Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Finally/agh

Hello, everybody. Thank you for all of your participation and feedback in the independent study that I worked on last year. Apologies for taking so long to post this, and for the at times unprofessional/unorthodox nature of my emails (such as using the word "deadline" and forgetting to send a few people "thank you"s).

You may wonder why it took six months after the completion of my study to post it online. The reason is because for the past five months, I have been serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia (rather, serving for the last 2.5, training for the 2.5 before that). During training, my access to computers was scant, and ever since arriving on site, I've been either too busy to type this up or busy enough to forget about typing it up. Some excuse or the other.

After discussing this project with my supervisor and two faculty members during my defense, I saw that this project is far from complete, mainly due to the often superfluous and unspecific background, which attempts to summarize far too much of women's rights and publishing. That section of the paper would have been better off if I'd zoomed in on one specific publishing movement -- however, that might have required even more research than I put into the original background.

There might also be a typo or two.

I have not revised/rewritten the paper because of the workload that my current job requires, as well as my current lack of resources (and I'd prefer to spend the rest of my time on fiction writing and the like; this is why this introduction is not any longer). It is very possible that I'll take this project somewhere else in the distant future, though graduate school is not currently on my agenda (which doesn't mean that I'll stop writing papers; rather, it means that I won't only write them because academia requires it (not that such was the incentive behind this project; certainly not).

Thanks to the people/groups who helped me with this project -- first and foremost, Cathy Wagner, who put a great deal of time into providing me with ideas, inspiration and resources, as well as editing and revising parts of the project. Also to Margaret Luongo and cris cheek, who agreed to read the whole thing and sit down with me for an hour to chat about it. And to the people who make up the bulk of the text: Jill Chan, mairead byrne, Kathrine Varnes, Lisa Samuels, Jessica Watson, Shin Yu Pai, J knox, Annie Finch, mez breeze, C M Mayo, Luisa A Igloria, Jen dick, Pearl Pirie, Amanda Watson, Karren Alenier, Elizabeth Treadwell, Janet Holmes, Sarah Browning, Madelyn Detloff, Katherine Durack, Yu-Fang Cho, Fence Books, The Canary, Brant Goble, David Fraser, Dance Macabre, the Cookie Monster, Sid Miller, Matt Seigel, Matthew Limpede, Alaska Quarterly, Mad Hatters Review, New England Review, Kevin Prufer, Stephanie G'Schwind, Richard Long, Natalie Knight, Kathryn Kulpa, Lena Valencia and Al Markowitz. This wouldn't exist without all of you. Also, apologies if you prefer Oxford commas.





Speeding the Work: The Effect of Women’s Poetry Blogs and Listservs on Equal Representation

This project began with my curiosity about the role of the Internet in changing notions of gender. I eventually concentrated my research and thinking around the question of whether the Internet can help to increase parity and agency for women, and how people might best utilize it for these ends. I focused on blogs and listservs because they have been crucial to recent discussions about another interest of mine, poetry; I thus focused this investigation around the question of whether women’s poetry blogs are advancing parity and agency for women writers. (I define “parity” as women being represented equally in publishing, and “agency” as women gaining more opportunities to act for themselves.)
To contextualize my thesis, which, as I will explain, asserts that women’s parity and agency can be positively affected by media technologies, my first section, “Part of the Writing Public: Women, Technology and Media in History,” offers historical background on the effects technology and media have had on women’s representation in society. I begin with the printing press and pamphlet culture, exploring how women had to acknowledge men’s standards to be heard. I discuss the Journal des dames from 18th century France, which had a significant impact on the nation’s political culture. Then I move across the Atlantic to African-American women’s friendship albums in Philadelphia. I return to newspapers to give an account of Alice Duer Miller’s “Are Women People?” column, which was very popular before women acquired suffrage. I also inspect the role of the mimeograph in women’s publishing the 1960s and 70s. The effectiveness of these various technologies and media offer valuable points of comparison for evaluating ways that women might gain more parity and agency today.
My research located significant evidence that the Internet is, indeed, a useful tool for increasing the agency and representation of women writers. In several recorded instances, discussions on women’s listservs such as WOMPO and pussipo have led to publications by and about women. Controversies fed by blogging, such as the debate over Jennifer Ashton’s “Numbers Trouble” article (which argued against the supposed essentialism in women’s only publications), have led to the creation of venues for the publication of work by women. To gather some current perspectives, I emailed women poetry bloggers to gather their perspectives on their role in changing notions of gender, as well as parity and agency. This led me to inquire into issues such as the ratio of women submitting to publications to women being published, as well as the ratio of women being published in print to women being published online. Several women I interviewed noted that the accessibility of the Internet gives them a voice that print does not allow; and notably, women are represented more equally in online literary publications than in print. My research taught me that while it is difficult to assess how notions of gender are being changed by the Internet, it is clear that online publishing opportunities of all kinds create more parity and agency for women writers.

Part of the Writing Public: Women, Technology and Media in History

The printing press was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, technology that women used to gain more agency and parity. According to Mark Schulman, “for the first two centuries of print culture” after the printing press’s invention around 1439, “women were excluded from many reading, writing and interpreting activities which were available to men” (Schulman 101). There are not any reported signs of women making progressive steps for their rights during this period. With the exception of the aristocrats and servants, most women were toiling in their homes and thus not involved in publishing for the next many decades. It wasn’t until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that literature, mostly religion- and domesticity-oriented, crept into women’s homes, and “women became a large part of the reading public” (101). Most of this was due to the pamphlet culture that was developing during the time.
Schulman notes that allowing women to step into the role of reader was print’s “most important way” of transforming gender#. The nature of the texts that women were instructed to read didn’t exactly encourage their liberation. Schulman quotes one text which lists “a complete woman” as having skills in cookery, oil-extraction, wine-preservation, cloth-making and so forth (101-102). Domestic work isn’t intrinsically oppressive, but the idea that a woman can only be whole through domestic work is. Despite these types of pedagogy, women apparently did begin reading for entertainment “as more girls attended school in the eighteenth century,” hinting that their increasing immersion in literature did open more paths (102). Eventually, “women in most countries of Europe and in the US were the majority of the reading public, though the variance by class was tremendous: poor women were usually illiterate” (102). Yet this was all complicated by the fact that these texts being examined were only reinforcing the idea that women belong in the home.
According to Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, who authored the massive The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, while women became increasingly literate during the mid-17th century, “a distinctive ‘youth culture’ that was somewhat incongruous with the ‘family’ came into being. So, too, did a distinctive feminist movement” (Eisenstein 134). This mostly occurred through the pamphlet culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which is explored in Marcus Nevitt’s Women and the Pamphlet Culture of Revolutionary England, 1640–1660. This was at a time when pamphlet culture had “frequently been located amongst the most inclusive or democratic aspects of early modern English society” (1). In one chapter, Nevitt covers the case of Mary Pope, who attempted to “write herself” into the debate over Charles I’s regicide as she was legally prohibited from discussing it publicly (64). Charles I was on trial for what some considered treason.

“Pope was an extreme royalist and was thus fiercely opposed to [his] execution (64). She published two pamphlets in January 1649 which condemn the proceedings of the army and purged parliament as utterly illegal … She condemned all pro-regicide discussion as the ‘blasphemous arrogancy of servile parasites’ whose sole intention was to ‘pull down the Laws of God and Men.’”

Despite the apparent boldness of Pope’s claims, the common attitude at the time was that women should avoid public debate, and Pope was so loyal to social mores such as this that she ended up writing “herself out of her own text”—which is surprising to Nevitt, as he finds that aligning women with monarchy might have helped to strengthen her cause (66, 69). Often in this era, when women were making forward steps by opining on certain issues, they did so in fashions that mitigated the size of the step or used humble-sounding rhetoric to help their argument be more widely accepted.
Around the same time, many women were also trying to amplify their voices through petitions: “Throughout the 1640s and 1650s women repeatedly contested and transgressed exhortations against mass petitioning” (166). These petitions, however, “also prompted the simultaneous development of a widespread and lucrative sub-genre of pamphlet-writing, known as mock petitions” (167). These were written by men attempting to lambaste the idea of women having a role in advocacy. In these mock petitions, “the desire of political agency is transformed into an insatiable and apparently collective libido” (167). Women petitioners responded to this “by alerting readers to the primacy of male petitions” (167). One text reads, “‘following herein the example of … Men, which have gone in this duly before us’” (168). Nevitt concludes that by paying homage to men and distinguishing themselves from “earlier groups of women petitioners,” women rendered themselves less of “satirical targets for mock petitioners” and “reinvigorated[d] the importance of women’s petitioning in strikingly different ways” (169). Thus, though women did have to acknowledge men as eminent to make any advancement, conforming to such social rules did assist their cause.
Slightly over a century later, the Journal des dames appeared in France. During the time, women were being “confronted with a new, and hitherto relatively inconsequential, source of discrimination,” the constitutional denial of women’s rights under bourgeois law (Landes 1). “October 1761 and April 1775, the paper was owned and edited by three women,” who over time transformed it into “‘a serious opposition publication addressing social issues, preaching reform and attempting to make its audience think’” (58). The newspaper’s dedication to the “‘female public’s right—and obligation—to be informed about controversial matters’” was notable, but it was also remarkable for how it engaged itself with readers, which was through interactivity. “Readers were encouraged to contribute their opinion in letters to the editor” (58). The paper also exhorted women “to pursue careers in the public sphere” (58). Through its advocacy and interactive nature, Joan Landes argues in Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution, the Journal des dames “played a role in the development of political consciousness and in the formation of political opinion in the last decades of the Old Regime” (60).
Margaret Linley posits that around the late nineteenth century, poetry was “the discourse that captured the public imagination” (Linley 536). Around this period, many women poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti were becoming successful in the literary community. Unfortunately, as Susan Coultrap-McQuin notes, many women poets had to write about topics which fit into the patriarchal demands of the time to achieve that success. “At mid-century the Gentleman Publisher was expected to have the highest personal morals, which commonly meant strong Christian beliefs, concern for others, strict sexual standards, and cultivated behavior” (Coultrap-McQuin 45). Thus, it’s unsurprising that women’s bodies are strangely absent from the Rossetti and Browning works, whereas they could be found easily in men’s poetry of the time and are of course ubiquitous in women’s poetry today (Linley 539). As in the case of Pope, women were often allowed to be published, but only if they kept to moral standards set by men.
While all of the hitherto referenced media were disseminated via print technology, black women writers in mid-nineteenth-century Philadelphia were also finding ways to be represented more through friendship albums, which were hand-made books containing “immaculate penmanship, proper grammar and spelling, and respectable prose regarding the private and the political,” all of which touched upon topics such as abolition, womanhood and motherhood (Armstrong 80). Poetry, short stories and journal entries were the mediums through which women chose to tackle these subjects, and the books were considered a way of building bonds between African-American communities, allowing “black elite women to maintain social boundaries that geography would otherwise prohibit” (Armstrong 82). Erica Armstrong writes that the albums “also provided elite black women with an additional platform both to restore respectability to black women’s public image and expand their own sentimental relationships” (81).
This was a prime place for such an image to be restored, with Pennsylvania being the first state south of New England to abolish slavery—Armstrong ventures to call it “arguably the most important northern community of free blacks during the infant years of the republic (81).” Its location rendered it “an environment and a physical space for the collective mobilization of black women” (81). Despite Pennsylvania dismantling slavery relatively quickly, black women were the slowest to receive any freedom, and so it was helpful for them to possess such albums.
Unsurprisingly, many of the works within friendship albums found women actively reinforcing common sexist notions about women. “Discussion regarding the proper dependency and submissiveness of ‘woman’ was often found in the writings of the elite, serving as a socialized reminder to those who often found themselves excluded from its paradigm” (87). Armstrong documents one specific piece by Mary Forten, an activist for black women, reminding her peers about “appropriate” submissive behavior (89). Another work by Rebecca Peterson centers on “the morality and refinement” of women, but “emphasize[s] Christianity and compassion rather than submissiveness” (90). Regardless of the method, women were still discovering ways to fit themselves into the same stereotype. Still, there were pieces that countered this as well—Armstrong specifically quotes one sonnet that wittily subverts the story of Adam and Eve, calling into question the “evil and whimsical” nature of women (87).
Before the influence of newspapers on notions of gender is addressed, it’s important to keep in mind Armstrong’s remark that “in stark contrast to such instruments as public newspapers, friendship albums provided a more personal forum to exchange idea and sentiments … Although these albums were private possessions, their contents were not” (82). The content of the friendship albums created an intimacy which can’t quite be expressed in a medium as private as the newspaper. If the albums were truly helping black women to become more respected in Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine how, given its personal nature, the medium expedited the process.
Alice Duer Miller’s famous newspaper column, “Are Women People?”, which appeared weekly in the Sunday New York Tribune from February 1914 to November 1917 (Chapman 59, 61), was one of the most prominent publications through which women attained more agency and parity. Initially, the column only featured quotations from politicians that answered the question as well as selections from “anti- and pro-suffrage publications around the world” (59). But eventually, it came to use these quotes by exposing their logical fallacies through poetry. Chapman professes that “Miller’s central preoccupation … is the operation of language in a gendered public sphere: the relationship between language and subjectivity, between language and collectivity … and how, as long as women are denied the vote, the operation of language in the public sphere will be compromised and undemocratic” (62). Miller’s “ventriloquizing” of popular public figures was used to call attention to her column, and that it did—late in Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, Miller was ghostwriting his speeches, this after so many of her poems revolved around what she believed Wilson should have said (81).
Miller’s column was well-known in the public. In Mary Chapman’s essay, “‘Are Women People?’ Alice Duer Miller’s Poetry and Politics,” she describes its popularity:

