The Positive Language of Feminism

Nearly a month into 2015, but it’s not too late to add a New Year’s resolution. This year, I will be a positive feminist and use my language to uplift women.

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in my speech this past year: when speaking about feminism, social justice or human rights I fall into the category of one who sees some of the problems but frames my responses from a negative outlook. Instead of saying “Women’s voices have been devalued by patriarchal culture,” I say, “Women are told their voices don’t matter and that we’ll never matter.”

The difference is in the tense. It is true that women’s voices have been devalued in the past, and that in the present women still struggle to be heard, but that does not mean WE’LL NEVER MATTER. If I frame our current struggle as a losing cause I keep my self down, I keep others down and surround myself with the fear that nothing I can do or say will matter because the past=the present=the future.

Not true.

In a conversation with a group of women of color at my university the other day, many of them spoke about how their mothers and female role models never told them that they were worth less as women. Looking at my own background, my mother never told me that I was worth less for my sex. I was telling myself this lie because to be a feminist and to be a part of feminist culture and debate means to drop into a fist fight and always keep your arms up for defense. You will be attacked.

Maybe I wanted a lost cause. Maybe it felt good to rant in absolute statements that said negative words like NEVER.

But feminism is not a lost cause.

With your arms up you are also on the offensive and you choose how you fight. This year, I choose to fight with positive language. Women’s voices are valued. Women’s voices are valued because I value them. And I am not alone.

When  I was home in CT for winter break I met up with a friend I’ve known since elementary school. The year before we both went off to college we were both afraid of the word feminism and wouldn’t listen to a mutual friend begin to question the patriarchy. We only meet up once or twice a year, and in 2013 we sat in Barnes and Noble and laughed at the articles in Seventeen Magazine for its portrayal of young girls as sex objects in a heteronormative world. I was a feminist then but was too afraid to say so to my friend and she was a feminist, but was too afraid to say so to me.

This year, I followed her facebook page as she posted about Ferguson and the fight for human rights across differences in race, sex, gender and sexuality. When we met up this year, she told me that as a creative writing major, “I’m tired of reading stories by and about men.” Wow, did I understand the feeling! Finally, we came together as the feminists were always terrified to be, but we lifted each other up through our bravery. Feminism is a positive language to make positive change and connect individuals for a more just and peaceful world of equality.

In 2015, I will be a positive feminist.

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Adulting: Small-talk and Silence

I was at a creative writing reading the other night at a professor of mine’s house. My friend and I are undergraduate creative writing majors and imagine the stiffness of our walks as we entered our professor’s homes and found a living room full of adults drinking beers from the bottle, cups of whisky in their hands perhaps and all of them clearly over 21. My friend and I are clearly the youngest of the bunch.

We engage in small talk with a hipster looking man in his early thirties, as a pixie of a woman goes off to get us cups of water with a wedge of lime. The man we speak of is a professor as well, in the middle of his PhD program in creative writing. We talk about where we’re all from, what my friend and I are majoring in and what we want to do with our degrees. We wind up talking about comic books and I know my knowledge is immediately dwarfed by this man.  He’s been reading since the ’80s. He names off writers and artists off the top of his head, pulling them out of his sleeves like a magic trick. A few other men join the conversation and under the eyes of these older men with their drinks in hand and their careers in my chosen field I feel smaller and younger than ever before.

I am a big proponent that not only can no one make you feel inferior without your consent, but that no one can make you feel anything without your consent. I was letting these men somehow bully me into silence without them even having to say one off-hand comment. I just knew my opinion was valued less. And yes, I know I can’t support this. I know I can’t, and won’t, blame this on the men in that room. It’s me and my gender socialization that tells me I need to put on a front to be “cool” and “confident” and above all not a feminist.

So, when the conversation breaks off and the men are clearly talking amongst themselves I sip my lime-water and refuse to sit down though the men in the conversation are all seated and have been for a few minutes. I listen. The men talk about the Juicy Brand of pants where the backside reads “JUICY.” The man who knows about comic books says he sees a woman wearing that and he automatically has no respect for her.

This is a man in higher education! This is a man who is dealing with women of all types and styles of dress every single day and he can sit there on the couch, drink his beer and generalize about his respect for “those women.” He knows his opinion will be safe. I feel the words biting at my tongue. Oh, I want to tell this man that he doesn’t know anything about a woman by her style of dress and that I find that comment offensive and derogatory.

