Age of Unsilence: The Unlikely Common Ground of the Silence Breakers When we rang the New Year bells to kick off 2017 a short 11-and-a-half months ago, no one in Hollywood, or anywhere else, could’ve imagined the cultural earthquake that was about to crack open a long held system of harassment and abuse, ousting a long list of high profile men.

And the group behind this watershed movement, from the journalists to the accusers, shared something startling.

First, a refresher

There are some things you need to know about Hollywood.

As Bruce Feinstein summed up nicely here in a 2007 Vanity Fair column, there are unspoken rules of engagement in Tinseltown.

  1. All relationships are transactional.
  2. Always establish blame.

And, a third well documented rule –
3.  If you’re a woman north of 35, your career is all but over.

That last one is interesting to note, as we hail the the year of the Silence Breakers, because an important detail has been overlooked.

The leaders of this revolution are women in their forties.

Stranger Things

In 2016, Gretchen Carlson, then a 49-year-old star of Fox News, did something unprecedented. Knowing full well the risk she was taking, she made a decision: to sue the most powerful man in the American media landscape, her boss, Roger Ailes, for sexual harassment. Ailes was fired (he died a short time later), Carlson was awarded 20 million dollars.

She wasn’t the first. There had been others who’d accused powerful men of assault. But, there was something different with her. She was believed.

Another Fox News alum, 46-year-old Megyn Kelley spoke out, adding her name to the official list of women accusing Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of inappropriate behaviour.

It didn’t stop there.

Voice Of A Generation

There are a few “official” lists of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers  around, and while names continue to be added, so far approximately 60–65 women have come forward with horrific accounts of his aggressive sexual behaviour.

The average age of the women who’ve accused Harvey Weinstein is 43.

Of those women on the record, alleging decades of egregious sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein, sixty-percent fall between the ages of 37 and 52. Forty-three percent ages 40-49 aka  Generation X.

All of the women who spoke publicly of Louis C.K.’s offensive and abusive behaviour  are all in their forties , (that Generation X theme again).

Brett Ratners accusers? — Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn, Jamie Ray Newman, Catherine Towne: yup, all Gen X.

Keen observers may notice a pattern.

Continue reading this article on Medium.

This reckoning, that now includes too many men to mention here could not have happened without these women coming forward.

It’s also significant that one of the two New York Times investigative reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story is Jodi Kantor, and you guessed it she’s a Gen Xer.

Why is this theme worth noting?  For the first time in a generation, they ‘re the ones riding a wrecking ball through the places that have allowed systemic sexual harassment of women. And because of their age, one of the alleged perpetrators saw it coming. They never imagined that middle-aged women would dare to speak up, and moreover be believed.

 

We Gen Xers, with our ’80s music and pre-internet memories, have never been as exciting as the Boomers who came before us or the sexy Millennials who came after, disrupting everything and compulsively creating apps.

They like to call us “forgotten”, “sandwiched” and “depleted.”  Erm, thanks?

The fact that no one has noticed that  Gen X women at the head of this tidal swell of reckoning is notable by its absence. It’s a voice we don’t recognize. And, with good reason.

Dangerous Weapon

In 2016, the University of Edinburgh ran  ‘The Dangerous Women Project’. It examined how women who use their voices to speak out are labeled as ‘dangerous’ by media. Being outspoken while female incites trolls of the vilest kind.

This is not news to women. Psychologist Yvonne Skipper a contributor to the Dangerous Women Project, noted, “ Across the ages, a woman’s voice has been seen as her most dangerous weapon.” Removing that weapon removes the threat of danger.

There are many actresses with thriving careers, you might say.  Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Julia Roberts. They are the exception.  The Bechdel test which rates the amount of speaking roles women have in movies (appallingly low) compared to men, is  tangible evidence of art imitating life.

Remember Amy Schumer’s subversive sketch with Tina Fey,Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette called Last F-ckable Day?   They skewer how actresses in Hollywood are only relevant (and employed) while they’re sexy, and that all stops as soon as they turn forty. “Believe me no one was more surprised than me that they let me stay f-ckable throughout my forties,” Louis-Dreyfus deadpans at a picnic celebrating the end of her career.  (It’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, click the link).

It is a virtuous cycle created by those who reap the benefits. If we can’t see women over forty on screen, maybe they aren’t relevant.

After Weinstein, Ratner and Louis C.K., more women of all ages continue to name names and not just in Hollywood. But, would they have done it if these fortysomething women had not thrown the first punches?

Maybe Silence Breakers, not Slackers, will be the lasting legacy of Generation X women.

