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Author | Photos Toronto Feminist Collective

5 Toronto Groups That Are Empowering Women And Smashing The Patriarchy

She Does The City caught up with five grassroots groups working to empower girls and women in our city.

The Feminist Metal Band — Lilim

“I get very physically and emotionally mad pretty much daily,” says Kirsten White, front woman of Toronto-based metal band Lilim, on the misogyny that she experiences and witnesses every day. “I just didn’t have an outlet to deal with it.”

Searching for that outlet and disheartened by the lack of diversity in Toronto’s metal scene, White decided to take matters into her own hands and set up Lilim, the heaviest feminist metal band the city has seen. The photographer, artist and founding member of cycling collective The Deadly Nightshades knew from the beginning that her fellow bandmates would need to be as impassioned about smashing the patriarchy as she was. She reached out to bassist Eryn Wind, drummer Brenton Pedler and guitarist Martin Poulin and in August 2015, Lilim was born.

With a host of shows under their belt and an EP in the works, the band has been busy finessing its style and has created a sound that is dark, heavy and unashamedly angry. White’s lyrics take aim at the patriarchy, capitalism and every other system of oppression that impinges on the freedoms of women today.

While the music is rage-filled, White and her cohorts are careful to maintain an open and positive dialogue with those who attend their shows.

“I know there are men in that room who rarely confront feminism or deal with the issues of misogyny because they’re unaffected,” she says. “I don’t want to alienate them.” White sees it as her job to address the discomfort in the room and push the conversation further. She welcomes the opportunity to hear from people who either don’t understand or minimize the issues that women all over the world are still dealing with. “I want you to talk to me. Then maybe I can explain [these issues] to you in a way that hasn’t been explained before.”

Lilim will release their first EP in February 2017. Keep up to date with them here.

The Feminist Podcasters — TOFemCo

If you’re looking for a podcast that serves up crackling social commentary alongside such delights as a music playlist entitled “The Pussy Playlist,” you’re in luck.

The Toronto Feminist Collective, better known as TOFemCo, has got you covered. The collective of anonymous feminists blog and podcast everything from rape culture to women in comedy to Solange’s new album to chub rub (the struggle is real).

The eight anonymous members (who go by aliases inspired by their favourite feminists) are a crew of articulate, intelligent, down-to-earth women and non-binary identified folk who are not afraid to call people and organizations out on their shit—and are funny while doing it.

TOFemCo started out as a book club in 2015 when founding member Alice (as in Munro) corralled a group of likeminded ladies to meet and talk feminist lit. Within months the group was flooded with requests from others wanting to join in. Recognizing there was a demand for a community such as theirs but knowing there’s only so many people you can have in a book club, they decided to broadcast the conversation to a wider audience. In May 2016 TOFemCo launched Underwire: Support for the Girls, a bi-weekly podcast. They’ve expanded the format to cover news, music and pop culture, all through a feminist lens.

“We felt we weren’t always hearing voices that we could relate to in popular culture, so we wanted to create that,” says TOFemCo member and Underwire podcaster Peggy (as in Atwood). “We wanted to offer some kind of outlet for people to discuss what it means to be a woman today and the struggle that still exists.”

The crew are in development with season two (which will kick off in 2017 with an interview with Mandi Gray, the York University PhD student being championed as a human rights hero after her battle to change campus sexual assault policies across the country. The collective are also planning a return to their book club roots in the new year by hosting satellite book clubs for feminist-minded folks around the globe.

Keep up to date with TOFemCo’s blog and podcast here.

The Healthy Entrepreneurs — Happy Healthy Women

Natalie Colalillo, a Toronto-based health and wellness professional and founder of Happy Healthy Women, was working out on the treadmill one day and thinking about networking. She was working with a natural cosmetics and beauty company and found many networking events dissatisfying—the conversations were short, inauthentic and ultimately useless. She knew there had to be a better way to connect with fellow professionals.

“I wanted to meet women who are happy and healthy, so I thought, ‘Fine. I’m going to start my own group called Happy Healthy Women!’” And she did just that: what started as a small group of women discussing business and life over coffee has grown into an Ontario-wide collective of professional and entrepreneurial women. There are now fifteen branches in Ontario with over 7,000 members. The Happy Healthy Women community hosts coffee mornings, yoga classes, business workshops, cocktail parties and book clubs—any kind of activity that allows women to connect and network in meaningful and authentic ways.

