Behind the Scenes
But What About the Nipples? A Nice Conversation (Pt. 2)
Blake Butler, Kate Zambreno, Amy King and I recently had a nice, interesting, and lengthy conversation about gender, publishing and so much more, prompted by lots of things including the recent, and largely excellent discussion in Blake’s “Language Over Body” post about the second issue of We Are Champion. Over the next three days, I’m going to post that conversation and we all hope you guys join in on our conversation and share your thoughts. You can find Part 1 here.
Amy: We’ve got our rooms and we’re writing – we are no longer invisible, unless editors and prize committees try to render us so. My response was an attempt to point out the other option, which is to be inclusive (which means showcasing possibly disparate work that could be in dialogue), via a new mag, PARROT, that includes work fitting the aforementioned bill:
“PARROT will print the work of Stephanie Rioux’s My Beautiful Beds, Harold Abramowitz’s A House on a Hill (House on a Hill Part 1), Amanda Ackerman’s I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck, Will Alexander’s On the Substance of Disorder, Amina Cain’s Tramps Everywhere, Allison Carter’s All Bodies Are The Same and They Have The Same Reactions, Kate Durbin’s Kept Women, Joseph Mosconi’s But On Geometric, Amaranth Ravva’s Airline Music, Mathew Timmons’ Complex Textual Legitimacy Proclamation, Allyssa Wolf’s Loquela as well as the work of Michelle Detorie, Vanessa Place, Brian Kim Stefans and others…”
I realize this number counting feels isolated and is usually defended as ‘accidental’. Just see PW’s note on their all male “Top Ten” list for 2009. But what gets lost when we don’t query such disproportionate representation is that the interests and views and styles that men write in are what we all: male, female, and every other gender get conditioned to, starting with child lit on up to college “classics.” Such lack parallels why the Wall Street fuck up might have been prevented, or at least lessened. If variety is the spice of life, shouldn’t that hold true for the literary landscape as well? There should be a symphonic cacophony, no?
Roxane: You’re absolutely right that this sort of gender imbalance is often explained away and that dismissal is hugely troubling because it frames the people who voice their concerns about these issues as shrill and hysterical. We are not shrill and hysterical. We have our eyes wide open and we see some really fucked up things going on. I do not think the issue of We Are Champion is as commensurate a fuck up as the disgrace that was the Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten of 2009 list. They are not even in the same universe of things that are fucked up. I think a bit of perspective of scale is really important here. The two cannot be compared. A magazine cannot be judged on a single issue. If the next four or five issues of We Are Champion excluded women, then I would say we should riot because that would be a real problem.
Kate: I don’t know if we can compare this to the PW Top Ten list. And this is not a journal that’s very powerful like a Poetry or a Granta, shouldn’t this editor be allowed to curate his own selection? I don’t think the answer is to count, I think the answer is to come up with and celebrate a counterculture of presses and journals and anthologies run by men and women that dig writing that’s working aggressively against the dominant culture, by publishing queer writers, experimental women writers, innovative writers of color, writing that explores identity, etc. And maybe encouraging those who are starting small presses and journals to consider certain writers, maybe in a positive, constructive way.
Amy: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with noting that yet another journal, big or small, is once again perpetuating the old traditions, especially in an open forum where the editor can respond. Out of 18 or so writers in two issues, he included three women. Pointing out that disparity signals a query, to me, that can be responded to and accounted for, or at least remedied in the future by the editor, if he finally agrees that he wants to publish the work of female poets. It is not some sort of ironclad indictment that means everyone in the world is going to suddenly boycott WAC. If anything, WAC has likely gotten much more attention than it would have if we’d never said a word. Also if the editor, Gene Kwak, said that he simply prefers a male-aesthetic, then that’d be fine too as it’s his baby; I’d likely ask that he note such parameters in his announcements of the mag or at the very least in the submission guidelines. I think what got a few of us riled was because Elisa Gabbert originally noted the issue on her blog. Kwak responded to her by mocking Gabbert’s face and telling her he didn’t give a fuck instead of simply responding to the point as he has recently done. If everyone just sits complacently by without ever asking how this came to be or what were your criteria, as we have for so long done, why do we think we’ll get to query places like PW?
