Nuria Sheehan: This project can best be described as rigorously inclusive. In reading submissions, we all worked hard to question our points of view– to examine ways in which our biases toward or against certain subjects or aesthetics may have been influenced by a male-dominated publishing landscape. And this commitment to self-examination made the editorial process deeply collaborative, giving us a shared language and purpose as we discussed any differences and disagreements.
“In most parts of the country, including my home state, it’s legal to discriminate against transgender people in employment, housing, treatment in public accommodations. If I couldn’t learn to present myself as a woman, I risked a lifetime of unemployment, assault, and homelessness.”—Joy Ladin | Writing as a Woman | HER KIND
I love being with my kids, but I do wish sometimes, that our culture allowed moms to be moms – at home, working, single, married, whatever – and found ways to encourage them to find a way to pursue things like writing. The only way to do this is through a greater sense of community, I think. Community is hard to find. Families do not always live in the same state, let alone the same neighborhood. So, how do we create a supportive community? I think writing mothers have to figure that out, which isn’t easy since what little free time we have, we spend at our laptops or with notepads in hand trying to squeeze in a few minutes of writing.
Thank you so much for this! I was just thinking today how when other girls were dreaming about having babies I was dreaming about having books. I “wrote” my first book when I was only six as a part of a literacy program at West Chester University where I told the story to a grad student (I only remember her having a brown ponytail), who copied down my words verbatim and then I illustrated it and then we bound it together. I still have it.
Alison Bechdel magnifies this connection of mothering and writing in her comic drama, Are You My Mother? A must read! The journey of the woman writer is valuable in so many symbolic and concrete ways– simply helping us to explore, appreciate and smirk at our inner mothers.
I’ve been privileged to birth books and to facilitate young people to write, explore and mother their own creativity. My mother didn’t have that. She is creative in her own way, but was not validated for it as a young brown girl in 1950s Philadelphia. I am, perhaps, the first generation in my family to be empowered by a literacy program that combined creativity and was taught by women. This is why we need more arts programs in the schools!
Jonah Lehrer is part of a system that allows magazines, year after to year to publish men, and white men in particular, significantly more than women or people of color. He is part of a system where the 2012 National Magazine Awards have no women nominees in several key categories. He is part of a system where white editors belabor the delusion that there simply are few women or writers of color who are good enough for their magazines because said editors are too narrow in what they want, what they read, what they think, or just too lazy to work beyond their Rolodex of writers who look and think just like them. He is part of a system that requires an organization like VIDA to do an annual count that reveals a disheartening, ongoing and pervasive practice of a certain kind of writer predominantly gaining entrance to the upper echelons of publishing. He is part of a system that exhausts itself denying these problems exist or that these problems matter.
Prestige is a poorly articulated and barely understood phenomena. It’s also a powerfully motivating one. Prestige is what Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult were complaining about when they launched a thousand commentaries by griping about Franzen’s press coverage on Twitter. It’s what the diligent and tenacious VIDA (Women in the Literary Arts) is attempting to calculate when, every year, it counts up the book reviews and bylines in a dozen or so highbrow journals to determine how well women writers are represented. And it’s what Nathaniel Hawthorne was bitching about when he wrote to his British publisher in 1855, “America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash.”
Girls are so often socialized around what not to do; what they shouldn’t be; what they’re already doing wrong. Organizations like Girls Write Now, WritersCorps, and Urban Word NYC challenge negative messages aimed at girls, and they show young women that writing can be so much more than cathartic and brooding, journaling alone in their bedroom—that it can be silly, scary, bold, angry, surreal, dramatic, playful, experimental, interactive, and—above all—empowering.
So contrary to the Huffington Post’s title, I never “decided to become a woman.” I decided that rather than live as a man until I killed myself (I was counting down the days), I would follow my internal sense of who I am into the void and live as a woman. Live as, not “become”: I present myself as a woman, walk the world as a woman, risk abuse as a woman, get cheated by auto mechanics as a woman, exchange smiles with others as a woman, am condescended to as a woman. Whether or not women identify with me, I identify with women: except when I present myself as trans (hardly a badge of honor in this world), my social status is shaped by the same forces, the same inequities and prejudices, that shape the lives of those born and raised female.
