Feminism for Real, ed. by Jessica Yee

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This is an amazing, honest anthology on the tensions in a movement that’s partly institutionalized in the academy and non-profit world, and partly emergent from the lived experiences of oppressed peoples. This sustained critique analyzes the academic systems that produce knowledge about Othered bodies, and engage in what other authors have claimed “imperial feminism.” As Yee says in the beginning… “It is not a hate-on of academia. It is not a hate-on of feminism.” It’s a “truth telling” about feminism as it’s become institutionalized in the Western academy, and the role of “gate-keeping” has in determining who gets to claim feminism and who doesn’t. This is an excellent introduction to the politics behind intersectional work, indigenous feminism, and a tonic to those of us who busy being brown and feminist in the academy.As I finished Feminism for Real, I was left with the really… powerful… feeling that I was reading a new version of All the Women are White, All the Men are Black, But Some of Us Are Brave, a book by black feminist academics.

There’s a wide range of ages represented in Feminism for Real, as well as many types of writers, scholars, and activists. Some use an interview/collaborative style to talk about their experiences working with the white feminist movement. Others highlight that when one is facing multiple types of oppression, men don’t look like the only enemy (“Introduction,” Jessica Yee). Shaunga Tagore’s poem, “Slam on Feminism in the Academy,” deeply resonated with me, as did Megan Lee’s “Maybe I’m not Class-Mobile; Maybe I’m Class-Queer,” both of which question the role academic credentials play in who has the power to speak for particular groups… and what they get to say. Other authors highlight the ways in which the mainstream feminist movement often penalizes women of color for their anger, or survivors of eating disorders for being “weak.” Also included are accessibly written how-to’s for engaging in solidarity work, and really honest reflections on privilege in the academy.

What I wanna do now is also highlight how the very academic industrial complex these authors are so critical of appears in the comments to the reviews. Please notice how the Racialicious link has comments using phrases like “intelluctually lazy” in describing how a Native person talks about their experiences, and how the comments here at Feministe police the book’s TITLE, of all things. These are examples of the kind of policings that this book is speaking against in the first place. Sadly, we are living in a sociohistorical moment where marginalized bodies are discursively silenced, and where this kind of epistemic violence is ignored by the mainstream feminist blogosphere.

Comments

  1. says

    Maria, you’re just confused because you’re of color. Feminism as taught in white male dominant academia is the be-all end-all! Sometimes I get confused, too, because I think growing up without a lot of money taught me something about not having a lot of money, but it’s true that a $100k education can teach somebody a whole lot more about not having money! What we both need is a Great White Middle Classer to teach us their worldview, since it is by definition Correct. /facetiousness

    Seriously, though, this sounds like a lot of chatter we’ve been having behind the scenes lately about a small but vocal minority of our audience who’s been “policing” us in various ways from the start. Their anxiety about having their worldview overturned is strikingly similar to the anxiety sexist people have about getting THEIR worldview overturned. It’s kind of amazing how much it’s exactly the same assholishness, but it just takes you longer to “get it” because it’s coming from your supposed allies.

  2. sbg says

    It’s amazing the things I’ve noticed in everyday life that I would have never noticed without this site, or others like it. And it’s amazing that every day I find myself doing/saying/thinking something completely effed up myself, still. I tend to think we all use that as an excuse – the old “well, this is what I’m used to, what do you expect?” defense instead of being able to step back and say, “Yes, I failed hard right there because of my X, Y or Z privilege. I will remember this and not do it again.” Instead of becoming goldfish and forgetting that learning moment and revert to, “But that’s what I’m used to…”

    This book sounds like a fabulous read.

  3. Casey says

    This book sounds great and also reminds me that I’ve actually learned a lot more about feminism/womanism/anti-racism and the social justice scene as a whole online in communities like these than I ever have thus far in my (community) college Women’s Studies and Sociology classes (plus I don’t have to deal with ignorant jerk-asses online if I dont’ have to! Unlike in class…God, I’m REALLY not looking forward to all the oblivious racists in my new Multi-Cultural America class…).

  4. Lindsey says

    This book sounds really neat, though I’ll have to wait a bit to be able to check it out. The complicated intersections of who we are certainly merit examination.

  5. Patrick McGraw says

    Casey,

    You’re giving me college flashbacks. :) I was a perfect example of someone who thought he was a feminist/anti-racist/pro-social-justice person, but was still lugging around a HUGE invisible knapsack of privilege.

