A history of how Adamant Eve became a collective.
Women’s Radio Collectives, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
by Jana Soukup-Razga
I am involved with a women’s radio collective in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, at the University of Alberta’s campus and community radio station, CJSR. I have been working on the program as a volunteer for over a year and a half now and our goals and direction have changed quite a bit in that time. Also, because the radio station is volunteer-run and we tend to see a high turn-over rate of contributors — people join up and later find they don’t have the time or energy because the pressures of a capitalist society force us to set wage-earning as a priority — the voices of women who have taken part have changed over the years.
When I first joined the women’s program, which is called “Adamant Eve”, it had quite a mainstream-feminist slant to it, focusing on intellectual discussion and middle-class women’s issues. Because of my commitment to the program and it’s goal of feminism and putting positive images of women onto the airwaves, I eventually was asked by the news director to fill the position of producer of the program. I was not exactly comfortable with taking on that role myself, so I asked another woman to join me and we co-produced. We worked together at co-producing for about six months. It was extremely difficult at times, as the contributors to the program became more and more dependent on us for not only leadership and guidance, but for telling them what kinds of topics they should be covering and projects they should work on. As well, we found that there was a general lack of commitment among some contributors; one could call in at the last minute saying that she had not completed the segment she had committed to, and since we were the producers, it was always up to us to fill the time with something else. We tried to encourage contributors to take the maximum amount of freedom in self-expression. We continued to re-enforce that our role was one of guidance and not arbitrary control over the content of the show. But I think that just that wee-little title of “producer” connotes authority, no matter how benevolent one tries to come across, and I think that is what ultimately intimidated some of our contributors. Because we were ‘responsible’ for the programming, it often felt like the show ‘belonged’ to us and that contributors just helped us to fill time. We tried to get around this by suggesting a ‘rotating producer’ where a contributor could take on the role of producer if there was a particular
show theme that she was interested in presenting, etc. No one ever took the bait, no one volunteered for the opportunity. I felt that if we could just share the responsibility and decision-making, women would feel more like the show belonged to them as well, and therefore the commitment to the program we sought from contributors would follow.
At around the same time, I became much more interested in making the program in to something more radical than it had been — or at least adding a radical element. I wanted to get away from the mainstream-feminist discourse and start talking about things like anarcha-feminism. I began to do a regular segment on Adamant Eve, called Vaginal Discharge (I wanted the title to be as radical as possible, so to alert the listeners that this segment was equally radical, something different from the rest of our programming). I used this segment as an expression of my own views on hierarchy in society, hierarchy in the feminist movement, sexism in the anarchist movement — views that my co-producer and other contributors did not necessarily agree with.
I think it was a good move to break up the monolithic view of feminism that our program had been focusing on previously, however, it came to this: I eventually became incapable of dealing with the internal conflict of espousing anarchism on the air, while holding the position of producer in a
hierarchical structure behind the scenes. I talked to my co-producer often about becoming a radio collective and eliminating the need for producers, overseers, etc. She disagreed with me, saying it would never work because contributors to the program were so dependent on the producers that they would be unable to take the initiative and responsibility to work collectively. What did I do? I left the program.
It was a combination of scholastic pressures and shear burn-out which prompted me to make such decision. Even though working on Adamant Eve had given me the fulfillment which university studies and p/t jobs denied me, in that I was actually *doing* something productive with issues that concerned
me as a woman, expressing myself, being *active*, I felt that leaving would be more beneficial to me than continuing the contradiction to my anarchist ideals by working as a producer. At the time, I intended only to take a ‘break’, and return as a contributor, not a producer.
I returned to Adamant Eve four months later. The woman I had been co-producing with had continued to produce the program on her own, and by now was so burned-out that she was not even contributing to the program any longer, her time taken up solely on running the program. It was no longer fun for her (which is essential in volunteer work, to keep one interested), she was no longer excited about radio and so, had a very difficult time inspiring contributors and welcoming new volunteers ( I recall a story meeting I attended where a woman interested in joining the program was discouraged, I am sure, by the producer’s lack of enthusiasm — she barely even acknowledged this prospective new volunteer’s presence!).
It was then that I again suggested we try to become a women’s radio collective. This time, instead of leaving such a discussion for the privy of “one-producer-to-another”, I suggested it to everyone at a story meeting. The other contributors (almost an entirely new crew, remember the high-turn-over I mentioned earlier) were intrigued by my idea. I argued that working collectively would spread out the responsibilities (no one person takes the fall if something goes wrong, no one person is susceptible to the kind of burn-out a volunteer producer is almost inevitably going to encounter…) and power in decision-making. This would ensure that each contributor could feel that the program was equally her own, that each has an equal input into shaping the program, and hence an equal stake in the outcome and quality of the programming. We put it to a vote, our first ‘collective’ action, and the idea to become a women’s radio collective was unanimously accepted by all present.