I offered to start this discussion because you, Kate, endured an ad hominem attack in the comments field of a post on HTML that dismissed Zelda Fitzgerald in the typically gynophobic way. You rightfully queried that characterization, and then the tide turned to attacking you.
Kate: I love what Roxane writes here. “We are not shrill and hysterical. We have our eyes wide open and we see some really fucked up things going on.” I think what bothers me about the direction the commentstream on HTML Giant has yes (occasionally?) gone whenever gender specifically comes into the question (and yes, as thus goes the nation, I think HTML Giant is reflective of the culture not necessarily making it, although shouldn’t it be distinct from mainstream media sources?) is the stereotyping of women if they pose valid concerns about how women writers are represented within the site as shrill frigid humorless feminists who need to get hatefucked (and there’s so much homophobia in that as well, that obviously the feminist is a lesbian, which obviously means she hates men, or that she’s empty without the magical medicinal cock within her, even if she likes the cock, which is another way to say, shut your mouth, woman). It’s just the direction the stream has occasionally gone in the short time I’ve observed if it’s allowed to go on for a while. This is completely a way to shut down any valid concerns, and a way to invalidate and humiliate the person posing the concerns. It’s a Keep Out Icky Girls sign. It’s not original. It’s not funny. It’s playground politics. It’s bullying. Although I will note that when I first saw the Zelda post I was not very aware of HTML Giant, how it is often a sort of Vice magazine dealing with writers, the locker room atmosphere, I had only heard of Blake, and then I knew Lily was starting to blog there, and if I was more familiar I probably would have framed my reply in a less stringent way. The post was ill-read about Zelda or even Scott Fitzgerald, both writers that are very important to me, and personally I felt the joke was never made, a joke that seemed to pivot around the folds of flesh around cute Zelda’s midsection and wishing her sheets were soft enough at the asylum. Rhetorically where it went from there was really interesting. It’s now been deleted from the site. But the writer of the post, Jimmy, apologized, but kind of in a way that said, yeah I didn’t know what I was talking about, but it was a joke, get a sense of humor. I pounced on him again (again, maybe I should have in a different tone, with less severity, buttons were definitely pushed), another commenter came in and critiqued the post, a woman writer, and then the writer of the post basically needled her, saying how could you attack me for objectifying this woman writer when your blogger pic is comely. It was really so stupid, again, playground politics. (I too have engaged in these playground politics with HTML Giant, that’s how it becomes playground, everything devolves.) Then it became this sort of terribly stupid Mars/Venus war, which I hate, I hate when women have been occasionally typecast as the hardline stringent feminists on this site if they have concerns dealing with how gender is represented on the site, how women writers are represented on the site. I don’t like to play the stringent feminist, to be stereotyped and almost forced to be humorless. But then you feel you’re in this fight, where you’re being attacked, or women writers you admire are being attacked in such an ugly way, and you have to jab back or passively disappear. The comment stream is often very masculine in this way (and I’ve noticed this on other literary blogs as well). You’re not allowed to argue emotionally, you must be hard, cold, rational, or you’re decimated. And every weakness in your argument exploited, anything to win the argument, even it if turns personal. On the Zelda comment stream the women writer and I were being accused of being racist, that we wouldn’t be worried about the plight of a Mexican woman who works at a Wendy’s, I think that was the approximate language. Which is so ignorant and ridiculous. For of course a modern feminist position is about the oppression of all social hierarchies- it’s really quite desperate, trying any tactic to shut down a conversation, the easiest one being to accuse the accuser of being humorless, so you don’t have to actually consider the situation. Then this one person, came in and wrote a pretty ugly screed that was quite sexual and dismissive. And I actually think I understand where this person is coming from, I think he thinks he’s defending HTML Giant as being this Vice magazine, defending its tradition of the irreverent and unrepressed, lamenting the old liberatory aspects, but I think unfortunately he’s not terribly self-aware. For women too can write the irreverent and unrepressed but that is really fucking hard when you’re being attacked or women are being attacked, or you’re simply reduced to being a gendered body (so why wasn’t this commenter told that it’s just about bodies? why aren’t those who peddle in stereotypes of women on HTML Giant reminded this?) That kind of rhetoric basically kicks women out entirely, or asks them to stay, if they’re silent, if they behave, or agree with you, if they don’t go against any of the clubhouse rules. And then what happened then is interesting. Then the only commenters felt comfortable to intervene and comment were male, and they defended us, the women, who had now been effectively shamed/silenced. Which to me is the most insidious aspect. The silencing. Of course it’s not specific to HTML Giant!
