Feminism: Still for white women only?

“It’s thinking I’m the hero of this pretty white world/I want to change the world
But I won’t change anything/Unless I change my racist self.”

*Heavens to Betsy, “White Girl”

It started innocently enough. A free form blog entry at Blackamazon’s blog, reminiscing about WAM!, the amazing people she met, and a final stray thought. “Fuck Seal Press.”

What brought the comment on–no one ever stopped to ask–but the comment has revealed a lot about the problems that remain in feminist thought–specifically in regards to feminist publishing.

Brooke Warner, the editor of Seal Press books, responded to the “f* you seal press” and the comment “Seal Press has nothing on WoC (women of color)!”-though the comment was meant in solidarity, Warner misunderstood the comment to mean that Seal Press doesn’t have books on women of color.

Her response: “We WANT more WOC. Not a whole lotta proposals come our way, interestingly. Seems to me it would be more effective to inform us about what you’d like to see rather than hating.”

And the fire started. And spread.

Now, before I go on with what happened, I’m going to make a confession: her comment (minus the hating part), almost sated me. I mean, yay! they want other voices! Right?

Wrong. So wrong. I can only blame the my recurring naiveté (need to get rid of that) and lack of knowledge on many things.

As I continued to read the comments, I realized how much sense the BA and other bloggers (many also women of color) made.

Why should women of color have to come to Seal Press to give them their experiences? Especially when, as one blogger (Deoridhe) notes, the whole “We WANT WOC” statement is very reminiscent of the “gotta catch ’em all” mentality of Pokemon (“WoC, I choose YOU!”).

Why Warner had such a difficult time comprehending the comments that she’d set off is beyond me.

So the story continues: Warner comments again, after many other highly intelligent women have made their case against Warner’s original statement. She writes that she appreciates the dialogue (nice try…) but then says that, from all the comments before hers, they must hate Seal Press and goes on to say that “I get that you all engage best through negative discourse…”

Sounds like something your average joe would say to a feminist, don’t you think?

At any rate, nothing is near resolution on BA’s blog, so Warner goes to the Seal Press blog to post an entry (frankly, I’d rather not include the link because I’m disgusted with Seal.) in which she explains her reasoning behind posting a comment in the first place (“I was writing off the cuff in response to the comment FUCK SEAL PRESS, which yes, I took personal offense to.”), and how Seal has faced a lot of difficulty in the past couple years and has taken a more “commercial” route to stay afloat.

Supposedly, Warner is a professional with a professional position, yet she cannot seem to differentiate herself with her job. Right now, this blog is one of the highlights of my yet-to-really-begin career. My business cards all feature this blog under my RiotGrrrlRevolution pen name. It means a lot.

If someone went and said, “Fuck RiotGrrrlRevolution,” I’d be upset. Of course. Who wouldn’t? But would i barge in to that person’s space and assume I know what they want? Would I assume that their problem with me was something that THEY could fix and I wouldn’t have to worry about? No, I’d ask why they think what they think and not try to incite any more argument than necessary. There’s no point and gets us nowhere.

Though, it seems in the case of Warner’s comment-completely unprofessional & immature-it has led us somewhere.

In defense of their not publishing more books on women of color, let’s see what Warner had to say for herself:

“We admittedly do not publish enough women of color, but we never have. Seal was always seen as more of a lesbian press back in the day….i (sic) don’t pretend to understand the struggles of women of color, so i thank each and every one of you who’s posted here for all the feedback….”

I’m not sure how she thought to defend herself with this statement. There are several problems with the first two sentences alone. Let’s dissect the two, piece by piece:

“We admittedly do not publish enough women of color, but we never have.”
I’ve got to admit, this perplexes me. How is it that bygone practices can be an excuse for today’s practices?
Dear Seal, we currently live in 2008. I don’t know if you know this, but more than white people inhabit the US. If you do know this, then the books you have been publishing do not seem to recognize this. As a feminist press, you should know that feminism started as a white woman’s thing, but we soon discovered that women of color had different problems. And the idea of intersecting oppressions came into play. Rich white women have different problems than rich black women who have different problems than poor white women who have different problems than poor black women (and this isn’t even bringing into play able-bodiesm.)Have you heard of it? If not, may I recommend you do some extracurricular reading? Do check out Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins (also, notice how I didn’t post a link to amazon? Thanks to much of the discussion on the Seal Press blog about this whole fiasco, I won’t be linking with amazon if I can help it…).