  6. Casey says

    Patrick McGraw,

    I’m going to assume that despite your unchecked privilege, you didn’t turn into the guy who, when called out on said unchecked privilege, became SO defensive that you threatened the teacher and had to be kicked out of the class permanently! (golly, you wouldn’t IMAGINE how frightening it was for me to bluntly state in Soc class that primarily, the world is still run by rich, white, currently able-bodied, cis-gender heterosexual men of means (I said that phrase word for word) and a THRONG of men in the class attacked me for it! Some jerk-asses even said that tired bullshit about how OBAMA IS PRESIDENT SO RACISM IS OVER NOW!!1
    It got so bad that I feared for my physical safety and threw up. :(

    One morning there was also a guy who made some patronizing remarks in the elevator to class to an acquaintance of mine who uses a wheelchair.
    The guy was all like, “HEY MAN CAN YOU POP A WHEELIE IN THAT THING?” and my friend, with an exasperated sigh and his voice positively seething with contempt said, “You have NO IDEA how many people ask me that…” “WELL HEY MAN THAT JUST MEANS YOU GOTTA PROVE IT TO ‘EM, HAHAHA” as he ‘playfully’ kicked the back of one of his wheels. My friend had to get off on the second floor and I ended up saying (on the brink of tears because I was so nervous due to what happened previously in class), “U-um, hey…I-I-It’s kinda early in the day for me to be THAT person, but don’t you think what you said to [him] was a LITTLE bit condescending?”
    “HEY MAN I’M COOL WITH EVERYONE WHO’S MENTALLY HANDICAPPED–”
    Before I could reprimand him for conflating physical handicaps with mental handicaps (which apparently is something that happens A LOT), someone informed us that our teacher had appendicitis and class was canceled for the week…so I had a week to mentally prepare myself for more failure! But alas, it was still soul-draining…

  7. says

    Those Guys are bad enough. They spend their whole lives being encouraged to act that way, and then they act that way, so at least there’s a predictability to it.

    But what the book is talking about is your ALLIES. Not your classmates in a women’s studies course who may be taking it for any number of reasons, but people who talk about their feminist values and agree with you on at least some points… but then the minute they get a whiff of power, they start behaving just like Those Guys, only more subtly (well, usually). They just want to “correct” your confused version of feminism, which would take away some privileges from white women, upper class women, educated women, hetero women, etc.

    For example, the advice women have been getting from feminists for decades regarding not getting trapped in bad marriages by being unable to earn your own living: go to college. Right! Because being poor and having shit credit and a deadbeat family never prevented ANYONE from being able to pay for college. Not being very good at schoolwork, or having a learning disorder or being unable to cope in the rigid environment has never been a problem for anyone ever, either. /sarcasm

    A far more viable solution, though it would take enormous work and money to make it happen (but hey, the wealthy feminists ought to want to chip in, right? Right? Ladies? Where’d everybody go?), is this: launch a massive social pressure/maybe even legal reform campaign to make employers accept “household management” as a viable form of employment. Then, suddenly, a “housewife’s” unpaid labor gets recognized just as it should, she has a fair chance at getting a real job with real pay and real benefits (as opposed to working a retail counter for shit and no bennies), and Mr. Asshole may not even have to pay alimony. Win win for everyone, and the best part? Doesn’t cost employers, husbands or wives a dime. (And of course, this option would be available to househusbands, too.)

    All those degrees, and apparently that never occurred to any of the feminists who are writing books and directing NOW and all that, I guess. Amazing how I have something to contribute from actually KNOWING the women in these situations and seeing what their real limitations are. This wouldn’t solve all of it, of course. Some of them have massive confidence shortages from emotional abuse that won’t do them any favors in the working world, for example. But it’s a start. And it’s a better start than academia’s proposed yet.

    But the academics have a grip on the power structure that actually enables us to launch ideas like this, so they are the gatekeepers. They end up being the arbiters of what social changes feminism actually pursues. And they are way ignorant about some things, like we all are. That’s why you need diverse sub-groups hashing out the plan. No single group knows what the whole needs.

    • Maria says

      @Jenn

      Exactly. That’s why I’d be hesitant to say “Those Guys” are the only problem. I have plenty of rage for That Well Meaning White Liberal who cuts me off when I talk, for example, or that Nice White Blogger who thinks I’ve only “commented” on a major SFF series, or the Nice White Progressive who, at a feminist SF con, says that “some people” just aren’t capable of critical thinking.

