Feminist writers and publishers have to do double duty in a lot of ways: first off, they promote the feminist message to the world at large—to readers who pick up a book of poetry and get to hear messages of equality, discussions of gender, etc. But the second duty is the one that’s a bit fuzzier. The second responsibility of the feminist publisher is to enact feminism within the literary world—to promote feminist writing, advocate for feminist artists, provide a forum for feminist dialogues, and run their own organizations in a feminist way. These, I think, are important and difficult jobs.
(If you haven’t yet checked out our mega-list of feminist publishers, including many specifically for women and queer writers, do so here!).
For instance, we cannot ignore the fact that women’s voices are still consistently marginalized in today’s literary publishing landscape, and that journals, presses, and organizations that seek to create women-only writing spaces are doing a massively important service to society. The same is true of publishing outlets that provide a space for LGBT writing. These publications and organizations are immensely valuable and should continue to thrive.
However, in establishing Gazing Gain Press, we sought to create another kind of space—a space where poets of all genders and all sexualities can celebrate feminism together, while unabashedly throwing around the “f” word in relation to themselves and their work.
For me, this kind of inclusivity is not a “better” approach to feminist publishing by any means. It’s simply a different one. We need spaces for women’s and LGBT voices that are restricted to these groups, but we also need self-proclaimed feminist publications that include everyone. The two models simply achieve different goals. One provides a protected place to promote work by writers who, for whatever reason, are under-represented in the publishing landscape today. The other opens up feminism to everyone, including and inviting people of all walks of life to express their thoughts on feminist issues.
And why is that inclusivity, in and of itself, important? To start with, for me, feminism itself is inclusive--and inclusivity is feminist.
To hold that feminism belongs only to women, or that only women can be feminists, creates dangerous assumptions, ostracizes an enormous number of allies, and implies that somehow, non-women cannot support values of equality, justice, and optimism. To deny anyone the opportunity to write under a “feminist” label simply because of his/her/hir gender identity and/or sexuality goes against, to me, the most basic ideals of the cause.
So what makes a poem or a poet feminist?
Again, there aren’t any “rules” about this--everyone has a right to his/her/hir own definition of feminism, but during my time as poetry editor at So to Speak, I’m pretty sure I saw it all. I read poems about important women’s topics such as rape, domestic abuse, motherhood, and clitorises, but I also read fabulous feminist poems about zombies, fashion, and lawn mowers.
I read poems that were directly, in topic or theme, dealing with gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability, but I also read poems that expressed their feminism in subtler formal or craft moves, by creating an ethos/voice/tone/authority that was somehow inherently feminist—just as several theorists have attempted to pinpoint a “gay poetic aesthetic” in poems that are not directly focused on topics traditionally relevant to the LGBT community.
Feminist poetry, to me, means asking tough, complex questions as well as making statements, exploring as well as asserting. It means finding new ways to explore questions of gender, race, class, ability, and sexuality—using humor or using anger, blasting out genre-bending innovative forms or re-appropriating and invigorating classic forms, labeling oneself “feminist” or not, labeling oneself a “woman” or “man,” or not.
It means Gurlesque, burlesque, flarf-esque, and all the other “esques,” or none of them. It means radical or not radical. It means recognizing intertextuality while carving out a new path so that when another poet reads your work, s/he/ze feels a little more connected, a little more courageous, a little more pissed off.
Isn’t that what feminism is all about?
But that’s just the opinion of this poet.
In the comment box below, please share your thoughts about what you think of when you hear “feminist poetry”—and what you would like “feminist poetry” to become.