So I’m still working my way through the books that I, optimistically, imagined I would be able to read while on vacation a couple of weeks ago. (My eyes are always bigger than my brain and/or my ability to stay awake!) On my commute home from work today I had just enough time to read the introduction to Jessica Yee’s much-discussed anthology Feminism For Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism (Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2011). The introduction alone had a lot to offer, which is what gave me the idea for a live-blogging series. For the next 22 weeks, I’m going to live-blog my way through Feminism For Real chapter by chapter. I figure this will give me time to read and digest each separate essay, while also forcing me to get thoughts out into the world even if they’re half-finished. If I feel like I have to sum up the whole book, I’m pretty sure I won’t ever feel capable of writing a review!
Therefore, I’m going to do my best to make this a weekly series posted every Tuesday for the next 22 weeks. I reserve the right to skip a week here or there if life happens (as it inevitably does), but I hope to stay more or less on schedule. Please feel free to read along and chime in with your own perspectives in comments!
Just fair warning if you feel like I’m ignoring any of the issues that have come up on other blog threads: Though I first saw the news that this book was coming out through Racialicious, I’ve been purposefully avoiding the online reviews of For Real. I wanted my impressions to be fresh rather than pre-determined by the discussion about the publication and promotion of the book, or other peoples’ readings. Feel free to point people toward other interesting reviews in the comment threads. A multiplicity of voices is always a good thing!
And without further ado, here’s the first installment.
COVER – okay, technically not part of the introduction but I just have to say I enjoyed the cover design. While I don’t, in general, enjoy the cover art trend of showing decapitated torsos, I imagine that this cover is both referencing and “talking back” to cover art for Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (New York: Seal Press, 2007), another book that sought to challenge mainstream narratives of what and for whom feminism is all about. I like the fleshy body, the generous breasts, the attitude of the stance, and the brownness of the skin.
INTRODUCTION by Jessica Yee (pages 11-18).
p. 11 – She clarifies right off the bat that this book is not a “hate-on” of academia or feminism, which is something I find comforting despite the fact I’m pretty happy to “hate on” academia a lot of the time. I have this thing I think is technically referred to as a “love-hate relationship” with academic spaces. But I don’t generally go for anything that is self-described as hateful, so I’m glad she’s not going into this project just to bash away at chosen targets.
p. 12 – “[Indigenous people are] not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when while women are praised for winning ‘women’s rights,’ and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process.” I don’t dispute there is a strong gloss in some spaces over inequality in both history and the present-day. What I wonder here is according to whom are we “STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer” because in the feminism I believe in, it’s important to keep asking questions about who is being pushed to the margins, even as we think about the positive gains that some have made. It is something I always wonder when I come across claims about what “we” are “supposed” to do, and there are no specific voices of authority attached. I start to wonder where those expectations are coming from, and how the “we” have heard and digested them.
p. 12 -“So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it?” — I underlined this passage … I always become twitchy when feminism is referred to in the singular (is feminism an “it”?) in part because there are such a multiplicity of feminisms that it seems difficult to make claims about how the philosophy and actions that constitute feminist activism act in a singular way. I agree that feminism can, at times, operate as a tool in the toolbox of oppressive actions. I hope to see, in the rest of this book, examples of specific times and places when it happens (and what we can say/do about it when that dynamic arises). More importantly, I hope to see examples of how feminism also acts in non-oppressive, visionary ways.
p. 13 – “I’m constantly questioning what feminism is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day at the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question.” Amen! Perhaps it is a product of my unconventional/outsider upbringing, but I assumed as a child and young adult that I got to decide the answer to that question for myself … and it was rather startling when I started to run into people in college and beyond who had very definite visions of what it meant to be a “good” feminist (or a good lesbian, etc.) and it was clear that according to their rules I didn’t make the cut. This didn’t stop me from doing my own thing anyway, and from calling it feminist. But I’ve talked to more and more people recently who’ve become alienated from anything identified as “feminist” because of their experience with gate-keeping behavior. And that pisses me right the fuck off.
p. 13 – “I wanted to learn about people’s understandings and experiences of feminism in real life and go deeper than the notion that it just exists within the walls of the academy.” As someone who has explored feminism in both places, I always enjoy pushing outside of institutional boundaries. In addition to “the academy” I would add established organizations, magazines, etc., both non-profit and commercial. I think it’s always valuable to look at feminism as lived experience in addition to being a series of political and cultural events, a network of theories, etc.
At the same time, I wonder about the persistence of this notion that what goes on the “the academy” is somehow different than “feminism in real life.” What about the “real life” of those who explore feminism inside the academy?
p. 17 – “I’m continuously intrigued by the siloing and compartmentalizing of feminism.” Yee writes this as part of a conversation with fellow activist Andrea Carmen, in which they discuss their comparative experiences of feminism (Carmen having completed her Women’s Studies degree at UC – Santa Cruz during the 1970s). I think this is an interesting topic both in terms of how “feminism” becomes compartmentalized in relation to other movements and ideas (i.e. what is or is not a “feminist” or “women’s issue”*) and also in terms of how certain approaches to feminist activism become compartmentalized away from other approaches, and a hierarchy of valued forms of activism or expression so fast becomes apparent.
*My own answer to what is a women’s issue? It’s not the “issue” that is the important factor here, it’s how you approach it: through a feminist lens. I could make trash collection or teeth cleaning or tea parties a feminist issue, as long as I brought feminist questions to the subject.
p. 17 – Andrea Carmen: “I began to see the reasons for the feminist movement as a healing for white women. As Indigenous people we never experienced our men doing to us what European men had done to European women.” I am intrigued by this reading of feminism as a Euro-specific response to gender dynamics. While I don’t exactly disagree with it, I also wonder whether it a) gives too much weight to historical experience vs. present-day experience, and b) whether it capitulates to the frame that insists that feminism is about what men have historically done, and continue to do today, to women … rather than a vision of feminism that is about how we as various cultures formulate gender and sexuality in ways that privilege certain expressions of gender, sex, and sexual orientation … and marginalize other expressions. The second formulation is closer to my own understanding of what feminism is about. At the same time, as an historian, I’m interested in the idea that feminist political activities rose out of a specific geo-historical context (i.e. white, modern European experience).
And there we are, ready to launch into Chapter One: “Resistance to Indigenous Feminism,” by Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo. Drop by next Tuesday for more.