femimenace · women

Droppin’ the F-Bomb: Reviwing feminism and women writing in–and out of–the news

OK, first and foremost for those of you looking for Heather today don’t be dissuaded: we switched days so that she could do the Feminist Award Round-Up for women in the other academy.

Picking up–in some ways–where Heather left off, I’m writing today about the F-Bomb. No, not this one. I’m talking about feminism. I’m also talking about women, specifically women writers and readers, as well as readers of women writing.

A few weeks ago Vida: Women in the Literary Arts posted what is now being referred to as The Count. Simply put, The Count, compiled by Amy King, is an easy to read blue and pink pie chart that details the percentage of male and female writers reviewed in major (US) publication. It is hard to ignore the results. Bloggers have responded to The Count at the The New Republic, The New York Times Arts Beat, The Guardian, and many others which I will list (with links) below. The Editors at Vida have been diligent in keeping a list of responses, and have this to say about gender imbalance, representation, and the glass ceiling:

While the Count seems to quantify what many women have privately suspected for some time—that male writers take up most of the space in established literary venues in the States and in Britain—the much thornier question our literary community needs to ask is why. We at VIDA know these numbers bring up a complicated set of issues that deserves much more than a superficial response.

I became aware of The Count via Lemon Hound, a blog originated by Canadian poet and writer Sina Queyras and now run by a collective of writers including Queyras herself. Queyras also calls for a serious response to these imbalances. In addition to asking why they happen, she offers some very clear suggestions for women writers. (Go here for the full how-to’s):

1) An all women’s issue is not the answer
2) Demand a more vigorous and diverse literary weave
3) Make a path for female intellectuals
4) Don’t let the bastards make you bitter
5) The art of pitching isn’t hard to master
6) Biggen your ideas and aims straight at the cannon

I love these suggestions for their practicality, for their refusal to compromise, and for the their unwavering focus on women writing, or, as the case may be, not writing. For, in an interesting alignment of RSS feeds, the same week I read about The Count I also saw two posts on feminism. At the Ms. blog Paula Kamen posts what she calls her ‘(very incomplete) feminist poetry syllabus for 2011,’ and in Canadian Notes and Queries Nicole Dixon writes about “The Other F-Word: The Disappearance of Feminism From Our Fiction.” Kamen’s post is about creating a feminist poetry reading list for herself because she “realized last weekend that I owe it to myself to finally update my poetry knowledge past the Reagan years–and make a new, admittedly very incomplete, syllabus for myself for 2011.” Dixon’s is both a critique of the waning feminist movement in Canada, and a critique of the dearth of feminist writing published by mainstream presses. Here’s an excerpt from the opening of Dixon’s article:

“Two months before Canada was to host the G8 and G20 leaders in Toronto, Conservative senator Nancy Ruth told women’s equality rights groups to “shut the fuck up” about abortion. Of greater concern than the fact that Ruth, a self-proclaimed, pro-choice feminist, would make such threatening comments, was the little reaction they garnered and their seeming lack of consequence. Obedient Canadians that we are, we did shut the fuck up about abortion. An anti-Ruth Facebook campaign fizzled out, and only a handful of bloggers complained. That’s because, in 2010, “feminism” is a more incendiary f-bomb than “fuck.” Except on the few university campuses that have yet to rebrand or discontinue Women’s Studies courses, feminism has almost disappeared from not only our conversations, but also from our literature, particularly long-form fiction.”

While I take some issue with parts of Dixon’s article I read her central point as both a Canadian corollary to The Count, and an incisive call that might well be picked up by following some of Queyras’s suggestions. Moreover, I noticed that both Dixon and Kamen drop the f-bomb–feminist–while Vida and Queyras don’t. Let me pause and say that I don’t think this is a problem per se: Vida is calling attention to inequalities happening to women who may or may not call themselves feminists, and Queyras is calling for women to write, to rattle the bars, and to make way for themselves and other women. The point here is that while dropping the f-bomb isn’t a new issue, it is still a pressing and a present one.

I am a feminist. I teach feminist theory, poetry and poetics, and I practice consciousness-raising as a pedagogical method. I am learning, also, to pluck up my courage and create or join networks. But I *do* have trouble when it comes to writing. I’m only just learning how to pitch ideas instead of waiting for that mystical day when someone approaches me and asks for my opinion. And yes, I do really often feel like there are smarter folk in the room than me. I’m loving working on making way for other female intellectuals though (ask me about a conference I’m planing!)

