When Gloria Steinem said that there “is no one I respect more in the trenches—or on the page”, she was speaking of Michele Landsberg.
Between 1978 and 2005, she wrote more than 3,000 columns for “The Toronto Star”, fired by the injustices that she observed around her.
Some of these were collected in 1983 in Women and Children First, which I read as a teenager.
I doubt that I had heard of the word ‘activist’ at that time, but the pages of that collection introduced me to the idea that ordinary people — ordinary women — could create change in the world around them.
And Michele Landsberg was living an ordinary life.
At that time, she was writing five columns each week, while she had three children under the age of twelve. They were all originally researched and were written at night, often needing to be retyped as many as ten times, while her children were sleeping.
Okay, perhaps that’s a little extraordinary, but that part I did not know, not until I heard Susan G. Cole interviewing Michele Landsberg this spring, following the publication of Writing the Revolution .
But I certainly understood, even as a teenager, that the world she was writing about was the world that I was living in.
My younger self responded to these columns in a way that I would have articulated differently at the time, but I still find a source of strength in this woman’s courage as I did then.
One particularly significant instance of this courage has been openly discussed both in the new work and in the related interviews and articles, rooted in what Cole suggests is one of Michele Landsberg’s gifts: her ability to change her mind, to engage, to allow her readers to influence her.
“How many prejudices can you catch in one net?” Even though she was writing in an attempt to address a set of injustices that she recognized and passionately sought to change, she occasionally perpetuated other conventional ideas that also deserved to be challenged.
She admits that sometimes she got it wrong. An ordinary woman, with her own set of prejudices, living and writing in the public eye, Landsberg’s columns were often controversial.
(The video on the publisher’s page includes a particularly funny anecdote, detailing her ejection from the gallery of the House of Commons. It also includes clips of her being honoured by induction into the Order of Canada, so apparently she is no longer considered a ‘beatnik’.)
Writing the Revolution includes her reflections on instances in which she came to change her perspective, through dialogue. “We have to self-educate,” she states. And even though it’s clear that she is speaking from a generation beyond me, it’s clear that she remains engaged in that process; she is still asking questions and seeking answers.
One of her most popular columns was based on Peggy MacIntosh’s work “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, based on racial inequality” (an excerpt appears here), a work which remains relevant today more than twenty years later.
When asked if feminism is alive and well? “Feminism is resurging.” And what does that mean? “There’s a million kinds of feminists.”
She considers childcare, religion, education, careers, socialism, beauty, divorce, and warns that there will always be aggressors. And, always, she pursues a vision of something “better”.
Her advice? Try not to look at the big picture (because you can get depressed looking at humanity, and that leads to discouragement).
Instead, “Never stop fighting. We can make progress.” In my books, she remains revolutionary.
Writing the Revolution has been nominated for the 2012 Toronto Book Award.