Thursday, October 18, 2007

My opinions, with respect

As an addendum to Susan’s post in response to some criticism we’ve received as of late, I felt the need to speak out to help clarify what we’re trying to do here.

I respect people who think differently about what I’m trying to say in this entry. My opinions are my own, take them or leave them.

We ask for writing that artfully focuses on the female experience. What is the “female experience” anyway? There's not one label we can wrap around it or one set of ways to describe what it means because every woman experiences being a woman differently. It could mean periods and the moon and bar fights and shopping to one woman, and comic books, hair gel, and minivans to another. My point is that our call for writing that stems from the "feminine experience" is something that should elicit a wide range of writing. The pieces that we receive should all have different definitions of the feminine/female experience.

I also think that it might be worth it to define what we mean by writing that examines the “feminine” experience. We are not necessarily asking for poems that talk about skirts and heels and lace and purses. "Feminine" also means "of or relating to women", which many things that aren't skirts or Jimmy Choos, do. The other definition of “feminine” is “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women”. Well, okay, traditionally we are told that to be “feminine” is to be delicate, to be gentle, etc. But when was that dictionary definition decided upon? How long ago? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to think about the things that we consider as relating to women of today? Does the traditional definition even make sense anymore without opening the word up to incorporate other aspects of what it means to be a woman? To be feminine, I think, does not mean the same thing it would’ve meant in the Victorian Era or the 1920’s in New York City or even ten years ago. The definition of what it means to be a woman is something new altogether, and that’s our whole point here. Shouldn’t we, as women or as men who value women, acknowledge that the definition of “feminine” has evolved over the years? Is it possible, as society progresses – and we have progressed, at least in the U.S., to a certain degree – that what we consider and define as “of or relating to women” should progress too?

I think it’s also worth talking about why Susan and I decided to open submissions up to both men and women when some would’ve preferred for blossombones to be a women-only outlet for creative expression about the feminine/female experience. Whether you agree with us or not, women, people of various gender configurations, and yes, even men, can still have very valid and important things to say about and in support of women. I hands-down believe that. Not all men are scum; some are, but some are just as open-minded and progressive as us women. In fact, some men are even more so. I absolutely agree that men have it better in this world and they have for ages. That’s an understatement, really. But I don’t see the point in telling a feminist male – that’s right, they do exist – that the work he produces in support of women, women-centered writing, and writing that explores the feminine/female experience is not worth considering simply because he doesn’t have a vagina. We ultimately decided to include men in our artistic discussion not because we were trying to appease men, because we need men in order to legitimize the work we choose. To suggest that is absolutely ludicrous. Rather, we as editors are affording men the opportunity to explore their idea of feminine/female-centered writing BECAUSE MEN CAN BE FEMINISTS TOO. Shouldn’t we encourage that? Or is my definition of "feminism" too broad? I don’t think there’s such a thing as the quintessential feminist; the only real requirement is that one advocates for women’s rights. Should feminism be some exclusive club you can only join if you’re a woman? And a particular “type” of woman at that? And should I as a feminist and as someone who promotes feminism deny the voices of men who want to speak out in support of feminism? To exclude men from the conversation completely is equivalent to saying that I shouldn't be allowed to speak out about rights for gays and lesbians because I'm not a lesbian myself. That's just absurd.

Ultimately, the decision for what does and does not make it into our journal is Susan’s and mine. That’s what is so cool about starting up your own journal – you can feature the work that you like to read! I highly suggest it. We have a great respect for writing, for writers, and we will only publish the best of what we receive. Susan and I both have preferences, things that we look for when we’re reading a piece. If you don’t like the same things than we do, it’s okay – that’s the beauty of it! And if you feel that a particular stone is being left unturned by the literary community, then turn that stone over by starting up a journal or a press of your own! It says a lot to take action in that way, just as it says a lot when anyone writes in the first place. Writing, as Susan talks about in her entry, is a very political act, and so is selecting what writing to publish and not to publish.

Here is my advice: we like the concrete. Show us; do not tell us. We like the sincere, the specific. We like the subtle, the strange, the vivid. We like things that break the mold with language. If you love sensory language, then we love you. If you write something that makes us smell the burnt toast, taste the cough syrup, or hear the creaking of your father’s old suede slippers as he paces in the back hallway of the taxidermist’s office, then rock on. We like the grotesque and the beautiful equally, writing that sparkles whether it’s covered in sequins or crusted in puss. We’d rather publish something that isn’t afraid to take risks than something we’ve seen before. We don’t care if you’re well-published or completely new to the scene – good writing is good writing, and we can’t wait to read yours!