Health and wellness play a major role in the organization. Happy Healthy Women sees career success as just one part of a larger picture. One of the founding principals of HHW is that physical, emotional and spiritual health, as well as personal and financial success, are part of one full circle.

This holistic approach stems from Colalillo’s own experience as a business-owner who threw everything she had into making her business—a women’s accessory store—succeed, much to the detriment of the rest of her life. Before she knew it, she was in debt, had gained weight, lost friendships and barely saw her husband.

“To us, success means that in every area of your life, you are reaching the highest fulfillment you can,” says Colalillo. “We know you can be financially successful without taking care of your health, it’s definitely possible. But is it fulfilling?”

Colalillo and her fellow Happy Healthy Women are on a mission to support and empower women across the country. She hopes to see at least one branch of the organization in every province by the end of 2017.

“The world would just be a better place if we all subscribed to the mindset of taking better care of ourselves and then moving forward in love,” she says.

To find out more about Happy Healthy Women, visit their website.

The Tech Leaders — Ladies Learning Code

Despite the meteoric growth in tech industries in recent decades, men still outnumber women in the sector by four to one. The paucity starts with more men than women choosing to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). When women do train in STEM, they skew towards biology or science programs, which have financial consequences downstream, as those working in engineering and computer science are likely to earn more.

One group aiming to reduce this gender gap is Ladies Learning Code, a not-for-profit organization that teaches digital literacy to women and young people. Their nationwide workshops range from beginners classes in WordPress, HTML and CSS to design classes for six-to-eight year olds to hackathons for high school kids. What started as a casual meeting of women learning how to code has, in the last five years, grown into a Canada-wide initiative. Ladies Learning Code offers programs in more than thirty cities across the country and has taught over 40,000 people so far.

The organization is intent on empowering women by giving them an increasingly desirable skill set as the ways in which we work and play become more and more digital. They also strive to give girls and women agency.

“Anyone can play a game or go to a website, but being able to actually make those things is a pretty empowering skill set,” says Yaa Otchere, Toronto Chapter and Programming Lead at Ladies Learning Code. “Here we’re giving people the opportunity to engage actively and in a real way with tech and digital skills.”

Although the organization has scaled up considerably over the last few years, the community-minded ethos on which it was founded still exists. Childcare is available free-of-charge to mothers who attend weekday workshops, and the organization offers scholarships and a pay-what-you-can model, meaning more than half of all Ladies Learning Code participants attend at no cost.

Summer 2016 saw the launch of Ladies Learning Code’s “code:mobile,” a mobile computer lab and coding vehicle that criss-crossed Canada in a bid to teach more Canadians how to code. In 2017, the organization will roll out its latest program, Teachers Learning Code, which will integrate coding and technology into classrooms across the country.

Check out Ladies Learning Code’s upcoming workshops here.

The Zinesters — The Dionysus Experiment

The Dionysus Experiment is a west-end collective of zinesters. Founders Emma Arkell, Anna Kosior and Genevieve Latour were in desperate need of a creative outlet while they faced the difficult twenty-something rite of passage: the hunt for a professional job. The three recent art- and film-school grads did what any young, broke creatives would do. Inspired by The Punk Singer, a documentary about riot grrrl musician and punk zinester, Kathleen Hanna, the trio set to work on creating a zine that would publish writing and artwork by local artists.

In November 2014, the collective took over Nowhere Gallery, decked it out with artwork and vendor tables, hired a tarot card reader and pulled together a slew of some of Toronto’s funnest bands. The event was such a success that the ladies decided to just keep on doing it.

“The art world and the music industry are notoriously male dominated,” says Emma Arkell. “It’s difficult to imagine your work on display when such spaces are largely controlled by men. We wanted to create a platform to validate and encourage artists in our community to continue working on projects, knowing there would be an audience for their work.”

While their submission process is open to all, the collective have a special focus on female artists and musicians. “We’ve always been interested in showing different perspectives on the female experience,” says Arkell. Beyond that, they just wanted to show some good art, hear some good music and generally have a righteous time.

The group is on a quick pause at the moment while they regroup, but Arkell says she expects The Dionysus Experiment to stage “a ‘Toxic’-era Britney-style come back in 2017.

Stay tuned here.

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