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Boss Lady: Donna Bishop I first met Donna Bishop on the set of a shoot I was directing; she was owner of Green Beauty, among the first in the world of online, high-end, natural make-up.  She’d parlayed her passion as a make-up artist into a major entrepreneurial success, becoming a go-to beauty expert for TV and print.

These days Donna is Director of Programming for CAFA (Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards), is a board member of the Toronto Chapter of Fashion Group International, and is a mentor for the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

Donna’s one of those women who, no matter the topic, her input is thoughtful, insightful and often irreverent.   A generous dose of her infectious curiosity, humour and intellect along with an impressive roster of guests has brought a refreshing depth  to the topic of fashion through her new podcast Fashion Talks.

She’s a definite Boss.

WHAT IS CAFA?

It’s like the Academy Awards for the fashion industry.

WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FASHION?

I love deciding what to wear everyday. It excites me.

DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE EVOLUTION

When I was younger it ran the gamut from preppy to being a rebel and trying to make my school uniform funky. I’d pair cowboy boots with my uniform kilt. Then I discovered vintage and fell in love.

kensington market toronto vintage clothing shopping

Kensington Market, Toronto Photo: Marriott Traveler

FAVOURITE PLACE TO SHOP VINTAGE

Kensington Market, Toronto

ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE YOUR FORTIES

Engaging

ADVICE FOR YOUR 39 YEAR OLD SELF?

Aging is not a measuring tool for success.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED IN YOUR FORTIES?

Before your forties you think you should have accomplished a lot of stuff. But, when you get there you realize it’s a time for beginning things. I started the Podcast in my forties and it’s one of the joys of my career.

Links:

Fortyology Podcast Coming Soon!

CAFA

Fashion Talks Podcast

 

 

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WHAT YOU’RE MISSING AT YOUR FARMERS MARKET

Women may be our best hope for the future of healthy, sustainable, local food.

By Frances MacKinnon

The farmer’s market has aged well over the last few decades. Every Saturday morning, in every city, you’ll find  urbanites of all ages roaming parking lots and parklands lined with stalls o, stuffing their eco-friendly bags with fresh organic produce from local farms. It’s become both a ritual and a special occasion.

There is an excellent chance that the hand picked chanterelles and organic ramps flying off the wooden tables were grown (and harvested and loaded into a truck) by a woman.

While the farming sector as a whole (and by extension, our domestic food system) is in a worrying state of decline, with no sign of interest from the next generation, the organic farming sector is growing like a weed, and, women are at the root of it.

Wendee Kubik, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario has been studying women farmers for more than 20 years.

“The number of family farms is decreasing, and, there is not a lot of people going into farming in general . But, of the people going into it, the largest area of growth is women in organic farming.”

Organic farming makes up less than 5% of overall agriculture in Canada, but, from 2013-2015 it saw a jump of $1 billion in sales, and, and it’s not slowing down. COTA (Canadian Organic Trade Association) reports that more than half of Canadians buy organic on a weekly basis, and 80% “have maintained or increased their organic purchases in the last year.”

Overall, women make up 27.5% of farmers in Canada, with British Columbia leading the way. It’s similar in the US and UK. ( Elsewhere it’s 60-80%.)

Kubik is  quick to point out that women have been farming – doing virtually the same work as men, in addition to innumerable support and family-raising roles – since forever. But, they were what she calls “invisible farmers”, unacknowledged because they were women, or, not identified because census data only allowed for one farmer per household.  In fact, Kubik argues, it is on the backs of such traditionally undervalued female farmers that we have enjoyed agricultural bounty and lower food prices for decades.

But, in this new era of farming, borne out of necessity and changing attitudes, more females are finding a fit on the farm.

WOMEN’S WORK

“I know more women than men organic farmers,” says Ann van Der Heyden who started Wooler Dale Farm with her late husband 35 years ago.

organic food vegetables wooler dale farm wychwood barns farmers market toronto

Nicole Prins (right) and her mother Ann Van DerHayden of Wooler Dale Farm

GETTING CLOSER TO YOUR FOOD

Urbanites, women and men, are indeed trading the city vibe for the rural route.  Couples, families and singles are seeking a healthier, more fulfilling, sometimes more affordable, lifestyle. “I know several that have left stressful jobs in Toronto and did a complete turnaround and started an organic farm.”

Today, Ann with her daughter and farming partner Nicole Prins are slinging eye-popping fresh vegetables and the occasional cooking tip as fast as they can to a steady line up of health conscious urban customers at Wychwood Barns Farmers Market in Toronto.

