Elizabeth Miller is a radical feminist activist who runs the Chicago Feminist Salon and co-organized the Women in Media Conference, a radical feminist conference held in Chicago in 2018. In recent years, she has worked on the successful campaigns to get the U.S. Equal Rights Amendment ratified in Illinois and to enact Illinois House Bill 40, which ensured that abortion will remain legal in Illinois even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Among other projects, she is currently working with the U.S. radical feminist organization Feminists in Struggle to lobby Congress to pass legislation protecting women’s sex-based rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and gender non-conforming people, organizing two other radical feminist conferences in the U.S., and is the founder of the Radical Feminism Resources community on Facebook.
She is the contributing editor to the upcoming anthology, Spinning and Weaving: Radical Feminism for the 21st Century, which features over 40 essays by women from all over the world, will be published in March 2021.
What made you decide to publish this book?
I saw feminist women saying many brilliant things online – for example in blogs, but also on social media. Over and over again I witnessed women writing wonderful posts or comments that could have been radical feminist essays and I thought: women are developing feminist theory one day and the next day it disappears. Especially on Facebook, the text just scrolls away. I didn’t want this brilliance to be lost.
Any other reasons?
I’m a book person; I’ve got thousands of them at my house, and books are sacred to me. That’s why I consider them a good “home” for radical feminist theory. Also, there hasn’t been a radical feminist anthology published since Ruth Barrett’s Female Erasure came out in 2015, and before that, I don’t think there’s been one for decades. During the Second Wave, feminist anthologies got published much more often; there used to be feminist publishing houses, bookstores, etc. I’d love us to bring some of that back.
How did you decide which women to ask for essays?
First, I made a list of everyone I thought to be a good writer: I wrote down the names of over 100 women.
That’s a lot!
Yeah. Some of them were the more widely known names, such as Gail Dines, or Melissa Farley, and some were those women I saw repeatedly saying really smart things online. For around five or six of them this was their first article ever to be published anywhere.
Did you also make an effort to include various age groups?
Yes! The book contains the voices of a range of women aged between their early 20s and their 70s. Within every decade from the 20s higher, there are at least a few authors. It was also very important to me to reach out to radical feminists of color as well as women in many other countries besides the USA.
As an Eastern European, I’m curious how you chose the authors living outside of the US.
That was a bit of a problem. As I realized during the process of identifying contributors to the book, if we don’t speak the same language (in my case, English), we are much less likely to cross paths. However, I’m pleased that there are around 10 women in the anthology whose first language isn’t English, but who speak it very well.
Would you have accepted texts not written in English?
Yes. When I put out announcements on social media that I was looking for writers, I said I would provide translations from other languages. Nobody took me up on that. That’s one of the things that bothers me, as I would love to know more about radical feminism in a whole lot of countries. Women’s Human Rights Campaign is doing a wonderful job of platforming radical feminists from around the world in their weekly Feminist Question Time, and I think it should be a continuing project of the global radical feminist community to find ways to translate our work so that it’s accessible to radical feminists around the world. I know that young radical feminists in South Korea, for example, are translating the work of Sheila Jeffreys. In turn, I would love to be able to read the writings of those South Korean radical feminists.
How did women react when you asked them to write for the anthology?
Lot of people never answered me; I’d say half of the women I contacted wrote back. Then, out of around 50 who promised to write an essay, around 10 ran out of time, or had a writer’s block, so they ended up not submitting anything.
Did some of the less experienced women think they’re “not good enough writers”?
Not at the very beginning. A few women started to write and then were unsure whether they were getting their ideas across, and worried whether their text was good enough. Luckily for me, the writing was actually brilliant, so I worked on reassuring them of that, and in some cases, of working with them to help them shape their message. Then, in one case I had kind of an opposite problem: the woman in question wrote a text that had 30,000 words!
Wow! That’s a book.
Yeah, I told her that’s a book. Because of a lack of space, I could only publish a portion of it, so we worked to get it down to a much shorter version. Fortunately, that sister now has a goal of publishing an entire book. And she’s an author who has never been published before.
Who chose the topics of the essays?
I didn’t want to tell women what they should write about, as I consider that a patriarchal practice. I also didn’t want to control their voices. So, when women asked me about preferred topics, I just gave them a list of very general ones that I though important for radical feminism, like “prostitution” and “violence against women” and “lesbian feminism.” I wanted women to write about the topics that they were passionate about. If I got 50 essays on the same theme, I’d deal with that. But I didn’t.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
I wanted the title to do two different things, which is why I included a subtitle. I wished to get across what the book is doing without sounding dry. Women “spinning” and “weaving” feminist vision and feminist theory are metaphors that were used by Mary Daly, and I think those concepts convey perfectly that this anthology was a collaborative, creative project where women create something out of nothing. That’s kind of a theme of mine: as women, we’re given nothing, but we take that and make it into something beautiful.
Can you tell me more about that?
As women living in patriarchy we take all the ways that men try to destroy us, hold us back and prevent us from having or knowing anything; we take that absence and make something out of it anyway. Spinning and weaving also seemed like good metaphors as the creation of textiles has always been women’s work.
There’s also the word “text” in “textiles.”
Yes! That’s totally right. So in this anthology, we’re weaving a web, making a textile out of our texts. I love that!
Speaking about collaboration, did you have any help?
I did all the editing and communication with authors on my own, but I had a lot of conceptual and technical help from Ruth Barrett, who has her own publishing house, Tidal Time Publishing. She has been amazing and also helped me with a lot of the planning and also the logistical requirements. I had no idea how to get a book published and I also didn’t want to contact a male-led publishing house, or self-publish on Amazon. I didn’t want any men controlling me. Also, M.K. Fain helped with my website.
Was getting Spinning and Weaving into print a lot of work?
Yeah. I had to put the writing into a very specific format; the book design company kept returning the text with directions like “ you don’t have enough spaces here and there are two many spaces in this part;” “you need to code each type of heading differently.” Getting the text into print was almost as much work as editing the pieces.
How many copies are you going to get printed out?
I’m going to do it as print-on-demand. So people will be able to purchase the book through a distributor who will print it as well as ship it to them. Organizations, such as libraries or bookstores, will also be able to buy as many copies as they like. But I anticipate that most bookstores will refuse to carry it, as radical feminist ideas are considered so “controversial” by the mainstream.
Are there even any bookstores left in the US who would care to sell radical feminist theory?
I don’t know, I’ll have to look into that. And libraries probably won’t carry it either, considering how they purge books by the Second Wave feminists. This is something that enrages me; the idea that women’s writing is being censored, is fucking outrageous.
How many pages do you think the book will have?
I’d say close to 600, but I haven’t seen the final type-set version. It will be a substantial book!
What was your favorite part about the whole book editing process?
Reading what women wrote. Knowing that these ideas would be kept and not disappear. They aren’t going to be “scrolled away” anymore, as it happens on social media. I’m really glad I did it. I thought the book would be good, but it’s gone beyond my hopes. I think there are some essays in the book that will be famous! I hope that in 2070 people will still read this book.
What about your next steps?
I’m thinking about creating a new radical feminist scholarly journal, but publishing it online. I wouldn’t try having a print version because that’s a lot of work.
Final question: What are your favorite feminist books?
There are so many that have been important to me, but some that I love the most include Going Out of Our Minds, by Sonia Johnson, The Spinster and Her Enemies by Sheila Jeffreys, and Janice Raymond’s A Passion for Friends. I love Sheila and Janice’s books because they describe how women have always found a way to opt-out of patriarchy. And Sonia’s book teaches us that women must liberate ourselves from patriarchy, by first liberating our minds from the patriarchal mindset.
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