A quick (yet somehow exhaustive) memory inventory of where I glimpsed feminism while growing up in Fargo in the 1970s and 1980s:
- My purple, clothbound Free to Be . . . You and Me book and accompanying record
- My Judy Blume books, especially Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Forever
- Mom’s subscription to Ms.
- The first Simon & Schuster edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, where I read about masturbation, lesbians, and abortion
- Mom’s book club, discussing Wifey and The Women’s Room
- Food For Thought Books, which was owned by my friend’s feminist mom, Gini Duval
My experience was typical: the modern feminist movement was overwhelmingly accessed and popularized through print. Feminist bookstores were community spaces, welcoming the like-minded or curious or alienated.The books and magazines and pamphlets they carried blew minds, answered questions, and changed lives.
My life was wholly changed by feminism and publishing. I landed in New York (by train, from Fargo) in December 1992 to take an unpaid internship at Ms. magazine. I had no place to live, no friends, no job, no clue. What I did have, though, was a sense of purpose, and with that crucial element in place, I soon found an apartment, a social life, and work. In my thirties, I went on to coauthor early handbooks of third-wave feminism (Manifesta, Grassroots) and write magazine articles about the same. In my forties, I edited the Women’s Review of Books and ran two feminist presses.
“An early slogan of the women-in-print movement was ‘freedom of the press belongs to those who own the press,’” Barbara Smith wrote in 1989, describing why she cofounded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press (KTP). While putting together the landmark anthology All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, Smith hired a lawyer to fend off her publisher’s insistence on changing the title. These challenges to her vision and credibility were draining, and thus KTP was born out of “our need for autonomy, our need to determine independently both the content and conditions of our work, and to control the words and images that are produced about us.”
Linda Gardiner started the Women’s Review of Books (b. 1983) because critical writing by women and about feminism was scarce in the mainstream press. This is no longer the case. In 2019, the VIDA Count noted that 54 percent of the authors and critics The New York Times Book Review published were women and nonbinary, up from 37 percent in 2010. Openly feminist books have surged in popularity during that time. Feminism and feminists have been integrated into the mainstream.
Still, I think a print feminist review is not only viable in the current moment but necessary. Just as in the larger world, there is tremendous diversity and conflict within feminism/s. Feminists, however, have long modeled processes for working through the thorniest of questions and challenging the most immutable forces. The intrafeminist debates at times almost tore the movement apart, but they also catalyzed important conversations that have now reached the mainstream: conversations about class, race, gender essentialism, sexual violence, bodily autonomy, patient-driven medicine, and the toll of patriarchy on men.
Even when disagreements between feminists have been painful, they have generated and then drawn upon shared vocabulary, histories, and the belief that liberation is possible, that feminism can and does change lives. We started LIBER out of a desire and responsibility to preserve and disseminate that feminist tradition and to bring diverse voices within it into meaningful dialogue.