Blake: But do you only have to jab back or disappear? I think it’s a mistake to imagine that gender roles are the only thing that gets attacked at HTMLGIANT, or any other venue where a bulk of speaking comes not from the helm but from the field. And yes, totally I am embarrassed sometimes at the kind of thinking that comes out of the rough. I’ve been personally attacked for all kinds of things, specifically verbally assaulted for my own writing, and in the world of the internet, I’ve come to find that the only way I can stay positive about it is to take the good and go. It’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit flying, and that’s what boils the blood, but that’s also part of the entity of it for me: to make a mess and watch it fly. There are plenty of institutions designed to talk about literature without the forum, or specifically without such a raucous forum as ours, but one of the major reasons Gene and I started this site was to have a place to talk about anything, no matter how off the cuff or bizarre. I’ve been told I need to get fucked, too. I’ve been lambasted in all the way you are naming as aimed at women, and then from the other side, am called a frat boy, a dick monger. Anyone who has met me in life knows I am not this person. I want creation.
All that said, I don’t think the nature of the beast should be assigned to who comes to troll in the field. HTMLGIANT is made up of more than 20 people, of different origins and backgrounds and genders, and the ways they talk about what they love gives me light and hope, regardless of how it comes off in the comments, or even when that satirical or messy nature gets into the meat of the post and pisses people off. To focus only on the negative camps, the political, and the offensive seems intentionally revisionist to me. I feel like we do a lot of good. We help get word out about books we love, and some pretty amazing discussions happen in the meantime, even when they turn to blood on the web browser. I always find it just as disheartening when people only want to focus on the “male dominated” aspects of the site, which to me are a small fraction of the identity, and yet one that seems the most poked at. It is much more about passion than it is dimunition or labeling or what have you. If there’s anything “literature” needs it is to relax, expand, absorb.
Kate: I don’t think the political or bringing in political is necessarily negative, and I think stating that can be seen as a way shutting off the conversation. And why does literature need to relax? Is Bernhard relaxed? Is Artaud relaxed? Is Cixous relaxed? No. And in just my short period of observing HTML Giant, I think the comments can be most vitriolic, most hateful, when dealing with gender (I am thinking of only three or four incidents). Although I think charged language can be used all around when a shitstorm happens. And revisionist? I don’t get that. I think it’s revisionist to brush what happened under the rug. Wouldn’t it be characterized as more revisionist to actually take down posts, which is what happened with Zelda?
Blake: I certainly wouldn’t have removed the post myself: that was Jimmy’s doing. I didn’t realize he had actually, until much later, and wish he hadn’t. But that’s his call. I think he takes to heart a lot of the over-serious analysis of what he means in fun, even if it might seem damaging to some: as I said either above this or below this (honestly, I’m spun by the circling of this discussion, it’s very nature: it’s not in me), I believe that in the truest equal state nothing is sacred, and nothing can be toppled unto itself, everything is open to fangling, nothing is true, everything is permitted. And sure, this is a privileged view, as is so often made accused when someone like myself hopes to just avoid the political in favor of aesthetic, or even fun: but jesus christ, we’re having an online discussion about gender for a website about books, we’re all privileged, we all have burden and bodies, we all have shit that fucks us up, and in the end, we’re all pretty well off compartively. At the end of the day, the language and the creation is the important thing, the what happens in the room where you make what you make, and all this socializing and collision of bodies is something entirely else. A conversation beside a meditation. True revolution occurs within the self.