Miller’s imaginative and irreverent column was an immediate success. When it returned to the pages of the Tribune on 6 December 1914 after an unexplained absence of 13 weeks, readers emphatically expressed approval. Following this brief absence, the column ran consecutively for another 147 weeks: in anticipation of the November 1915 New York State referendum on woman suffrage and, when this was defeated by almost 195,000 votes, to lobby for the successful 1917 referendum. Material from the column was frequently reprinted in The Suffragist and The Woman’s Journal and cited at suffrage rallies. In fact, the question “Are women people?” became a campaign slogan (68)

Additionally, Miller’s book, Are Women People? proceeded to receive enthusiastic endorsements from critics (among them Masses editors Floyd Dell and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the sequel received praise from Time. Upon Miller’s death in 1942, “notices … appeared in newspapers across the continent” (67).
Through her poetry, some contend, Miller was making a substantial impact upon feminist thinking during her time. “Paula Bennett argues that nineteenth-century women newspaper poets, veiled from public view, were able to transform the public sphere through their poetic critique of its failure to realize its ideal, particularly in terms of the rights of African-Americans and women” (79). Newspapers across the country continually addressed conflicts throughout the world, and with thousands encountering Miller’s column every week, people’s viewpoints were being challenged regularly (79).
Miller’s technique was crucial for her goals: Her “juxtaposition of these common things such a rhyme, meter, and closed forms define[d] the method of ‘Are Women People.’” Her approach of satirizing her targets through quotation gained her more attention, allowing her to provide more agency and parity for women. Miller’s column was giving women’s suffrage a louder voice and thus playing a role in the national conversation.
Writing about feminist poetry from the 1970s, Steve Evans reflects that “the long-held avant-gardist commitment to autonomous artistic production and the second-wave feminist imperative” blended together “to establish an ‘independent women’s communications network’ with formidable results,” which helped to “stabilize … a feminist counter-public sphere” (Evans ii). This bred a movement against the “patriarchal poetry” of the time and potentially “planted a first forward step into a space no longer organized around and governed by phallic privilege” (iii). That is, by establishing their own avant-garde movement, women challenged masculine poetry standards and expanded the public’s ideas about poetry and women’s capabilities as they gained influence.
The mimeograph was the technology that allowed this movement to foment, possibly leading to many new opportunities for women to reach greater parity. Using the machine, many underground publications were started and popularized, carrying the names of famous poets such as Adrienne Rich and Judy Grahan (Rothenberg 52). In his book A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, Jerome Rothenberg lists numerous mimeographing presses, among them “The Women’s Press Collective in Oakland in 1969 and Alta’s Shameless Hussy Press in Berkeley,” both “crucial in providing a venue for women’s literary voices to speak out” (52).
What these technologies and avant-garde movements have truly changed for women has been debated. In 2007, American Literary History published Jennifer Ashton’s essay, “Our Bodies, Our Poems.” Ashton proposed that there was no longer any point to women-only anthologies and magazines because there was no imbalance in gender representation that needed to be corrected, and that the continuing existence of publications such as these was essentialist. She acknowledged that “anthologies of women’s poetry seemed to be made necessary” in the 1960s and ‘70s to redress the underrepresentation of women in the literary community (Ashton 214). But Ashton then claims that “by the mid-1980s [such] efforts … had apparently succeeded—women seemed to make up more or less half of the poets published, half the editorial staff of literary magazines, half the faculties of creative writing programs, and so forth” (Ashton 216). This “seemed to” statement, not backed by statistics, was met with vehement disagreement and induced widespread debate among poets. The most popular response was “Numbers Trouble,” a piece by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young featured in the Chicago Review. Spahr and Young perused many journals and anthologies since the 1960s attempting to uncover whether or not the numbers of women and men had been relatively even since the 1980s. Their totals weren’t very promising. In their coverage of the 1980s, they wrote: “Ron Silliman’s In the American Tree, published in 1983, has twenty-six men and twelve women (32% women) … Messerli’s 1987 “Language” Poetries includes thirteen men and seven women (35% women)” (Spahr 93). Things weren’t much better in the 90s and 2000s: “Leonard Schwartz, Joseph Donahue, and Edward Foster’s 1996 Primary Trouble: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry includes forty-one men and twenty-two women (35% women). Alan Kaufman and S.A. Griffin’s 1999 The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry includes 188 men and fifty-seven women (23% women)” (Spahr 94). The single exception that they found was “Dennis Barone and Peter Ganick’s 1994 The Art of Practice: 45 Contemporary Poets,” which contained 51% women (94).
In Chicago Review, Joshua Kotin and Robert P. Baird followed Spahr and Young’s tally with a small-scale but more concrete study adding up the number of women poets published in magazines, literary journals and mainstream outlets from 1970 to 2005. Kotin and Baird concluded that “an increase … occurs (with the exception of the New York Review of Books) in all the magazines, independent of size, affiliation, or (presumed) political or poetical orientation. Around 1990, however, these percentages tend to level off around 37%” (Kotin 226). Results varied from publication to publication: Chicago Review has floated around 36% since 1990, while “The New Yorker and The Nation reached their peak in 1990 and began to decline” (229, 232).
As Kotin and Baird go on to outline, the reasons for this are unclear: Statistics suggest a correlation between women poets being published and women entering the workforce, but publication plateaus where the workforce increase does not (women represented approximately 46% of the workforce in 1990, when the publication percentage began to plateau) (232). Even more puzzling is the fact that “the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 63% of professional ‘writers and authors’ in 2005 were women. Similarly, the Iowa Writers Workshop enrolled 65% women in 2005” (232).
After the “Numbers Trouble” debate, the Chicago Review posted a PDF documenting the conversations that took place about the issue. Within it, many respondents try to account for the plateau. Elisa Gabbert, who worked for Absent, commented that she received “more submissions from men. Women often agree to submit but never do” (Untitled 1). “Simon” claimed a 4:1 ratio to men to women submitting (2). But in her blog post, “Reb” establishes that she can’t buy into this argument because of the long list of women-friendly online poetry magazines that she can easily find (8). Lacking data on who is submitting, causality becomes hard to track.
Wondering what the ratio was of women submitting to women being published, I sent a questionnaire to a number of literary magazines linked to from Poets & Writers#, contacting the first magazine listed at the top of every page. Fifteen replied to my queries with useful information. The questions that I asked were:

1. What percent of submissions that you receive are by women?
2. What is the gender balance, usually, among that work you publish?

Given that most editors don’t keep records pertaining to gender, and since many confessed that their replies were “unscientific” or a “guess,” my results might be somewhat unreliable, but these editors’ answers still had a striking amount in common.
On average, the ratio of submissions received by those that replied was 58% men to 42% women. The ratio of submissions published averaged 53% men to 47% women#. In magazines that published online, the ratio of submissions received was 57% men to 43% women, and the ratio of the submissions published averaged 51% men to 49% women. Though the sample is small, this indicates that editors made an effort to represent women more.
This indication is corroborated by what several of the editors said in their responses. An editor working at the Mad Hatter Review wrote, “I do my best to publish at least half as many women as men, but I don’t always succeed.” An editor working for Partisan Press expressed this more elaborately:

We feel it is vitally important to include all the varied voices of our culture in writing. Working Class literature does that as we are united in our class experience. On the other hand, the segmenting of our culture by gender, race, nationality, age . . . is a real problem in that people are cubby holed and read authors like them rather than the writing and experiences of others. This is also true of music and theater. We can't have a cohesive society based on a thousand subcultures with different languages and perspectives. We should struggle against these separate literatures and work toward a single, broad, all inclusive culture.

Editors noted the difficulty of even keeping track of gender—doing so often requires “assumptions about names.” Pseudonyms and initialized names also complicate the issue. In addition to this, several also remarked upon the fluctuation involved in balancing out gender: A magazine might publish 65% men and 35% women in one issue, then the reverse in another. Often the ratio might depend on the material arriving in the editor’s mailbox.
In the early days of the printing press, women such as Mary Pope could not even include their own names in a text—this is a problem we’ve moved past today. But even when women were able to petition openly, they still had to acknowledge the eminence of men. In nineteenth century Philadelphia, friendship albums led to much discussion about women’s rights, but that discussion rarely if ever broke out of the community. Alice Duer Miller’s column is an early instance of poetry being a strong route for women to represent themselves, and in the 1960s, poetry was an important part of the feminist community.
If the Internet is replacing newspapers, is it appropriate for women to use this venue more than anything else, like Alice Duer Miller, to achieve greater representation? Are there still problems with women having to acknowledge men in order to gain any respect? Could the private nature of Philadelphia’s friendship albums be reflected in today’s listservs and present the same benefits and setbacks? These are all questions that can bring us closer to unraveling the relationship between poetry blogs and women’s parity and agency, and which I will attempt to answer in the next section.

