Read Kirsten Clodfelter's brave and poignant essay, "Because Misogyny," for As It Ought To Be where she is an Associate Editor.
Sarah Marcus: Why is feminism and inclusivity important to you? What does it mean to you to be considered an inclusive feminist?
Kirsten Clodfelter: Feminism is important to me because I’m a human being and I exist in this world with other people. Inclusivity is important to me because I’m a human being and I exist in this world with other people. These values are inextricably linked, though I understand (so sadly) that this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone else – that this isn’t simply a given. Still, it’s fundamental to recognize that my own experiences aren’t representative of the experiences of others. Inclusivity is a call to find the balance between, first, raising up our voices, by which we help to provide a platform for others who might not have one, and, second, in knowing when to be quiet, in sitting down and listening as a means of giving other people (in particular WOC, queer women, and trans women), a space to be heard instead of speaking for them or over them. I think it’s important that we continue to recognize – as women, as feminists, as writers – that someone else’s experiences don’t discount our own, so no one EVER needs to be silenced for having specific issues that might diverge from some greater feminist platform.
This is part of the reason why it’s so frustrating and disheartening when someone like Mary Miller, an extremely talented writer whom I very much admire, writes a piece arguing that her individual experience as a woman in the literary world indicates to her that something as necessary and useful as the VIDA Count is problematic, that it makes her “uncomfortable.” Truthfully, it’s both shockingly unaware and also pretty irresponsible for Miller to look around and see that “there are times when I’m still the only female fiction contributor in a literary journal…” and then, especially, to say, “fiction is still largely a man’s game… Am I proud to be the sole female published in a magazine’s issue? Perhaps,” without then thinking about what this must mean, systemically.
Many of us experience a certain degree of privilege – male, white, straight, cis, middle-class, educated, access to resources, industry connections, wealth, etc. These don’t negate our experiences or our individual vulnerabilities, but I think it’s mandatory that we remain vigilant in our awareness of the ways in which our experiences intersect with our privileges and what that means for people who don’t share the same privileges we do. There’s not much greater harm we can do than to be oblivious.
SM: Your chapbook, Casualties, was published in 2013 by RopeWalk Press and again as an ebook in 2014 and has received much well-deserved praise. As an advocate for non-violence, can you talk about your intentions with this project and what you hope this work might accomplish?
KC: Thank you for saying such kind things about Casualties. More than anything, my hope for this project was to break down the idea of “other” as something so separate and far removed from “self.” I occasionally hear my otherwise lovely Liberal friends and colleagues say disgraceful things about servicemen and women, and it wounds me. I get it – I’m anti-war as much as the next progressive – but bad people exist everywhere. Does that mean some of them made it into the military and are abusing their powers in ways that should be called out and punished? Of course. But it seems very dangerous and also extremely limited to label anyone in uniform a bloodthirsty nationalist. It’s also just patently not true.
The other thing I hoped to do with this small collection was highlight how far-reaching the consequences of war stretch. The impact crosses oceans, spans generations, and hurts people – on both sides – for a long time after the troops have been withdrawn. We’re seeing some of that right now as Mosul and Tikrit fall to ISIS and in the backlash since Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was brought home. I’m a bit of a PC-stereotype in this way, I guess, but my general feeling is that people are never as sensitive and empathetic regarding the struggles of others as they should be. To extend that type of understanding is a real kindness, and it takes incredible effort. We could all be better at it, and we should all be working harder to get there.
SM: As a teacher, mother, editor, and supporter of projects like VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, what do you think our responsibility should be in terms of supporting and encouraging other feminists? Do you see any solutions to the "numbers" problem within our literary community?
KC: I think this falls back to the discussion of inclusivity above. My feeling is that part of my responsibility as a feminist means applying my ideals for both gender equality and empathy across the board. It means never making fun of how Michele Bachmann is dressed no matter how much I disagree with nearly every word that’s ever come out of her mouth. It means calling out someone who laughs and says Ann Coulter is a tr*nny no matter how much I absolutely despise Ann Coulter. It means really being mindful that there are other women who have far less agency and access to a supportive community and necessary resources than I do, and that their struggle needs to be my struggle also. It means championing for fair inclusion, for really staying aware of who and what I’m publishing in my role as an editor in order to ensure that there’s room at the table for more than just straight white men. It means being willing to have discussions with other feminists when it seems like their own practices aren’t inclusive, while still acknowledging the fact that feminism is going to look different and mean different things to every woman-identified person when it’s filtered through the lens and impact of her own experiences. As she gets older, it means my partner and I having many conversations about all of these things with our daughter and, should we ever have one, our son.
At AWP earlier this year, I was fortunate to hear Rob Spillman, editor of Tin House, discuss the issue of gender inequality in publishing. He mentioned the refrain used by some of his colleagues that “good work rises,” as if the problem is as cut and dry as that. It’s true, good work does rise. But what if the only work available to do the rising is from a single demographic? I have the benefit of having worked in various capacities over the last several years as both a writer and as a journal/press editor. It is not difficult to spend some time looking at your own organization’s publishing record. It is not difficult to solicit work from a more rich and comprehensive sample of writers. Does this mean the numbers will change overnight? Certainly not. But it does mean that there will be movement toward a more honest and deserved representation within the literary community. I can’t imagine how a single person who champions good writing would ever be opposed to that.
SM: Is there a question that you wish people would ask you?
KC: I’m not sure I can come up with an additional question for addressing anything beyond what I’ve already quite thankfully had space here to discuss, but I’d love an opportunity to share this topical Angela Davis quote:
“Feminism involves so much more than gender equality and it involves so much more than gender. Feminism must involve consciousness of capitalism (I mean the feminism that I relate to, and there are multiple feminisms, right). So it has to involve a consciousness of capitalism and racism and colonialism and post-colonialities, and ability and more genders than we can even imagine and more sexualities than we ever thought we could name.” — Angela Davis, “Feminism and Abolition: Theories and Practices for the 21st Century”
Kirsten Clodfelter holds an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her work has been published in The Iowa Review, Brevity, Narrative Magazine, Green Mountains Review, and storySouth, among others. Her chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, was published in 2013 by RopeWalk Press. An editor of New American Press and MAYDAY Magazine, Clodfelter also serves an Associate Editor of As It Ought to Be, where she writes about women and gender issues in popular culture in addition to managing At the Margins, a review series for small-press and underrepresented books. @MommaOfMimo, KirstenClodfelter.com.