  8. Casey says

    @Jenn and Maria

    I’ve had a lot of grief with one Well Meaning White Librull Guy in my classes, a guy who, when discussing the recent epidemic of gay teen suicides just said “WELL GAY PEOPLE JUST HAVE TO DEVELOP A THICKER SKIN” when that’s just completely rage-inducing and doesn’t take into account the shit LGBTQ people put up with every day. He basically countered my argument with “WELL MY BEST FRIEND IS BI SO BLAH-BLAH-BLAH”.

    I could go on and on about EVERYONE in my class(es) that pissed me the fuck off in one way or another but I didn’t want to take over the thread with a wall-of-text post.

    • Maria says

      @Casey

      A better example would be the It Gets Better campaign, which negates the experiences of queer low ncome, POC, homeless youth, etc. It’s a very particular def of better that only a few have access to. Another example would be the centrality placed on dadt and the relative silence of the larger lgbt comm on the rape of female soldiers. In each case a person with one marginalized identity talks over and ignores the experiences of others who may be experiencing intersecting types of oppression

  9. Casey says

    Maria,

    I’m well aware of all those problems, and the specific type of problems addressed in Feminism For Real in regards to basically “playing with the master’s tools” as it were and academics serving as a gate-keeper for what problems we’re “supposed” to care about, perhaps I should have labeled my prior comments as OT or “tangentially related” to the post at hand, because honestly, despite the actual curriculum leaving much to be desired (for me at least, ‘cuz these were all 101/201 classed required for me to transfer) the few teachers I’ve had in these classes weren’t silencing jerks and it was just annoying peers I had issues with, I should have elaborated.

  10. Shaun says

    Casey:

    “HEY MAN I’M COOL WITH EVERYONE WHO’S MENTALLY HANDICAPPED–”
    Before I could reprimand him for conflating physical handicaps with mental handicaps (which apparently is something that happens A LOT), someone informed us that our teacher had appendicitis and class was canceled for the week…so I had a week to mentally prepare myself for more failure! But alas, it was still soul-draining…

    Did you backhand him? Because I seriously think that would be my immediate REFLEX. >_<

  11. Patrick McGraw says

    Yeah, I was a Bad Ally in college, and said some massively dumbass things while thinking I was supporting equality. What really set me on the road to starting to critically think about my privilege was my religious studies major, which led to my becoming a Quaker, which led to my becoming actively engaged in equality and social justice. And so the internet became my big exposure to my own privilege.

    But I don’t think anyone here will disagree that unpacking one’s own privilege is a never-ending process. And I firmly agree that it’s too easy to block yourself over how you don’t fit into the privilege paradigm (I’m not able-bodied or neurotypical) and lose sight of how you do, and end up stopping or backtracking.

  12. says

    Patrick, I think what you’re describing is still a little outside what the book is talking about. Basically, one runs into:

    –ETA: misogynists.
    –People who think everything’s all equal now, like Casey’s classmates, and are just taking women’s studies to meet chicks or for an easy cred or something (who knows)
    –Allies who are sincere, but still learning about their own privileges. That’s you, me, most of this site’s peeps. These are the people who come around (not always immediately) when called on their privilege.
    –Then you have the people who are sincere about their little corner of feminism but not open to anyone else’s.

    It’s that fourth group we should be talking about in this thread, because some of the things these people do cause WAY more trouble than any troll or person refusing to unpack will ever cause. A good example: highly class-privileged bloggers telling me I’m being unfair to the commenter who said something ignorant and sexist because he might possibly have come from a lower white working class. Uh, *I* am from that class, and you know what? Not only does it not doom you to ignorance from which only college can save you, but I’ve seen truly uneducated poor white folks from places like West Virginia work out the radical notion that Black People Are Folks Too or Why Shouldn’t Women Want What Men Want. And plenty of people leave college without anything half so enlightened. So who was being classist?

    We’re actually contemplating a whole series on these wolf in sheep’s clothing allies.

