Have you had the pleasure of discovering what, in my humble opinion, is currently Canada’s best feminist magazine? Yes, friends, I am talking about GUTS: A Canadian Feminist Magazine, which lives online and was started by two women in Edmonton, Alberta. (Yes, Edmonton, recently voted the worst city to live in if you are a woman. It is also a city in which women fight back using creative and effective tactics.)
I first discovered GUTS when Cynthia posted the first issue on social media. I was thrilled. What was this new, sharp, sassy, and unapologetic periodical? How did the founders and writers–many of whom I had the pleasure of knowing when they were students in Halifax–find the time, energy, and creative and financial resources to get the thing going? How do they keep publishing cutting edge conversations, issue after issue?
I decided that rather than speculate alone (whilst feeling pleasantly envious that I hadn’t come up with the idea myself, to be honest) I would contact co-founder Cynthia Spring and see if she’d be willing to talk with me. Lucky for us, she was. Here is how our conversation has started to unfold:
Erin: Tell our readers a bit about yourself—what is your field of study? When did you first encounter feminism? When did you first self-identify as a feminist?
Cynthia: I studied literature during my MA, and while feminist theory and practice wasn’t a major focus in my research, many of the seminars I took touched on gender and queer theory, sexual politics, and feminist histories. In my own academic writing, I was drawn to literature that focused on girls’ and women’s and mothers’ interior and domestic lives, not just those stories that were so accessible and familiar, but the one’s that could capture the mutability of the self, the instability of gender, the gap between how “women” are supposed to be (i.e., caring, beautiful, good, generous, happy, etc.) and how they sometimes really feel (underappreciated, overworked, unhappy, ugly, etc.).
It wasn’t until I participated in a Marxist feminist reading group in the summer of 2012, however, that I really started to think about how this “ideal” of womanhood and motherhood—manifested in our contemporary society as the woman who has it all in terms of her career, her family, her economic independence, and her social life—was so important to our economy, to neoliberal capitalism. When we aspire to the myth of the “good woman,” we actually help to conceal all the intersecting forms of injustices and oppression that women, trans, and queer people continue to face every day, and who’s exploitation underlies the foundations of other people’s success both in the workforce and at home. This changed a lot for me. Although I’ve identified as a feminist since my older sister first taught me to play Ani Difranco’s “Both Hands” on the guitar, my understanding of this identity became so much more complicated when we started talking about how expansive and messy feminism really is.
Erin: How did you get involved with GUTS?
Cynthia: My co-founder, Nadine Adelaar and I were talking about starting a magazine pretty much as soon as we finished our MAs in Edmonton. We wanted to keep thinking about some of the feminist ideas and writing we had encountered in school and elsewhere, but we wanted to do so in a more accessible, creative, and effective way. For us, feminism is about pointing out the everyday injustices folks experience and talking about ways to change those oppressive and alienating social relations we are so accustomed to. The work that we were producing in the academy didn’t always leave room for ideas that are informed by personal experiences, and we were inspired by feminists who were talking about theory in the context of real political struggles. All that said, we’ve never wanted to do away with the theory and ideas that come out of the academy. We want to hold theory and practice together, and I guess that’s part of our ongoing project.
Erin: How did GUTS move from idea to actuality?
Cynthia: During the winter after we finished our MAs, Nadine and I were both looking for full time work and had some time on our hands. So we decided to go for it. We started learning how to build a website, which took a number of months for us to do without any web development experience (Nadine took to this much more quickly and creatively than I did, and is now actually a web master!). We spoke with writers who were trying to get their work published. We had Jonathan Dyck, our art guy, make a logo. We had a pre-launch party with Edmonton art collective Lart. And then we did a call for submissions. The first issue featured writers and academics we already knew, people who wanted to share their experience or their ideas and were willing to do so without compensation. We decided to keep the content online and free for everyone to access, we worked on it during our spare time once we got jobs, and we were able to start producing a magazine without any financial support.
Erin: What are some of the challenges the editors of GUTS face?
Cynthia: I think our biggest, most persistent challenge is that while we want to invest the time and energy that is necessary to broaden our publishing program, expand our audience, and improve our community engagement, we are quite limited because we have to divide our time between GUTS and our real paying jobs.
Erin: How do you balance academic work and the work of running an online feminist publication?
Cynthia: The short answer: I quit the academy! But I do still work full time in production at a small academic publisher, so there is a lot of work to balance. Involving more people who want to help with editing and promoting the magazine has made it possible for us to share our workloads while increasing the amount of content we can publish on the site. Having more people editing and acquiring content also means that we have more ideas circulating and more opportunities to work with new writers and artists, and that’s really motivating.
Erin: We speak a lot on this blog of the tensions between vocation and remuneration—doing the work because you believe in it, and trying to keep afloat. How does GUTS function? How do you manage innovation and avoid burnout?
Cynthia: I think this conversation is so incredibly important! None of the editors at GUTS are paid for what we are doing. We are all driven to work this hard for free because it’s what we love and we believe it is important. And yet, so much of the feminist research and theory and activism we talk about in the magazine is very critical of this type of work. We’re aware that it’s a bit of a contradiction to be a feminist project that survives on the unwaged labour of a group of precariously employed women who can afford to take this risk because of certain privileges. And while paying our editors and contributors fairly for their work might not be possible right now, it’s definitely a dream we are always looking towards. We recently started to pay writers and artists contributing to the magazine a small amount of money for their work with the funds we raised at parties. It’s not much, but we feel it’s an important step towards paying people for their work and attracting new contributors and collaborators. We have other plans to generate more funds, but it’s a learning process for us. I’d love to talk more about this with you (and the H&E community!)
Erin: What are, for you, some of the most pressing issues for feminists in Canada?
Cynthia: We have so many issues we need to deal with! Our conservative government has really done some damage in recent years. Some of the issues I find most frustrating and urgent right now include: accessible and affordable childcare models, adequate social supports and services (shelters, healthcare, affordable housing, counselling) available to women and trans people who need them, legislation that ensures sex workers’ rights, raising awareness about and preventing violence and sexual assault against women and trans people, inquiries into missing and murdered Indigenous women, raising the minimum wage, reproductive justice, support for independent feminist research, the list goes on.
Cynthia Spring edits and writes for GUTS magazine and is the acting production assistant at Canadian Scholars’ Press and Women’s Press.