“A Completely Different Way of Operating”: Parity and Agency from Women’s Poetry Blogs and Listservs

Various controversies have ignited over lack of parity in the representation of women poets online. One of the most recent instances was over an article by Craig Teicher, entitled “Poetry Off the Books,” from the April 10th, 2006 edition of Publishers Weekly. There, Teicher, after quoting various interviewees (among them poet-blogger Ron Silliman) and referencing some noteworthy sites, posited that the Internet might be helping poetry to proliferate better than any previous medium. Back in the day, “little magazines such as the Dial and Poetry were publishing poems that made figures like T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens famous”—and then those little magazines collapsed from a lack of funds. But the internet, requiring virtually no money, allows many online journals and blogs to be more successful than print media. Silliman himself notes that his blog (ronsilliman.blogspot.com) has received over 616,000 visitors (in 2006), whereas none of his books have sold more than 4,000 copies (Teicher). Octopus Magazine founders Tony Tost and Zachary Schomberg state that they keep the publication online because of the cost-efficiency involved. Also covered is Josh Corey, who runs another popular poetry blog (joshcorey.blogspot.com), which helps to proliferate his own poetry and creates discussion in and about the poetry community. Teicher finishes the article by quoting one publicist who says that her authors’ Amazon sales rise when they are “‘selected as poet of the day’” on poems.com—indicating that the Internet may have a tangible impact on poetry’s print sales.
The problem with Teicher’s article, according to some? It didn’t mention any women editors’ and bloggers’ role in shaping the Internet poetry scene.
It’s difficult to sort out who the original protestors were, but Teicher had a response to the controversy on his own personal blog on April 11th. According to Teicher, he had tried to interview a female editor, but she hadn’t replied to his queries, and he had profiled poet Kay Ryan in the same issue, so it should have been clear that he wasn’t an opponent of women’s rights. Teicher noted that the article was also aimed at a broad audience and that he hadn’t been allotted the space or time to cover the vast spectrum of online poetry blogging. Despite this defense, spats went back and forth: Poet Shanna Compton branded Teicher’s defense “lame,” and in the comment section of his post, one commenter remarked that Teicher’s post amounted to professing that “Women are really not that important in the blogworld.” In a blog post responding to the controversy, Kevin Doran (kevindoran.blogspot.com) took the issue even further, criticizing those whom he found hyperbolic in their attacks on Teicher, and also establishing that similar attacks had come against his own online journal, even though “less than 35 per cent of submissions are from women” (Doran).
The controversy leads one to ask: What is the significance of the Internet for spreading feminism and/or changing notions of gender? And how does it allow more agency and parity for women?
In scattered posts and interviews, we find women speaking about the Internet’s role. In what is partially a response to the Publishers Weekly debate (the author says that Doran doesn’t “get it”), Birdie Jaworski quotes from various interviewees on the role of the Internet for women bloggers. In Jaworski’s column, Didi Menendez, who publishes online magazine Mipoesias, is referenced as stating that “‘The internet is more accessible than print.’” Pris Campbell, who has campaigned for “gender equality in the arts,” says that it allows her “‘access to the outside world that others take for granted,’” as she is housebound. Michelle Buchanan, who runs a website “dedicated to service men and women who have lost their lives in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” even opines that one “can literally start a movement without ever leaving your home” (Jaworski).
In an interview with Pakistani poet Kyla Pasha, Pasha states that one reason for writing online is that “the internet is so central now that it's actually the primary vehicle for self-promotion.” Relating to the issue of identity, Pasha admits that blogging online “allows me to comment on my context a little more nakedly than my poetry does. Poetry is coy, you can hide some things, even though it's the most honest form of writing I have. With blogging, I can talk politics and geography, I can write like a columnist without begging someone to host my column, and I have full freedom of speech.”
Outside of the poetry world, some articles might provide evidence of blogs’ chances at helping feminism. One study by Susan C. Herring and John C. Paolillo investigated gender and genre as it related to language in blogs. They started by referencing the Gender Genie, a program counts the number of “masculine” and “feminine” words in a text (fiction, nonfiction or blog entry) to determine the gender of an author. An algorithm cited identifies “personal pronouns” as “favored by females” and “noun determiners” and “favored by males” (4). Another study that Herring and Paolillo cited found that in blog comment sections, “women’s comments were more inclusive and expressive, and men’s comments were more assertive, competitive, and instrumental (5). The genres analyzed were those that “comment on the author's own life (diary), or on events external to the author (filter)” (Herring 7). Using the Gender Genie, the authors’ study found that genre is “genre is a stronger predictor than author gender” in guessing whether the type of language used is more feminine or masculine (15). The authors knew that the question would be “why the genres appear to be gendered, when the language of the authors is not” (15). They stated,

One could argue that the genres we have been discussing are gendered, independent of language. Diary writing has traditionally been associated with females, and politics and external events, the mainstays of filter blogs, have traditionally been masculine topics. Furthermore, previous research shows that females write more diary blogs, and males write a disproportionate number of filter blogs. (15)

The authors also noted that “Men's blogs are more likely to appear on 'A-lists' of most popular weblogs,” and concordantly, filter blogs are more likely to be popular (17). Since so many poetry blogs are primarily diary blogs, if women poetry blogs are not helping to create agency and parity for women, then their “diary blog” status might be a reason (or the perception of women’s blogs as “diary” blogs). This could also limit the impact that such blogs have on agency and parity, since they aren’t reaching a much larger audience.
Of course, my suggestion requires some evidence, so I looked into how many blogs in general tend to be diaries, how many poetry blogs tend to be diaries. Sampling 50 random English-language blogs (by hitting “Next Blog” on blogger.com), 34 came up as diary blogs whereas 16 were filter blogs. Sampling 50 English-language poetry blogs linked to by Ron Silliman’s blog, 42 were diary blogs and 8 were filter blogs. Poetry blogs’ tendency to be in diary form is affirmed again by Technorati, an Internet search engine that searches blogs. If you search for “poetry” on technorati.com, the site informs you, “People who used the tag poetry also used tags like, poem, writing, love, life, poems.” Two of those words words—“love” and “life”—read as diary-oriented. Search for “cars,” and you have “news, business, travel, sports, entertainment,” all of which are filter-oriented. Though this isn’t definite, such words suggest that poetry blogs lean more toward being diary blogs than filter blogs.
Liz Henry, who runs the blog Composite: Thoughts on Poetics and Tech, replied to Herring and Paolillo’s article by saying that she agreed with its conclusions, and added that “The gendering of genre appears to me to happen over time as a way of valuing or devaluing the quality of the writing. Entire genres would become (simultaneously) ‘feminized’ in order to devalue them, or as they became devalued they were described as feminine, or as women succeeded in the genre, it was considered less important.”
But commentary such as Henry’s is unusual. It is altogether difficult to find mass quantities of women commenting on the roles of blogs—specifically poetry blogs—in changing notions of gender, whether it be in a positive or negative way. Seeing this, we arranged a questionnaire that was sent to various bloggers who were linked to by WOMPO, some of which have actually had important roles in building the women poetry blogging community online.
This paper underwent a change in direction after several drafts had been written. Assessing how notions of gender have changed in society, as I’ve noted here, is difficult because of how abstract some evidence is. I was advised—long after these questions had been sent out—that it might be better to think about how the Internet had affected agency and parity for women. While I wish that I had included more direct questions about agency and parity in the questionnaire, I was fortunate in that several respondents addressed these issues in their replies anyway. I used these to help address the issue later in this paper. The questions asked were:
1. Have you ever published in a women's only anthology/website/forum or other venue? Why or why not?

2. Are women's poetry blogs changing notions of gender? In literature? In society? If so, how?

3. What are your own personal motivations for placing your poetry in your blog or online magazine?

4. On the internet, has women's poetry helped to advance any feminist causes? Give examples if possible.

5. Do you perceive any sexist biases on the Internet, and what do you perceive these to be? Is there pressure on the Internet for women to conform to "masculine" poetry standards? Are these pressures are greater or lesser than in the past? Give examples if you can.

6. Do you see the aspect of anonymity inspiring more sexist vitriol on the web in poetry-related forums? Has anonymity helped to spread anti-feminist perspectives? Give examples if you can.
7. Do you think there is any connection between gender and the formal (not subject-oriented) aspects of poetry? If so, can you describe the connection?
18 bloggers participated in the questionnaire, 15 of which reporting that they had published in a women’s only anthology, website or forum, from staples such as How2 and WOMPO to an anthology titled To Mend the World: Women Reflect on 9/11, “the first anthology that collected 9/11 perspectives and narratives from the point of view of women, and mostly women of color.” Respondent R most articulately defended her reasons:

While I hope that we will all read and listen to poetry by all kinds of poets and read across our differences, I also believe there is still a role for targeted women’s venues, just as there is for poets of color or poets with disabilities, for example. For one thing, these targeted venues give women the opportunity to examine feminist or female issues in a context with their peers; that is, we get a chance to see what other women are writing about given subjects and to be in a kind of dialogue together. Another role of these venues is to promote women’s voices, which sadly still need additional support; witness, for example, the fact that only one out of five of the finalists for the National Book Award this year was a woman.

However, Respondent E, who hadn’t been published in such an anthology, wrote that she considered “women’s only” publications separatist behavior. Respondent L, who had been published, corroborated this somewhat in saying, “I don't feel however like I would seek out a women-only publication, as I do feel personally that we have gone beyond that now.” Another published writer, Respondent M, sardonically replied, “Gender-exclusive arenas work for Olympics.”
When it came to the main question of this survey, “Are women’s poetry blogs changing notions of gender?”, answers were very scattered. Six respondents provided a definitive yes, two suggested yes but were ambivalent, another six said “maybe,” and three provided a frank “no.”
On the “yes” side, Respondent R’s answer was particularly elaborate:
Poetry blogs often help to build a sense of community and women’s blogs play a key role in that function. Of course women have often been community builders in literary culture, so this is not a new role. It’s been harder in the past for women to promote themselves and distribute their own work; blogs make this work easier and allow women to bypass the traditional means of promotion (which are disappearing in any case) such as publishers and reviewers. I think this is quite a significant change and is allowing the more widespread distribution of women’s voices—both their poetry and their other writing about poetry, the literary life, art and social issues, and the “poetry business,” for lack of a better term. Women have traditionally been less well represented in the role of critic than as creative artists. As women and other traditionally marginalized groups become “tastemakers,” we are truly changing notions of gender (and race and class and sexuality and physical ability, for that matter), as well as of poetry itself. The internet is playing a crucial role in this shift, as there are more opportunities to write and publish reviews and other critical writings online.
This sentiment, that the Internet’s massive accessibility helped changing notions of gender, was reflected in other “yes” answers. Respondent A acknowledged this but cautioned that the changes might only be in “small ways.” Respondent L wrote a small summary of the aforementioned “Numbers Trouble” dilemma, illustrating, “Did the blog or the website change notions of gender in this instance? No. Did it foster discussion? Yes. And then the discussion led to further print work,” a direct example of the Internet leading to more parity for women, with the print work allowing them to be represented more. One of the most provocative answers came from Respondent Q:

In the sense that they call attention to the fact that women are online, that we write poetry, and that we have opinions that male-centered media (including most poetry magazines and publishers) fail to address, yes. I don't know that they have changed notions of gender in literature beyond asserting that women exist and think and create in ways heretofore unacknowledged by many if not most readers.

