Barenaked Ladies: A WCW Interview with Writer Gina Abelkop




(image courtesy of Entropy Magazine) 

Though she doesn’t participate in “No Shave November”, I thought Gina Abelkop, feminist poet, and creator of “Birds of Lace”, a DIY online feminist press, could speak well to the idea of shaving and what it means to adult women like her. For years, there has been a tough stigma around women’s body hair, and shaving of leg and armpit hair has always been considered a norm, mostly for women. “No Shave November” is a combative way of promoting self-acceptance through growing out hair, in all forms. Personally, my relationship with shaving is weird and needy, mostly because I have very dark hair, something that many see as a physical strength, but one I struggle to not feel self-conscious about. When asked if I participate in “No Shave November” I always smile and say, “One day.” Right now, I’m not at a place with my body where I feel that I could go a month without shaving and feel free. I do, however, try to believe that hair is hair, and people who see it as that and participate in the event or choose not to shave on a regular basis have my utmost support. This is not to say that anyone who chooses to shave lacks the self-assurance that non-shavers do. It isn’t really about the hair or lack thereof, it’s about the expression, the statement being made. Gina, although she shaves (for hygienic purposes), fully encompasses feminist expression. Whether hairy or bare, whether shaved or au natural, it shouldn’t be about what society expects of our bodies. It’s the choice. And it’s ours.  

Welcome to Risen Mags! We are so happy to have you! Could you give us a little background in regards to how you ended up in Athens, at your job at UGA?


Hello, I'm happy to be here! I ended up in Athens because my partner got a job on the faculty of the English department at UGA. I am a Ph.D. student there now, in the English Lit. department, which also means that I'm a grad. assistant who teaches first-year composition. I tell my students that what we're really doing is learning how to think critically, and then organize those thoughts via text. My comp. class this semester has been pop culture themed, and we've been reading various types of written/visual media and thinking about them in terms of race, class, and gender.


I love "Birds of Lace", and am currently reading Megan Milks's "TWINS"..How would you describe your feminist press, "Birds of Lace" in your own words?


Thank you! Birds of Lace is a DIY feminist press that loves strange, funny texts with sly senses of humor, interrupted/laced with heartrending brilliance. We publish women and queer folks, mostly chapbooks, though our second perfect bound book (Meghan Lamb's Silk Flowers) will come out next year. TWINS is a great example of the kind of humor/intelligence BoL loves! All our out-of-print chapbooks can be read as free PDFs at our website: birdsoflace.org/PDFs.


Have your opinions about feminism changed over the years? Have your opinions on gender?


My opinions about feminism have changed in the sense that my ideas about what constitutes feminism has broadened significantly as I became more educated about the intersections of race, class, gender, ability, and access. I came to feminism, initially, through Susan B. Anthony– I did a book report on her in elementary school, and my mom helped me make a clay model room of her teaching! Then, around age 13, I discovered Tori Amos and riot grrl and Maya Angelou and Alice Walker (Tori Amos actually lead me to Alice Walker when she said in an interview that "Cornflake Girl" was inspired by Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy). Riot grrl was the first place where I was introduced to political "theory" outside of just novels (which have their own kind of distinct narratives about feminism that are really important, and were certainly important for me!). Bikini Kill was big for me, especially in regards to thinking about jealousy and competition among women, considering what safe spaces for women and survivors might look like, and making DIY art and zines. Through riot grrl I discovered queercore punk bands like Huggy Bear, Cypher in the Snow, and Team Dresch, who taught me about radical queer politics and an anti-assimilationist stance. Still, my teenage feminism(s) were sorely lacking in thinking critically about race and class, at least beyond the surface. I went to a pretty radical college, Antioch College in Ohio, and there, through my incredible professors and peers, I began to interrogate race and class on a much deeper level. And of course, have been continuing to learn my entire life, and always will. I'm white, and because I grew up in a white supremacist country my work unraveling the specifics of those privileges will, I hope, continue and grow as they need to. My family is also Jewish, and I'm really interested in how Jewish folks have been both allies and oppressors in this country (and elsewhere).


In your poetry, you talk a lot about female relationships, both platonic and otherwise... Was there anything that you were able to draw on during your teen years that sort of led you on this path, poetically?


