Ethics of editing — a Feminista

This feminista was developed by consolidating responses to the following post on the women's studies list on LISTSERV. We would ask editors, writers and publishers to be aware of the issues discussed, particularly feminist editors of journals. Please copy, spread the word, post, and contact me if you are interested in developing this into a publishable article.

I recently had an article cut by a collective before they had even read the revisions they had asked for, which took me some time doing. There was no commitment to publishing even though they asked me for extensive work two times. That was a feminist collective. My co-editor was asked for revisions four times by a feminist journal that then did not use her work. We are starting a journal partly because of negative experiences of articles being rewritten at the editorial level by people we assumed were not steeped in feminism or in our content. Can anyone out there who has experience editing a feminist journal, or anyone who has contributed to a journal, help in formulating a feminist ethics on the editorial end? I would hope this discussion would relate to many experiences that many of us had, and could lead to better responses than don't bug me for details when things like page length after extensive requests for expansions and deadlines are requested of the editorial board by the author. I have read some sociological analysis of the editors of journals seeing their role as gatekeepers to academe, trying to make it easier for the would-be’s to drop out. Well, we wanna be better—fairer to authors—and want to hear the rationale that some feminists might have for such spurious treatment of authors as a group.

We are young faculty members, professors Emeriti, founders of journals, journal editors, editors of presses and anthologies, conference organizers, writers, authors, feminists, and frequent contributors to edited collections and feminist media/platforms, including online lists. We have experience we would like to share. In some ways, our experience has spanned a continuum from what we perceive to have been sheer thoughtlessness or total insensitivity to our points of view as authors to what we perceive to have been male-like power efforts to silence us as women. Inconsideration of the limits of our upaid time as working women and in some case as working mothers seems highly hierarchical, un-grassroots and unfeminist. Frequently we experience power moves—if you don't like it, this is how we are and shove onward. Some of us have gotten the distinct impression that some feminists (for whatever reason) just don't want to hear/read some points of view from some women authors. So—they simply cut you off, cut out what you've written, or otherwise try to silence you.

The ethics of the publishers, which we believe is the essential point to discuss, some would say, arise from the present economic situation involving both the publish or perish assumption which makes it possible for editors to believe we will put up with anything, and the mega-mergers going on. Yet we believe that there is a feminist ethic for editors & writers. Formulating a feminist editorial ethics would start with fundamental respect for any woman author's point of view as she has crafted it in her writing. Editors can strive for accontability with good footnotes and references. That said, once a paper is accepted, editors can ask that it fit to a certain length—but the author should have right of final edit. Trust the author, give the author the power to say what she wants to say the way she wants to say it. Particular issues are: editing for clarity vs.editing that changes the meaning of what the author wrote; suggestions that enhance the author's intended meaning vs. suggestions that change what the author is saying or sends into irrelevant topics; honesty as to what the editors are looking for in their issue/volume; non-negotiable demands after the article/chapter has been accepted and revised as requested; timeliness. Sometimes, since manuscripts can work with only few minor changes, authors decide not to send their manuscripts back to feminist journals who are asking for revisions again and again and instead submit them to journals that, to be honest, will look better for tenure review. Many young scholars in other fields who want to publish in feminist journals to broaden our audience to include a feminist minded community, might decide to stick with discipline based journals (which will be better for us professionally anyway) because we get tired of doing revisions for a year and half on 25-page article!

On the other hand, we have even more unhappy stories about no editing being offered at all. And that, too, is a problem not only among feminist publications, but everywhere. Publishers don't seem willing to pay for editors to edit anymore, as so many of us have complained about when we read overwritten books filled with errors that cry, Oh, please, someone edit me before anyone sees what I am in this raw state! Then there are those people working at publishing houses on both books and magazines who are diligent and brand new and think that in order to earn their wages they must change every word you've written. The ethics of editing has to discuss not only the ethics of the people actually doing and receiving the editing, but the ethics of the publishers.

In the interest of professional decency, these events should not happen again. The behavior we describe is not only unfeminist by our standards, but also uncivil, unkind, irresponsible, unprofessional, and churlish:

1. A feminist collective cutting an article from an issue before they had even read the revisions they had asked for

2. A feminist journal asking for revisions four times and then not using the work

3. Articles being rewritten at the editorial level by people not steeped in or even adverse to the author's perspective or content

4. Responses like don’t bug me for details over asking things like stipulated page length after extensive requests for expansions

5. Continuing to ask for revisions after an author has asked to be told if a decision will be made by a certain time, as if it could be, when it wasn’t

6. Keeping an article for three years with four revisions, each one different, and continuing to send it to people who didn’t think the author did, and then rejecting it

7. A journal refusing to print a critique of an article that was based on invented sources, theory and language in their own journal

8. A feminist jounal asking an author to revise a manuscript twice, only to ask for more major additional changes (with no guarantee of a publication) since it was still not the article that they wanted to read

9. Sending contradictory messages—one reader comment wanting more, going off in directions which had nothing to do with the point of the chapter, showing she didn’t understand it or hadn’t read it; and others wanting pages cut

10. Significantly changing what was said through the editing

11. Non-negotiable cuts at the last minute in the interest of page length

12. So alienating the author that she feels what is being publishes is not really hers, even though she has her name on it

13. Accepting everything and making positive responses initially when editors are not sure they will get enough for a book, and then weeding out what they didn’t really want over 18 months by asking for revisions and saying the focus of the chapter does not meet the definition of the volume, asking for a different chapter completely


Batya Weinbaum,
Jacqueline Thomason,
Myrna Estep,
Mary Schweitzer,

Susan Koppelman Huddis,
Barbara Shircliffe,
Nelda K Pearson,