A Seattle Woman's New Magazine Celebrates the Act of Refusal

'A lot of women—a lot of people—have a hard time saying no. Saying no is often seen as bad, disappointing, inconvenient'
REFUSING EXPECTATIONS: For Emily Orrson, “refusal” means everything from being assertive to defining an individual relationship with technology

This article appears in print in the April 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Growing up in a big extended family in Baltimore, Emily Orrson learned at an early age that going against the grain was hard to do—it was easier just to go with the flow, she says.

Even after advancing in her career in product marketing for Microsoft’s Minecraft division, the 28-year-old—who has a creative writing degree from the University of Pennsylvania—continued to have difficulty declining invitations and refusing requests. Because of social constructs and expectations, she says, “a lot of women—a lot of people—have a hard time saying no. Saying no is often seen as bad, disappointing, inconvenient.”

So Orrson, a Capitol Hill resident who moved to Seattle six years ago, launched The Magazine of Glamorous Refusal, a biannual publication funded with a Smart Ventures city grant, to work through the issue of refusal using her writing skills. The magazine, which Orrson says has been well-received, includes a collection of pop art photographs that depict refusal in absurd or glamorous ways, such as a woman with a tennis racquet slamming a piece of wedding cake; “she’s literally serving up an idea about marriage,” Orrson explains. The photos are paired with various pieces of writing that explore the subject of refusal, with Orrson and other area writers and poets, such as Seattle civic poet Anastacia-Reneé, contributing. One father thanked Orrson for the first issue, noting the importance of its message for his 20-year-old daughter.

“In this social, political and environmental climate, I think saying no applies to almost everything,” Orrson says. “Saying no could mean being an activist, talking to your neighbor, taking a personal stand.” Within her magazine, Orrson makes space for those voices, and presents a world in which society accepts and recognizes individual choice. As she writes in the first issue: “Saying no doesn’t have to be a negative. Often when you say no to others, you are saying yes to something inside yourself.” 

YOU'VE BEEN SERVED: The cover from issue 1: a piece of wedding cake on a tennis racket

Vital Stats

An Important Message
As a non-native Seattleite, Orrson has perspective on how saying no could benefit the city’s famously passive-aggressive populace. “I think Seattle, in particular, could use a lesson in how to say no, how to take a stand and be assertive.”

A Refusal Icon
Though Orrson doesn’t consider him to be a direct inspiration, she shares her Baltimore hometown with perhaps one of the best representatives of glamorous refusal: filmmaker John Waters, the “Pope of Trash,” who’s been subverting social paradigms since Pink Flamingos. She once saw Waters at his regular Baltimore hangout, The Club Charles. “Talk about glamorous refusal. He was literally wearing a red king’s cape, with the white lining.”

She's Got Issues
The second issue of The Magazine of Glamorous Refusal is expected sometime in April or May, along with satellite events, although those are still being determined (possibly a launch reception and “refusal” workshops). Issues will be available at Elliott Bay Book Company, Arundel Books, Mount Analogue gallery and at glamorousrefusal.com.

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