When the proposal for Burn It Down! came to me, nearly fully formed, I loved it on sight.
Why? Instead of a more academic or historical feminist reader, the author—Breanne Fahs, a professor of women’s and gender studies, and a practicing clinical psychologist—was deeply invested in the form of the manifesto itself. As she argued in the proposal, and then in the introduction to the book, the manifesto is a provocation: angry, brash, full of promises that can’t be kept and rage that can’t be contained, appearing in forms—zines, hand-scrawled poetics, protest flyers, in the digital ether—that don’t fit ideas of respectable argument or respectable publishing. According to Breanne, this was the bleeding edge of feminist political innovation: the cutting, visionary work done at the outer margins. It was a seething and experimental project and a kind of feminist gambit.
The main editorial challenge of the book lay in how we might translate the sensibility of the manifestos to the reader, so that the urgency of their call and the freshness of their artistic innovation could be felt, sometimes more than a century after they were first written. We tried to achieve this in two ways. First, Breanne and I decided that we needed to reprint the original artwork of the most visually striking manifestos. And so we have here Mina Loy’s elegant scrawl from 1914 (“The feminist movement as at present instituted is INADEQUATE”), Zoe Leonard’s typed and mimeographed rippled half sheet of text (“I want a dyke for president…. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids”—don’t we just!), the bright pink flyers of the Lesbian Avengers (“Lesbian Avengers: We Recruit”), the stark black box of E. Jane’s “Nope” (“I am not an identity artist just because I am a Black artist with multiple selves”). We were also helped in this visual endeavor by the talented cover designer Jaci Kessler Lubliner, who designed a whole new typeface—punk rock yet classy!—for the book’s cover and interior pages.
Second, Breanne had decided she wanted the manifestos to be taken out of time, to appear thematically rather than chronologically, so that He-Yin Zhen’s feminist communism from 1907 China could be read alongside Frances Beal’s “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female” from 1970 and the Zapatista Women’s Revolutionary Laws from 1994. Labor radical and co-founder of the IWW Lucy Parsons speaks directly to riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, and Simone de Beauvoir is textually embraced by the Ax Tampax Poem Feministo and the Fat Liberation Manifesto of 1973. Interested in Witchy/Bitchy or Trashy/Punk? Hacker/Cyborg or Indigenous/Women of Color? This book has just the section for you, and it’s a wholly unruly, ahistorical riot. That’s its dynamism and its great joy.
We worked on the book as the first wave of the MeToo movement crested and broke, and I suggested the main title to Breanne because it was something my friends and I were saying to each other, or whispering to ourselves, when each new rape story, assault recounting, violent encounter, subtle and wrenching twist of power, was recounted: burn it down! Breanne suggested the subtitle, and wanted it to be: Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution and/or Apocalypse. To my eternal shame, I talked her out of the “apocalypse” part, and when the book went to press in the first wave of Covid-19 lockdown, she reminded me that she had in fact been right.
I ought to have known: Breanne did, after all, spend years reading through the cutting visionary edges of feminism—a practice that is eerily close to prophecy.
Jessie Kindig, Verso Editor.
New York City, 2020.
Burn It Down! Feminist Manifestos for the Revolution, edited by Breanne Fahs, is one of our December Book Club reads: a carefully curated selection of books that we think are essential and necessary reading. All our Book Club memberships are 50% off for the first 3 months. Find out more here.[book-strip index="1" style="buy"]
In this landmark collection spanning three centuries and four waves of feminist activism and writing, Burn It Down! is a testament to what is possible when women are driven to the edge. The manifesto—raging and wanting, quarreling and provoking—has always played a central role in feminism, and it’s the angry, brash feminism we need now.