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Heroes in My Head: A Memoir

by Judy Rebick

While Canadian activists seldom experience the same level of name recognition and celebrity enjoyed by their American counterparts, feminist leader Judy Rebick has long proved an exception to the rule. From marching in the streets, teaching social justice courses, and lobbying politicians as the head of Canada’s largest women’s rights organization to starting a widely read progressive news site (rabble.ca) and appearing frequently as a TV and radio commentator, Rebick has very much organized and agitated in the national spotlight. But her new memoir reveals that behind her fierce street-fighter persona lie battles with depression and the gradual diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder, a condition linked to Rebick’s repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse.

Using her revelatory therapy sessions as a framing device, Rebick revisits a childhood split between New York and Toronto, recalling familial challenges as well as her emerging consciousness of racism and sexism as a McGill student during Quebec’s turbulent 1960s. Along the way there are fascinating anecdotes: hosting LSD-stoked band members from Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead at her Montreal pad during Expo ’67; working as the only woman on the shop floor of an aircraft factory with the revolutionary goal of organizing the proletariat; and more recent memories of staffing the barricades during the 1980s abortion struggle.

Running parallel to these momentous events and eras of social ferment is what Rebick identifies as the development of her own #MeToo moment: the recovery of painful childhood memories alongside the discovery of different personalities. These characters, she concludes, are not a product of mental illness but rather “a brilliant defence mechanism” against trauma.

While Rebick writes with an authoritative voice about an undeniably difficult subject, the text can feel clinical and distant at times. It is also unfortunate when events such as the Mississippi Freedom Summer or the Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention protests are glossed over.

In typical Rebick fashion, though, the willingness to publicly share her challenging journey might not only provide space for others in her shoes, but also provoke further discussion that might help lessen the stigma faced by survivors of childhood abuse.