I’m shaking it a bit up this week: instead of the regular interview that would be here, I wanted to talk about something thats been on my mind all week.
Feminism For Real, edited by Jessica Yee, has ignited the blogosphere lately and maybe not for all the real reasons it should be. It’s a look into feminism – personally, politically, academically and the overlooked problems of feminism with the big capital “F”. It’s a book about race, gender, two-spirits,checking privilege and so much more. It’s about “otherness” and what happens when that is heaped upon people for not fitting within the tightly bound definitions and boundaries of “feminism”. It’s about being proud of the feminist thought that makes up most of the contributors’ lives, but its also about how “feminism” has stood over them,furthering a gap that they, after marginalization, colonization, oppression, are demanded to somehow jump over for the sake of “women” and “sisterhood.” Funny, right ?
The “gap” argument leaves a lot to be desired, as pointed out on a larger feminist blog that “some people are born and live in the gap”, whether most of their readers wanted to acknowledge it or not. The gap of course, refers to anything that has been relegated outside the perception of the mainstream, feminism that exists outside of the strictly as a “woman’s” issue, strictly as a “white, middle class” issue. The issue’s that becomes more about academic application then action. The gap is the consequence for just being born into a skin color, a gender that does not match its body, or on the wrong side of the class barrier. The gap needs to be closed and it doesn’t start with demanding those who are most affected by that, jump over it.
By no means is it an all-out attack on academia nor feminism, as Yee states, rather a good, hard look into the things that feminism appoints as worthy (as well as who keeps those gates), the consequences of putting feminism in an academic economic tower and who feminism, along with mainstream society, renders invisible. How are we, in the most simple sense, supposed to move forward, if we can’t even recognize the many different struggles that people have, while not rendering them to diversity quota’s or to side notes in a larger “narrative”. As the fantastic Audre Lourde would say, “But for ever real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with others while we examined the words to fit a world in which we believed, bridging our differences”. In a way it becomes simple – acknowledge, respect , support, and stop colonizing the differences as a way to see how connected we are.Be quiet, listen and make space.
[W]e’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white 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. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism” so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a woman based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, and not your own. We are not equal when initatives to support gender equality have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become it’s own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? […]
[I’]ve lost count the amount of times I’ve been asked by others and asked the question myself, what is now the main title of this book, “But what is feminism, for real?”
The responses I received when putting this very question out there to create the book demonstrated resoundingly that people did want to talk about this notion of “the academic industrial complex of feminism” ““ the conflicts between what feminism means at school as opposed to at homer, the frustrations of trying to relate to definitions of feminism that will never fit no matter how much you try to change yourself to fit them, and the anger and frustration of changing a system while being in the system yourself.
I had the privilege to meet Jessica Yee, Andrea Plaid, Jocelyn Formsma, Erin Konsmo, and many other contributors of Feminism For Real around a week ago at their NYC book launch. Most had been working at the United Nations all week : Erin had described as “just a really hard week.” For a little bit of reference, Indigenous communities were one of the last peoples to be let into the United Nations in 1979, and it was only in 2007 that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. As Krysta Williams, one of the contributors of Feminism For Real said, “We were some of the first people, yet we were the last to be let in.” One can only even begin to imagine how hard a week that can make.
They spoke on their journeys towards feminism, the translation of it into their real lives and above all, their experience and how it alway goes back to their communities. Which when it comes down to it, is the biggest point of Feminism For Real: this is my experience and it is not being heard. This is what happens when feminism, with a capital “F” becomes its own form of oppression.
Jessica has been described on blogs as, “I get where she’s coming from, but why does she have to be so mean?” and “I mean, why is she so angry, she can just be nicer about it”. While missing the point, Jessica has been angry. But she’s also hilarious and smart and dedicated and charming and a thousand other things that make up the “multiracial, two-spirit, hip-hop feminist” badass she is. That’s what makes her human. That’s what makes all the contributors of this book human. Why is it such a strike against her if she’s angry? Why isn’t she allowed to be angry? Why can anger only be a palatable thing if it’s expressed in calm words, academic rhetoric and politeness? Why is anger so threatening and “bad” if it comes from someone who isn’t white or able-bodied or cis-gendered? And why do people keep stumbling over the fact that discussions are sometimes more than discussions – they are real, lived experience that can’t just be washed over with, “You’re just overreacting” and “Your wrong”.