Their farm is a two-hour trek away from their city customers; their day begins at the crack of dawn, and ends late afternoon with a tear down of their stand, and another two-hour drive.. It’s an exhausting end to an exhausting week. “Market isn’t all just fun,” says Nicole. “You’re working so hard all week, and then on the last day of the week you make your income. It’s rewarding, but, it’s hard work.” Nicole  has a bachelors degree in chemistry and math could be a poster-child for eating organic.

farmers market, wooler dale farm

Wooler Dale Farm at Wychwood Barns Farmers Market Credit: Frances MacKinnon

She’s a rare second generation farmer planning to take over what her parents started. But, it comes with a cost. A year ago she had her first child, Ava. “There is no maternity leave when you’re running a business. When you’re pregnant, or post-pregnancy, there is no time off.” Which means Ava is part of the farm chores. “Sometimes I bring her with me and she sleeps while I grade peas.”

 

Single women shouldering the entire responsibility of running a farm is an even smaller percentage of the whole farming picture, but those numbers are creeping up, too.

farmer black sheep brenda hseuh

Brenda Hsueh, Black Sheep Farm Credit:Brenda Hsueh

In 2007, Brenda Hsueh was living the dream of most young career women. A Bay St. job, a downtown Toronto condo, city life, the whole nine.

But, the version of success which she’d worked her whole life towards left her longing for a deeper purpose and meaning in life. At 33, she left it all behind, and bought a farm in Grey County, Ontario. She’s found her home. “I’ll  be here until I die,” she promises.

“It was a moral decision. I look at the world and how we treat it and I’m horrified. I grew up a suburban kid who stayed inside all summer reading books and playing piano. But, I love the physical work of farming.”

Read more about Brenda’s story and finding the love of her life here.

A CHANGING FIELD

farm female farmer

Fertile Ground Farm Credit: Angie Koch

If your perception of farming only includes the outdated image of a weathered, middle-age man driving a tractor and throwing bales of hay, you’re mistaken on a few levels.

For starters, on many farms, seventy-five to eighty percent of  volunteers and interns these days are women. Sometimes even more.  “And, they’re the hardest workers,” says Greg, who runs a farm three hours from the city.

Add to that the fact that ninety percent of farming is large scale factory farms, and even if you shop at a grocer that sells ‘locally sourced’ products, you’re still likely buying from a mass producing farm. (*Ontario does not enforce regulations for products labeled organic. Several other provinces, do.)

“A picture of a farmer with an arm around a cow gives the sense of relationship with the animals. That’s the Ontario brand. It’s false.”  In other words you’re buying what the marketers are selling, and this makes Angie Koch crazy. “It’s insulting to my sense of integrity”

If there is a rockstar in the world of organic farming, it might be Angie Koch.

Angie is 42 and sole manager of Fertile Grounds Farm just outside Waterloo, Ontario. It’s a two-hour drive and a world away from the Toronto skyline.

 

Read more about Angie Koch, Boss Lady

Photo: Angie Koch Fertile Ground Farm

Angie is talking on the phone with me while eating her lunch, one ear on the walkie for any possible emergencies.

She’s already been in the field six hours. It’s full throttle harvest time and her 250 customers are expecting their boxes of produce to be ready for pick up.

“I’m a slave to the vegetables.”

The fact that she is going stronger than ever after 10 years of back breaking, isolating and near-burn out farming is to her, a miracle. “My body won’t do this forever. Thats the flip side of 42. I have chronic back problems, I have arthritis. It’s not what it was 10 years ago. Market gardening is extremely labour intensive work. ”

As far as being a female in the farming world, there are unique challenges.

“Women on the whole are not brought up to be mechanically minded. Most daughters are not taught how to fix a pipe when its broken, or change a tire. As far as we’ve come its still the case that women aren’t mechanically minded. A lot of things break on a farm.”

Fortunately, she is not alone.

“I have staff and interns and they’re mostly women from non-farming backgrounds. You go to craft field day at a farm and it’s 75% women interning.”

Exactly why women seem attracted to organic farming is up for debate.

“Is it community connections?,” she wonders out loud. “Small scale diversified farming is emebedded in relationships. Women are still more the ones who do the cooking and food tasks -is there more passion in what type of food we’re putting into our children’s bodies? All I can guess is there is a care-taking mindset to do things in a thoughtful, respectful way.”

In speaking with a handful of women farmers at the market, one leaves me with this thought:

“You’ll find most female farmers are feminists.”

Wendee Kubik says research has shown that stress on female farmers is great, and historically, there has been little support for their unique issues. “They do a lot of community work to keep community going.  Some women do farm work, child work, household work and a ‘real’ job off the farm.

Her advice, if you farm, call yourself a farmer. Push for policy changes that benefit women. Join associations. “If you’re invisible nothing is going to happen.”

“The numbers are very small right now, but this is the wave of the future.”

To find out more about organic farming in Canada click here.

 

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