Amy: I don’t think anyone’s under the delusion that ‘gender roles are the only thing that gets attacked at HTMLGIANT’ – if anything, the gender discussion should be a beginning to understanding how such attack-debate functions and to what end. What are we achieving here? Are we making people conscious of issues and biases? Or all we all just arguing our positions so that we’re heard? Roxane’s most recent post on the lack of not-white people at AWP is something a lot more white people who attend AWP should be aware of because perhaps that will enter their thinking as they plan and invite for the next year. She’s not just noting this disparity to alleviate her discomfort; there’s a point to such address, and while the answer isn’t clear, identifying and naming a problem is a first step to understanding that it’s there, needs to be interrogated, and steps should be taken to change it. And this certainly affects writing because the venue is about promoting writers and their work: who gets included, promoted and heard is absolutely connected to issues of ‘how many black people attended AWP.’ The remedy isn’t obvious but it needs to be thought about.
Kate, I think this situation originally became a serious consideration ultimately because you explore issues of anger and hate in your writing, even as your work is motivated by those emotions. What got muddled, from what I can tell, is that once you experienced the effects of a misogynistic silencing, you wondered about your own use of hate speech in your writing versus direct speech; do all such uses incite to violence? What’s the difference between reinscribing, say, some misogynist notion in your work versus someone slandering you with a sexist characterization (i.e. you just need to get fucked)? Also, what writers, cinematographers, and artists have shaped your thinking about anger?
I admire James Baldwin immensely. Baldwin was angry and spoke with vitriol at times. He was no apologist for his anger; he was certain in his reasons for being angry and tirelessly pointed them out, often at risk to himself.
The tenets of the Civil Rights movement aren’t the same as what I’m pointing out here by any means, but they resound for me when I see what feels like blatant sexism couched in rhetoric and defended by ignorance and constant denial. Sexism is systemic and the resistors deny that, don’t even want to broach it (which is complicated and what’s necessary to begin figuring out how to address it), most especially through ad hominem attacks. We keep getting shot down to ground level: we have to offer caveats that we prove we like men, don’t want to kill them, aren’t unfashionable lesbian feminists (or am I?), etc. And I get tired of being angry, but I can’t shut up either.
Kate: I wouldn’t characterize my writing as using hate speech. Although the two novels I have written have featured cruel narrators. I have often, yes, in my writing been harsh on women who act out stereotypes, the novel that’s out features a hysterical Mrs. Dalloway-type character named Mommy who I kind of decimate, as well as a daughter Dora-character who I’m quite ambivalent about, and sometimes the work is about that ambivalence. But I do think there’s a difference between writing the unrepressed or taboo in your own personal work, writing that stems from hate or anger or violence, that is about working out these things, as opposed to just being an asshole and instigating ad hominem attacks in a forum as and not engaging in dialog. I have noticed on HTML Giant these personal attacks happen when gender comes in (or for other insular reasons I’m less interested in or aware of). What that guy who told me I needed to be fucked (and an element of his bile was also racist, I won’t even repeat it) didn’t realize is that I often write about sex and violence in my writing, and not necessarily while toeing the feminist line, because I find that boring. And I do tend to gravitate towards radical writing rooted in anger, in rallying against society, my favorites are probably the Vienna Group, Thomas Bernhard and Elfriede Jelinek. I disagree with Woolf that great writing cannot be done in the red light of anger. But I think women are still criminalized for their righteous anger. As Jelinek has said “A woman is permitted to chat or babble, but to stand in the square and speak with authority is still the greatest transgression.” Think of the hysteria that was ignited when Jelinek won the Nobel Prize.