I take a long sip of my water to keep myself silent. My only victory is that I don’t laugh or smile at his comment like the other men. I look at my friend who shrugs slightly and I don’t know what the means.

The reading hasn’t started yet and already I feel exhausted by the pressure to be “cool” and not a feminist.

The entire evening I felt like I was putting on a production. I had to at once appear a calm, collected adult (even as I told the man asking for donations for beer that I wasn’t old enough to drink). an up-and-coming young writer who wanted to get noticed, and someone who knew how to nod approvingly at whatever anyone else in the room said even if I disagreed. There was an unspoken rule not to rock the boat. I couldn’t be a feminist. I couldn’t voice any disagreements. Everyone around me had to right and knowledgeable about what they said to keep up the illusion surrounding the event of a young up-and-coming writers’ club. They were all in MFA’s or PhD programs. They were all in my field of study as writers themselves. I couldn’t rock the boat and challenge them, even on trivial matters.

No, I had to nod my head and mutter my agreement to keep up my end of the small-talk. When I did speak I asked various men I met (there were very few women at the event) about their professions. Their degrees. Their lives. I kept the focus off myself like a good-little girl.

Is this what adult life is like? Putting on a facade and smiling and nodding when your head is bursting with responses? I feel so confident in my feminism and then I step into the real world outside my college campus. The hardest thing about being a feminist is learning to speak up. As an adult, what I need the most in my life isn’t a fancy degree or published books to my name, but the strongest voice I can muster telling whoever I meet that I am a feminist. I am a woman who is unashamed of being a woman. And I don’t care who I am forced to have small-chat with, because retreating into silence is the worst harm I think I’ve ever caused my body.

Wilde Interview: The Editor and Founder of Wilde Magazine on her Publication

I recently posted a blog highlighting the queer art and literary journal Wilde Magazine. Now I am lucky enough to have been able to interview the founder and editor of the Magazine, Nicole Wilkinson.

Here’s the complete transcript of our interview:

  1. Queer literary magazines have been around for a while already, what prompted Wilde to start now?

It began primarily as a personal endeavor. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine, as well as the vice-president of the GSA. As my senior year was coming to a close, I foresaw an emptiness that was bound to come once my involvement in these two groups had ended. So, I began to plan out Wilde Magazine, a magazine that would combine my need for involvement in the queer community, as well as my love of working on literary magazines. However, once I actually began to get to work on it and correspond with contributors and supporters of the magazine, I realized that Wilde was to be much bigger than a mere personal project.

2. How is Wilde different from other art and literary magazines which also focus on the queer experience?

3. Your website says that Wilde Magazine fosters discussion on the queer experience. Could you elaborate on that some more?

My answer for both of these questions is basically the same. The initial concept of Wilde was that it would feature a podcast, as well as have a forum where artists and writers could come and discuss their work, lives, and opinions. We wanted people to be able to workshop prior to submitting to the magazine so they could publish what they felt was made polished and perfect. Furthermore, earlier on we used to send back comments and critique to every person who submitted, whether we accepted or rejected them.

However, it took some time to find a stable group of staff members who had the time to stick with the magazine, so early on it was not possible to get the time or resources to keep the forum active (and clear out all of the spam we got there) and run the podcast. It also proved very difficult to give critique and comments to everyone who submitted, especially as the magazine got more popular.

However, all of these plans, the forum, the podcast, the critique, are simply on hiatus, and we ultimately plan to bring them back into the picture at some point in 2014.

4. What is Wilde’s take on allies writing about the queer experience and how it fits into the overall goal of the magazine?

I don’t want to say that we discourage straight people from submitting, because we don’t. However, Wilde is meant to be an extension of a queer space, and so in terms of having allies contribute or be on the staff of the magazine, we try to be very careful. In a queer space, allies should not try and overpower the opinion of queer people. It’s similar to when men enter feminist spaces – it’s important to insure that their voice will not overpower the group we’re trying to give a voice to. Rather, it is our hope that our straight allies who support the magazine would use it as inspiration to create more queer awareness in primarily heterosexual spaces and magazines.