Anonymous said...


as a woman who identifies with radical feminist politics, I feel equally frustrated with the conservative right and the liberal left in this country at this time. As a result, I often find it lonely and difficult to write in spaces where liberal ideology goes unquestioned, but I want to try again.

I did not write in my letter that all men are "scum," and did not call any individual man "scum." I wrote simply that, at times, I value women only spaces. I wrote about how I sincerely hoped men would read, enjoy, and benefit from women's writing in blossombones. I feel men can be included, valued, and utilized in antisexism work, without having to speak all the time. I think truly pro-feminist men understand the need to listen to women, first and foremost. I think men who care about feminism appreciate the value of ideas women can generate together, amongst each other. There are certain subjects (rape, battery, pornography, prostitution, and incest), that I find it difficult to speak and write honestly about in spaces occupied by men and male perspectives. I also dislike competing with men all the time. This doesn't mean I've written off all men as potential allies. Please note that I ended my letter to you with a beautiful quote I thought relevant, by a male author of Color, Dagoberto Gilb.

John Kinsella, a male pro-feminist poet whose work I respect, mentioned to me several years ago, that he felt it was unwise to trust men who identify themselves specifically as "feminists." As he explained it, (and his words made sense to me) the label "feminist" speaks specifically about the female experience, one women can claim as people who live grossly compromised lives under patriarchy. He believes, as do I, that men should be pro-feminist, absolutely, fighting behind and alongside women with complete commitment, helping us in our struggle for equality. That does not mean that men are entitled to the label "feminist," in the same ways women are. It also doesn't mean men can offer greater insight into sexism.

I think "feminine" is a word currently and historically used to refer to a specific gender role. I think "female" is a word used to refer to biological sex. I find this distinction useful. I don't wish to blur it, or reclaim the word "feminine" at this time.

I certainly think you should be able to speak in favor of gay and lesbian rights. As a heterosexual woman with gay and lesbian friends whom I love, I do the same. However, I would never demand that a lesbian only journal publish my writing. I can read that journal (and have read such publications) and can benefit tremendously from reading the work of lesbian separatists. But, like you, I have straight privilege--I am not going to try to deny my own privilege, by forcing myself into lesbian only space.

That's about all I have time and energy for at this point, except to say, I'm not sure calling me, or parts of my letter, "ludicrous" is completely in the spirit of respect or feminism (assuming you want blossombones to be a feminist journal, which I understand you may not). I applaud you both for starting up your own journal, and agree, it's a cool thing to do. I regret I don't know more poets who identify as radical feminists with whom I could start my own journal. I think the fact that I engaged with you, and took time to write a lengthy, thoughtful letter, rather than considering blossombones not worth my time, was a show of respect, not the reverse. I thank you for posting my letter.

Stephanie Cleveland

Melissa said...

Hi Stephanie,

I appreciate the clarification. Just so you know, I was not calling you or your letter ludicrous. I respect your opinions, and appreciate that you took the time to speak your mind with us. I just think that the idea that Susan or I chose to include men in the pool of contributors because we need to appease them was extremely far from the truth. I understand that you don't know either of us and the only glimpse you have is from our blog, but truly, male approval is not particularly of our concern. Some people will love us, some people might not, and that's okay. Our only conern here is to ensure that interesting, innovative, imaginative, detailed work that in some way deals with the feminine/female experience - and by this I mean with that which is "of or relating to women" - is highlighted in our journal, and that'll speak for itself once our first issue comes out (many fabulous writers are included, which Susan and I are very excited about!). Our journal is a space that features the writing that we love by a diverse set of writers, and that is of the utmost importance to us.

I highly encourage you to look into starting up your own journal, especially an online one because it's been so fun and it's easier to start up than you might think. All you need is the time, the desire, and a computer (and, of course, submissions!). You obviously have very strong feelings about a specific aim for the ideal feminist lit journal, and if you think that a space for this type of writing does not exist, then by all means create it! The only person who can shape something into what you want it to be is you, so what better way to do so.

Finally, I just want to say that I do stand by everything that I said in my response. I think it's difficult to define what a quintessential feminist is because I don't think that there is such a thing. There is no "perfect" feminist and there is no one way to express one's feminist values and ideas. I feel that, though our opinions might not necessarily match, that I can proudly pin on my feminist badge and not be ashamed of it, just as you can. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas just as I hope that you can appreciate Susan's and mine.

Best wishes,

Melissa said...

Oh no, I see a typo - "conern" is supposed to be "concern"!

Sometimes I try to type too fast!