Feminist Media Reconsidered
Some of the most incisive feminist analysis today is being published in the groundbreaking make/shift magazine. Started by three activists – Jessica Hoffmann, Daria Yudacufski, and Stephanie Abraham, who first worked together as founders and editors of the feminist zine LOUDmouth – make/shift is run by an editorial/publishing collective committed to antiracist, transnational, and queer perspectives. Together, the collective publishes “journalism, critical analysis, and visual and text art that documents contemporary feminist culture and action.”
Elevate Difference recently caught up with Jessica Hoffmann and Daria Yudacufski to learn about the meaning behind the magazine’s name, social justice-oriented feminism, and Hoffman’s recent call to action, “An Open Letter to White Feminists,” that lit up the blogosphere.
What is the significance of the magazine's title, make/shift?
Daria Yudacufski & Jessica Hoffmann: It’s about making – making media, making change, making communities, making movements, making art, and making shifts – shifting power, shifting paradigms, shifting society. And it’s about doing it with what you’ve got, in a non-institutional, resourceful, do-it-yourself makeshift way.
**What are the origins of make/shift? When did the idea first arise and how did you manifest it into the magazine we see today? **
Daria: Stephanie Abraham and I founded a feminist zine called LOUDmouth through the Women’s Resource Center at California State University, Los Angeles, where I used to work. Jessica, although not affiliated with the university, contributed to the zine and was an editor as well. As the three of us worked together, we realized that it would be great to do an independent version of the magazine on a larger, national scale. So, based on our experience with LOUDmouth and Jessica’s experience writing and editing for other magazines and books, we realized that we had the energy and ability to make it happen. After about a year of meetings and conversations and brainstorming with each other and with friends, we were able to turn our idea into a reality.
Many discussions about feminism include reflection on one very basic question: “What is feminism?” How does make/shift define feminism?
Jessica: First, we really don’t see feminism as a singular thing with one definition. There have always been multiple feminisms, and _make/shift _is most interested in and excited about the feminisms that look at how systems of power work, how people and communities collectively resist, and creative alternatives to oppression.
What was your earliest understanding of feminism, and what sparked your own consciousness as feminist activists?
Jessica: My earliest understanding of feminism was that it was sexism against men. I thought it was a negative and hateful thing, which is obviously something I learned from anti-feminist mainstream culture. From a very young age, I had been interested in social justice and peace work, and it took a while for me to see that feminism was not hateful, but was actually a lens through which I could see that all of these issues I cared about – from war to the environment to poverty – were affected by the same oppressive types of power. Feminism was amazing in showing me how to look at those things in structural ways, as well as in personal ways.
Daria: My earliest understanding was really through a women’s rights perspective, and the very basic idea that women and men should be equal. Growing up in Monterey, California in, like, 1981, I was about ten years old and out for a walk with a friend. We came across a rally for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). I was really inspired by all of these people coming together for something which seemed so obvious and necessary. It was at that point that I put an “ERA Yes!” bumper sticker on my elementary school notebook. However, my thoughts around feminism have evolved immensely since then, and for me, feminism is much more about larger social justice issues than women’s issues specifically.
The range of pieces in make/shift is quite striking. The content moves from personal essays to critical analysis to visual and textual art, and even a crossword puzzle! What led you to assemble the magazine in such a way, and was it a response to content you saw lacking in other feminist publications?
Jessica & Daria: This was very intentional. Part of believing that feminisms are plural is understanding that feminisms happen in many different voices and forms. In our mission of documenting contemporary feminisms, it is essential to represent as wide a range of voices and forms as possible. We know that this flies in the face of conventional magazine-making wisdom, which suggests that you should have a strong, single cohesive voice throughout the magazine, but we believe it is going to take many approaches and many voices to make change, and we want make/shift to reflect that.
Jessica: And there are very few venues that publish literary fiction that is formally inventive and politicized. I definitely wanted to make space for that in make/shift.
Why a print magazine at this particular time? As you know, there is discussion about the “relevancy” of print versus online media, and these are risky times for D.I.Y. projects, as many magazines have shut down due to financial issues. What is your opinion about the place of print media – especially social justice publications like make/shift – in our culture today?
Daria: Well, I think we both love print and the tangible quality of magazines. It feels so much more personal and intimate and just has such a great impact on me as a reader.
Jessica: We definitely thought about the questions of print vs. online in terms of environmental impact and financial costs and decided to go ahead with a small-scale print publication for a few reasons. As Daria said, we love magazines. I read a lot online, but there are some things that I really want to read in print, like fiction, long-form essays. There are still accessibility issues around the Internet, and while there’s a lot of amazing social justice media happening online, there are relatively few print outlets doing that work, so we thought we’d jump in.
Daria & Jessica: We sat down and brainstormed who our dream columnists would be, and they were our first choices, and we were excited that they all agreed to participate. They bring an amazing array of ideas and perspectives in their beautiful and thoughtful writing. And we love working with them!