Roxane: You bring up something very interesting. We do always have to offer up our caveats to prove that we’re not man-hating while the misogynists never ever say, “Go get fucked and shut up, but I love my wife and my mom.” I’m currently working on a post about the dearth of people of color at the AWP conference and the very first thought in my head was, “I should probably say something like ‘I have a white boyfriend and he’s great,’ so readers know I don’t hate white people.” I don’t know why we feel compelled to prove that we’re not the very things we’re often accused of being but it’s hard to feel anything but defensive when you want to discuss issues like misogyny, racism, homophobia and other forms of hate with audiences who feel threatened by such discussions. And they (we?) are threatened because often times, they (we?) see such discussions as attacks and take them personally.
Blake: I feel the same way as you do: that I am constantly being asked to prove I am not a racist, sexist fuck. If I try to move beyond it without acknowledging by saying I am really more interested in the art than in the politic, then I am told my bias is unconscious, that I can never beat it. There is too much focus here on things that are not the act of creation. I only have so much blood. At the end of the day I am going to put that into my passion, not into self defense. I like Kate’s bringing in Bernhard here, how he often seemed to be speaking into a box that became a book, in a realm far from anyone else, and yet so full of that kind of light that can’t be pinched. The more I move in these public ways the more I want to go live in that cone he showed in Correction, to stay there, and talk into nothing. I don’t know what else to do but do what I do and be where I am.
Amy: Blake, I haven’t seen anyone call you out as a “racist, sexist fuck” on HTMLG or anywhere, but then I haven’t read the vast numbers of your posts or comments. I have not thought as much; as you yourself note, the contributors to HTMLG range greatly via their backgrounds, which speaks to what I think should exist on the literary landscape as a whole and as noted earlier: a symphonic cacophony. Because this life is made up of so many instruments and sounds (to use a shoddy metaphor) that it would only be fitting to enter a bookstore or an online journal and find authors of very disparate backgrounds side-by-side, almost in dialogue regarding their assorted views and takes and foci. I get pissed when I think of my own education and, though it may be cliché to note, how many dead white male writers I read and was expected to get excited about in discussions. Only by taking Women’s Studies classes, which sometimes overlapped with Native and African American lit classes (which also illustrates the connected nature of various oppressions), did I read “marginalized literature” that surpassed the thrill factor of many of those Robert Frosts and Ernest Hemingways. Where was Gertrude Stein? Paula Gunn Allen and Audre Lorde? They were in “those classes.” & How many young people aren’t offered such ‘marginalized’ class opportunities?
I wanted to say something also about the “correctives” of simply adding in women writers or Asian American writers to meet a quota. I’m not advocating for such a bald and base ‘remedy’, which is obviously no remedy at all. I think that reduction does a disservice to the complexity of the issues here and to our conversation. I’ll repeat: asking a question doesn’t mean the answer is directly on the other side, wearing a nametag and knocking at our door. Clearly, we can’t just create a list of identities to tally and check off once our issue has been edited; that’s a total throwback and watering down of identity politics of the 80’s ad 90’s. Most oppressions are integrally tied together, so asking about one is a way into analyzing an intricate historical system.
What we can begin interrogating is how to change up the system that has, for so long, relied on binaries that prioritize white male voices and styles, and figure out how to break it. I suspect a way in is just to change the publishing landscape in general, as Roxane or Kate also noted, by filling it with ever more styles and voices. That’s one way in. Another may be to encourage writers of one gender to write as other genders. I know this sounds simplistic, but I don’t believe we can all write in an androgynous way, as Kate earlier touches on, though getting rid of gender may be an ultimate goal. We’re so attuned to the mostly gendered way things are viewed that I think we need to begin by conflating and confounding what it means to write in ‘drag,’ so to speak. Again, that’s just one more tiny way of dismantling the mostly-undetectable machinery already in place.
On another note, Roxane, it seems you have to contend with a lot of the same as an editor who likely moderates the minefield, I mean the comments’ field at HTML now and then. I just saw your interview there today with Mather Schneider, the only person to be banned from HTML. How much time do you spend policing, if any? Does any of the derision and distraction get to you? Do get angry? Why do you keep at it?