I have given the above run down of my ‘hysterie’ with Adamant Eve to point out how the hierarchical structure can be counter-productive (contrary to many pro-hierarchy arguments that it is more efficient). My work with the program has been my first experience with becoming a vocal member of my community on issues which concern me (ie. an activist). It has also been my first attempt at taking part in creating something which subverts traditional models of leadership. The collective is like an experiment to me. Can we make it work — given that we have so little access to contemporary examples of non-hierarchical organization (this is especially true in Edmonton, Alberta, where right-wing conservatism is the order of the day…I am aware that other communities are “miles ahead” in terms of anarchist organizing)?
The collective has been in existence now for about 5mos. We are coming along slowly-but-surely. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of re-organizing, while at the same time, maintaining a weekly radio program of quality. The sound of the program has changed radically since one year ago; for example, a lot of times our music features are having to do with ‘riot grrrl’ -type rock bands, and we try to offer practical suggestions for alternatives to corporate pharmacuetical and medical solutions to women’s health issues (we have a new health feature called “The Conscious Cunt” which has dealt with herbal contraceptives and herbal abortion.). More importantly, our goal has been reshaped as well. Since we felt that the kind of programming we did in the past was not always accessible to listeners off campus in terms of being highly intellectualized “insider”-type discussions of feminist issues, we have decided to make our show more accessible for women in the community by focusing on voices of women within the community. We have begun to establish a network with women’s groups in Edmonton, so that Adamant Eve can be a vehicle of information on local women and activities. We have also switched to a lot more discussion-type programming (ie.interviews, group and panel discussions) rather than the book-review/film-review-type programming that we used to do — we still include those types of things,
but they are not the main focus any longer. One of our primary goals in terms of creating an atmosphere of equality within the collective was to offer the technical training which I see as necessary to empower women to initiate and follow through on their own projects. This, I think, is also necessary in order to get rid of the notion of expertism, which is ultimately elitism (ie. if I am the only one who knows how to work the sound board, I hold a certain amount of power over the other women, since they are forced to rely on my knowledge — training people makes that knowledge universal and accessible). As well, we have stopped defining the program as a feminist program, because we felt that a) the meaning of
that word has become so ambiguous, b) such a narrow definition alienates women who shy away from labelling themselves, and c) our focus is *women’s* voices and experiences, where as feminists can be women *and* men.
When the collective began, our membership shifted again so that I was one of the only ‘veterans’ from before. I was charged with new ideas and suggestions and very vocal. Often new volunteers came to me for advice on what to do, topics, etc. Because I am still so concerned about taking on a leadership role (rather, *avoiding* such a role), I suggested that we implement an “idea jar” (an idea suggested to me by my partner after many discussions about my concerns regarding leadership). The Adamant Eve
Women’s Radio Collective Idea Jar was originally a place where people who had a lot of ideas for radio projects and little time to initiate them, could write down their ideas and put them in the jar. On the other hand, those having trouble coming up with ideas for radio projects, but looking for a way to participate, could go to the jar to check out what’s in there and take from it any ideas which they were interested in following up. The idea jar has also become a way for others to participate in our show, since the jar is in a visible place at the radio station and all are welcomed to contribute ideas (even men!), the members of the collective taking what they want from it.
Of course, not everything is running completely smoothly, as there are a lot of wrinkles still to work out, but what pleases me most is that this project is finally past the drawing room and into construction. One of our problems is that women don’t always know what it means to take part in a collective, and sometimes look to me as an authority. When they ask me “What do you think if I ….”, I open it up to the whole group, “what does everyone think?” Another problem is that the administrative staff at the radio station don’t always know what it means to be a collective, so for example, when a decision is “passed down” from the program manager, she often brings it to me (I think it’s because I used to be the producer and because a lot of the administrative staff are not yet completely familiar with the newer members of the collective) to tell to the other women….It’s difficult to work collectively within a structure which is not necessarily collective (we’re the odd-balls, and sometimes I feel that everyone else is watching us, skeptically) — but, on the other hand, our program does enjoy a certain amount of favour among the staff at the station because there is such a strong feminist thread in the administration (the program manager, news director, and administrator are all women).
I got a lot of ideas and inspiration from a book by Martha Acklesberg called “Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women”. It is about a group called Mujeres Libres which formed during the Spanish revolution in the 1930’s in order to empower women to participate more fully in the anarchist society at the time (men contended that women were equal in theory, but in practice, that was not always true…). I am completely open to any comments or suggestions that any one has regarding the radio collective. I am especially interested in finding out what other women are doing in terms of anarchist organization and activities.
If anyone is interested in receiving some of our audio material, I would be willing to send out cassettes (please remember, I am working on a minimal student budget…). I have a complete series of the Vaginal Discharge segments I did (which includes an interview with Exene Cervenka), as well as some other misc. features we have done over the past year. Recently, we completed a 27:35min. documentary on the hysterie of the women’s radio program at CJSR which goes into more detail on the collective.