A Open Letter from RACHEL BURNS on the NYDN Controversy

by on Jan.11, 2014


[Guest post by Rachel Burns.]


regarding the new york daily news article, i have, ultimately, taken from this experience that i am supposed to be soft, so i’ve omitted all capital letters, i’m speaking in a soft monotone.

as a twenty two year old editor/poet without any sort of degree, my initial experience was a sense of empowerment, pride & excitement about this huge publication that wasn’t exclusive to the literary realm. i knew some of these poets & their work, others i was unfamiliar with, the chance to experience all of these women & their love of the craft in one article was empowering to me as a women & a poet.

seeing the unflinching negative responses to the article confused me. the mass of negativity went beyond any single article and has made me completely uncomfortable being involved in the literary world. seeing these women i look up to being attacked by other individuals whom i also look up to is heart-breaking. & the scrutiny placed on female bodies absolutely revolting, triggering, and completely fucking unacceptable.

i am now scared to voice my opinion & have found myself questioning my involvement in our community. i’m scared to respond because i’ve got photos of myself in short dresses and tank tops. that is your impact.

a mentor once told me there is more than one way to be intrusive, rape isn’t always physical, unwanted penetration is just as damaging when it’s done without physicality. in this regard, the backlash directed towards a perceived feminine aesthetic has been a vile misuse of power/voice & has created an intrusive hyperawareness surrounding female bodies. if some of these comments were catcalled from the street it would be harassment/body shaming/misogyny, creating an situation where someone feels unsafe.

as an extremely body conscious person, these responses have made me feel apologetic for having a body. is my dysmorphic interpretation of myself a positive? if i’m covered will i be successful? if i decide to wear an article of clothing i feel accentuates my torso, should i apologize? i bought this velvet skirt to wear to a reading at awp, now i want to return it & i googled ‘semi-fitted slacks’ last night because the message I’m receiving says ‘i will be taken seriously if i hide my body in ill fitting khaki.’

i am seeing feminists responding with degrading remarks, then following up with their stature as a feminist. it’s comparable to someone saying something racist & following up with ‘not to sound racist.’ had someone made a racist or homophobic remark, there would be a complete uproar. had someone who does not identify as a feminist made a sexist remark, there would be an uproar.

attacking someone because, in your opinion, they have sexed up the art, is slut shaming & justifying that with feminism is disgusting.

i’ve used the phrase ‘it was my fault’ too many times in my life, after connecting with the feminist aspect of the literary community, i believe my body is my own & no one has that right to make me feel shame. as an unknown individual in the writing community, i’m wishing my body prepubescent to maybe avoid impending ridicule. Your message is ‘don’t be the woman you want to be’.

all individuals have a right to fulfill basic human rights of self-expression & body autonomy. fashion is an art everyone , to some extent, dabbles in, as an art it has endless interpretations.

i don’t want to be in a situation where i have to be a woman poet in a dress or i have to be a woman poet in sweatpants, i want to be a woman poet writing poetry that affects readers.

i spoke with Monica a few days ago & she told me this was like being told to smile when you didn’t want to. all of these woman have presented themselves gracefully & respectfully throughout this unwarranted backlash & i admire all of them. i want to apologize to them for anyone who is using clothing as indicator for class & over-sexualizing a situation that is not intended to be remotely sexual. the terrifying part of this ordeal is it’s not specific to the new york daily news article.

i deleted my manuscript the other night because something that empowered me so much was just shit on.

i’m embarrassed by a lot of individual actions & the petty part of me wants to name specific instances where shaming was justified or blamed on the article. i’m now terrified to continue writing, but this is not okay. i really love to write, i really love being an editor & i really love connecting with poets. the absolute kindness, acceptance & willingness to mentor. i’m not suggesting any fix, i am suggesting that the current trend of combative communication, using positions of identification as weapons and shields, is creating a toxic environment for emerging writers.

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