Feminist Acts: Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism

By Carol Williams

by Tessa Jordan
University of Alberta Press
2019/$34.99/312 pp.

Given the popular myth that Alberta’s social landscape is dominated by political conservatism, Tessa Jordan’s comprehensive history of the periodical Branching Out, a feminist initiative originating in Edmonton, is refreshing. Jordan’s monograph, which began as a doctoral dissertation, has been finely polished into a clear narrative of feminist movement history distant from central Canada. Engaging for academic or popular readers, Jordan tracks not only the aesthetic, political and cultural motivations of Branching Out but also the editorial and feminist intentionality behind each of the 31 thematic issues produced between 1973 and 1980.

Branching Out was, and remains, unique in Alberta’s independent publishing sector. Jordan affords a well-rounded consideration of the contributors and editors—founder Susan McMaster (editor 1973–1975) and Sharon Batt (1974–1980)—as well as quotidian details of the magazine’s survival. For example, the circulation of Branching Out annually topped 4,000, “the highest circulation of any Canadian feminist periodical at the time but also… ahead of most magazines published in Canada.” Despite the circulation success, Branching Out failed to attract advertising revenue. The magazine survived on minuscule grants adjudicated by federal ministries such as Status of Women, on individual subscriptions and donations—the latter including unwaged labour contributed by staff.

In the face of the expanding consolidation of women as consumers, manifest in profit-driven ad-dependent publications such as Chatelaine, Redbook or Ms., the imperative to reinforce the traditional roles of women determined by features linked to beauty products, body, fashion or food was rejected. Branching Out aspired to “walk the line between appealing to a wide range of Canadian women and appealing to feminists active in the women’s movement.” The magazine evolved into a unique hybrid conjoining culture and politics and exhibiting a pronounced dedication to “improving the status of women both through its non-fiction content and by providing publishing opportunities for Canadian women writers and artists.”

The list of contributors was exceptional, from the preview issue—featuring work by Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Livesay, Margaret Laurence, Jenny Margetts and Susan Musgrave—to subsequent issues in which writers such as Jane Rule, Marilyn Bowering, Erin Mouré, Heather Pringle and Aritha van Herk fortified the steadfast commitment to equitable measures of cultural and political content. Along with analyzing the entire run, Jordan conducted participant interviews. Happily all issues are online and are highly recommended, as is this fine book.

—Carol Williams is a professor at the University of Lethbridge.

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