A Pox on the Patriarchy
- Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer
When Mitt Romney claimed he had been given “binders full of women” by women’s organisations in Massachusetts, it was the moment that launched a thousand Tumblr memes, and may have turned the tide of the election. Handily summing up the right’s contempt for both women as individuals and for gender equality as a concept, it was too good a phrase to let them own – and contained within it the seeds of its own undoing. OK, Mitt, let’s hand you a binder full of women!
Working on Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot with co-editor Mark Burnhope and the support of English PEN, we’d got our ground game in place. Via Facebook, Twitter, email, poets across the UK and Ireland had been in touch, calling themselves feminists: feminist performance poets like Stirred Poetry and the Vaginellas, queer, trans, intersex and gender-neutral feminist poets and activists, seventeen-year-old feminists publishing their first poems.
There wasn’t a movement, a scene, or a single-issue collective. There was energy, humour, passion, wit, debate, and a whole lot of anger. So when “binders full of women” rolled out of Romney’s mouth, we were ready – as editors and as poets. And so were our contributors. Hundreds joined the Facebook group we set up to organise, and twenty sent brilliant, different, bold, and poignant poems within a fortnight (with support from many, many more).
Old-school skills from riot grrrl zine-making days came to the fore; apparently, collaging and glitter-glue are like riding a bicycle, especially when fuelled by the delicious food at Liverpudlian vegetarian café and community centre Mello Mello. Stationery came from pound shops and old-fashioned local stationers, with distribution by hand, post and zine fair.
From the start, it was crucial that Binders Full of Women combined activism and art: on the page, in production and in effect. All proceeds from the sale of binders (with their very own binding rings!) will be divided evenly between Rape Crisis UK, which has seen its funding threatened by the coalition government, and the Michael Causer Foundation for LGBT teens in the north-west of England. Now may be a good time to name yourself a feminist because it’s becoming a bad time to be a woman, as legislative and cultural change is eroded by the Conservatives – and perhaps as we realise that those changes were never more than skin-deep, if at all.
There’s been a crescendo of post feminism over the past decade, whereby liberation and permission have been somewhat confused. Just because we can open our mouths, just because we have the capacity and the legal framework to enter the workplace, does not mean for a single second that equality has been achieved.
The arts are not exempt from this sense of plastering cracks with cheap cement that not only fails to set, but gets right under your nails and imbues the air with the very kind of toxicity that makes any discerning feminist queasy at best, and in danger of disappearing under a duvet, in silence, at worst.
Whilst poetry is a more open venue than most, we feel that the topics that are important to us are being avoided, brushed under the carpet, regarded as topics that simply don’t belong in a nice girl’s book. If women’s liberation and freedom issues still get the glare in the most open and discursive of environments like this, then the rigidity of the workplace is hardly going to provide an open forum for equality of opportunity.
Poor Mitt. He tried so hard, and lied so bad. He has binders full of us. Lucky him! As we peruse the tabloids, the broadsheets, the adverts and the posters, it’s hard to find a non-male image that truly represents our reality. We thought a zine that challenged this in both content and image could not be more pertinent, relevant and urgent.
The quality of the submissions are absolute testament to the fact that not only do these issues need to be talked about, but also that the ability to do so with passion, emotion , fluency and fluidity shines out of the feminist poetry community. We can hear choking noises on those last three words, from both the literary patriarchy and the sisters in suits who are propping it up through consent and concurrence.
The poems cover the subjects that are threats to our gender and gender politics; rape, phobia, domestic violence, the sheer misogyny of labels (oh so many of them). They also deal with our diversity across the spectrum of gender identity, the poignancy of our biology, our sexuality, relationships. They touch on the ridiculous rituals we endure through a quest to fit in, and how we find our real selves only to reverse it all in fits and fresh starts.
There’s a stream of thought that goes along the lines of “being a woman and getting published is an affirmative action for equality in itself.” Binders Full Of Women reject this. There’s no victory to be found in the crumbs under the table. Feminist writers will not break the mould by covering the same tired ground both in content and in form. We have to realise that a new approach is needed. We need to start producing what we want to read. The mainstream media and publishing houses simply aren’t doing this for us. In the form of a zine we are as free as we want to be. It’s been delightful to be a part of something that just radiates positivity for the future of feminist writing. The support has been immense, demonstrative of the fact that we recognise not just a need for change, but rather, a way to progress. The weight of possibility is intense, and exciting.
You can discover the possibility alive in these poems for yourself by ordering a binder from http://bindersfullofwomenspoems.wordpress.com. And you can interact with us there or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/bindersfullofwomenspoems, or come to the London event we’re planning for December 9th. If you discover a poet whose work fires you up, we’d love it if you read more by them. Many of our contributors publish with small presses, organise events (both poetic and political), or run online magazines or presses: for the love, and to create change.
We’d also love it if there were hundreds of binders full of thousands of feminist poets (novelists, musicians, artists, journalists, activists, carers, scientists…) out there, all raising their voices. As collective nouns go, “binder” seems constricting (and the right sure intends it to be), but – as we clicked the binding rings open and closed – we came to see it as embracing and ever-expanding. This binder’s full, but there’s always room for more.
Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer are co-editors of Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (with Mark Burnhope) and Binders Full of Women. Sarah is the author of two poetry collections, Aqua Rosa and flick invicta (forthcoming) and co-editor of m58.co.uk. Sophie’s collections are Her Various Scalpels, The Private Parts of Girls and Kiss Off, and she’s the author of The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love.