Welcome to the twenty second and final (!) installment of the live-blogging series for Jessica Yee’s Feminism For Real (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2011). I sort of didn’t realize when I started this project back in the summer how slow-motion reading a two hundred page book in weekly installments could feel at times. On balance, I think I did get more out of the anthology than if I’d have tried to read it all in one gulp — though on the flip side there were times when I felt like I was being unduly repetitive in my comments or reflections, or being too minutely critical of a single piece simply because each essay was given the space of an entire blog post. Still, I got a lot of positive response from y’all and I hope it helped give visibility to the anthology and prompt the sorts of conversations that the books editor and contributors were hoping to spark.
This week, we take up Kate Klein’s “On Learning How Not to Be An Asshole Academic Feminist.” In this piece, Klein reflects on her exposure to what might be considered mainstream academic feminist thought and both the positive and negative aspects of finding her place in her university’s women’s center, women’s studies program, and among fellow academic feminists.
HOW NOT TO BE AN ASSHOLE ACADEMIC FEMINIST by Kate Klein (pp. 171-176)
p. 171 – “The development of my feminist critical consciousness was slow, like a puzzle being assembled, piece by piece, moment to moment” I like that Klein pushes back against the “feminist click” narrative. Not that there’s anything wrong with having had a sort of born-again experience of waking to feminist ideas. Some people are more prone to that sort of life-changing revolution in consciousness than others; some experience things as a slow gestation. I like that she articulates the slower development of thought here, and validates it as an approach to feminist awakening.
p. 173 – “Mainstream psychology, you see, is a black hole for social justice. Not only was a social justice analysis not taught in psychology, it was actively discouraged, under the pretense of ‘reducing bias’ and ‘encouraging objectivity.’” This is a fascinating observation, which I wish she’d taken more time to unpack. Maybe because the Women’s Studies program in my undergrad was founded by a Psychology professor — and the WS program was always comprised of a healthy dose of Psychology and Sociology students — I never thought of the field of psychology this way. Perhaps particularly since I associate psychology with counseling and counseling (the way I’ve experienced it) with a social justice sensibility. Any Harpies out there with more direct experience of Psychology education than me care to weigh in?
p. 174 – “All this time I had been envious of a set of tools [in women's studies] that were, in reality, not only incomplete but, in may ways, oppressive.” I think this is a perpetual reality of social justice activism (or probably any other set of tools), and it behooves us to think about how we prepare young people to anticipate the flaws in current thinking and expect that those systems of thought and action will need to be revised or overhauled. It’s probably unavoidable that some people will always hear about feminism or [insert social justice activism of choice here] and expect it to be everything they need/want it to be — a replacement family, a lover, a sense of purpose, a comprehensive and flawless vision for a better future. But it’s all a messy work in progress and I think sometimes we set ourselves up to disappoint through our own enthusiasm. I don’t know what the solution to this is — I certainly wouldn’t want to give up my passion for feminist theory and action. But I do see it as a perpetual trap of being held to perfectionist standards.
p. 175 – “Recently, I went on a date with somebody who decided that university wasn’t for her partway through her formal education. We had nothing to talk about, not because we didn’t have any chemistry, but because I couldn’t think of anything to say to her that didn’t make me sound like a school-obsessed snob.” I think this passage sets up a really interesting dichotomy between people who explore ideas in school and those who explore ideas outside of school, and also a hierarchy of value. Why did she assume that talking about her own passions (school) would make her sound like a snob simply because her date had decided university wasn’t for her? To me, that would have been (and has been, in non-date social settings) a perfect opportunity to ask questions! Why did this person leave university? What has she done instead? How does she feel about academic culture versus intellectual exploration? The university/no university divide might be a proxy for two very different ways of approaching the world … and those two ways might be ultimately incompatible in a partnership. Or it could lead to lots of exciting and fruitful growth and opportunity for empathy on both sides.
p. 176 – “I feel somehow ungrateful for criticizing my university feminist grooming, since that’s where I’ve learned everything I know (there and in ‘the blogosphere’).” Oh, I’m totally about being critical of one’s sites of education. Maybe that’s just ’cause I attended a college out of financial opportunism — where I was able to afford it — rather than intellectual or social compatibility? I totally lack the school spirit gene. And while I’m grateful for many, many aspects of my undergraduate and graduate educational experience, I’m highly critical of the entire enterprise of formal education as well as the individual institutions at which I did my learning. I think both — the gratitude and the critique — are possible and necessary.
And that’s all, folks. Hope you enjoyed the live-blog series. Once again, I encourage you to check out Feminism For Real in its entirety, either by ordering a copy from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, or your favored online or brick-and-mortar bookstore, or borrowing it from your local library.