By Erica Pierre-Pierre
When you combine a passion for activism, intersectional feminist values, and natural entrepreneurial talent, you get Anti-Heroine Media, a new Ottawa-based digital production company and communications firm that’s working hard to make the world a better place. Grounded in intersectional feminist values, this patriarchy-smashing enterprise is committed to empowering organizations that seek to spark social change through an array of digital media platforms.
In the driver’s seat are activists Ashna Ali and Hayley Rivier-Gatt. Ali is a women’s rights advocate, organizer, freelance illustrator, and digital producer who hails from Toronto. Rivier-Gatt, born and raised in Ottawa, is an editor and digital media strategist whose resumé includes heading the coordination of the Ottawa-made podcast When Feminists Rule The World, which features prominent feminists from all corners of the globe. The podcast was profiled by Apt613 last summer after a stellar first season that saw it place in Apple Podcasts’ Top 250 Society and Culture podcasts in Canada.
Several months later, the duo explains that many of the production’s themes have remained with them. “The content was trying to be very progressive in hearing from diverse voices, and that’s something that we definitely carry over,” says Rivier-Gatt. Along with their distinct skill sets, the two activists took their prior experience collaborating as digital media coordinators at the global non-profit Nobel Women’s Initiative and channeled their energy into co-founding Anti-Heroine Media.
Currently, the two entrepreneurs are working with clients committed to effecting radical, positive change. They include various non-profit organizations and movements that are equally committed to social justice efforts, Ali explains.
Anti-Heroine Media is guided by an ethos of intersectional feminism that is anti-racist, decolonial and anti-capitalist. These sentiments are embodied in the company’s ambitious Feminist Manifesta, which commits them to keeping this approach at the heart of their actions and principles.
What does this look like in practice? Rivier-Gatt describes intersectional feminism as “always taking into consideration the different sections of our identity, whether that be gender or age or race or ability or disability, and putting that into everything that we do.”
That the importance of inclusivity and accessibility has become increasingly evident with the onset of the pandemic might be the understatement of the year, and the barriers this global health crisis have placed on vulnerable and marginalized populations are at the forefront of Ali and Rivier-Gatt’s shared agenda. “It’s so important right now—especially with the COVID situation and us all being in lockdown and working on Zoom and doing so much more online—to make sure that we’re really reaching everybody… that we’re carving out space for them,” says Rivier-Gatt.
COVID-19 and well-being
While COVID-19 has also presented professional challenges, both Ali and Rivier-Gatt view the widespread transition to remote work as a significant moment for social reform.
“In the traditional kind of patriarchal, capitalist work structures, we never thought that we could work from home and still be effective and efficient,” says Rivier-Gatt. Their experiences with managing heavy workloads amid a pandemic and the freedom to set their own agenda have allowed them to rethink conventional ideas about productivity and re-envision the kind of professional environment they want to build.
“We wanted to create a workspace that valued well-being and care as central as the work itself,” says Rivier-Gatt. “You can work for something important and take care of yourself, and those are both essential in order to create a more just world.”
We are starting to better recognize the emotional labour that comes with activism and how that in itself is work.
Given the unique physical and psychological demands that come with the territory of activism, the two entrepreneurs also noted that growing their particular business has required a keen appreciation for respite and well-being. “We are starting to better recognize the emotional labour that comes with activism and how that in itself is work,” Ali says. So in addition to managing the demands of their new business, the two make time for collective care and connecting, whether virtually meeting to complete a quiz on Buzzfeed or showing respect for one another’s individual needs.
As the pandemic continues to dictate all aspects of Canadian life, the two are collaborating from different cities: Ali in Hamilton and Rivier-Gatt in Ottawa. Business is thriving, in part due to previous connections made within Ottawa’s activist community and its close-knit nature.
“We are integrated into Ottawa, we’ve had a lot of wonderful people vouch for our expertise in digital communications, and so many of the social justice movements are so integrated that our work perfectly overlaps,” says Ali. “It’s important to us that we are able to support and engage and collaborate with other groups and communities that are working towards goals where we can all kind of live our best lives […] We feel privileged to be a piece in that.”
According to Rivier-Gatt, in addition to helping others tell their stories, Anti-Heroine Media’s upcoming agenda also includes its own digital content. A podcast series is on the near-horizon and “some fun, behind-the-scenes projects as well.”
Like the anti-heroine who prioritizes the dismantling of oppressive structures over being nice, radical change requires disruption. With a formidable set of skills and a pandemic-proof passion for activism, these change-makers and their company seem well on their way.