Expressing serious doubt at the possibility of notions changing, Respondent O said that “hot gender issues” nowadays typically relate to transgender individuals, and that “believe there is still discrimination against women but the mandate is not about changing attitudes (as in “notions of gender”) but about taking action to correct unworkable situations.”
In series of follow-up questions sent out to respondents, one question was, “Do you know of any specific instance where a poetry blog changed someone’s thoughts or feelings about gender? What about the existence of a group such as Wom-Po?” Though none could cite any specific instances, Respondent H did note, “I'm sure there are plenty of such instances documented in the wompo archives.”
Yet another follow-up question asked, “Are women’s poetry blogs changing notions of gender more than other mediums (books, film, etc.)?” Most respondents answered no, one saying, “This is hard to gauge. I wouldn't think so. But the immediacy and the ease of access to blogs means more happens in this vein, and likewise more is viewed. The comparison is difficult, since these media tend to work in concert.” The one “yes” did say, “Probably—because there is more interaction.”
In assessing their personal reasons for placing poetry in their blogs or online magazines, most referenced how much easier it became to access readership through the Internet. Respondent L said:

The blog format makes it easy for poets to post, and allows us to respond and get work up that is written off other poems on the site quickly. Motivations are to enjoy a playful, impermanent space of collaboration. The blog format recognizes, for me, impermanence, and it allows for the in-process, the not-yet-completed, and it is a space where work can be modified and, if ever necessary, removed quickly, too.

Commenting on how the Internet assists political causes as well, Respondent R replied, “Online magazines obviously overcome these difficulties and allow potential readers of all sorts to find my work. For me this serves a political as well as a literary function, since I write a lot of socially engaged poetry, a genre that has sometimes had a hard time finding its way in traditional venues for poetry in the US.”
Regarding how well women’s poetry helps to advance any feminist causes on the Internet, answers were divided but strongly leaning toward yes, with eight answering “yes,” four “no” and four “maybe.” Many yes’s pointed to WOMPO or Pussipo:

WomPo is an important listserv, focused on poetry by women. WomPo, and other listservs such as Poet-Moms and Pussipo have extended discussions, and also initiate publishing projects and reading initiatives. There is a feeling of history-making. The Internet allows communities of women poets across the world to converse on a daily basis about a wide range of personal, political, and poetry-related issues. This has never happened before. -Respondent B

Respondent B did not mention another benefit of such listservs, which is that they bring awareness of readings and gatherings for women poets. These more private communications often lead to women having more a more tangible presence in the public sphere.
Most intriguing is reading how different respondents define “advancing feminist causes.” Respondent D said that the “appearance of women's poetry online gives voice to many issues and forms pertinent to women's lives and language uses.” The mere act of women publishing online shows women being capable and intelligent (following the old joke that “feminism is the radical idea that women are people”). Respondent P said that “one major feminist cause is the recovery of the historical record of women's writing, which has been suppressed.” Respondent R “believe[s] peace to be a central feminist cause … Poetry can give politics a human face, and one of the faces of [the Iraq war] is the family irrevocably damaged by the loss of a child.” Respondent Q, however, derided the prospect of advancement, cautioning, “If poetry has helped to reduce women's poverty, to reduce their neglect by the health care system, to increase their access to unpopular health procedures, to decrease domestic violence, etc., I don't know of it.”
The consensus response to the question of perceived sexist biases on the Internet was, in Respondent K’s words, “There are sexist biases everywhere - why not on the internet as well?”, but the answers to whether or not these biases were greater had various replies. Many were quite specific:

“Two times when I posted (for the first time each as it happened) on the listservs I pay attention to, I was immediately denounced by male voices. One anonymously attacked my claims and the other briefly dismissed the legitimacy of the kind of discourse I was engaging in. Certainly those responses made a difference in my willingness to post again to those places.” -Respondent D

“Our very visibility and accessibility means that we are more exposed, more vulnerable to sexist attack than previously, especially with the potential for anonymity on the web. I am not speaking from personal experience, as I’ve never been subjected to this kind of harassment. But I know it happens. Nor am I speaking of disagreement and discussion. I am speaking of sexist name-calling and harassment, an altogether different thing. I do think I’ve censored myself a little bit because of this possibility, choosing not to write much about issues of sex and sexuality, for example, on the blog.” -Respondent R

Many also expressed some pressure to conform to masculine poetry standards, echoing blogger Liz Henry’s sentiments. Respondent K pointed to women having “to rely on alternative forms of writing, alternative definitions of community and genre and aesthetics in reaction to the predominance of a reading and writing culture that shut them out in the first place.” Respondent P said that “men's poetry (and in fact all forms of male speech) has been at least for a while now framed as normative,” adding that these pressures are lesser than in the past. Respondent M noted, “Sexism exists in women and men.” Some of the most striking words came from the dissenting Respondent O, who said, “I’ve been using the Internet before it was a reliable source of information and writing web pages since 1994. I have owned personal computers since 1982. I started working in the computer field as a COBOL programmer in 1969. I have never experienced any kind of sexual bias on the Internet and know nothing about ‘masculine’ poetry standards.”
Contradicting this, Respondent N said:

I've heard much more about them from female friends and fellow bloggers who work in technology and computing than in other fields. I have friends who've been the lone or almost-lone woman on computing-related forums and who've had all kinds of hostile e-mail show up in their inboxes when they've tried to draw attention to sexist language or gender bias.

But if such pressures are greater on the Internet, are they connected to the ability of Internet users to remain anonymous? Answers were again divided here, with 7 “Yes,” 4 “No,” and 4 “Maybe.” “Yes” answers exemplified notorious behaviors such as flaming, anonymous attacks, trolling, and intimidation.” “Yes” respondents were somewhat vague in regard to specific instances, but in reply to the follow-up question, “Can you recall an instance that made you think that one’s gender can change how he or she operates online?”, two referenced the wom-po listserv:

“Yes. This is why wom-po was formed. A group of men on the Cap-l list dominated discussion and had a competitive, slap-down manner that shamed women into silence. The early wompo was amazingly supportive. This changed, or became less intimate-feeling, when we got over 200 or 300 members, and it was just too unwieldy. Surely the size of wompo alone suggests how much it was needed.” -Respondent C

“I started wompo because other poetry lists at the time, highly male-dominated, were routinely dominated by duels/fights between two people with everyone else a bystander. The wompo list has a completely different way of operating. In the wom-po archive is a post from Gabriel Gudding saying he'd never been in an online environment which was so steadily civilized and respectful. This post was met with (civilized and respectful) amusement, since he didn't seem to realize the source of the difference: that wom-po was probably 90% women, while the other lists he was used to were probably 75% men.” -Respondent H

On the “no” side, Respondent B reported, “I think women are far more likely to suffer vitriolic attack from those they know than from those working under cover of anonymity.” On anonymity having more of an impact on the Internet than in other mediums, Respondent K said,

Anonymity has been used to spread all kinds of things, including anti-feminist or anti-anything perspectives; it does exist on the web, and just as when it is used in traditional print venues -- my thinking on that is, if someone can't even own up to and take responsibility for something made public, it calls the very responsibility and credibility of those statements (and the person who makes them) into question.

Answers to Question 7, about whether or not respondents see any connection between gender and formal aspects of poetry, could be used to discern whether or not respondents find these issues unavoidable. Will some men always be pointing out differences between men and women (“men do this, women do that”), because these differences naturally pop up? Most respondents answered that they did not find any connection, as I received zero “yes” answers and eleven “no.” Respondent N informed me that she didn’t believe in any intrinsic connection, and she had done research on this subject:

I did most of my doctoral research on poetry from a period (16th and 17th centuries) when most of the poets writing in English were male, and women poets
worked in the same forms and the same modes as their male counterparts did. But I have read about, and noticed, an occasional linking of poetic form with "the feminine" in the minds of at least some poets and commentators -- I think people sometimes think of the form of a poem as a kind of decorative outside for the content of the poem, like clothing, and code it as feminine accordingly.

Respondent C also referenced history and the silencing of women’s voices:

There are no authentic paradigmatic connections. But there are associations people make -- and historical patterns people see -- that influence their practice. Poets can play with these associations to make an argument. It is dangerous to think of them as anything but historically, regionally, and sometimes just personally contingent. The real danger with historical arguments about form and gender is that so much of what women wrote was erased, stolen, forgotten out of neglect, or critically ridiculed, regardless of the aesthetic.

Within the “maybe” answers, Respondent E did say, “I think gender is a part of who the poet is, therefore goes into the poems.” Respondent P did not answer, but stated, “The terms gender, formal, and subject-oriented are bothersome to me.”
It’s quite difficult to measure whether or not—and to what degree—women’s poetry blogs are transforming notions of gender. Even in the historical examples that we have referenced, when ample numbers of documents exist, often the most that one can say is, “Though there is no concrete evidence for notions of gender being changed, it is not unreasonable to estimate that changes did take place.” That statement could probably be applied to the case of women’s poetry blogs.
It’s worthwhile to turn back to what Respondent D said, which was that the “appearance of women’s poetry online gives voice to many issues and forms pertinent to women’s lives and language uses.” Poetry blogs and groups do help women to come together and to make themselves more widely known. Does this create parity in the print world? Not entirely, but with women being able to communicate so often online, more parity is probably reached on the Internet. Though the sample that I took obviously only encompasses a small amount of journals, the comparison of women comprising 37% of published print authors (according to Chicago Review) and 49% of published online authors (from my brief survey) suggests that the Internet is helping women to reach greater parity, and poetry blogs may have a connection to this.
In terms of agency, many respondents point to how poetry listservs have helped them to become more collaborative and active. Several listed examples of wom-po helping subscribers to organize events. Respondent C specifically said that these listservs have “triggered writing projects, many of which promote feminist ideologies. I coordinate collaborative sonnet crowns women poets, for instance, a few of which have been published or are forthcoming.” Aside from publishing, Respondent B noted “reading initiatives” that have resulted from the listservs, and many have pointed to specific examples. In regards to Dim Sum, the forum organized in reaction to the “Numbers Trouble” article (hosted by Delirious Hem), Elizabeth Treadwell says,

Discussion on the pussipo listserv were definitely part of my deciding to organize the Dim Sum forum. I gave an open call for responses on that listserv and then also asked some writers (both pussipoers and not) specifically to take part. I should say, the forum also led to more discussion and debate on the listserv as well (Treadwell).

