Guerilla Publishing

By Gabrielle Darling

Some of us are aware of the story behind the Guerilla Girls, but many of us are not. To cut it short: women were sick of unequal gallery space in the art industry, which chose to showcase a flimsy 10% of female artists. In order to show just how low the percentage of female artists were being showcased a group of women chose to don gorilla masks and make a public statement. They were dubbed the Guerilla Girls and have since done demonstrations in Istanbul, Shanghai, and New York to name a few. The entire point of the Guerilla Girls was to make an outrageous appearance to draw the public eye to a serious issue. Their focus is on the art industry, but it has only been in the last few years the publishing world has thought to create their own group, VIDA, to focus on more equal publication of women in literary enterprises.guerilla-girls

Credited to the Guerilla Girls, 1990.

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts are the slightly less rambunctious version of the guerilla girls. They don’t wear masks, but rather they write. The written word can be just as effective as the visual aid of a gorilla mask. By use of articles, panels, and specific facts and figures targeting well-known magazines, which showcase male writers more than female they have created some headway in the literary world for women. They have built a sense of community for writers to ban together and point out the flaws within their own system. It’s a different way of handling the problem and in some ways it’s less visual, but it takes the same sense of community that began the Guerilla girls. As stated in “VIDA: An Interview with Erin Belieu” the “spark for VIDA happened when my co-founder Cate Marvin sent a handful of writers a particularly dismayed email asking what had happened to the feminist conversation in contemporary literature. That email went viral…” She went on to speak about a conversation she had with a male colleague who she respected stating “[the magazine editors] couldn’t think of a single other woman poet who was ‘significant’ or ‘deserving’ enough to receive [a major award].” This was a sad statement in regards to the literary world because there certainly isn’t a shortage of female writers. It’s a question of whether or not they write and discuss things that the men of the industry relate too

.vida-panels-and-events-awp

Photograph on VIDA website. From Event: VIDA Panels and Events at AWP

Although VIDA is a new program and is slowly making headway by reaching out to other writers both male and female to organize their ranks a question is brought up. In order to draw attention to the issues of female representation in publishing should we also don gorilla masks? VIDA is approximately nine years old, but the history of publishing is far longer and, yet it is only in the last few years an idea of equality has been started. In fact very few individuals are aware of this problem within the industry – myself included until recently. Sometimes it seems we have to do something outrageous in order for our issues to be noticed. While writing these issues and getting the word out is one of the best ways we can go about it I have to wonder if the guerilla girls have caused the public to react more strongly, for and against their cause.

Organization is key in any movement and program. While the audience for VIDA may be growing so is their community. In recent years publishers have made efforts for equality in magazines. These efforts are sometimes short lived, but there are attempts and with more people involved in the effort and aware of the issue someday these trials may stick and become industry standards. I only hope we don’t have to go to ridiculous lengths to bring awareness to an issue, which shouldn’t even be a concern in this day and age. Forming a community around such issues is integral in the recognition and action to take care of them. It cannot be left to one person or one group in particular, but must be an extension of many groups who all care about the same issue. The Guerilla Girls would not be possible if men and women internationally did not agree about the issues concerning equality in galleries. Headway can only be made by working together and communicating within our own fields of writing, publishing, and as being readers.

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5 thoughts on “Guerilla Publishing

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  1. I enjoyed reading this from start to finish. The Guerilla Girls seem like some tough, bad-ass women that really fought for what they believe in, and I’m glad that they did. I can’t imagine the state of the publishing/art industry they had been involved with then, and I’m fascinated to see where the future of the publishing industry goes. Women definitely are well known in the Young Adult fiction novels now a days, but I couldn’t quite say the same for the other genres.
    As for smaller productions, I’m glad that things like VIDA exist to try and battle any kind of gender inequality in any writing.

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  2. Gabrielle-
    I really like your post. I think equality in gender is one of the main reasons why we don’t experience communal aspects in the literary world and publishing world. I think going as far as wearing gorilla masks is a huge statement just for women to have their voices heard on paper.

    -Lilly

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  3. Thank you for elaborating more on Guerrilla Girls. If you didn’t explain it, I would be inclined to think that this was just talking about something similar to Guerrilla warfare. I love how you provided a solution, but I also think that the main publishers need to start hiring a more diverse staff, and hopefully that diverse staff will know other places to look for to find women, and women of color, to publish. Good job! 🙂

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  4. I really loved how you tied art and literature together. It never occurred to me that art world would have similar struggles in terms of inclusion (as I’m not knowledgeable in art) but now that I’ve read your post I don’t know why I didn’t pick this up sooner. I really loved this sentence in your post, “VIDA is approximately nine years old, but the history of publishing is far longer and, yet it is only in the last few years an idea of equality has been started”

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  5. Thanks for introducing us to the Guerilla Girls! It’s useful to see how the same issues are at work across the arts, and to consider strategies used to disrupt these issues in other fields. In a few places, you could get a little more specific (i.e. after noting that, “In recent years publishers have made efforts for equality in magazines,” you could provide some statistics from the VIDA Counts).

    Also, while VIDA has brought new attention to the lack of equity in reviews and magazine publishing, the statement that “it is only in the last few years an idea of equality has been started” is far from true! I encourage you to look up Virginia Woolf’s _A Room of One’s Own_ or Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s _The Madwoman in the Attic_ for a couple key arguments from the early/mid 20th century calling for that very “idea of equality.” Gilbert and Gubar (and others like them) are largely responsible for the fact that college classroom’s now include many more texts by women. Or go even further back to Mary Wollstonecraft’s _A Vindication of the Rights of Woman_ (Wollstonecraft was the mother of Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein!). In other words… it’s an ongoing fight with important strides made in previous centuries.

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