Amber Tamblyn, thank you for the thoughtful (and fun to read — Tina Fey! fart jokes! pizza!) response to my questions about mission-driven presses.

To answer super-briefly your points that “emphasis on a specific gender has always felt, to me, like some sort of weird reversed institutionalized sexism,” and your question “If we are only dedicating zines or presses to women’s work, aren’t we allowing the work to not stand up as equal to all work?”: I’m not sure that a targeted effort to recruit, encourage, and promote writing by women constitutes sexism of any kind, but is just one of many, many possible approaches toward balancing the scales, which — as the Count has shown — are still tipped woefully in a dude direction.

(Sidenote: I’m also not sure that a pure aesthetic “meritocracy” — in poetry, in comedy, in anything — can ever really exist, since it’s impossible to say objectively what the “best” is, or to be sure that our standards for judging it are definitive and eternal, rather than culturally and historically specific.)

I love the idea of living in a world where “we should just focus on doing the work” and then “let the audience be the judge,” but the trouble is that there are still systemic barriers and biases in place that keep a lot of writing by women from ever even getting in front of an audience to be judged at all. Exceptions like Tina Fey — and you! — who’ve made it “against the odds” are laudable and inspiring, but I always wonder what else can be done to make gender parity — in general, not just in poetry — the rule, and to help the odds get less stacked overall.

And Barbara Jane Reyes, thank you, too, for your thoughtful response to my questions, and most of all for the “antidote to loneliness” passage and idea, which express the missions of the mission-driven presses really well. And I agree that “for every one woman of color author who’s become widely published, read, taught, studied, there are so many other women of color writers that I do not see in print, or who appear to be having a very hard time finding book publication, or adequate distribution,” and that’s why I’m leery of the kinds of claims that frequently get made about how our society is now officially “post-racial” or “post-feminist.” Those declarations seem to imply that since we’ve had some feminism, and we’ve had some Civil Rights, we’re all set, and now everybody’s on fair and balanced footing, so we can all stop thinking/talking about gender and race. Clearly some progress has been made — and that’s great — but why not keep trying for more? Mission-driven presses keep the progress progressing, and the conversation about these issues conversing.

Becca Klaver (who responded to my post and Amber’s post when I reposted them on Facebook, because I like interactivity like that) has another possible approach to better gender balances here, just to toss it into the mix, because what the hey?

Originally Published: April 19th, 2011

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University and is...