When is the last time you dropped the F-bomb? Where is the feminist movement in Canada–or your context– in your experience? Big questions, yes, but ones that require big conversations as well.

List of responses to The Count compiled by Vida:
Articles on The Count

1.) The Lack of Female Bylines in Magazines Is Old News – Katha Pollitt @ Slate

2.) Being Female — Eileen Myles @ The Awl

3.) How To Publish Women Writers: A Letter to Publishers about the VIDA Count — Annie Finch @ Her Circle

4.) ‘Numbers don’t lie’: Addressing the gender gap in literary publishing — Jessa Crispin @ PBS

5.) On breaking the literary glass ceiling — Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub @ PBS

6.) Why There’s Gender Bias in Media-and What We Can Do About It — Margot Magowan @ MS. Magazine

7.) Women in Publishing: What’s the Real Story? — Kjerstin Johnson @ Bitch Magazine

8.) Women Get Published and Reviewed Less Than Men in Big Magazines, Say Red-and-Blue Pie Charts — Jim Behrle @ The Hairpin

9.) Bitches Be Trippin’ — Roxane Gay @ HTML Giant

10.) The Sorry State Of Women At Top Magazines — Anna North @ Jezebel

11.) Gender, publishing, and Poetry magazine — Christian Wiman @ Poetry Foundation

12.) VIDA: The Count Roundup @ The Rumpus

13.) Why It Matters That Fewer Women Are Published in Literary Magazines — Robin Romm @ Double X

14.) Women at Work — Meghan O’Rourke @ Slate

15.) The Numbers Speak For Themselves @ Women and Hollywood

16.) Do četiri puta manje tekstova žena! — BROJKE NE LAŽU @ Kultura (in Croatian)

17.) Submitting Work: A Woman’s Problem? — Becky Tuch @ Beyond the Margins

18.) On Gender, Numbers, & Submissions — Rob @ Tin House

19.) A Literary Glass Ceiling? — Ruth Franklin @ The New Republic

20.) Research shows male writers still dominate books world — Benedicte Page @ The Guardian

21.) Gender Balance and Book Reviewing: A New Survey Renews The Debate — Patricia Cohen @ New York Times Arts Beat

22.) Tickets to an Awesome Future Are Free: Gender, Literature, and VIDA’s Count — Carolyn Zaikowski

4 thoughts on “Droppin’ the F-Bomb: Reviwing feminism and women writing in–and out of–the news

  1. Although I agree that Vida didn't need to use the word feminist the points raised about it's problematic nature in public discourse do limit how they address the issue. Listening to the Sunday Edition interviews on this subject was almost painful in the careful way that questions were constructed so as not to appear “anti-men”.

    The other thing I noticed in those interviews (and is was a good program, worth a listen if it's still on the CBC site) is the reluctance of some to consider it a structural issue. One of the editors interviewed in that piece did make the link (more than once) to the employment conditions of journalists. And others made the point that maybe women are less keen to make a living as freelancers and thus don't write as often for magazines that employ mostly freelance writers (as these literary mags do).

    These structural issues seem to be exactly what feminism is about and the inability to discuss them without (fear of) ridicule is a huge problem.


  2. Hi JoVE, thanks for your comments. I haven't heard the series you mention and will check it out.

    I agree that feminism is about addressing structural issues, and I also agree (wholeheartedly!) that (fear of) ridicule–or worse–is a huge part of the problem.

    I've found myself wondering how to process the feminist backlash, or is it better (or different?) to call it attack on women's rights, that's going on in the US and Canada right now. To draw on a just one event of the past few weeks, it has been more than a decade since Judge Claire L'Heureux-Dubé challenged Judge McCluing's crinolines and lace verdict and we have something virtually identical happening in Winnipeg.


  3. Thank you for this post. I know this does not apply to everyone, but I still wanted to raise the point that many women of colour do not feel comfortable identifying as a “feminist” because they feel that feminism over the years has only represented interests and identities of white (middle-class) women. Renee Martin of Womanist Musings writes about this in this Guardian piece. So while I think it's absolutely time to raise the question of where the feminist movement is in Canada, it might be also fruitful to ask how feminist – or women's – movement(s) in Canada has/have excluded women of colour.


  4. Hi jroselkim: Thank you for your crucial point. I agree, its not just fruitful but absolutely necessary to raise these questions together and to ask not only how/have/are women of colour excluded from women's-and/or feminist–movements in Canada but also to keep dialogue open for strategies to address these serious issues that, while not identically, do indeed affect all of us.


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