After you get some reading done, reflect on what it means to move on. Seal Press has been around a long time–1976-now is nothing to laugh at, but it’s also not an excuse to stay stuck in the past. Catch up with the rest of the feminist blogosphere already, please?

Seal was always seen as more of a lesbian press back in the day….

And women of color cannot be lesbians? Really?

As you can imagine, Seal has gotten hell from many bloggers, most (if not all of it) deserved. A post at Feministe mentioned the Seal catastrophe in a blog published on April 10, “This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging.”

I suggest a name change to this title, because it’s so close to being good, but so very far. Here’s my proposed change:

This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging feminism

This change reflects this situation much more honestly. With the title “This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging”, the word placement suggests that the women of color bloggers are in fact to be blamed for things not going well. How’s that right? These women bloggers have devoted much of their time to exposing injustices along color lines and trying to help others see from a new perspective only to find their opinions not valued. The point: the word choice, in this case, is very wrong.

I am a young 20-something white woman who has only had a few years of living life as a feminist. (before I was introduced to feminism, I had no idea it even existed. weird, eh? especially now that I can’t remember how I made sense of the world before feminism.) I’m still learning about feminism and its many hidden pitfalls. Having stumbled upon one so massive is enlightening to me. Seeing a pseudo-feminist press that claims to be groundbreaking and for women, by women mostly ignore women of color is mind blowing. You could argue that, hey, they tried to get some input by women of color by saying “we want you!” but that’s not the answer. As a business they have a professional standard to live by, and they have to have a vision. If their vision includes excluding women of color/making women of color come to them because they’re too busy working on the next Full Frontal Feminism-type of book (good book, but not at all ground breaking. Plus the cover IS atrocious, in a feminist sense) or soliciting other white women as authors–well, who needs ’em?

This whole situation with seal press and the women of color bloggers proves that feminism is far from perfect. In fact, it makes me wonder–if a feminist book company refuses to make women of color an issue they need to pay attention to (and not have people tell them they’re missing it & get all huffy), then what does that say for the feminists reading Seal Press, happy with the book quality?

It definitely suggests that we as feminists have a lot of work to do in identifying the problems that feminism faces and the stereotypes we hold inside ourselves. One of the problems Seal Press had was an inability to really hear anything the women of color bloggers were saying-which says a lot about the women at Seal. Both Warner (editor) and Krista Lyons-Gould(publisher) are white women, and if you look at the book covers at the Seal website, most of them feature images of white women.

With feminism becoming more and more mainstream (thank you feministing, and the more ‘mainstream’ Seal Press books), it’s important we look at its flaws–such as its continuing inability to deal with intersecting systems of oppression. We need to address the problems, and deal with them in a manner that is fair and honest to both others and ourselves.

But most of all, we need to listen and learn to look at situations from another point of view.

Until Seal Press can learn to do either, I support NOT buying Seal Press books.

And, like Blackamazon before me and several other bloggers before me,

FUCK SEAL PRESS.

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3 thoughts on “Feminism: Still for white women only?

  1. Samantha April 14, 2008 / 10:45 pm

    I agree. I think feminism has a long way to go still in addressing the issues that face all women, not just the ones that are privileged enough to be in the positions to publish these books.

    Their issues as white women (rich women), etc, are not the only issues that exist, and as groups of feminists, we need to be able to understand the issues that afflict all of us, not just the few of us.

    Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Kai April 15, 2008 / 10:53 am

    Nicely done.

    I’d only like to offer one amendment to this:

    …feminism started as a white woman’s thing…

    This is one of those things that often gets said or implied which really annoys women of color, because it’s not true. WOC look at centuries-long global history of women’s struggle for liberation in both patriarchal and matriarchal indigenous societies (which white people have spent centuries trying to violently destroy); WOC consider this proud indigenous history to be a womanist heritage. Then WOC look at modern feminism and see white Victorian women getting liberatory ideas from Native American women and Black Abolotionist women, before championing a white feminism which excluded those whose ideas informed it. So actually, we might say that feminism was a WOC thing before it was a white women’s thing. That’s an important backdrop to the whole recent blogospheric beef, because WOC do not see these dynamics as new fissures or phenomena but as a continuation of longstanding history.

    Peace.

  3. riotgrrrlrevolution April 15, 2008 / 4:27 pm

    Thank you, Kai! I honestly was not aware of this, and it definitely adds to understanding what’s happening.

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