The introduction to Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems and Child-Rearing states that a “Poet-moms listserv … was part of the impetus for this anthology” (Wagner xvi). Wagner also cites the Summer 2008 Barbara Guest issue of Chicago Review as having originated from a Pussipo discussion:

In October of 06, a pussipo list member who had participated in conversations about sexism in magazine publishing -- conversations that
had brought up Chicago Review -- suggested a game for the list: poets
should send a poem to CR with the word "pussi" in the poem; October was
dubbed the "Send Your Pussi to Chicago" month. I don't know how many
people ended up participating -- a number said they did … and I don't
know whether any of the poems got published. The poet who founded
pussipo suggested that the game be taken off-list as well and our male
comrades be encouraged to participate … A discussion related to this project ended up leading to the Barbara Guest issue of CR. One list
member asked during the discussion of the project about why we were
isolating Chicago Review as the focus of the activism-game, and I wrote a
letter back to the list that I also sent to CR and that was later published in
different form in CR in the British Poetry issue (53:1) (Wagner).

In her letter, Wagner wrote that of the many special issues that CR had published in recent years, only one had been about a woman, that being Lisa Robertson#. The letter continued, “By not doing any special issues on women for years, focusing mainly on dead white males … CR implies that no women of Duncan’s or Zukofsky’s or Dorn’s generation is up to the level of the dead white guys” (Wagner 228). The Guest issue was published in summer 2008, the listserv discussions—and Wagner’s letter—clearly having been a direct influence.
Other than quick access, another reason for this acceleration is that presently, women are not being silenced by speech laws. Nor are they writing themselves out of their own texts, as was the case with Mary Pope, whose pamphlets speaking out against Charles I’s regicide omitted any reference to herself being a woman or to women in support of Charles I (although Nevitt did note that such a reference might have actually furthered Pope’s cause). However, elsewhere in this period, when women did make more references to their being women, their own way of being taken somewhat seriously was to venerate men, as in the case of the petitions.
Problems such as these—self-eliding, deference to men—have dissolved to some degree—at least in Western culture—as time has progressed. The most observable changes seemed to occur in the case of newspapers—the Journal des dames, Alice Duer Miller’s “Are Women People?” column—in periods where newspapers were the main form of receiving information.
But blogs—especially poetry blogs—are not the main source of information for most, if any, of the public. In some ways, listservs such as wom-po, or communities engendered by mimeograph-printed magazines and journals—might be comparable to the friendship-album culture of Philadelphia—feminism could be advanced within certain communities, but we can’t determine how often these communities’ ideas break into the mainstream. And when they do break into the mainstream, how do they accomplish this? Does their impact end up being more direct or indirect? Steve Evans wrote that poetry was at the center of feminism in the 1970s. Whether or not this is true, it begs one to ask: What in our culture is advancing feminism the most today? Sarah Palin? Wikipedia? The Vagina Monologues?
Knowing that I couldn’t find a definitive answer to this, but still curious, I approached Dr. Lisa McLaughlin, an associate professor in Mass Communication and Women’s Studies at Miami University. McLaughlin’s primary goal as a feminist is to focus on international development. She says, “I use what I learn to provide women with meaningful access to technology in developing countries” to improve their lives.
When asked which media she sees as advancing this goal the most, McLaughlin says that pointing to “which media” implies a “technological determinist” view, the idea that technology is the main arbiter of what changes in society. McLaughlin believes that the advancement of women’s rights is “less about what form of medium, and more about what people do”—the content within the media. Additionally, though many people in Western culture use the internet, in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, “radio is the most important medium because of illiteracy.” People can’t read what you’re printing, but they can hear what you’re saying, which can lead to change.
On the subject of which media most successfully advance equal representation of women, McLaughlin does say that “the Internet has some excellent possibilities,” mainly because of the networking that it allows. But again, this “depends on how people use it.” To McLaughlin, “television isn’t anti-women, but it’s anti-feminist,” given that most news channels feature “one woman after another” in the daytime, all of them attractive and dolled up. But they’re “readers rather than reporters.” At night, when news channels are viewed more, there tend to be more men, who are featured reporting, instead of reading words on a screen in front of them.
As for the Internet, McLaughlin says that it can go both ways in terms of mitigating sexism. “If you want to join a feminist web site, you can,” she says, “but there are still more people looking at porn.” The accessibility of the Internet has helped women to come together and locate support, but it may encourage some people to see women as sex objects.
McLaughlin’s position doesn’t work against the idea that the Internet is helping to increase women’s parity and agency—if, as my brief survey suggests, women are being represented more in online literary publications, perhaps the reasons for this are related to content as well. But there’s a strong case for the actual technology being an element as well: Gaining access to speak on the radio is a far more complicated task than jumping online and starting a blog. That same statement applies to print literature. In the literary world, print magazines still tend to gather more notice and acclaim, but making one’s name into these is rarely an easy process. Currently, audiences looking at online literary magazines are seeing more equal representation. And though those audiences are currently smaller, they’re growing at a fast rate as publications move out of print and toward the Web—as university literary magazines around the country lose their funding, online it’s possible that parity in publishing will increase further.
Besides parity and agency, there are other various issues that some argue are more important. Respondent O said, “The hot gender issues I think have to do with transgendered individuals.” Respondent Q’s words imply that feminism’s goals are to “reduce women's poverty, to reduce their neglect by the health care system, to increase their access to unpopular health procedures, to decrease domestic violence”? Given the size of these issues, some might believe that poetry blogs—or poetry in general—have done little for feminism.
Additionally, the survey suggests that there are still some strong parallels between women poets today and those of the past. Pressures on women to conform have been present in many of the cases that were mentioned: Petitioners were reverent to men, Browning and Rossetti left their bodies out of their poems, and blogger Liz Henry remarked upon how certain genres were labeled “feminine” when women became apart of them—and thus ignored. Though many respondents did remark that pressures aren’t as immediate or tangible today, Respondent P stated that men’s poetry is still regarded as normative.
In some ways, my experiences answer this study’s original question: My own notions of gender have changed while researching women poetry’s blogs. On top of this, I feel more inclined to push for equal representation of women.
Respondent M, answering Question 5 (“Do you perceive any sexiest biases on the Internet…?”), said, “Sexism exists in women and men. I sometimes think I can pigeonhole writing as by a gender of writer.” I sympathize with this sentiment deeply. Despite labeling myself a feminist, I occasionally find myself bearing sexist thoughts. For example, I might receive a certain type of poem at the undergraduate literary magazine that I work for and off-handedly think, “This was probably written by a woman.” In one poem that was submitted, an author, whose grandmother had passed away shortly after Heath Ledger, smiled at the thought of his grandmother and Ledger together in heaven living happily. Our entire staff—men, women and myself included, scoffed at the work and its silly, celebrity-obsessed “girliness.” I didn’t tell anybody this, but I later discovered that the poem had been written by a man.
Thus, somewhere within me is the notion that I should automatically think celebrity-oriented poems to be written by a woman. A way of reshaping this thinking would be to become more aware of such a notion, and I find that this is what happened while reading about essentialism during the course of this project. Many poetry blogs were engaged in the debate over “Numbers Trouble” and Jennifer Ashton’s claims of women-only anthologies supporting essentialism. “Essentialism”—in this case, the idea that there is an intrinsic connection between the form of a poem and the author’s gender—was a term that I’d heard before but wasn’t entirely familiar with. I read responses to the “Numbers Trouble” debate, many of which offered an idea that I agreed with, which is that society is structured so that the experience of being a woman was different from that of being a man. Ruminating on this topic led to two shifts in my thinking process: First, being merely aware of the term “essentialism” forced me to more frequently consider whether or not my thoughts endorsed its reality. Afterward, when I noticed sexist thoughts creeping in, I moved to combat them more quickly. Second, acknowledging how society conditions men to act like “men” and women to act like “women”—whatever those two terms mean—compelled me to sympathize more with the less desirable aspects of these stereotypes, such as obsessive muscle-building and obsessive celebrity-deifying, respectively.
Hence, absorbing so much information pushed me to a shift—however slight—in how I perceive gender. In reading poetry blogs, we tend to absorb massive amounts of information. Though I can’t penetrate the minds of other readers, I imagine that these same changes are happening to them. One might argue that these poetry blogs still mostly preach to the choir, in that blogging communities such as WOMPO receive the most readership from community members. But if members of these communities know more, and practice framing and communicating what they know as they discuss issues with one another, they learn to put together more convincing arguments, which can only help them in communicating their ideas to the public.
As I said, some of the information that I encountered during this study has pressed me to focus on equal representation for women more. One blog post that touched me was Birdie Jaworski’s BlogHer response to the Publishers Weekly controversy. I didn’t agree fully with some of her themes (such as her antagonization of Kevin Doran), but her deep concern for the lack of representation for women—and the anecdotes that she related—alerted me to how far away equality still is for women. The facts are also on her side: Though it’s easy to overlook, the statistics I’ve referenced show women being published less both in print and online (even though online, their works are accepted slightly more often). My knowledge of such inequities motivates me more to work toward changing these circumstances.
What works best, then, for helping to promote agency and parity for women through the Internet? Given what we’ve seen, it seems that more participation is the answer. The best evidence that we have of agency and parity increasing is the many occasions where special issues have been published because of listservs for women, and the fact that online publications are representing women more. If more writers opt to participate in listserv discussions, it is probable that we’ll be seeing more articles and issues resulting from these.
Attention for online publications is long overdue. Print is losing popularity, and trends continue to be going in that direction. One reason that online publications aren’t the focal point of literature right now might be that more successful authors haven’t directed their attention to the Internet—if you look at the most recent Best American Poetry book published, almost every work in it came from a print magazine. If online publications are going to gather more attention, it’s important that a large number of popular poets step up to vouch for them. With a poetry community enthusiastic to embrace the Internet, we could eventually see more parity and agency for women poets.

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Wagner, Catherine. Personal Interview. 23 March 2009.

Wagner, Catherine. Letter to the editor. Chicago Review 53:1 (2007): 227-228)



APPENDIX: RESPONSES

1. Have you ever published in a women's only anthology/website/forum or other venue? Why or why not?

15 YES
2 NO
1 NO ANSWER

A Yes, I have. I have no objections to being published in women's only venues. I think they are another way of showcasing new work, and for me they are no different from publications that feature particular themes or forms, or other groupings.

B Yes. I was asked to write a short introduction to Sina Queyras' Open Field: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Poets for How2. Sina is a friend but, for the most part, I try to respond to writing/reading requests.

C Many times. Other venues often have a bias against or a limited "tolerance" for (i.e. we already have two women poets in this issue!) for subjects interesting to women authors.

D Yes, because How2 asked for some work. I don't think there is another women-only publishing venture I have undertaken; but I am not averse to doing so again. Like many western women, I have become more ready to call myself a feminist as I get older, and I want to be involved in women's causes and literary outlets.

E I don't believe I have. I don't purposefully seek women's only websites etc. I think "women's only" is separatist behavior. As a mother of two sons I think it's important to fight sexism in all its forms.

F Yes - WOMPO's Letters to the World anthology. It was an open democratic call for representation from the community and seemed like an inclusive project.