We have published submissions from allies, and we have allies on our staff, but we try to make sure their voices and input are supported and backed by our queer contributors, supporters, and staff, as their voices are the most relevant in our mission. Therefore, we will always prioritize queer submissions over those from our straight allies.

5. Could you describe what you’re looking for in submissions? What best fits Wilde’s focus? Do you have any tips or advice for writers hoping to get published in Wilde?

Some people wonder if we are seeking submissions only related to queer issues, but as any queer person knows, being queer is only a part of our identity, and we have lives, and therefore art, that are just as varied as any other. We accept pieces explicitly related to the queer experience, we accept pieces where being queer is just an added spice to the piece, and we accept pieces that have nothing to do with queer issues.

It’s hard to say what we’re looking for exactly, because we are always blown away by the things we didn’t even know to look for. The totally unique characters, revolutionary story lines, art and writing we’d never seen before.

For those wanting to get published in Wilde, I would advise them to read previous issues of the magazine, to get a feel for our content.

Also, I would really advise them, as I would with any other publication, please read all of the guidelines, and please don’t disregard them. So many people submit incorrectly, so if you can show an editor and staff that you read and understood their directions, you’re already ahead half of the pack. If you can write a good cover letter as well, you’re ahead ¾ of everyone else.

6. What is the atmosphere like working for a magazine? Could you describe your staff and what a typical day is like?

That’s hard to say, as the staff and I don’t meet in person. I know a lot of them personally, and a good deal of us are from Colorado. We primarily work on the magazine individually and then correspond over Facebook, Skype, and e-mail. And the process we go through for submissions can span days, maybe weeks.

When a submission comes in, the advisory readers often look over it first. They leave comments for the editors and I to go off of. Then the editors and I look over it. Then, once we’ve sorted all of our submissions, I lay the magazine out, first on paper, then on InDesign. I send a rough copy to everyone on the staff and they point out errors and help polish it up.

I really admire the staff for all the work they put into the magazine, and their passion for art and writing. I get to work with a really dedicated group of people. I hope that one day I can meet them in person, like a big Wilde Staff reunion. That would be great.

7. In the upcoming years, where do you see Wilde Magazine heading? What are the future goals of the magazine?

We have big plans for the magazine.

We hope that in the near future, we can bring back the forum and start up the podcast next year.

We also hope to bring back critique and comments for those who specifically ask for it.

We want to eventually stop using HP Magcloud so we can print in bulk and offer the magazine for a much lower price, and make it available for sale at book stores, coffee shops, and any businesses willing to sell our publication.

However, after trying to manage these things early on when the magazine began, I’ve realized that it’s necessary to take small steps to reach these goals and expand. So, it may take time, but we’ll do our best to get there, so Wilde can be an affordable multimedia publication that serves, not only to exhibit the work of the queer community, but to create a discussion within it.

Thank you so much Nicole Wilkinson for sharing your work with this magazine! I know I am not the only one who values your input and the work you have done to make Wilde Magazine a growing success. Once again, thank you very much for your time.

If you have any more questions about Wilde Magazine, their submission guidelines or anything to do with this publication visit their website here. And just another reminder, issue #3 is available and can be purchased either in digital form or a print copy here.

Asexual Visibility

I was looking up literary magazines to send my creative writing to and came across Glitterwolf. This UK based lit mag opens up submissions from LGBT writers and artists from around the world. This is a fantastic idea: celebrating the creativity of the queer community, but my issue arose with the use of the category LGBT.

Not everyone is comfortable, or agrees with, the umbrella term queer and I understand that, but LGBT is limiting. As an asexual, I didn’t know if I was allowed to submit because I’m not technically on the LGBT spectrum. As a Gender or Sexual Minority (GSM) however, I thought to ask.

I emailed the magazine and later that same day someone responded! Mr. Matt Cresswell told me:

I’ve never even considered this question before–I think I’d like to err on the side of welcoming though, so go ahead and send us a submission and we’d be happy to read it!

Even just these simple words of encouragement are enough to remind me that every part of the queer community can be visible. We don’t need to specifically identify as LGBT in order to be queer and I’m so excited that there are people who are open to this premise.

This little victory gives me assurance that the queer community can be inclusive. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.