Friday, January 30, 2009

Feminism And The Written Word

Bio: Allison McCarthy is currently at work collaborating on the first issue of a new zine which should be available this spring. Her work has been featured in magazines such as Girlistic, The Baltimore Review, JMWW, The Write-Side Up and Scribble. She serves as a contributor to Girl with Pen and ColorsNW Magazine.

I am writing this post in a spirit of openness, hope and community with other writers seeking to examine new ways to combat various forms of privilege and promote feminisms in their writing.

In a personal struggle to confront my own privileges, I have delved into books, articles and blogs in search of information. And while my intersectionalist education remains far from complete, I have felt extremely grateful for the readings that I could access, even as I began to realize that it's not the job of writers and bloggers to educate me on my privileges. It's my responsibility to reflect on the privileges I've been unfairly granted at the expense of others and there will be no cookies for my efforts to educate myself on these topics. (These privileges, for those curious to know, include being: white, middle-class, cisgendered, able-bodied, and an ever-frustrating heterosexual privilege, despite the fact that I don't identify as such.)

However, as Renee has often said, it isn't enough to STFU and listen – I also need to engage. I am beginning to realize that one of the most effective ways in which I can promote my intersectionalist feminism is to write about it – and not just for publications that identify with feminist politics in their mission statements.

I'll be the first one to acknowledge the importance of publications like Bitch, Ms, BUST, off our backs, make/shift, and others which have influenced readers in numerous ways, even as each of these publications differs in their respective goals and styles. For two years, I was even fortunate enough to work as a feature writer for Girlistic, an online feminist magazine edited by the great Jaymi Heimbuch. I mean this to say that the significance of feminist magazines shouldn't be diminished. However, I strongly feel that engaging with trade publications that don't self-identify as feminist has been essential in allowing me not only the opportunity to discuss my feminism with other reading audiences, but also to connect with other communities and open the possibilities for intersectional critique.

Minty Jeffrey, who has served as the co-founder, co-owner and Director of Community Relations for ColorsNW Magazine since April 2001, offers several great points for white feminist writers seeking to publish in trade magazines aimed at communities of color. "I would like to see an inclusion in the way that women of color and urban women are accepted where we're at and not where the assimilated, dominant culture of feminism thinks we should be," she notes.

"It's important to consider your own level of cultural competence before pitching any articles to ColorsNW," she says.  "What is your passion – is it a story you think is interesting or do you have an investment in this story?  I would say that it's so important to respect and honor the fact that the voice telling the story has a limited view of the entire mountain.  You're a hiker, not a villager or a person who is a caregiver for that area, experience or trauma.  If you're a hiker visiting, you have to know when you're not in the place to take the perspective of an indigenous person.  The perspective comes from a set of filters and lenses that are set based on your own experiences and not from the view of the person or group that you're telling the story about.  There is some level of responsibility on the part of the writer to seek out different lenses that will help them see the story a little differently.  You have to look at it from the view of something you may not understand and try to understand."

Another excellent insight came from Gary L. Lemons, the author of Black Male Outsider: Teaching as a Pro-Feminist Man (State University of New York Press, 2008). He lists several white feminist writers who have published numerous pieces on anti-racism, including Becky Thompson, Susan Willis, Cricket Keating, Barbara Scott Winkler, and Aimee Carrillo-Roe. "These are all white feminists who are out there putting it on the line," he says. "In the transgressive work of making ripples with anti-racist writing… if anything, that's where the real groundbreaking work is."

Benita Roth is an associate professor of sociology and women's studies at SUNY Binghamton, as well as the author of Separate Roads to Feminism: Black, Chicana and White Feminist Movements in America's Second Wave (Cambridge University Press, 2004). She feels that when writers publish in trade magazines, it's "really a question of what the networks are and what they look like. People publish within their networks. If there are divisions within these networks, and there almost always are, that gets reflected in what's published. I do think there's a huge interest in bridging the gap between academic feminists and other forums, other spaces."

The same bridging could also be extended to journalists. As Latoya Peterson at Racialicious recently wrote, "Journalists who understand the inequities in society that revolve around gender, race, class, sexuality, gender orientation, and ability - even if they don't fully understand or live that experience - will produce better, more nuanced pieces that speak to a large segment of the population. Journalists who deny these inequities become editors who deny these inequities who reject pieces that explicitly deal with this bias and support pieces that validate their worldview."

By stepping out of my comfort zone, I risk rejection. A feminist publication will be very interested in explicit feminist writing, but that's not always going to be the case for trade publications which don't self-identify with feminist ideologies. With my various privileges, it's crucial to consider spaces in which my perspective might be welcomed as opposed to spaces which are only open to certain communities – I must never intrude on the latter, as that would be highly disrespectful. I can, however, continue to pursue publications that will – whether tentatively or excitedly – be open to works that intersect my feminist ideals with their vision for publication. If there is to be any hope for intersectionalism in action, this may prove to be a crucial method for building alliances and solidarity with other publishing communities.


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