A Look At Feminism For Real: Deconstructing The Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism

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.


7 replies on “A Look At Feminism For Real: Deconstructing The Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism”

Thank you for the thoughtful review.

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 ?

That alone makes me want to read this book. I have been struggling to define my own thoughts and feelings of ‘otherness’ in my life. Reading these lines really brought things to a head for me. I am a middle class white woman. I am a college graduate who comes from a family of college graduates. I have worked in challenging positions in corporate America. I am intelligent and strong willed. On the surface I appear to have no reason to feel marginalized. However, when I discuss my current chosen ‘occupation’ I encounter disdain and even contempt from many people. What bothers me the most is that the disdain comes from more women than men. Once the question was put to me, by a woman who knew nothing more about me than what I used to do and what I do now, “How can you waste yourself like this?”.

I am a stay at home mom (a ‘title’ a actually hate – I’m working on a more comprehensive job title). Even though I made the educated, informed, and very conscious choice to leave my compensated employment to work full time rearing my children, my choice does not fit “within the tightly bound definitions and boundaries of ‘feminism'”. I find myself having to defend my choices to women more often than men, and frankly that sucks!

Fight for the F words

Authority doesn’t want to hear me say fuck

Friends don’t want to hear me say feminism

So unfortunately true. Sometimes I feel like the struggle for equality between the sexes and genders and races and classes is most easily lost amongst my friends. I will definitely be reading this book soon, thanks for highlighting it!

Well this book has certainly made my summer reading list now. Thank you for the great review, Coco.

I kept trying to write something more valuable and/or interesting, but each thought just ends with “this is a really exciting time, this is a watershed, I need to listen more and read more and think more!”

“Why is it such a strike against her if she’s angry? Why isn’t she allowed to be angry?”

I haven’t read the author discussed, but I thought the following distinction necessary with regard to meanness vs. anger, since it’s different to take issue with meanness than to take issue with anger. Anger can be expressed in a multitude of ways without being mean-spirited. Meanness is retaliation. Meanness is verbal violence. In the wake of the bullying suicides and activism we’re experiencing now, I hope for a Sea Change in how we think about verbal violence. As someone committed to nonviolence (physical, verbal, psychological, etc.) I can identify with criticizing using meanness as a form of expression, even in activism. MLK Jr. says it better than I can (in the real quote):

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

I agree with you – meanness really has no place anywhere, especially when it comes to issues of bullying and violence, whether thats through internet harassment, verbal abuse or physical abuse. Meanness is cheap and provocative and really does nothing more than split people further apart in very unfortunate ways. Its a great point to bring up, especially one that can run rampant on the internet where things are anonymous and lack face to face contact.

That being said, there is a stark difference between “meanness” and “anger”. People should be allowed to be angry , but there is so much stigma attached to anger, especially as a person of color, as women, queer or transgendered persons-etc. We, as a society, only seem to accept anger if it is in the context of polite and white or reality tv spectacle. I recommend looking into the situation surrounding her book ( and also reading her book as it is awesome) and how it was ignored by a lot of the mainstream blogs – there was justifiable anger surrounding that, just as there was justifiable anger when it was stated that ” people should bridge the gap”, as if it was the fault of those who have been pushed outside of dominant culture have to make up for the fact they were pushed out. There is a lack of understanding at large, but also in social activist communities, as well as feminist communities when someone who is marginalized speaks up in anger at the way things are and is received with ” well, you lose supporters when you talk like that” or ” why are you so mean”. I think thats the basis of the “tone” argument, but I’d have to check that. It can be undeniably frustrating for people to expect you to meet their privilege and when you finally get angry, not just because of that, but because of all the things that fly in your face to remind you of your “place” , you are met with ” ugh, you cant be like that”. In a way, it shows where the faults are deepest if we let someone’s justifiable anger or any other emotion change our opinion on making something better for all.

Thanks for bringing that up – its a crucial point

This is a really excellent review and totally has me inspired to pick the book up. It can be daunting to both process and write about feelings and thoughts on such complex issues and I commend you for your efforts.

For me, it brings to mind issues within critical animal theory (or post-humanism if you want). I recently took a course on the topic and it was very interesting to see the way in which the heavily academic language alienated quite a number of people from an issue that affects most individuals on a day to day basis and the way in which jargon disabled/(s) lived experience. As a writer, I do enjoy the flexing of linguistic muscles while reading and writing theory, but it’s pretty easy to render a text meaningless (beyond a limited targeted audience) if you’re not careful. As a social justice activist, what use is it if you can’t communicate to an audience outside the shining privileged halls of academia?

In the simple words of Josephine Donovan and Carol J. Adams, “We believe that all oppressions are interconnected: no one creature will be free until all are free – from abuse, degradation, exploitation, pollution, and commercialization.” A sentiment I embrace whole-heartedly.

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