As you note, make/shift is created by “an editorial collective committed to antiracist, transnational, and queer perspectives.” Will you explain how your commitment to these perspectives informs your editorial decision-making process?
Jessica & Daria: Those are the perspectives that we have, and so, every single decision we make is informed by those perspectives. It’s quite simple really. Basically, we’re conscious of all of these issues in every aspect of making the magazine, from how we relate to each other to determining the magazine content to editing in a collaborative way.
**There has been much discussion among feminists about who the feminist movement truly serves. This includes a lot of division and soul-searching lately, as recent discussions about white feminist privilege and women of color marginalization have pushed many prominent white, feminist bloggers, authors, and publishers to speak more publicly about white privilege in the movement.
Jessica, you also wrote an inspiring and widely discussed piece in the third issue of make/shift (“On Prisons, Borders, Safety, and Privilege: An Open Letter to White Feminists”) that deftly examines these issues and more. Will you speak about the origins of that piece, the response you’ve gotten since then, and where you hope the discussion ultimately brings the movement?**
Daria: These discussions have led to a lot of internal conversations and dialogues about feminism and white privilege. There has been a lot of really scary and hurtful stuff put out there by mainstream white feminists, and we have talked a lot as a collective about whether feminism is even the appropriate framework for our magazine. A big part of why we exist as a magazine is because mainstream feminism has totally excluded or marginalized more radical voices, women of color, trans voices, etc., and at the same time, social justice-oriented media often excludes gendered perspectives. I feel like, if we were to stop using feminism as a framework, then we’d let those dominant voices win.
Jessica: These discussions around white privilege in feminism are not new, of course. There have always been skin- and/or class-privileged feminists who have failed to understand or reckon with their privilege and who have tried to lead a movement that centers their needs – a movement that should never have had a center or leaders to begin with. I mean, to get back to the plural-feminisms thing, I don’t even think it’s useful to imagine feminism as a single movement. And while there have always been liberal/mainstream feminists with privilege who have tried to push a movement that would address their needs while leaving larger power structures fundamentally unchallenged, there have also always been feminists with more radical takes. I came to feminism via bell hooks and Angela Davis. The first feminist texts I read were by radical women of color who insisted on an intersectional analysis and offered scathing critiques of white-led liberal feminisms. Those are the feminisms that are inspiring and seem useful to me.
In terms of the open letter I wrote, in some ways it seemed like what I had to say there was really obvious and almost didn’t need saying (and much of it had already been said by amazing radical feminists of color, like brownfemipower and folks from Incite!). But it seemed like there were these privileged feminists who kept saying they had an “intersectional” analysis, or were antiracist or whatever, yet they kept repeating these old habits of movement-making that centered privileged “women’s” needs. I had this feeling that maybe it was worth pointing out some specific ways I was seeing racism and white privilege playing out within liberal/white feminism, while also acknowledging my own experiences of privilege and how that had kept me, at different times in my life, from seeing the way power was really working – to note how problematic it is for people who are not seeing in those ways to be at the center of, or leading, feminist action. Also, I wanted to call out liberalism and strongly say that liberal feminism is a really different thing from radical, social justice-oriented feminism.
I’m not yet totally sure what to make of the responses to it. In some ways I’ve been surprised at how hard people who say they believe in social change want to hold on to privilege, and how unaware they seem to be of what they’re doing. It almost makes me feel naïve for thinking that anyone who believes in liberal/assimilationist approaches might possibly get something out of the article.
At the same time, it’s been heartening to get positive feedback from folks who did feel like they got something out of it, so… I dunno. I take this shit seriously, you know? I really want to believe that there are lots of people who really want to see societies work differently, power shared differently, and who are willing to get honest and uncomfortable and emotional and serious (and playful and loving, too!) in collaborating together to make that happen. I want to hope that. And I think the politics of privilege that call themselves feminism are just a really sad, sorry monster-wave trying to wash away that hope. I guess I was trying to write against that, to hope aloud for something better.
What feminist activists do make/shift admire? To borrow from your mission, who do you feel is best “resisting and creating alternatives to systematic oppression” right now?
Jessica & Daria: The contributors and the people and projects that we feature in the magazine, like brownfemipower, Ubuntu, Incite!, Mia Mingus, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, WelfareQUEENS, Young Women’s Empowerment Project – really everyone who has contributed to or been featured in the magazine, but there are so many more. You’ll just have to keep reading the magazine to find out who they are!
What’s next for make/shift?
Daria & Jessica: It’s hard to believe, but we’re almost done with issue four! It’ll be out in September and will include a spread on cooperative economics; a selection of letters between radical women of color, guest edited by Alexis Pauline Gumbs; a beautiful personal essay called “River” by a writer named Davka that you just have to read; a really wonderful photo essay by an artist named O.K. Riley about young women and sexuality; and so much more!
Photo Credit (Daria - left and Jessica - right): Giuliana Maresca