G No. I was asked once to contribute to an anthology of poetry for teenage girls, but I didn't think my work was, er, appropriate. My publisher said I was wrong, and she's right about most things--but I found it somehow limiting. Maybe that's my own fear.

H Yes, because I think the context of women's poetry is in many ways a more realistic/illuminating context for my poems and ideas on poetry.

I I have. I consider it important in terms of exposure + highlighting various questions regarding gender inequalities.

J I was interviewed for one. I don't seek out women only venues or, at least I haven't yet.

K Yes - most recently, the anthology LETTERS TO THE WORLD (Red Hen Press, Jan. 2008), which came together as a result of electronic collaboration between and among women poets who are members of the Wom-Po collective started by Annie Finch.

Then a few years back, BABAYLAN, ed. Nick Carbo and Eileen Tabios (aunt lute), which brought together the work of Filipina and Filipina American writers (poets and fiction writers mostly); and GOING HOME TO A LANDSCAPE, ed. Marianne Villanueva and Virginia Cerenio (Calyx Press), fiction and poetry by Filipina and Filipina American writers.

In 2003 I also edited an anthology that came together 90% through electronic collaboration - NOT HOME, BUT HERE (Filipino Writers in the Diaspora) - though this was not an all-women writers anthology.

In 2001, shortly after 9/11 (the anthology had an actual publication/release date of January or February 2002), Marjorie Agosin and Betty Jean Craige co-edited an anthology for White Pine Press called TO MEND THE WORLD: WOMEN REFLECT ON 9/11, for White Pine's Human Rights Series; this was the first anthology that collected 9/11 perspectives and narratives from the point of view of women, and mostly women of color.

L Yes, because I was invited to participate in it. It was a print publication, and not a website. I don't feel however like I would seek out a women-only publication, as I do feel personally that we have gone beyond that now.

M Yes. Womb. I'm both in favor of and opposed to the practice. Gender-blind and gender-mix is good. Gender-exclusive arenas work for Olympics. Are intellect and subject market different by gender? I still lean heavily to preferring male writers. Those who lead in poetry and run magazines still tend to be disproportionately to population. Males foist their material forward for publication and females seem to be more reticent. Impression or hard facts? Not sure.

N [no answer]

O Yes, I was invited and I try not to turn down invitations to reasonable opportunities.
http://womenoftheweb.blogspot.com/2007/09/karren-lalonde-alenier.html

P Yes. Because I'm a woman.

Q My poems were solicited for a women's anthology called "The Extraordinary Tide," which was edited by a friend of mine, Erin Belieu. I don't normally send my poems out for anthology inclusion because I don't often write "one-off" poems--they're more usually book-length sequences that I believe are ill-served by the anthology format. The poems in "The Extraordinary Tide" tended to be older, quite formal poems from my early books. I have had older poems of mine in anthologies not restricted by gender as well, but again, I don't much like anthologies.

R I have published in Just Like a Girl, an anthology of women’s poetry, and I have submitted work to other publications. I have also given public readings in women’s reading series and at feminist bookstores. While I hope that we will all read and listen to poetry by all kinds of poets and read across our differences, I also believe there is still a role for targeted women’s venues, just as there is for poets of color or poets with disabilities, for example. For one thing, these targeted venues give women the opportunity to examine feminist or female issues in a context with their peers; that is, we get a chance to see what other women are writing about given subjects and to be in a kind of dialogue together. Another role of these venues is to promote women’s voices, which sadly still need additional support; witness, for example, the fact that only one out of five of the finalists for the National Book Award this year was a woman.

2. Are women's poetry blogs changing notions of gender? In literature? In society? If so, how?

YES-ISH 2
YES 6
MAYBE 6
NO 3
NO ANSWER 1

A I think in some ways they are (in the small blogging community, or maybe beyond), for those blogs that focus more on the personal everyday experiences of being a woman, or those that actively seek both to break down and to show differences between the genders. I think even those blogs that don't focus on notions of gender are doing so just by the fact that the poetry are written by women. YES-ISH

B Self-publication is a powerful tool. Self-publication linked to networking, which is what blogging is, is a double-whammy in negotiating public space. I don't know that "notions of gender" have changed; but access to direct publication certainly has. YES-ISH

C Every generation thinks they are pushing forward. It's hard to say. I hope so. One thing for certain, blogs make it difficult to deny the interest and activity, and they help folks find each other and form communities. MAYBE

D Some women's poetry blogs seem nearly gender-neutral. Some celebrate their female-ness. In literature the image of the strong woman is helped by women controlling their own blogspheres and literary appearances. YES

E I think poetry blogs could change the notion of poetry. Gender, I'm not as certain. MAYBE

F No

G They don't change my notions about anything--but the women I know who big def feel discriminated against. I find the better bloggers to be women in general. NO

H Yes. They are helping to build the kind of context mentioned above.

I If I read them all, I'd be able to tell you;) As is, I don't have access to a body of them or reliable statistics related to them, so it's extremely difficult to generalise? MAYBE

J I have no idea. MAYBE

K I don't know that I have a universal enough view to be able to make a definitive kind of statement about this question, but have the awareness that the apparently more widespread access to web-based forms of communication nowadays, is definitely something I'd think would play a part in more widely disseminating information, which in turn has an enormous potential for influencing ideas not only about gender and literature but also other subjects of relevance.

It's not just blogging or websites that have fostered conversations across the globe among poets - even before the currently more heightened "wave" of awareness about electronic or web-based forms of communication, academics, community organizers, mothers, daughters, activists, feminists, were already creating networks and conversations, laying the groundwork through whatever means at hand (visual art, theatre, poetry, performance, folk art forms, song, radio, and then of course yes-- email etc.)

The accessibility of web venues however has definitely seemed to promote the visibility of women - and their ability to more rapidly create networks and communities for correspondence, exchange, and collaboration. YES

L I don't know whether women's poetry blogs, any more than any other outlet for poetry, are changing notions of gender. Gender notions are constantly in flux, influenced more by pop culture than anything, and as such I suppose blogs might play a tiny role, but not that generalized of one. This said, I do think that access to discussions on topics such as gender can take place in a wider forum and more quickly via the web, thus on blogs. Take for instance the enormous fallout after Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young's article (which was on your question 1!) last year in the Chicago Review. The responses were so numerous and varied that the Chicago review opened an online spot for them, and this has fostered what will be forthcoming print publications based out of projects that arose after this. In turn, the review printed a new version, see info at http://www.digitalemunction.com/wordpress/2007/11/04/poetry-and-gender-following-numbers-trouble/ with articles from the issue. Did the blog or the website change notions of gender in this instance? No. Did it foster discussion? Yes. And then the discussion led to further print work. MAYBE

M That's a big question.

Wompo is a listserve of women's writing. It didn't help my notions of pro-female.

Each speech act isn't traceable to particular outcome. We all change society. As Junot Diaz said culture is thought of as medication but writing doesn't work like that. It has a capillary effect if we are lucky. Direct effects are hard to say.

Talking about gender may just prime in the way asking Malcolm Gladwell found that asking race in a university exam changed the results compared to control groups. MAYBE

N [no answer]

O I doubt that in this day and age that women’s poetry blogs or literature are changing “notions of gender.” The hot gender issues I think have to do with transgendered individuals. Recently I read Aaron Link Raz’s story What Becomes You about how he was born female but always felt male. Sure I believe there is still discrimination against women but the mandate is not about changing attitudes (as in “notions of gender”) but about taking action to correct unworkable situations. NO

P I think so, along with women's writing and other activities in the
literary and other fields. Partly it's just another set of
perspectives being more apparent, or at least available, to all than
has previously been the case. Queer writing has also been very
important re this. And some men's. Obviously these overlap. YES

Q In the sense that they call attention to the fact that women are online, that we write poetry, and that we have opinions that male-centered media (including most poetry magazines and publishers) fail to address, yes. I don't know that they have changed notions of gender in literature beyond asserting that women exist and think and create in ways heretofore unacknowledged by many if not most readers. Women's poetry blogs can do this because there are no middlemen (no pun intended) and therefore no mediation that purports to "translate" what women are saying. YES à This might be important for earlier in the article

R Poetry blogs often help to build a sense of community and women’s blogs play a key role in that function. Of course women have often been community builders in literary culture, so this is not a new role. It’s been harder in the past for women to promote themselves and distribute their own work; blogs make this work easier and allow women to bypass the traditional means of promotion (which are disappearing in any case) such as publishers and reviewers. I think this is quite a significant change and is allowing the more widespread distribution of women’s voices – both their poetry and their other writing about poetry, the literary life, art and social issues, and the “poetry business,” for lack of a better term.
Women have traditionally been less well represented in the role of critic than as creative artists. As women and other traditionally marginalized groups become “tastemakers,” we are truly changing notions of gender (and race and class and sexuality and physical ability, for that matter), as well as of poetry itself. The internet is playing a crucial role in this shift, as there are more opportunities to write and publish reviews and other critical writings online. (I am indebted to the poet and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller for helping me understand the crucial role of the critic.) YES

3. What are your own personal motivations for placing your poetry in your blog or online magazine?

A I think it is both to be part of something, whether spiritual or material, and to be apart from something as well.

B I wanted to have a reader in the equation. That was my motivation for the poetry blog Heaven. I also wanted to have a daily semi-public dialogue with poetry. When actual readers began to manifest I was abashed. My blog didn't have links, or for a long time, comments.
For me, the blog was a performance space.
My motivations for placing my work in online magazines is pretty much the same as it is for print magazines: I want to respond to an opportunity, I have work I would like to see published. Online magazines sometimes offer additional opportunities. One of the first sets of poems I published in an online magazine, Masthead, used hyperlinks. Online publication opens up a range of new opportunities: What can you do with the poem when there's no page? What about color?


C I don't put my poetry on sites that I edit. All publications are through other editors. Motivation: readership.

D When you write 'your blog or online magazine,' are you presuming your respondents have their own blogs or magazines? I have neither. My placing of my poetry online in spaces that others editorially control is motivated by my desire to let the language be 'out there,' to speak itself as much as possible. The online environment is much more generously available than print environments, and I publish online and encourage students and others to do so because of that readiness and availability.

E I enjoyed the ease of publishing online and I was motivated by the idea that people could stumble across my words. It's perhaps a voyeuristic thing. I also used to find it cathartic.

F Process notes, virtual journal. (blog) Circulation/distribution (online mags - i.e. How2, Coconut, Admit2, etc)

G Having people read it--an audience.

H A context I enjoy

I Exposure, expansion, enveloping, absorbing.

J I write things for people to read.

K - documentation; networking; as an alternative venue to publishing besides traditional print venues; to reach more readers/audiences that I might not be able to reach via traditional media; to get a feel for the pulse of what other writers and readers are interested in

L I don' personally have an online magazine, but participate in a few blogs, and have submitted to other's online magazines. My reasons for submitting to online mags is to allow free exposure to work I am working on, and esp if I like the online magazine and what they are doing. As for blogs--My own blog (http://jenniferkdick.blogspot.com) is there for me to post personal whatnots, sometimes to announce new or forthcoming publications, or to review and reflect on topics in poetry or in writing (or in my own life). I think it is mostly read by friends and family, and perhaps by some people when they are trying to find out more about my recent work. The second blog I participate in poetically is REWORDS (http://rewords.blogspot.com). I created it as an online collaborative site, and it is still growing, with 60 authors from around the world who post poems riffing off other poems on the site. The blog format makes it easy for poets to post, and allows us to respond and get work up that is written off other poems on the site quickly. Motivations are to enjoy a playful, impermanent space of collaboration. The blog format recognizes, for me, impermanence, and it allows for the in-process, the not-yet-completed, and it is a space where work can be modified and, if ever necessary, removed quickly, too.