“Men are freer than women to meet their expected role, as breadwinner, or not, to be a good father, or not, to keep their yard neatly trimmed, or not, to write, or not. Women are given “freedom”, i.e. “permission” to write, as long as their houses are well kept, their children are well cared for, and their spouses are given attention.”—Elisa A. Garza | My Writing Projects Will Wait … | HER KIND
It’s popular to talk about the importance of publishing a wide diversity of voices, but, as VIDA’s 2011 Count starkly shows, few editors of high-circulation literary magazines publish nearly as many women as men—and anecdotal evidence suggests minority authors are similarly under-represented. Those editors do us all a terrible disservice; they restrict even our inner worlds. When I was a beginning as a writer, scanning around for useful tools and methods, sure, Merwin and Ashbery spoke to me, but they didn’t show me. For that, for me, there was and is Nickole Brown’s Sister; Matthea Harvey’s Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form; Mary Szybist’s Granted; and Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ The Gospel of Barbeque.
The new study confirms women’s great advances in education and in their success in getting published, says Erin Belieu, an award-winning poet and co-director of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, a nonprofit organization founded in 2009.
“Women have certainly increased their ‘literary output’ in the last two decades particularly,” she wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “And women fiction writers specifically have been able to achieve a large economic impact within the publishing industry.”
But as VIDA has demonstrated, more books by women does not mean more books are getting reviewed or more women getting to write for literary publications. For the past two years, VIDA has released studies showing that such magazines as The New Yorker and The Atlantic devoted far more space to male writers than to women, a ratio that led New Yorker editor David Remnick to acknowledge “We’ve got to do better.”
After watching Magic Mike in a full movie theater, Adriana Páramo meditates on her hopes for LOL, a reading series of nonfiction and fiction that she produces in Central Florida.
In the darkness of the movie theater, I realized that this collective excitement represented, in a nutshell, the kind of enthusiasm I want to generate at LOL’s readings. Would it not be wonderful to be able to move in unison 200 hundred hungry-for-literature women? Would it not be fantastic to have them interject little hell yeahs and damn rights while one of the LOL writers reads a personal story about her childhood, or cheating on a jerkish boyfriend, or raising a difficult child, or hiding vibrators in her van, or gorgifying for profit the ass-broken-shit she finds at local yard sales? Would it not be something to see them queue up outside our reading venues the way they did for Magic Mike, giggling with expectation, ready to free-fall blindly into somebody else’s abyss, open-hearted and accepting, feeling that there was no other place they’d rather be even while hauling three kids?
When I think about the challenges that girls face in valuing their voices as writers, I’m reminded—in typical 90s-alterna-teen fashion—of the Bikini Kill song “Bloody Ice Cream.” In it, singer/songwriter/feminist icon and 90s girl idol Kathleen Hanna sings, “They want us to think … that to be a girl poet … means you have to die.” I connected to these lyrics intuitively when I first heard them as a teenager. On a literal level, the doomed narratives of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and even Emily Dickinson (namely the popular misrepresentation of her as lovelorn-girl-recluse-dressed-in-white) serving as primary models for female poethood make it hard not to equate being a girl poet with tortured solitude and inescapable depression. But on a more metaphorical level, I think this line speaks to a larger cultural message that’s aimed at girls, one of glamorized suffering, in which artistic expression comes from a tortured relationship with oneself. From Rihanna singing about how she “like(s) the way it hurts” in a song that’s touted as an anti-domestic abuse message to Lana Del Rey’s depiction of herself as a beautiful corpse in her recent “Born to Die” music video, someone does indeed seem to be telling us that we creative females are internally tormented creatures. It makes it hard to imagine that being a woman writer can mean having a successful, public life that’s immersed in and thrives on community.
Amidst the actual Kerrigan/Harding scandal, Will decried all the media coverage and stated that this was “a ridiculous story that has nothing whatsoever to do with life in America today.” I thought: a ridiculous story, yes of course. But it has EVERYTHING to do with life in America.
In the scandal are all-American themes that I relate to. A desire for attention and success; a pressure to win at all costs. The story seemed to me poignant as well as darkly comic. It touched on such issues as abusive relationships and class warfare. And, as my friend Lesley Heiser observed, on the way women fight themselves and each other in a mad desire to be perfect. For me, digging into that particular tabloid obsession paid off, writing-wise.