Sunday, May 16, 2010

Feminist Boot Camp #13

The silence.

Surprisingly it isn't the outright hassling by other poets that a gal needs to get accustomed to, it's the silence. It's being ignored in conversations. Not having one's ideas picked up on... It's scanning the mastheads and seeing no women (another kind of silence). It's reading an introduction to an anthology and realizing that even when women are included in the broader category of poetry, or art, etc, most male editors see the world in terms of other males. It's realizing that even when they respect a female poet, she's just that, a female, something a little different, a little outside the frame. Someone to learn from, sure, but not to remain in conversation with...

So, in the face of the silence? Just enter into the discussion. When you get ignored, just keep responding. It reminds me of my instistance on joining a football team in elementary school. I loved football. I wanted to play, and the only team at my disposal was the guys. Coach made me run laps. And laps. And laps. He humiliated me in practice. I assume he did this hoping I would give up. No one would pass to me. Finally one day I was glaringly in the open and the quarterback threw to me. It was a long, long, pass. I sprained a finger catching it, but I caught it, I made the play. Not a touch down, but a nice play. It didn't change much in terms of the guys not wanting a girl on the team. No Hollywood ending there, just more of the same. But it let me know that I could do it--that if I wasn't part of the team it wasn't because I couldn't keep up.

So when you're feeling that you're invisible? Not getting passed the ball? Just keep playing. Keep playing defensively but also offensively. Make opportunities for yourself. Do your job well. Be ready for the ball. (Happily a younger generation of poets is reading this and thinking, huh? Not in my world, and I hope that things progress that way.) But in hindsight, it wasn't necessarily the guys on the team (we played together off the team quite well otherwise...). No, it was something else.

Or start your own game
? Personally, I would rather play a non-gendered league. And I kinda like the tackle.


Amanda said...

i'm of your generation and have not experienced what you describe at all, happily. to the contrary , i've received many a comment on my writing on literature and have partaken of discussions where it were taken seriously. and when i look around the Canadian literary scene i see all kinds of publications, both on line and in print engaging with literature written by women. i see fellow bloggers such as Pearl Pirie engaging with literature and receiving responses, tweets and comments from all, including men. i have never ever experienced the prejudice you describe in the literary world. if anything i worry more that my work will be published out of some need to rectify a perceived gender imbalance. and i find that highly objectionable and patronizing. i would rather the work be considered for itself and never because of my gender. and i think people of all genders are interested by what you write, Sina. i can't imagine anyone dismissing your work or not engaging with it. it's too damn interesting and inspiring not to be.

Helen Hajnoczky said...

Things may have improved over time, but in my experience, this is still a problem. It may be harder to face than being hassled, in a way, because at least then there'd be something to actively argue against. When you're the only girl around, too, it can become frustrating when you are constantly the only one pointing out when a piece, concept, or entire movement approaches gender or sexual orientation in a prejudiced or ignorant way. You keep saying the same thing, and the boys don't much seem to care.

Lemon Hound said...

Amanda, we've been here before. I can't argue with your personal experience. I'm not speaking only from mine, though I preface it here, with an anecdote.

No offense, but I wonder what kind of national critical conversations you see yourself and Pearl shaping a major strand of our literary discourse? I wonder where you see other women doing that regularly, in a national, or in a larger, public discourse? On online forums, and on magazine mastheads? Where do you see women being sketched out as major critical players? And I don't mean the odd case, of course there is the odd case.

Are you reviewing for the G&M? The Q&Q? Are you, or any women you know, the go-to girl for a comment on poetry of any kind in this country?

I don't see myself in that position. I see very few women in that position.

Naturally I see some. Bravo to the eds of The New Quarterly, and Jen Penberthy at TCR, and Anita Lahey at Arc, bravo. I applaud them. I see lots of folks too, like rob mclennan and christian bok, who are extremely supportive and inclusive of women's work. And I applaud them. But I don't see the core points of discourse changing. You can look at many blogs--and conversations in the poetry world in particular where it seems women have yet to be invented.

In any case, my post was more about encouraging women to enter into these discourses. And I continue to advocate for it because I continue to see a need.

Glad you've found it otherwise. Here's to many others finding similar success.

under empire said...

