Fem Editors Talk Back: The White Women of Lit

Q2: How do we combat the white, femaleness of most feminist lit spaces?

AUTUMN [editor in chief]: Honestly, I’m beginning to just ignore spaces that are dominated by these voices. Do I think it’s a concern? Absolutely. But I don’t really find myself getting upset about it because those lit spaces are just following in the same pattern that society has found itself in for generations. If anything, it’s expected. Maybe it’s the comfort thing again, which doesn’t make it right, but it helps us better understand why there is such a draw for this kind of content and how to break it up.

SUSANNAH [fiction]: It’s very frustrating. Like, most submissions I get are from white female MFAers. And the subject matter and writing style, etc., so frequently falls into these patterns and assumptions and it’s so very recognizable. Obviously there are exceptions, but just speaking to the trend.

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Like, most submissions I get are from white female MFAers. And the subject matter and writing style, etc., so frequently falls into these patterns and assumptions and it’s so very recognizable. (Susannah)

MAI [social media]: Whiteness of literary spaces always really confuses me, to be honest. White femaleness of most feminist literary spaces confuses me even more. People of color have stories to be told – moving, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, or oftentimes horrific stories to be told.

NOEL [reviews]: As an American writer born in China, I definitely feel that white female—and usually well-educated and wealthy—voices are privileged in the feminist literary space and I’m conflicted because I look up to a lot of them and I think they’re great writers.

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People of color have stories to be told – moving, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, or oftentimes horrific stories to be told. (Mai)

JASMINE [spoken word]: I feel bored. I am tired of looking in literary spaces and not seeing anyone who looks like me or anyone who will speak up for me and the intersections of my identity. I am tired of seeing the same “feminist” characters arguing and fighting for the same one-dimensional issues.

AMY [poetry]: As someone who is a part of this comfortable majority, it’s indicting to realize again and again how catered to I am by most of these supposedly inclusive, supportive spaces. Awakening to privilege is incredibly hard to do – and all too often the burden of “educating” or “enlightening” people like me falls on those already burdened by being marginalized and underrepresented.

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Honestly, I’m beginning to just ignore spaces that are dominated by these voices. (Autumn)

SUSANNAH: It isn’t like they shouldn’t be writing fiction, anyone can write fiction if they want. But I frequently don’t see a dedication to making sure they are adding value in their writing. It’s pretty and there are emotions in it and it’s well-edited, so that makes it ready to submit. And I’m almost confident that I have never received a piece of fiction from a white author which has a white character in which the whiteness is acknowledged. It’s not cool to continue to rely on the assumption that your reader will know your character is white as long as she has a name like Jane or Emily and at some point you describe the pinkness of her lips. Why though.

AUTUMN: What I like about our magazine is that we actively seek out voices that contradict a white female narrative. And while we appreciate every submission, sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and say “We don’t need this right now.” We need more people who are willing to say that.

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We need to nurture more communities and programs and publications that even the playing field—and yes, I do mean financial compensation. (Noel)

MAI: Literary spaces that aren’t diverse tend to bore me, yet are kept that way since the literary scene is so dominated by white individuals. I think this can be combatted by building separate literary spaces, but also interjecting our voices where we can in white-run literary spaces. That way, we’re being heard as much as we can be, and those voices will only continue to grow.

AMY: Again, places like Twitter and Tumblr are actually really helpful here – using social media to seek out more kinds of voices, with different concerns and experiences than the ones most often highlighted in a more univocal feminism.

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The best piece of advice in it was simple: Listen and amplify. (Amy)

SUSANNAH: I think there is this very real trap of “writing what you know” translating to “don’t engage with race” for white writers. But that’s such a cop-out. If you aren’t prepared to engage with race, you aren’t prepared to put your writing out there. End stop. I don’t have much sympathy for other perspectives on that. Not every piece of writing is going to involve race, but if it comes into play, it should be handled thoughtfully, not ignored.

NOEL: My answer is that actually we need to consider that white female voices are the ones who have the socioeconomic luxury of being able to produce acclaimed writing and instead of faulting their voices, we need to nurture more communities and programs and publications that even the playing field—and yes, I do mean financial compensation.

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We combat this in two ways; we continue to fight to infiltrate the places where our voices are not being heard, and we also continue to create spaces for ourselves. (Jasmine)

JASMINE: We combat this in two ways; we continue to fight to infiltrate the places where our voices are not being heard, and we also continue to create spaces for ourselves. Someone people like to argue for one of the other, but I don’t understand why we can’t do both. Attacking from the inside and the outside sounds more effective to me.

AMY: I really appreciate the open letter Meg Cramer, producer of the great Buzzfeed postcast “Another Round” wrote about the kind of self-centeredness that something like white privilege fosters. The best piece of advice in it was simple: Listen and amplify. Listen and amplify. Seek out underrepresented voices and seek out ways to increase their reach and representation. Get out of the way. Equality and inclusivity enriches everyone.

SUSANNAH: On the bright side, I get submissions from non-white writers who frequently mention how they submit to The Fem because they feel safe or good about sharing their writing with us. And I attribute a lot of that to the diversity of our editors. It’s pretty easy to imagine that the non-white writers who say this are not submitting to magazines where the editors are all white chicks.

This is the second in a series of interviews/discussions curated by co-founder Rachel to give insight into the way that the mission of The Fem manifests within the thoughts and actions of our staff. Read Q1.

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