The contributions range in ways that are about so much more than just being stories on feminist thought, ranging from little acknowledged issues in the mainstream feminist communities such as sterilization, status cards, brutality aimed at men, being two-spirit, the fetishization of sex workers, and countless other issues that often go without a large scale platform.Why are the feminist pearly gates are unwilling to concentrate on these issues ? Because it’s not interested or it’s frontrunners and target audience can’t relate or because it’s hard and uncomfortable to talk about ? Maybe because we need more leaders , like any of the Feminism For Real contributors, shaking up the status quo, changing the dialogue, being able to speak their truths without it being considered “angry” or “not a feminist issue”.
Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo talk about the ridiculousness in naming what their struggle is and the dynamics of the personal and political from an Indigenous persepctive. One of the greatest lines of the book is their statement, “Fuck the waves of feminism: we embody over 500 years of resistance before us and are working for several generations ahead. We are an ocean.” Shaunga Tagore releases a stomach churning poem, “A Slam on Feminism in Academia”, asking heavy whys: “Why did you let me through the doors in the first place, if you were just gonna turn around and force me out… recognize the ones let through these doors by some strategic mistake, are the ones making you look good, while we burn out and burn up by your hands.”
Other contributors like Latoya Peterson from Racialicious, talk about the crowding of “professional feminist culture” in her space only to find that the only real thing she could do in it all was just tell her truth as she understood it. Andrea Plaid, another Racialicious favorite, looks at a Twitter battle for a sex advice column in Latina Magazine turn into an example of educational privilege and kyriarchy as opposed to “lived” experience. I won’t give away the details, but my favorite line of the entire essay reads , “I would listen to the porn star. She just finished working so many hours of fucking”. The strict boundaries of gender binary which feminist still seem to be tripping over, come to head with Louis Esme Cruz’s piece on “A Medicine Bundle of Contradictions” as Cruz notes, ” I am greatly uncomfortable with how I have seen settler feminist claim space and each others bodies: it seems a lot like how land is manhandled as a resource that only some get to benefit from”.
Poetry, an often looked down upon form of expression ( as well as one of the most accessible) , is well included in the book. The medium of poetry often can go simply in only a few words, where sometimes essays struggle over words to be. One of the most striking ones, “After The Third Wave” by D.Cole Ossandon
The women who ran with the wolves
now run from the next generation
real or perceived
for all or for some
there’s a gap in the road
Does anyone count after the third wave?
When it dissipates on the shore
does another follow
or is the sea now dormant
Fight for the F words
Authority doesn’t want to hear me say fuck
Friends don’t want to hear me say feminism
As asked in the book many times, why does talking about the uncomfortable truths have to be in what seems an either/or situation of feminist with their hands over their ears or in a theoretical context with no real life application? Why are their experiences and stories relegated to the sidelines in the footnote, or hell, rendered invisible in the broadest sense of feminism? More importantly, what seems to be the disconnect in really accepting that this shit is real? It doesnt exist for debate or for appropriation, it’s people’s lives. When feminism talks with an atypical academic jargon, we isolate people who don’t have that educational privilege. When feminism screams for reproductive justice and abortion rights, yet says nothing about forced sterilization, the stealing of children, residential schools, or that having a uterus doesn’t always mean identifying as a woman and being a woman doesn’t always mean having a uterus, who do we blatantly leave out ? When feminism becomes a bumper sticker, a playground for liberal ideals, with rules and applications, instead of an action, we take it away from being a guide on how to live and create justice for all, and use it as a stepping stone for “me”.
I’ve read this book three times, gobbling up each essay in excitement, anger, sadness and responsibility. My fear is that in this article I have left so much out, that I have not even begin to cover the complexities, the layers of each contributor’s experience (something I hope that you will read more of, as I cannot explain such), as well as the way privilege, appropriation, and oppression moves in and out, intertwined in so many unspoken ways. I won’t speak on the way this book has been received in the larger feminist blog community, only that not reading it, hell, not having it as prescribed reading and handing out copies to every young person, every student, every person who works for social justice, anti-racism, and feminism would be a disservice. I would only say that it stands as a moving collection of experience, a larger call to stop talking the talk and just walk. That justice can be achieved – we just need to rearrange the way it has all been.
To Purchase Feminism For Real: You can order from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives or Bitch Media. To find out more information on tour dates , book launches and any other little thing about Feminism For Real, check out their Facebook page.