This is so triggering. I'm writer in a Vancouver, a woman, and a feminist, and I've been following this blog for a little while with interest (hi Sina, i was the anonymous person who asked about Art Objects). I don't know what generation any of you all are, but I'm a 20 something writer, not yet published but embedded in the vancouver writing and activist communities, as well as a student at UBC. I encounter mind-liquefying levels of misogyny, so insidious, so below the surface, so ubiquitous as to be invisible on every front, on every level of the community and in the academy in the form of smear propaganda and silence.

Amanda, just because _you_ don't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.

It is there. It is a wall. It feels like a war.

My experience of just existing in this world, in this scene, as a feminist, and as a survivor of male violence who writes about it, has been in itself kind of traumatizing, because of so-entrenched as-to-be-invisible anti/post (are they different?) feminism.

and while were at it, check out the comment thread here to see what I'm talking about.

Under Empire
-just when you thought you were so over it

Lemon Hound said...

I recommend King Kong Theory. Fabulous way to be angry about this stuff.

Being angry in a way that's productive is important I think. In a way that makes more, makes new, rather than remaining in a reactive position...

They say success is the best revenge? It may be. But having fun is better. Making more. Being. Much better.

Lemon Hound said...

PS Thanks for the links. I know there are studies that show football players have a higher instance of violent behaviour. To my mind, discussing, acknowledging, these are steps that we need to take. We do tolerate, even reward certain violent behaviours...Elaine Scarry has some excellent thoughts on this in her book The Body in Pain.

Healthy competition, no? Opening the discussion, the way that the young gay hockey player (is it Betman's son??) did...

UE said...

oh..I wasn't linking the women playing football to the hockey article. It was a coincidence that I was reading it and sitting, contemplating the term "feminazi" just before I read this blog post, and I was pointing to the misogyny of the comments. It wasn't directly related.

I'm actually reading the Body in Pain right now. It's mind blowing. It would be great to hear your thoughts on it.

Amanda said...

actually i don't see much of a national interest in poetry at all, alas. but as you've said there are women who are publishers, writers, editors and bloggers, reviewers in Canada. who are the men in Canada who are the go-to boys for poetry in Canada in the national media? not anyone really. because poetry isn't a national concern and that has nothing to do with gender, in my opinion. if anything, and i don't have the time to do a count, but i wouldn't be surprised if one did a count of Canadian poetry books published in Canada in the last few years, to discover that women have been published significantly. encouraging women to take an active role in discussions and other literary endevours is excellent. but sending out a message to women that we don't, that we are silent, in the face of some pretty strong examples that we are not silent becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. and as to shaping literary discourse, i certainly don't do much of that on a large scale, but i'm a small press publisher and have been so for 8 years. and there are many other small pressers out there, many of them women, doing their part too.

Lemon Hound said...

Amanda, we just don't agree on this point, as you know. We've been here before.

I don't think I'm setting a negative example, as you seem to be suggesting.

Lemon Hound said...

And p.s. all kinds of folks dismiss me, and as you say, poetry.

Again, the real point to this post was encouragement though.

Amanda said...

i know we don't agree and it's good of you to post my comments; however,i wanted to present a different point of view.

Lemon Hound said...

I know. I think we should take it to the track though. Four wheels good, two wheels bad.

Anakana Schofield said...

I agree Sina. Frankly things are shite. Worse than they were surely? I've been busting a gasket to bring attention to Helen Potrebenko's novel Taxi! Her out of print Sometimes They Sang is a vital novel. We had a marvellous event 2 weeks ago & got no coverage on CBC, which is shameful.

Add Working Class to woman and you're really rolling a stone up the hill.

I am reviewing for the G&M and have a piece on the LRB blog that just went up.

On another note I am sick to death of words bandied around like cougar, MILF and am about to take up a cast-iron pan in reprisal. In my experience a woman with strong, informed opinions can often be branded a nut, while the opinionated male he's passionate, a critic.

Lemon Hound said...

Working class, yes. I remember Helen Portrebenko from my early days as a writer in Vancouver...I have more to say on the subject, watching her trajectory was a key moment in my own life as a writer, but I don't want to share that here, not now, not in this space.

Glad you are reviewing for the G&M.

It would be great to have feminist perspectives in more of these sources, actually being the one's to hire and assign reviews...wouldn't that be great?