Last Thursday morning, more than 150 AWP Chicago conference attendees gathered in a large meeting room at the Hilton Chicago to attend So to Speak‘s first-ever AWP panel. Entitled “Troubling the Label: When Does a Text Become Feminist?”, the panel brought together activists, writers, and publishers Ru Freeman, Arielle Greenberg, Eloise Klein Healy, M. Mack, and Cate Marvin,
Panel moderator Arielle Greenberg introduced the panelists and gave a few remarks on her thoughts about the feminist label in the writing world. “You’re all women today,” Greenberg told the audience.
Poet and publisher Eloise Klein Healy followed, giving an overview of how she came to found Arktoi Books, a lesbian imprint of Red Hen Press. She stated that she founded the imprint after she noticed that lesbian feminist texts were not appearing in print, and when they did appear, they were not reviewed. She emphasized the goal of striving toward a non-simplistic approach to human diversity, and mentioned how learning to build, construct, and fix one’s own physical environment is a feminist act (she joked in her bio that she became a feminist as a young child, when a relative told her she could not use a screwdriver because she was a girl).
Poet and VIDA co-founder Cate Marvin said that, early in her career, she took feminism for granted, thinking simply: “Why wouldn’t you be a feminist, and what’s the big deal about being feminist?” Then she realized that she was (subconsciously) coding much of the writing she was doing, and began noticing issues of sexism in the publishing world. She explained how she began VIDA and stated that more and more people are talking about the “count” and making “pies” of their own (pie charts representing men vs. women in different publications).
“Being an angry, bitter woman is unbecoming,” Marvin said of the negative stereotypes about feminists. “Well of course it is! But what’s wrong with being angry?”
So to Speak‘s own managing editor M. Mack followed, discussing the explicit feminist label included in So to Speak‘s name (the full name of our journal is So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art). Ze raised many important questions about the implications and assumptions of this direct feminist label and the potential harm that could be done by only publishing people who identify as women in a journal labeled “feminist.”
“We don’t want to determine who feminism belongs to,” Mack said.
Novelist and political writer Ru Freeman rounded out the opening remarks by focusing on the class and caste issues in her novel A Disobedient Girl, and the fact that even though these issues go by different names in different cultures, financial struggles are the same in Sri Lanka, where the book is set, as they are in the United States. She emphasized the fact that she does not associate herself with any particular “label” when she writes, that there are a lot of female authors writing in English in Sri Lanka as well as publishing houses owned by women, and that exploring class issues is itself a feminist act.
After the panelists made their remarks, Greenberg led the audience in a non-hierarchical, community discussion about the feminist label. Audience members expressed their own thoughts and opinions, asked questions, and responded to each others’ questions in a fully interactive setting.
The discussion that followed included insights into living as a working artist mother, writing and publishing as a non-gendered individual, and whether or not certain forms of poetry are inherently gendered, feminist, or sexist.
The audience and panelists also discussed whether or not it is necessary for women who write feminist texts to display any kind of “apologetics” about the fact that they do not “hate men.” “The collaboration we need to have does include men,” Freeman stated, and one audience member pointed out that motherhood as a motif is being imitated by male writers as of late.
*If you went to our panel and loved it, please let us know! Fill out an AWP survey about the panel, comment here, or give us a shout via Facebook, e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Twitter (SoToSpeakJrnl).
*For an awesome recap of the conference as a whole, check out Ru Freeman’s notes on Huffpost here.