Retro media activism

Last Monday at the St. George campus, media activism, feminism, and Canadian history converged at a presentation by Dr. Marusya Bociurkiw of the Ontario Insitute for Studies in Education. A classroom packed with students, professors, researchers, and members of the public discussed the work of Canadian feminist activist collectives from the 1970s and 80s.

“The 80s were my 60s. My students were born neither during 1980s or the 60s, but it’s the 60s they turn to for the images and ideas of activism,” said Dr. Bociurkiw, media artist and assistant professor of media theory in the School of Radio & Television Arts at Ryerson University. “And the 80s, in terms of the amazing coalition work and media activism that happened in that time, have been all but forgotten. I want to build an awareness of that era.”

The lecture featured clips from several documentaries that showcased feminist activism in Canada.

For examble, the film One Hundred Aboriginal Women was created by Vancouver-based collective Amelia Productions to document the story of 100 aboriginal women who forcibly occupied the Department of Indian Affairs Building and were subsequently arrested.

Bociurkiw went on to show clips from the documentary No Small Change which recorded a strike by female part-time retail workers across Southern Ontario in the mid-1980s. The video clips, along with Bociurkiw’s interviews with the filmmakers, showcased what Canadian feminist media activists found important in the 1970s and 80s.

“While Canadians were consuming more American television than ever before, these artists and activists were creating dozens of social issue documentaries and television series by community cable TV,” said Bociurkiw.

Bociurkiw discussed the role of community cable television stations in the work of past media activists, and explained how current television regulations may be an impediment to further activist projects.

In 1996, the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission made the funding of community cable television completely voluntary on the part of broadcasters. This meant that broadcasters could determine how much of their revenue, if any, would be funnelled into public access programming.

Bociurkiw provided an example of a modern collective that works to educate young women in the practices of media activism. One of her students created the Shout Out! Media collective, which held a cross-Canada workshop tour this past summer, teaching girls aged 12 to 17 about media literacy and video production.

“It’s really good for women these days to know what’s happened, and hopefully be inspired by it. It’s good to see some learning points coming from media, because with Facebook and Twitter or YouTube, people just get a good laugh,” said Rebecca Boyce, an organizer of the event.

The talk was organized by WIA projects, a feminist arts-informed research and practice program at the Centre for Women’s Studies in Education at OISE. The Centre has a number of events planned over the next few weeks, including informal lunch hour discussions called “Brown Bag Lectures”. For a complete list of their upcoming events, students are asked to visit

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