“We are not superwomen”: Navigating Finances, Identity Politics, and Vision of a Feminist Press

Introduction to Documents 1 and 2: “Unbusinesslike” Conduct   |   Document 1      |     Document 2
Introduction to Documents 3 and 4    |     Document 3: Feminist Publishing Ethics    |     Document 4: Women in Print Publishing Accords
Document 5: Feminist Publishing Proposal From Ruth to Barbara
Introduction to Documents 6, 7, and 8: Seal Books   |    Document 6     |    Document 7     |     Document 8
Document 9: Women Who Dared    |     Document 10: “Cheat to Eat”
Introduction to Documents 11 and 12: Hate Mail      |     Document 11       |    Document 12
Document 13: Outreach to Women of Color        |       Document 14: Letter to Angela Davis      |     Document 15: Letter from Audre Lorde      |    Document 16: “No More ‘Social Problems’ Projects”

Document 3: Feminist Publishing Ethics

Women in Print
Women in Print: Third National Conference, Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America, http://www.abaa.org/book/701309244

Author: Participants in the 1985 Women in Print Conference

Date: June 1985

Location: Series I: Box 9, Folder 1, Seal Press, Oberlin College Special Collections

Document Type: Typed Document






Original                       Both                    Transcription


publishing ethics pt1
publishing ethics pt2


Statement of Feminist Publishing Ethics From the 1985 Women in Print Conference

Every story told by a woman about her life is a breaking of silence — the silence imposed on us because we are women. In opposing patriarchy and joining together as feminists we commit ourselves — the heart and souls of our lives — to the liberation of women. This commitment is a spiritual and moral contract by which we as feminists freely and joyously bind ourselves to work for the freedom of all women. This feminist contract can not be contained and defined merely by legal clauses, no matter how elegant and explicit. This is a contract whose unwritten clauses are inexpressible because they speak of the dimensions of the heart.

How can we define women’s spirit, trust, and caring? In our women gatherings we experience the energy, love and caring of women together in strength. Most often, in our day-to-day survival we experience the opposite — where the feminist commitment is absent. And certainly these are not found on the pages of “Forum” magazine.[1] What is in “Forum” magazine is woman hating — commercial exploitation of women as sex objects for the gratification of men and to the benefit of the pornographic industry.

Whatever one’s opinion of the content of “Forum,” one of the primary issues remaining from the sale of excerpts from Lesbian Nuns to “Forum” magazine is one of consent. Contributors to anthologies should always have the right to approve and consent to all uses of their work outside the original edition for which the work was intended. This includes reproduction in media other than print.

At the very least, we should aspire to three common practices of mainstream publishers: inform authors well in advance of planned or unplanned publicity; offer those affected the choice of refusal, anonymity, use of a pen name or use of their own name; and require authors’ consent for serial rights sales.

Editors and publishers have a further obligation to fairly distribute proceeds from the sales of contributors’ work.  In the situation with Lesbian Nuns, where publishers’ revenues will far exceeded [sic] $100,000, there is a direct obligation to fairly share the proceeds with contributors, legal contracts notwithstanding.

While in future situations contractual agreements may avoid some of these problems, such agreements can never wholly replace trust, good communication and ethical behavior on a business and personal level.

We share in the grief of betrayal, sorrow, and suffering expressed by the contributors to Lesbian Nuns, those who have spoken publicly and those unable to speak. We commit ourselves to never sell the rights of any women’s works under contract to us to any pornographic media, without the consent of the women involved. We ask women in print media to continue to evolve and be accountable to these principles and ethics of feminism. We affirm that there are other ways to do business, to effectively sell books, and to reach a wide audience, without exploiting the work of women writers. We affirm that strong and healthy publishing houses and other women’s media need not depend on the tools that have been used to hurt women, rather can be solidly based in our own feminist beliefs and values.


Marjorie Larney, Acacia Books

Paula Nosely, Acacia Books

Jean Swallow, writer and editor [sic]

Sherilyn Thomas, Spinsters Ink

Judith Barrington

Carole Spearin McCauley

Ruth Gundle, The Eighth Mountain Press

Jeffner Arrudo

Cookie Hunt, Out and About

Carolyn Shafer, Tearose Press [sic]

Karen Carlisle, Alaska Women’s Bookstore

Marilyn Frye, Tea Rose Press

Karen Uminger

Gail Wallat

Merle Hoffman

Michal Brody, Iowa City Women’s Press

Kristine Hoover

Jill Benderly

Dawn Oftedahl

Pam Mitchell

Anne Harbaugh, Mother Kali’s Books

  1. Wellings Stern

Catherine Harris, Peralandra Books

Lise Weil, Trivia, a Journal of Ideas

Louise Rafkin

Edwina Franchild, Womyn’s Braille Press

Marj Schneider, Womyn’s Braille Press

Margarita Donnelly, Calyx Books

Lisa Domitrovich, Calyx Books

Celeste West, Booklegger Press

Betty Powell, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press

Kit Quan

Carol D. Fields, Old Wives Tales Bookstore

Transcribed by Sophia Pekowsky

[1] Penthouse Forum, often referred to as Forum Magazine, was started in March 1970 as a supplement to Penthouse, a pornographic magazine targeted towards men.