Editor’s Corner #7: Judy Berman & Niina Pollari for It’s Complicated

Welcome to the 7th installment of Editor’s Corner, a VIDAWeb feature in which editors and publishers explore complex issues regarding sex, gender, race and sexuality as they relate to their projects. This week we hear from Judy Berman and Niina Pollari, editors of It’s Complicated. Berman and Pollari discuss the sometimes abstruse realities of feminism, particularly the complex relationships feminist writers might have with misogynistic work and its artists. 

For more information on Editor’s Corner contact me at mwilson@vidaweb.org.


On their project, role and publishing philosophies:

It’s Complicated is a zine and future book project about feminist writers’ relationships to the artists whose misogynist work we love. We just released our debut issue last month.

The project originated at a meeting of the feminist collective Permanent Wave’s New York chapter, in the context of a conversation on the doubts so many of us carry about whether appreciating or identifying with misogynist artists makes us hypocrites. We want to dispel the idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect feminist,” and reject the movement’s most ascetic orthodoxy by exploring the cognitive dissonance that surrounds loving artists and artworks that are, explicitly or implicitly, hostile to women.


On the current publishing climate:

Although we both also work in more mainstream media and publishing environments, for this project we embraced a DIY philosophy — partially because it was the only way to do It’s Complicated on our own terms. This certainly says something about the commercial publishing climate for feminist projects, but we have found the DIY/zine world to be extremely open to and supportive of what we’re doing.

Due to the very nature of our project, the majority of our submissions came from women; therefore, we were lucky to not have to pay explicit attention to gender. We have, however, had conversations concerning the race and class makeup of our zines, and are constantly working to ensure that they don’t become too homogenous. Even so, we realize that, as two middle-class white women (who are aware of being middle-class white women), the onus is on us — if this is not a diverse and intersectional project, we are at fault.

Unfortunately, there’s an assumption in publishing that women aren’t trying hard enough — that they’re not submitting enough, that they’re not ambitious enough. In reality, though, editorial departments should be trying harder to make women (as well as queer, transgender, and non-white people) a part of their culture. Editors should be aware of their own prejudices and the types of stories they tend to prioritize. Mainstream publications need to reevaluate whose work they value — and whose work they dismiss as marginal or “other.”


On VIDA’s Count:

As feminists who have long been aware of how few women get published in venerable magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s, seeing The Count for the first time was strangely satisfying; it’s not that we’re happy about the numbers, but we’re glad that VIDA is raising awareness about a phenomenon that has upset us for years. Now that The Count has been around for a few years, it’s frustrating to see the same low numbers from publications that always respond to the studies with the promise that they’ll do better next time.


On A+ Lit People:

There are plenty of explicitly feminist and multicultural publications doing great work to increase representation of women, LGBT people, and people of color in the publishing industry. But as far as publications that don’t have an explicitly progressive purpose go, we were impressed by Creative Nonfiction, which devoted an all-female recent issue to opposing the idea that women don’t write about serious topics. We’re also enjoying The American Reader, an excellent new literary magazine founded and run by a brilliant young woman of color, Uzoamaka Maduka.



Judy BermanJudy Berman is a co-editor of the It’s Complicated Project and the editor-in-chief of Flavorwire. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and has written on music, TV, and pop culture for the LA Times, Slate, The Atlantic, and Salon, among other publications.



Niina PolariNiina Pollari is co-editor of the It’s Complicated Project, and works at Kickstarter. She’s written two chapbooks of poetry, and her translation of the work of Tytti Heikkinen was published by Action Books in spring 2013.