Roxane: I don’t moderate or police the comment sections at HTMLGIANT. It is not possible and I have no interest in it. Furthermore, one of the things that makes HTMLGIANT such an interesting place is that the open exchange of ideas is encouraged and anytime there’s going to be an open exchange of ideas you’re going to encounter both intelligence and ignorance. The comment sections at HTMLGIANT have often been framed as a terrible, misogynistic place but compared to the comment sections at other sites, like Yahoo.com or CNN.com, the comment sections at HTMLGIANT are quite tame.
As for really engaging with commenters, I’ve been accused by commenters, more than once, of throwing my thoughts out there, and then not defending them but a. I’m pretty busy so I don’t have time to keep up with the comments in a really substantive manner; b. I find that at a certain point the comments become anarchic and when the comments reach that point, there’s no discussing things with people who are trying to show off and/or preen and/or be purposelessly mean and aren’t really there to engage in the matter at hand; and c. most of the time I have said all I have to say on a given subject in the post, like I’ve totally blown my wad and am simply eager to read what others have to say in the comments.
The derision and distraction do get to me and there are times when I get angry or frustrated but I try to keep it in perspective. HTMLGIANT is just a website and when I find that it starts affecting my life, I just step away from the computer.
I keep at it because I really enjoy participating in the HTMLGIANT community. I’ve met some fascinating people who challenge me and interest me and I love being “bossy and opinionated” so to have that kind of platform is excellent. You also have to understand that for every person who comments there are hundreds if not thousands of people who are reading posts. I get great e-mails all the time from people who have interesting things to say but just don’t want to comment.
Amy: Do you think your efforts are ultimately constructive? Do you think Schneider’s referencing of “jokester” commenting is a male mode of discussion? Is such a label used sometimes to blur ad hominem hate speech? Are the comments threads comprised of mostly young and male writers?
Roxane: I do think my efforts are constructive. I absolutely know my contributions are respected and appreciated by most of the community.
Schneider’s reference to “jokester” commenting is useful and I think it describes the online mode of discussion more than the male mode of discussion. There is something about the relative anonymity of the Internet that often compels people to lose their inhibitions (and their minds). Assholery is not gender specific though there is an aggression I see in male commenters that I rarely see in female commenters. That is not a scientific observation.
The “jokester” commenting should not be confused with ad hominem hate speech. There is a segment of commenters who think they are “edgy” for saying what they wrongly think “everyone else is thinking” or who think that all a woman with an opinion needs is a good dick to shut her up. They cannot be rationalized with. Frankly, their comments reflect poorly on them. I try to console myself with that but it is truly disheartening, in this day and age, to see some of the things I’ve seen in comment threads. I actually missed the Zelda Fitzgerald post and it was taken down before I could follow the comment threads but I am sick about what I’ve heard about what went down. It makes no sense that human beings would treat other human beings with such disregard. Whether those sexist, and hate-filled attitudes come from laziness and complacency (I’m comfortable in my white male-ness and don’t want that to be questioned) or defensiveness (I feel like the world hates me because I’m a white man but I’m not the real problem) or ignorance (I don’t know how to engage with you productively so I will say something crass and stupid), I’m not sure but it’s shitty.
The comment threads are primarily comprised of young men. I’m sad to say that many women simply don’t want to subject themselves to the open hate, misogyny and weird, creepy aggression that sometimes encroaches on HTMLGIANT comment threads. It really bothers me that people feel uncomfortable participating in conversations at HTMLGIANT but I also remember when I was nervous about participating when I first discovered the site so I kind of understand it. The comment threads can be scary. But again, I don’t think this is HTMLGIANT specific. I think it is an Internet phenomenon.
Amy: Do you think our discussion will be treated with any seriousness or even read with any interest? Is it worth it?
Roxane: Absolutely. The majority of the members of the HTMLGIANT community are intelligent and open-minded. They might disagree but they will do so without resorting to puerile personal attacks.
