Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ladies only

I’ve been giving some thought to Kathleen’s posts (here and here) over at the Harriet blog this past week. I tend to see any press devoted to furthering the work of a certain subset of the greater whole (women, ethnic groups, regional affiliations, or even specific schools of poetry) as a way to balance the greater conversation that is American poetry in general, in particular a conversation that has always been too heavily sided in one direction or another. I don’t think any specialized press effort, in my case with dancing girl press, devoted to writing by women, is discriminatory any more than anything else is discriminatory (ie, I can’t enter radio contests in Canada, or be president of Belize since I am not a citizen. ) Since the whole point of dgp is to publish more work by women to add to that greater conversation, the whole idea that we are dismissing work by male authors based merely on their gender is not quite the point.

Nor is the conjecture valid that I feel women’s work needs to be segregated or safely partitioned (some have used the phrase ghetto-ized) off from literature in general in order to stand on it's own. This statement alone, leveled by some people, is enough to irk me. It immediately sets up women’s writing as an “other” that is entirely separate from “literature” rather than a simple subset within it. No one subset has any more claim to “literature” than any other, and these thoughts tend to lean, though not in all cases, on the idea that the white male experience somehow represents “literature” more than any other. And maybe, historically, in a lot of people’s minds it has. THAT is why specialized presses are necessary. If the men are the only one’s doing the talking, getting their books published, making the canons, getting taught to undergrads, there is obviously a whole half of the writing community that is sitting there silently or getting talked over. Just because a press has chosen to devote itself to fostering one sort of writing over another, whether that is based on the author’s gender, ethnicity, style, or aesthetic affiliations, does not mean that it is putting itself in opposition to the general conversation but rather implanting itself firmly within it and furthring the proliferation of that work within the conversation.

As for claims of exclusion, editing in any form is exclusionary in some way, sometimes more transparently than others. Every editorial effort in some way is championing certain types of writers or certain types of writing, and obviously from some of the awfulness that gets published on a regular basis in some respected journals, (well, respected by someone anyway). For example, I would not have a problem with a project that presented itself as an anthology of men's writing, the key being that it present itself as such. Obviously such a project will be full of male writers. My issue comes in when a project presents itself as simply representing "contemporary writing" and everyone in it is a man (or white, or from New York, or went to Iowa, or whatever). Note: I would also be wary if it were all women.

1 comment:

niina said...

Great post and totally valid point. I'd been reading and mulling over those Harriet posts too (and the VIDA commentary, and the recent call to boycott the dude-centric New Yorker, and, and, and). The implicit idea that by only publishing women, you're making "women's writing" a THING (to avoid, to reserve for women only, etc) makes me cringe.

Both my chapbooks are out or forthcoming from small feminist presses, and I chose and respect these presses not for my "chances" but for their vision. If you are an editor, you make editorial choices. Scifi presses don't publish literary fiction. What you set up as the mission statement is your own call.