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rita macneil: feminist threat

August 5th, 2008     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

Okay, so the RCMP spying on women’s groups in the 1970s isn’t totally hilarious, but the idea of them infiltrating Rita MacNeil concerts to catch potential dangerous feminist elements kind of is.

Witness Canada’s Most Wanted Folksinger, in this photo clearly trying to conceal her identity.

According to recently declassified documents, MacNeil was among a group of activist women the RCMP had under observation due to their feminist leanings - of course, back in the 60s and 70s feminism was only the gateway drug, which was sure to lead to worse things like Communism, hostile foreign takeovers, the complete collapse of society, and so on.

Part of the file also described a feminist conference in Winnipeg as “consisting of about 100 sweating, uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing.” Kind of sounds like a typical Lesbians On Ecstasy show, actually.

What is maybe most potent to me about this story is that it reminds us of feminism’s potential for radical disruption. I mean, I joke about it, but wouldn’t it be cool if feminism actually did play a part in bringing down patriarchal structures, dismantling (or restructuring?) capitalism, and, well, unravelling the messed-up tangle of societal norms? These women believed it could. And so did the RCMP, apparently. (Though not as much as if men had been in charge - one point the CBC article makes is that the federal police did not treat the women’s groups as as much of a threat as other, male-dominated, movements.)

I actually had no idea that MacNeil was a feminist activist back in the heady days of the Second Wave (she apparently represented the Toronto Women’s Caucus at the aforementioned conference). I guess it just goes to show that subversive elements are often where you least expect them. Go Rita.

Thanks to Ted for the tip.

Tags: laugh track, news flash

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