Kate: I don’t know. I do agree that the majority of HTML Giant writers are intelligent and open-minded – I do however think there’s a sort of masculine rhetoric apparent in other literary blogs and their comment streams, and hell, in academia, that is very one-sided and becomes about decimating your opponent, at any cost, in a way that can cancel out dialogue. The dialogue about the fistfucking poem wasn’t like that, and I enjoyed that. But I think HTML Giant is what it is – often humorous or witty, one-liners, sometimes pointing out great things to read under the radar small presses or highlighting interesting books or authors, occasionally a great place for discussions about literature, but not a feminist forum or a forum terribly political or sympathetic with feminism. (I think sometimes saying one chooses not to be political is to choose to be apathetic). I think the real solution is not to try to change HTML Giant but to form one’s own counterculture.
Amy: Roxane, you say that we need to “not only women writers but also look at the entire range of diverse writing and create a publishing culture that embraces difference without exploiting it.” Can you talk a little more about how you attempt to reach those diverse writing communities for PANK? Because it does feel like a pitfall to think, “Oh no, I have no black writers and then go seeking someone to send work along.” At the same time, it’s very easy to claim that no black writers submitted to your mag, so it’s their fault you didn’t publish their words. Blake, do you consciously address these issues at HTMLG in terms of who gets to contribute or what writers are being discussed?
Also, I want to mention the numbers again, not because I think WAC is necessarily heading the way of replicating a tradition (the editor also contacted me and explained how he ended up with an all-male issue), but because there is so much resistance to the notion that the historical numbers are biased in favor of men. The resistance seems to be borne mostly out of the notion that no one consciously intends to publish and reward (via prizes, best of lists, etc) more male than female authors, and yet the facts are tangible, countable: men are grossly published in higher numbers (see 2009 if you imagine all is equal. Pointing this evidence out, in my opinion, is a beginning, an interrogation—not an answer. I want to A) put an end to it and read more voices, views, styles from a variety of writers and B) figure out why this publishing bias keeps happening so that we can move beyond A. I’m certainly not winning any popularity contests saying such disparities take place, but I can’t, and won’t, shut up. If that means I get the WAC editor and HTMLGIANT readers to think about their publishing and reading practices, then I’m happy to point out the obvious, however much we want to ignore it, for the public record. Seems obvious that such practices shouldn’t “unintentionally” carry on without an examination, so why would anyone resist talking about it, if only for a minute? I do think that the aggression and nay-saying that often dominates these conversations though means that women bow out because, as you note Roxane, women don’t seem so willing to participate in that mode of discussion.
Roxane: I try to post Calls for Submissions on listservs and online forums for diverse groups and I spread the word that we would love to see work from all kinds of writers through people I know but we do not solicit writers of any ilk and we certainly don’t go Negro Hunting or Queer Hunting or whatever. That’s not publishing diversely, that’s just tokenism and it’s a bandaid solution. It is, as you note, a real pitfall to think you can cherry pick diverse people to include in a publication. That said, it has never crossed my mind to blame black writers or any other kind of writers for not being published in our magazine. The issue of encouraging diversity in publishing is just not that simple, and it’s not easily fixed. We try to include a nice mix of diversities (spanning all kinds of things including and beyond gender, sexuality and race) based on what we have. We should probably be more proactive but this is not a full time job for either my co-editor or myself and it is just the two of us, in the middle of nowhere. I say that by way of explanation more than excuse. We do the best we can with what we have and we try, in small ways, to make a magazine where all kinds of writers feel comfortable sending and publishing their work. We also never forget that we can and we will do better every day.
