hear — as I have twice in the past week — that my voice apparently rings in the heads of others as a guilt-inducing force.

Thoughtful scholars with important insights into two critical issues recently agreed to do radio and TV interviews, despite their discomfort with the activity, because they remembered my explicit encouragement during Informed Opinions workshops about the importance of women not abdicating the field. But both confessed to me afterwards that this pushed them over the resistance hump.

When I was first asked to go on CBC Radio earlier in January, I said no. Then I immediately felt guilty because I knew you would be so disappointed. I’ve now been on their show twice and on the local CTV station as well.

So wrote Kelly Grindrod, a pharmacist and professor at the University of Waterloo pictured above, who also published an op ed this week in The Toronto Star. Her piece offered clear, concrete advice about how we can — and must — collectively address the critical problem of the overprescription of antibiotics. In compensation for the time she invested to craft, polish and submit commentary on a timely issue, Kelly’s insights received more than 10,000 hits, and over 500 Facebook recommendations, making her piece the most read op ed of the month!

So although guilt may be the initial motivator, what keeps experts agreeing to interviews (despite the inconvenience, the time challenge, and even the nerves) is experiencing that kind of impact — knowing that thousands of people will benefit from the knowledge shared, and be able to make choices that may make a positive difference to some aspect of their daily lives, or those of others.

For scholars interested in becoming more comfortable and more effective in media interviews, the Informed Opinions website has a useful primer, accessible here.

Posted in Media Interviews, Op Eds by IO Grads, Reach and Impact, Scholarly Concerns, Uncategorized, Workshop Insights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment