Elevate Difference

Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism

Jessica Yee and I have a lot in common, personally and politically. For one, last year we were both curating collective published works that simultaneously construct and deconstruct contemporary feminist theory while broadening the scope of who is seen as legitimate enough to be a theory-maker. I wasn't aware of her work, and so far as I know, she wasn't aware of mine either. Despite being topically similar, the results of both projects are strikingly different. And I have a few theories about why.

Feminism FOR REAL brings together twenty written works, both poetry and prose, penned by a variety of radical activists. While the authors are diverse in their backgrounds, they converge on one belief: academia, boo! This is a pretty common refrain among activists, one I've sung over and over myself. But it's also one that now feels a little off key to me for its wholesale exclusivity and apparent lack of understanding of the ways activism and and academic are necessarily interdependent. For that reason, I found myself having to put forth some effort to read many of these pieces where they're at, instead of with condescension.

I want to be clear about a couple of things: 1) although it is a frequent accusation tossed my way, I am not an academic and 2) I claim the sentiment in the paragraph above as a part of my own personal struggle and processing, not a failing of this anthology. Too many times we patronizingly press our lips together, just waiting to inform the young'ins that they'll see things differently one day. And even though they might, that's no excuse for bolstering one's sense of superiority at another's expense, nor choosing not to interrogate the things that contribute to our own self-righteous point of view. In fact, it's just this kind of ageist trope that Yee and crew (rightfully!) rail against in Feminism FOR REAL.

So every piece in this book didn't speak to me—so what?! The ones that did were exciting to read and filled me with validation. Megan Lee's "Maybe I'm Not Class-Mobile; Maybe I'm Class Queer" is an excellent examination of the complex conflicts held by those of us who have been able to 'escape' our families' poverty while maintaining the desire to embrace our working class identity and advocate for us and for them. Andrea Plaid discusses the unintentional delegitimizing of Ann Marie Rios, and therefore all nontraditionally educated sex workers, by professional (read: degreed) sexologist Bianca Laureano in "No, I Would Follow the Porn Star's Advice." And ending with Kate Klein's "On Learning How Not to Be An Asshole Academic Feminist" (re)assured me that Yee and I are probably on the same page with our personal and political intentionality.

Pick up Feminism FOR REAL if you're looking to gain an worthwhile education, and perhaps a bit of critical self-awareness too.

Written by: Mandy Van Deven, April 23rd 2011

This post by Jessica Yee at Racialicious responding to this post by Jill at Feministe is precisely the reason why I wrote this review the way I did, with an intentional eye on where and why my POV diverges with the POV of some of the folks in this book.

Even if something doesn't speak directly to us, or if we disagree with it, or if we don't get it, or... there is something to be gained from seeking those things out and interrogating our responses to them and appreciating the value others will get from them, and the value that the entire process gives to all of us when we prioritize the effort to engage in it and see the legitimacy of POVs that are different from our own.