As for numbers, you’re absolutely right. They do matter to an extent. I look far beyond WAC though. For me the real things we should be worrying about are the annual prizes, the editors and final selections for the Best of anthologies, etc. I don’t know why there’s so much resistance to accepting that men get published more and they also get published in higher profile ways but my first guess is that it makes people feel uncomfortable to acknowledge that even in 2010, the world is not a happy, equal place. I always love that when the gender imbalance in mainstream publishing is raised people will throw out the year when one of the major awards had all women nominees. Yes, you can point to examples A, B, and C of successful women writers but so long as you can still name names, we’re in a situation where we are dealing with exceptions rather than rules. I totally understand that conditions have improved vastly over the past 50 years or so but the notion that things are good enough indeed frustrates me. It’s easy to get complacent.
The naysayers do seem to be more aggressive and more vocal on these issues and women do seem to bow out of these conversations. I have to believe it is because it is futile to engage with people who will not change their minds. And I must admit that I myself, am fairly weary of this conversation (broadly speaking, not this one here and now.) I don’t think we can convince the naysayers of our arguments and vice versa. I also often feel that, as Blake has said before, let’s just write. The best thing I can do, other than to beat my drum at HTMLGIANT, is to write the best stuff I can write, and bust my ass to put that work out into the world. If I spent all my time and energy worrying about all the things working against me, I wouldn’t get anything done.
Blake: Our contributor list at this point is basically half men and half women, a fact which always seems to surprise me when people say we are a boy’s club. How does that make the efforts of those female contributor’s feel. Are they men now? Trannies? Are people who call us a boy’s club ignoring their efforts? I’ve never really understood it, except in the way that I know our comments fields are often overshadowing to the posts themselves, at least in the really feisty ones, and the installed presences there are so often loudest as male. But again, I don’t see us defined as what comes out of that. It’s only an offshoot, and an interesting one, probably the thing that drives our traffic more than anything. It seems like the more heat that we take, the bigger the stats come. I don’t know what this says about things. I do know that as a result I’ve become more sensitive to taking care to know what to expect, and to give the air its own rolling, as no matter what one does it’s going to sad someone up.
As for my “policing,” I don’t do it. Each contributor develops his or her own content, and were asked to contribute because I admire their mind, their interests, and want them to talk about what they want to talk about. The one banned commenter was a man who began commenting on every post saying not even inflammatory things but essentially trying to hijack the discussion in to shit, i.e. someone would write a post about an event coming up and he would immediately comment saying, “This looks like a pile of shit.” Or something as such. No real commentary, just shitting like a loose anused bird with no actual want for discussion, even in a vile way, but to reroute every thread into blabber. I asked him to stop doing that, and he didn’t, and so I banned his IP. I would do it again, the same way I would ban a spam bot trying to post ads for dick pills. As much as I like the mess and the loud to come through, I’m not interested in turning every single issue into a butt spreading contest. Everything gets old.
Kate: Perhaps this still goes back to what Virginia Woolf is writing about in A Room of One’s Own – that masculine values are still privileged in literature above the feminine. To me this explains the top ten PW list. We still have those values for literature (large masculine system novels seen as the “genius” works), certain subject matters are seen as more worthwhile and literary, I mean even in film a woman finally won for best director, but it was basically a hypermasculine film about war (right? I didn’t see it. Did it deal with female soldiers as well? I don’t know.) And male writers are I think more often lauded, well-published, seen as “genius,” etc, so are more likely to have high visiblity land on that top ten list (but I don’t think that’s necessarily a symptom of the WAC journal or HTML Giant). These ideas still exist in our mainstream concept of literature. There’s a fantastic essay by Christine Brooke-Rose called “Mistresspiece” that focuses on women and the history of the avant-garde. And Brooke-Rose writes (I’m rewording) that the only experimental writers who are allowed in the mainstream, are published by the big guns, who transition to being popular writers, are men. I think this is still mostly true. Pynchon, Delillo, and there are more contemporary younger examples. While women writers, if they’re innovative or experimental writers, are almost never given that level of cultural recognition/big publications/agents, etc. at least in the States (exceptions include Christine Schutt’s Florida winning the National Book Award, and remember the shitstorm that generated? but there have been activist judges, etc.) But I speak of prose not poetry as that is what I know better! And this is not an issue I specifically have with HTML Giant.