M community participation in memes, aka networking. or material that I want to share and know of no market that I could foist that particular style and content on.

N [no answer]

O If I use one of my poems in my blogs or an article published on the Internet, I try to use only those that have already been published. On the occasions where a poem has not been previously published, I use it because I think the poem serves the purpose at hand and probably won’t be snapped up by some other publication.

P The desire to communicate I suppose. To be a part of it, as they say.

Q I never published my poetry in my blog. I have published in online magazines because I think they have greater readership, in general, than print journals and (again) because the poems have been solicited.

R I think I have only once posted a poem of my own on my blog. I’d rather have other people publish my work and use the blog to promote discussion, champion poets I love, spread the word about events at the intersection of poetry and social change, and think aloud about the topics that preoccupy me as a poet and activist. I’ve also used my blog to promote groups and events I’ve been involved in organizing, such as Split This Rock Poetry Festival and DC Poets Against the War.
I was a little late in submitting my work to online magazines, being just old enough to have a deeply held, instinctual preference for the printed page (I’m 45). But now I am very appreciative of the opportunity to reach a worldwide audience, crossing so many boundaries. Most people in the United States are not even aware of the existence of printed literary magazines and even if they are they have no idea how to get a hold of them or where to begin to differentiate between them. Online magazines obviously overcome these difficulties and allow potential readers of all sorts to find my work. For me this serves a political as well as a literary function, since I write a lot of socially engaged poetry, a genre that has sometimes had a hard time finding its way in traditional venues for poetry in the US.

4. On the internet, has women's poetry helped to advance any feminist causes? Give examples if possible.

MAYBE 4
NO 4
YES 8
NO ANSWER 2

A Well, I don't know. I don't particularly read poetry, either written by men or women, in a political vein. MAYBE

B WomPo is an important listserv, focused on poetry by women. WomPo, and other listservs such as Poet-Moms and Pussipo have extended discussions, and also initiate publishing projects and reading initiatives. There is a feeling of history-making. The Internet allows communities of women poets across the world to converse on a daily basis about a wide range of personal, political, and poetry-related issues. This has never happened before. YES

C Well, there are so many communities on line where women come together, work together, support each other. Mom-po, wompo, formalista, pussipo -- all of these have triggered writing projects, many of which promote feminist ideologies. I coordinate collaborative sonnet crowns women poets, for instance, a few of which have been published or are forthcoming. One, coming out in Mezzo Cammin's next issue, takes Milton's sonnet XII (on divorce and public outcry against his proposal for it) as a seed poem for a heroic crown -- one page from tradition, one from John Cage, one from feminist notions of collaboration. We titled it "Maligned." YES

D I don't know of any specific examples but certainly the appearance of women's poetry online gives voice to many issues and forms pertinent to women's lives and language uses. YES

E I don't see how it has. NO

F No

G Yes. I have none. YES

H Any kind of articulation women's subjectivity is helpful for feminism. It gives women a voice in expressing/creating the perceived world. Specifically, for one example, I imagine that online anhtologies on abortion and reproductive freedom have helped raise consciousness. The listserv Wom-Po, Discussion of Women's Poetry, has created many spinoff groups and anthologies and projects that have helped advance women's poetry. YES

I [no answer]

J I have no idea MAYBE

K The Wom-po Collective (Women's Poetry) collective, for instance, to me is a good example of an internet based collaborative forum helping to advance discussions about feminist aesthetics and their practice. Members no longer just work in the proverbial room of their own, but can also find solidarity and community in the practices of other women writers.

There is also plenty of room for argument and debate, for teasing out nuances and details - but this is always a healthy part to any conversation and used in the right way, can lead to growth and discernment - even if these are measured in small/personal ways by participants (i.e. members might give suggestions on reading lists, there is even a recent initiative called the wom-po abode swap where registered wom-po listserve members can advertise on the list for a berth or bed to bunk in someone's home if they are passing through a different town/city) - there's also more practical writerly advice exchanged on a range of topics from revising to editing to publishing and marketing one's books. YES

L I don't know. I do think that the Poezibao website in France has done a lot to make people here aware of a wider range of poetry being composed, and the person running that site did make an initial attempt to put 50-50% work by both genders, though had to in the end resort to including more men as there were still more men here. So her site does make people aware in France, where authors tend to still clump in schools or around presses run by friends, of a wider array of work being composed. I believe that is equally the case in the states. I am certain for those running specifically "feminist" sites, the blog allows them access to a wide readership, and for free, so that is evidently going to be useful to getting the word out about the causes they are interested in. MAYBE

M not that I can think of. NO

N [no answer]

O I don’t know and I’m not tapped into this. MAYBE

P Yes I think so. For me one major feminist cause is the recovery of the
historical record of women's writing, which has been suppressed.
So it's great that people and institutions post poems by Margaret
Cavendish, for example. YES

Q If poetry has helped to reduce women's poverty, to reduce their neglect by the health care system, to increase their access to unpopular health procedures, to decrease domestic violence, etc., I don't know of it. NO

R A good deal of the poetry published on the web against the war in Iraq has been by women, and I believe peace to be a central feminist cause. As this is the issue I have been most active in over the past several years, it is the one with which I have the most familiarity. I published several poems from the perspective of mothers of American soldiers in a special wartime issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly I edited in 2006. (Interestingly, one was by a man.) As Martín Espada has written, poetry can give politics a human face, and one of the faces of this war is the family irrevocably damaged by the loss of a child. Many readers told me these were among the most affecting poems in the issue. YES

5. Do you perceive any sexist biases on the Internet, and what do you perceive these to be? Is there pressure on the Internet for women to conform to "masculine" poetry standards? Are these pressures are greater or lesser than in the past? Give examples if you can.

NO ANSWER 5
NO 2
YES 10
EH 1

A No, I don't perceive any sexist biases on the internet. I think we are pretty much free to do what we want when it comes to writing poetry. I think there is also a burgeoning of women editors since the 1990s. NO

B The same biases exist on the Internet as in the culture at large. there are too many issues in your question to answer here. YES

C listservs with dominant men tend to be more flame-oriented. Women are sometimes socialized to avoid conflict. This doesn't work out well. Cap-l was a nightmare in this regard. Wompo was started in response to the feeling there and on the poetics list. I'm not answering all your questions -- sorry. NO ANSWER

D I imagine you will have more than one respondent note the massive difference between the amount of blogging and listserv posting done by men vs women writers. In the few listservs I have paid attention to on any regular basis, men are far and away the most frequent contributors. That contribution disparity itself creates a sexist environment, though no one can be 'blamed' for it I suppose. More specifically the internet favors strong and specific and short-screen pronouncements, and because more men post than women these pronouncements are more easily associable with male voices. So it can sometimes be intimidating when one considers responding. Two times when I posted (for the first time each as it happened) on the listservs I pay attention to, I was immediately denounced by male voices. One anonymously attacked my claims and the other briefly dismissed the legitimacy of the kind of discourse I was engaging in. Certainly those responses made a difference in my willingness to post again to those places. YES

E I am perhaps too far removed from the online poetry community to know if there are biases. I write poetry and publish it online for my own satisfaction. What little communication I've had with other online poets isn't enough to offer useful examples. NO ANSWER

F Not sure what you are talking about. NO ANSWER

G Yes. In the small pool that is poetry, men can be very aggressive in staking out their turf and defending their opinions--it's an ugly pissing contest drag. Women are more inclusive.. Yes, [there are pressures to conform] because women don't write (or think or talk) like men. No idea [if these pressures are greater or lesser] YES

H Yes, everywhere but on Wom-Po, the listserv I started to correct such biases. YES

I [no answer]

J I have no idea NO ANSWER

K There are sexist biases everywhere - why not on the internet as well? There is pressure in society and in culture at large for women to "conform" to standards and idea(l)s of "femininity" - why not on the internet as well? In certain ways the previous biases towards women's writing as confined to "domestic" and "trivial" forms (as the diary, the journal, the daybook were thought of in the past) continue to apply to women's writing in the new electronic formats - the "informal" or "casual" feel of electronic journals, for instance, is something that I have heard writing colleagues say makes them generally regard these venues as less "legitimate" than traditional, juried print venues (which in a way is also a kind of fallback to familiar sexist biases about the nature of "acceptable" writing/literature)

While this may not be directly an answer to your question - I also see the persistence of such biases towards electronic-based publishing and writing formats and venues (as against print venues) as related to the dynamic and the hierarchy of relationships created by a reading and writing culture centered around ("stable") print.

Because the history of women's literature - especially but not only in capitalist societies - has had to rely on alternative forms of writing, alternative definitions of community and genre and aesthetics in reaction to the predominance of a reading and writing culture that shut them out in the first place, there are remnants of this even in contemporary web-based writing and publishing practices and attitudes toward the same. YES

L [no answer]

M Sexism exists in women and men. I sometimes think I can pigeonhole writing as by a gender of writer. I don't know if I'm right or wrong. Sex is chromosomal, social situational, hormonal, independent from sexuality, complex.

still seems like women cluster in blogs by women and men in blogs by men. is it the jocular versus supportive dynamic or that would be a silly construction? Are there enough female bloggers to make any statistically accurate statement of practice? YES

N I do see sexist biases on the internet, though I've
heard much more about them from female friends and fellow bloggers who
work in technology and computing than in other fields. I have friends
who've been the lone or almost-lone woman on computing-related forums
and who've had all kinds of hostile e-mail show up in their inboxes when
they've tried to draw attention to sexist language or gender bias. But I
don't really see "masculine" or "feminine" poetry standards in place,
probably because I don't spend enough time hanging out in online poetry
forums to be able to gauge what the standards are. YES

O I’ve been using the Internet before it was a reliable source of information and writing web pages since 1994. I have owned personal computers since 1982. I started working in the computer field as a COBOL programmer in 1969. I have never experienced any kind of sexual bias on the Internet and know nothing about "masculine" poetry standards.