Oh yes! Well, like I said, Tori Amos is a huge influence for me, specifically in regards to her lyrics. I think the lyric booklet for Boys for Pele is my favorite book of poetry ever. I wrote a lot of poetry starting in about junior high– I wrote when I was in elementary school too, but less often– so my teen years were where I really developed a meaningful relationship to writing for myself. I joined the editorial staff of my high school's literary magazine, which was fun, and made zines, which definitely lead me to running my own DIY press now. I'd say the number one thing I drew from poetry, as a teen, was the emotional outlet writing gave me. All those poems stay locked up in a journal, but it was a real comfort to me to be able to write, to have a secret place to put my thoughts and feelings. And the intensity of my feelings as a teenager, which were connected to many of the brutal, difficult, sometimes amazing things one can go through as a teen, taught me a lot about how to use those hard moments to fuel one's creativity, or to use creativity to comfort myself when I needed it. I don't believe in the myth that one has to be sad to write well, but I do believe that having a creative outlet when you're having a hard time can be a real lifesaver– in addition to have other people's art to turn to as well!


Has your voice in poetry remained the same throughout your career, or have you found it changing?


It has definitely changed! And probably (I hope) always will–I don't ever want to feel stagnant. When I saw my voice has changed, I mean that is has grown and become more textured– I am always myself, no matter how much I've changed, so it's like an ice cream cake, layers upon layers upon layers of the person I've been and the person I'm always becoming. Much in the way that my feminism has shifted, as I've grown (I'm nearly 33) and felt the nuances of life more sharply, I think my work has become more nuanced, open to investigating the murky gray parts of being human.


So it's No-Shave-November, a fad many feminists, in particular, take part in.. Are you?


I don't participate in No-Shave-November, but know about it and obviously support anyone who does take part! It's a cool idea and I support women interrogating what it means to present "proper" feminine gender. I also think it's a complex idea for many people– for women who are not cisgender it might be really triggering and shitty feeling to not shave, depending on their gender expression– and so hope that there's no didactic imperative there. IMPORTANT NOTE: I just read this is about cancer awareness! I actually had NO idea that this is where NSN came from. I guess I have really complex feelings about cancer awareness projects like these. Obviously I am pro-learning in regards to how we can better support cancer patients and survivors. The poet Anne Boyer has written really beautifully and critically about the whole cancer industrial complex and I've learned a lot from her being so generous in recounting her experiences. You can read her essays on "cancer and the politics of care" at her website and I highly recommend doing so. She's a feminist and brilliant person who really works at unraveling and critiquing capitalism and its effects on women and labor.


What is your stance on the month and on shaving generally?


In regards to how I feel about shaving generally: it's changed a lot over the years as well, just like everything else! As a teen I was REALLY ashamed of my body hair– I even shaved my arms because I thought they were too hairy. I feel sad about that now (I don't shave my arms anymore and haven't for some time). I used to shave pretty much my whole body. Now I only shave my legs and armpits; my legs because I have tattoos on them and don't like they way they look with hair on them, plus I get these rashes/zits on my legs when I don't shave for awhile, which are itchy and uncomfortable. I shave my armpits because I also don't like the way it feels when they aren't shaved (ditto my legs, they get itchy under pants/tights when not shaved). So it's mostly about comfort at this point, though I recognize that because I grew up in this country, as a woman, I will never NOT have ideas swimming around in my head about how to "do" a female body right. But I don't feel conflict around my shaving habits now– I do what I want to do, and I don't have the shame I used to have about my body hair anymore. I have friends all across the map who shave their legs or don't, shave their armpits or don't, etc., and support all of their choices so long as it's THEIR choice! I strongly believe in women having the power to make their own decisions about their bodies, from the smallest to biggest details.


If you could pick one or two sentences of advice for the teens of my generation, what would they be?

I'm going to offer two quotes from two of my favorite writers:

"It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive." –James Baldwin

"But...what if life isn’t about succeeding or failing? What if we’re being duped, even in all our awareness and critique? What if it’s about and for something else entirely? What if success or failure is irrelevant? If so, what should we be talking about instead?" –Anna Joy Springer (from this interview)

And lastly, who are some of your favorite feminists?

I have so many favorites! Endless, boundless favorites! Off the top of my head: Audre Lorde, Anna Joy Springer, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith, Jennifer Tamayo, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Florence Kennedy, June Arnold, Chimamanda Adichie, Yayoi Kusama, Beyonce, Marina Diamandis, Judy Berman, Carrie Murphy, Ashley C. Ford, Lynda Barry, Mai-Thu Perret, Osa Atoe, Brontez Purnell, Myriam Gurba, Sade Murphy, Sarah McCarry, Toni Morrison, Maggie Nelson, Neko Case, Tori Amos, Joanna Newsom, Yoko Ono, Mindy Kaling, Cookie Mueller, Rhani Remedes, Kristen Stone, Hilton Als, Tavi Gevinson, Sam Cohen, Dorothy Allison, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Jenny Zhang, Jackie Wang, David Wojnarowicz, Claudia Rankine, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Angela Carter, Cathy Park Hong...I could literally go on for hours/days/years!

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