Toronto Women’s Liberation Movement (TWLM)
As the 1960s progressed, Toronto activists embraced a wide range of issues, from racial justice to student rights. Hardly anyone was talking about the oppression of women, yet women were paid much less than their male co-workers on average, and they weren’t allowed to apply for many jobs, simply because they were women.
Though often unable to take out a mortgage, women were expected to do most of the household chores. Many struggled to gain access to basic birth control and abortion services and gender inequality was reinforced though messages in the media and the education system. In other words, women who wanted a more equitable society faced a lot of barriers.
Similar barriers were placed in front of women who were active in social justice organizations. Although such organizations wanted to change society for the better, theses groups also still reflected the very society they wanted to change. While men took on leadership roles, wrote important articles and delivered speeches, women were often restricted to making coffee, typing articles and listening to speeches.
In 1968, that began to change in a big way. Dozens of women, many of whom attended the University of Toronto, formed their own organization called the Toronto Women’s Liberation Movement (TWLM). They held lots of discussions and debates to help understand the status of women in late 1960s Toronto. And like women in other cities, they thought it was important to label the oppression they experienced. So they began to popularize new terms like male chauvinism, sexism and patriarchy.
To maximize democracy and avoid creating another organization divided into leaders and followers, TWLM set up around a dozen internal collectives. These small groups, which any TWLM member could join, were intended to ensure everyone had an opportunity to shape the direction of the organization.
Members of TWLM went to picket lines to support striking women workers; protested beauty pageants (often by enrolling in the contests and denouncing them from the stage); fought for co-operatively-run daycare spaces; and participated in the famous 1970 abortion caravan to Ottawa.
These activists identified themselves as women’s liberationists rather than feminists, because feminism was seem as a middle-class movement which sought equality for women within an oppressive society, rather than challenging the fundamental structure of capitalist society. Nonetheless, their efforts laid the groundwork for a powerful local feminist movement during the 1970s and 1980s.
Laurel Limpus – Before any of her peers began discussing women’s liberation, Laurel Limpus joined a small group of activists who fought to overturn a ban against women attending debates at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. She later became head of the campus birth control committee and joined several left-wing activist groups. Sexism within male-dominated organizations convinced her that the liberation of women could only be achieved by women themselves, inspiring her to become a founding member of TWLM. Laurel was the author of Sexuality and the Family: Two Problems of the Liberation of Women, which was read by members of feminist collectives across North America: “Since the problems that face women are related to the structure of the whole society, ultimately our study of our particular situation as women will lead us to the realization that we must attempt to change this whole society.”