P Yes because men's poetry (and in fact all forms of male speech) has
been at least for a while now framed as normative (and "important" or
"relevant") and that gives a form of "advantage" (if you want to call
it that) to any man currently writing.
These pressures are a bit lesser than in the past in my perception.
But that's probably case-by-case and all sorts of other factors, like
economics, influence this. YES

Q I see far fewer biases on the internet than I do in poetry's print culture! As to "masculine poetry standards," I don't know what those are. There are certainly plenty of men editing magazines who want to publish poems that remind them of their own both online and off, but it takes much less effort to find venues that care about women's writing online than otherwise. EH

R It’s a paradoxical situation: On the one hand, as I wrote above, there are a great deal more opportunities for women to reach a broad audience – with their poetry and their prose. On the other hand, a virulent, even violent sexism is still alive and well in the world and our very visibility and accessibility means that we are more exposed, more vulnerable to sexist attack than previously, especially with the potential for anonymity on the web. I am not speaking from personal experience, as I’ve never been subjected to this kind of harassment. But I know it happens. Nor am I speaking of disagreement and discussion. I am speaking of sexist name-calling and harassment, an altogether different thing. I do think I’ve censored myself a little bit because of this possibility, choosing not to write much about issues of sex and sexuality, for example, on the blog. YES

6. Do you see the aspect of anonymity inspiring more sexist vitriol on the web in poetry-related forums? Has anonymity helped to spread anti-feminist perspectives? Give examples if you can.

YES 7
NO 4
MAYBE 4
NO ANSWER 3

A I think there will always be sexist comments, from both genders. And yes, I think anonymity can inspire all sorts of actions. YES

B Unfortunately, I think women are far more likely to suffer vitriolic attack from those they know than from those working under cover of anonymity. Personally, I haven't suffered from the latter, as far as I know. NO

C no info on this. MAYBE

D I don't know of any specific examples but certainly the appearance of women's poetry online gives voice to many issues and forms pertinent to women's lives and language uses. NO ANSWER

E I think the anonymity could exacerbate sexist vitriol. I however think the anonymity creates an environment for people to be more of whatever there could be more of. Sexy sexist a-sexual anti-sexual, if it's all there to begin with naturally it could be made into more. I think women have the desire to use their feminism as a power tool, but not have it used against them. It's a grey area for me. YES

F Yes - flaming, anonymous attacks, trolling, and intimidation. YES

G probably YES

H Yes YES

I [no answer]

J I don't read many poetry-related forums. The poets I know are, for the most part, very kind and thoughtful people. Probably a bunch of them are goddess workshippers. But I don't know. MAYBE


K As far as my experience on a collective like the Wom-po listserve, it has been mostly civil, where individual poets/posters, both men and women, are aware of certain protocols of communication, and when there is anything that might conceivably be out of line or equivalent to "sexist vitriol" members do speak up so as to make correction possible. Anonymity has been used to spread all kinds of things, including anti-feminist or anti-anything perspectives; it does exist on the web, and just as when it is used in traditional print venues -- my thinking on that is, if someone can't even own up to and take responsibility for something made public, it calls the very responsibility and credibility of those statements (and the person who makes them) into question. NO

L Not really. There is just as much anti-feminism as pro-feminism online. And so, the anonymity merely fosters ways for people to hide their remarks behind facades--something I am not personally that much of a fan about. I feel that if you have something to say, take the risk and say it, but then I do realize that can create problems! As regards this question, I was thinking that what might be more interesting is to find out whether men, and perhaps women, but in this case men, have decided to write as women on any of these sites FOR feminist causes, in ways they perhaps did not feel they could unless under a female pseudonym. I would be curious to know if that has happened. NO

M the only vitriol that comes to mind is the lady blogger in IT who was stalked and then threw up her hands and quit blogging. I don't see a lot of anti-feminist sentiment. Any arguments seem to be on a personal level against individuals in the name of poetics ideology not sexist notions. NO

N I'm
not sure what the impact of anonymity is on poetry forums. (But I've
certainly seen horribly misogynistic stuff posted anonymously in
non-poetry-related venues. I'm thinking particularly of trollish
commenters I've seen on feminist political blogs.) MAYBE

O I’m totally clueless. I don’t hang out in poetry chat rooms. Since the early 1980sI have been involved with running a small press publishing poetry. I work in the trenches of poetry and been an organizer in the DC area. I see nothing anti-feminist in the things I’ve encountered and I guess if I did, I wouldn’t put up with it. MAYBE

P Anonymity can free people to say what they really think, or to be more
inflammatory than they otherwise might, in all sorts of ways. YES

Q I think anonymity permits bigots of every sort to spread their opinions without fear of discovery, censure, or consequences. I saw this more online during the presidential election, frankly, than I've seen it in poetry fora, but theoretically: yes, of course. YES

R Please see my answer above. I don’t spend a lot of time reading poetry-related discussion forums, so I can’t comment specifically. NO ANSWER

7. Do you think there is any connection between gender and the formal (not subject-oriented) aspects of poetry? If so, can you describe the connection?

NO 11
NO ANSWER 4
MAYBE 3
YES 0

A No, as far as I can see, there are none that can be generalised. NO

B The question is hard to understand. It's not so easy to separate form from subject. Obviously though, when writers have new subject positions, i.e., when members of previously silent groups begin to write and speak, then new subjects come into the genre too. So there's a profound connection between subject and gender. And poetry being poetry, form and subject are likely to be in conscious relationship. MAYBE

C There are no authentic paradigmatic connections. But there are associations people make -- and historical patterns people see -- that influence their practice. Poets can play with these associations to make an argument. It is dangerous to think of them as anything but historically, regionally, and sometimes just personally contingent. The real danger with historical arguments about form and gender is that so much of what women wrote was erased, stolen, forgotten out of neglect, or critically ridiculed, regardless of the aesthetic. NO

D No, I do not think there is anything inherently gender-distinctive in formal approaches to poetry. NO

E I think gender is a part of who the poet is, therefore goes into the poems. I don't think it limits or makes greater the ability to poet-tize. I used to find poetry to be a slightly feminine writing form. I don't think that I feel that way anymore. MAYBE

F No NO

G [no answer]

H Women seem often to have a more playful attitude towards form in poetry. MAYBE

I [no answer]

J Not necessarily. The artist is androgynous. Or maybe hermaphrodite. But then again, everyone is different. There's rule that doesn't have an exception. NO

K [confused by question]

L No. I think that there are poets who are more inclined to explore form, be that experimental, contemporary art-like forms, or the traditional, and those who are more concerned with what message they have to provide readers. What would be exciting, is to see a greater dialogue taking place between these authors. More cross readership. More acceptance by those who are writing "politically engaged" work which seeks to promote or explore the promotion of a cause, and work which formally explores that cause but is often seen as not taking part strongly enough in the political aspect of the work. Here I am thinking of authors such as Myung Mi Kim, Susan Howe, Anne-Marie Albiach, etc etc. These authors are often not considered key feminists, and yet their work is feminist in how it seeks to go beyond gender, and beyond 2-sided argumentation, to seek perspectives beyond the old debates and sides. NO

M The notion of woman as talking feelings and more obliquely or of house and home while men speak more narratively of actions and at greater emotional distance. This seems to have very little matching pattern to practice. Gender if more of a set of prescriptions than descriptions.

Good poetry is independent of gender. NO

N question #7 gets at some issues that interest me and that
I've researched. So, briefly: I don't think there's any *intrinsic*
connection between form and gender. I don't think either gender is
predisposed to write in certain forms (or in free verse). I did most of
my doctoral research on poetry from a period (16th and 17th centuries)
when most of the poets writing in English were male, and women poets
worked in the same forms and the same modes as their male counterparts
did. But I have read about, and noticed, an occasional linking of poetic
form with "the feminine" in the minds of at least some poets and
commentators -- I think people sometimes think of the form of a poem as
a kind of decorative outside for the content of the poem, like clothing,
and code it as feminine accordingly. I'm fairly sure I've read one or
two critics' take on the subject, but it's been a while since I thought
about it, so I don't have any citations to hand. NO

But, like I said, I don't myself think that the formal aspects of poetry
are gendered in any particular way, even though I've noticed other
people thinking that way. I hope this answers your question.

O No.

P Even the terms gender, formal, and subject-oriented are bothersome to me. NO ANSWER

Q Generally, no, I don't think biology is one's formalist destiny. But I think that as a consequence of learning the history of poetry in English, and learning primarily the poems of men and a few 20th-century male-influenced women poets, that contemporary female poets are far more interested in formal innovations than our male counterparts. We are still discovering the kinds of poetry we might write. NO

R Not intrinsic, no. I think women have been discouraged from being formally inventive by all sorts of forces, literary and more broadly historical and cultural. But many women have been battering down those walls for years and will continue to do so. One advantage poetry has over other art forms is there’s no money in it. So the pressure to conform, while still present, is substantially less. Not that I’m OK with this situation – there absolutely should be more money for poetry! NO



FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

General:

Are women’s poetry blogs changing notions of gender more than other mediums (books, film, etc.)?

Do you know of any specific instance where a poetry blog changed someone’s thoughts or feelings about gender? What about the existence of a group such as Wom-Po?

Can you recall an instance that made you think that one’s gender can change how he or she operates online?


Are women’s poetry blogs changing notions of gender more than other mediums (books, film, etc.)?

A: No

C: This is hard to gauge. I wouldn't think so. But the immediacy and the ease of access to blogs means more happens in this vein, and likewise more is viewed. The comparison is difficult, since these media tend to work in concert.

D: No, off the top of my head. But of course it depends on how much of your time is devoted to e-worlds. I am still quite oriented to books and films and general media. Plus, 'women's poetry blogs' does not equal all the women blogging...

E: No

H: probably--because there is more interaction

P: [no answer]

Do you know of any specific instance where a poetry blog changed someone’s thoughts or feelings about gender? What about the existence of a group such as Wom-Po?

A: No

C: [off the record]

D: No specific instances I know of.

E: No, and no

H: I'm sure there are plenty of such instances documented in the wompo archives.

P [no answer]

Can you recall an instance that made you think that one’s gender can change how he or she operates online?

A: No

C Yes. This is why wom-po was formed. A group of men on the Cap-l list dominated discussion and had a competitive, slap-down manner that shamed women into silence. The early wompo was amazingly supportive. This changed, or became less intimate-feeling, when we got over 200 or 300 members, and it was just too unwieldy. Surely the size of wompo alone suggests how much it was needed. But the size ultimately was why I signed off the list, although I was there from the very start.

I'm sure someone will mention the whole Ron Silliman thing -- I don't recall the details, maybe two years ago, where there was a big argument about gender on his blog. I think the group pussipo was formed out of feeling alienated on the Poetics list out of Buffalo, and also the desire for a smaller group of "innovative" women poets.

D: Certainly it's easy to perceive the dominance of male voices online as a characteristic of the gender, whatever the causes. But that is perhaps the opposite of what you mean by your question. Can a man or woman CHANGE the way they gender-operate online? Gender DETERMINES, yes; but change? No; I know of no instances of this.

E: No

H: definitely. The wompo archives are full of discussions of how gender changes the way people operate online.

I started wompo because other poetry lists at the time, highly male-dominated, were routinely dominated by duels/fights between two people with everyone else a bystander. The wompo list has a completely different way of operating.

In the wom-po archive is a post from Gabriel Gudding saying he'd never been in an online environment which was so steadily civilized and respectful. This post was met with (civilized and respectful) amusement, since he didn't seem to realize the source of the difference: that wom-po was probably 90% women, while other the lists he was used to were probably 75% men.

P: Absolutely. I have seen men gang up on women saying things they don't want to hear. (And women joining in the gang too sometimes.) In gender-specific ways.

This shouldn't surprise anyone who reads the news.