Rooney, I hear you
"So what do you think, Harriet bloggers and readers: are mission-driven presses that focus on producing and distributing work by members of under-represented groups necessary and desirable? Why or why not? Do you read a book from one of these presses differently than you would any other collection?"
These are some good questions, Kathleen and I am sorry I am replying so late to your fascinating post. I will only comment on gender in the topic of underrepresented groups, as that is what I am qualified to speak on, unless you all want to hear me rattle on about the lack of snacks in coach on all airlines. THIS WILL NOT STAND.
I was thinking about this exact same type of conversation while reading Tina Fey's book, Bossypants. In it she talks a lot about equality between men and women in the sketch comedy world back when she was first coming up and how most of the problem was the focus on gender equality as opposed to what really was the funniest sketch — whether it was written by a man or a woman. She says, "My dream for the future is that sketch comedy shows will become a gender-blind meritocracy of whoever is really the funniest. You might see 4 women and 2 men. You might see 5 men and a YouTube video of a kitten sneezing. Once we're really open to all options, we can proceed with Whatever Is The Funniest.... which will probably involve farts."
Fey tells a particularly interesting story about a 5a.m. fight at SNL with "one of the most talented actresses/writers" in the cast who had gotten wind that Lorne Michaels would be hiring a new sketch actress who was very similar to her and so how could there be enough work/ screen time to go around for the ladies? Fey didn't understand this logic. As she puts it: "I revived my old argument: How could this be true if we made up the show?" Meaning the writers of the sketches were the very women that were going to play those roles, so if they wrote the work, they would also be DOING the work, so how could they be left out?
Now I know this is the world of sketch comedy, which is not poetry, but like any artistic medium there are a lot of skewed ideas and opinions about what is deemed good and bad — what should be left out and what shouldn't. What Tina Fey is saying is that we should just focus on doing the work — let the audience be the judge. The more we separate ourselves, the more we are asking to be judged unfairly. Tina Fey didn't say that. I just did. I can hear the collective gasp of feminists from every wave. Sorry dudettes, but you can't run with the big dogs if you pee like you are being treated like a puppy, even though you really are also a big dog so peeing like that is dumb. (I feel the twisting of this old cowboy saying into an intended-funny anti-feminist Feminist metaphor will also bring lady daggers. Bring them. I will be your cutler.)
What I'm saying is that emphasis on a specific gender has always felt, to me, like some sort of weird reversed institutionalized sexism. 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?
Don't get me wrong. I love BUST magazine. I too slightly cringed at Limor Fried's airbrushing on the cover of Wired magazine. I just think the time has come where what is Feminist is not highlighting women's work, it's letting women's work be the highlight of any work. It's not just creating a journal for women, it's creating a journal for men and women and being the bitch who runs it.
In closing I would say I don't think mission-driven presses are a bad thing. I have been in a few and have enjoyed them. But I don't think emphasis on them is helpful.
And if anyone thinks I'm not qualified to say what I just did, let me remind you that I've spent my entire female life working with and around the best of the best misogynistic Michael Bay types in one of the most sexist and deplorable businesses out there — Hollywood. And I am STILL standing, writing this from my computer while maintaining a respectable body weight and a love for pizza. Especially pizza from Little Nino's in New York City.
You know what's gotten me through? Poetry. And fart jokes.
Actress and poet Amber Tamblyn was born in Venice, California. She is the author of the poetry collections Free Stallion (2005), winner of the Borders Book Choice Award for Breakout Writing, and Bang Ditto (2015). She self-published the poetry, art, and photography collections Plenty of Ships and Of the Dawn, and...