  13. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler: highly class-privileged bloggers telling me I’m being unfair to the commenter who said something ignorant and sexist because he might possibly have come from a lower white working class. Uh, *I* am from that class

    That reminds me, I’ve had that same experience in class with people too (I both gave and received it, unfortunately enough). I had a fellow classmate in Soc class end up playing Devil’s Advocate (without prefacing that he was playing Devil’s Advocate until way later after I got upset with what he was saying…which in hindsight reeks of back-pedaling) saying stuff about “Oh, WHYYY do racists/sexists/homophobes think like this? We have to figure it out ‘cuz it might not be their fault, they just might not know any better~!”
    I got really pissed at him saying this and lost my shit, going on a rant and telling him that I, personally, am fed up with giving lee-way/cutting slack to ignorant hateful bigots and that I simply expect MORE from people and that they do not deserve to be “figured out” or “understood”, they need to be called out on their shit and stopped…then I sobbed hysterically because I collapse in the face of the slightest IRL conflict (I ended up feeling really guilty about freaking out on him ‘cuz he’s black, so I felt like I ended up playing into that problem of “WE MUST HOLD OPPRESSED PEOPLE TO A HIGHER STANDARD, HOW COULD YOU UTTERLY FAIL LIKE THIS!?” and was using my White Woman privilege/White Woman’s Tears(tm) to silence him).

  14. says

    Ok, I think I have an example of what y’all are talking about.

    Jezebel posted an article (unfortunately I cannot find a link and you wouldn’t believe how many results pop up on their site for “Lady Gaga”) about Lady Gaga and the LGBT movement. Lady Gaga identifies as bisexual and says she is sexually attracted to both men and women and interested in relationships with men.

    In the comments section, someone claimed that LG isn’t bisexual at all and she’s appropriating the queer movement. When called out, this commenter identified as a straight ally and said zir two bisexual friends had told zir that sexually attracted to two genders but romantically attracted to one wasn’t real bisexuality. Despite being told by numerous commenters (some bisexual themselves) that self-identification is at the heart of the queer movement and that the feelings LG described are in fact a form of bisexuality, this person did not back down.

    As a queer woman, specifically one who identifies as bisexual, this is not an ally we need in our movement. This person is fine with bisexuals, as long as it’s a form of bisexuality that ze approves of. That’s not real acceptance, that’s biphobia in disguise. We don’t need “allies” who feel it’s their place to police and/or validate our identities. What’s next, ze tells me that actually I tested as a Kinsey 3.7 so now I have to call myself a lesbian?

    And seconding the desire to see that series.

  15. says

    Patrick McGraw,

    We’ll have a first post in the series ready soon. :)

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Yes, great example! At the very least, the commenter should’ve conceded that the bi commenters were the best judges of the situation. Ideally, the person would’ve done well to frame concerns about appropriation as a question rather than a declaration. But in a way, I think the main fail was… well, I’m wondering if the commenter assumed (a) there were no bis in the comment section and (b) there were no other such enlightened and progressive minds as his/her own and therefore (c) it was up to him/her to speak for all the bis. It kind of has that feel, and that’s a whole other interesting aspect of privilege.

  16. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Mmm, point. This person kept using zir bisexual friends as back up. The fail of insisting that other bis who aren’t here speak truth while the ones who are here are wrong does make think ze was just looking to pontificate. I also have to wonder if ze was misunderstanding zir friends or taking their words out of context (or just outright lying), because bis who are sexually attracted to multiple genders and romantically attracted to fewer are fairly common. There is no One True Bi, just like there’s no single way to be gay or trans or asexual.

  17. Maria says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Heh, in cases like that, or when someone brings up their black best friend, I imagine this really confused minority being like, “BUZZAH? I don’t even KNOW this person!!”

  18. says

    Maria,

    Hee. I imagine there’s just one of them who’s friends with ALL the bigots. Their cell phone is filled to the limit with phone numbers, they keep getting calls in the middle of the night,

    “Hey, settle this argument for me, is it prejudiced to say your kind are shitty parents?”
    “Nope, my parents sucked!”
    “Thanks! You’re a credit to your people!”

    If we could just find that one individual and smack ‘em upside the head, all the bigots would apologize and life would be dandy. :D

  19. Shaun says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    I noticed none of the attacks on Gaga’s queer cred came until AFTER she came out as a bisexual. As a straight ally everyone seemed fine with her, but as soon as she’s bi suddenly it’s a conclusive fact she’s transphobic (when in fact she used what I considered to be the most appropriate language to being asked if she had a penis) and appropriating the queer movement, and doesn’t have a right to speak about the “gay” movement WHEN SHE IS A BISEXUAL. This, in spite of every other massive privilege she has.

    The romantic/sexual divide is interesting though, because someone being romantically attracted to men and women but only sexually attracted to men came up tonight, and I’d honestly never heard of that division.

  20. says

    Shaun,

    Interestingly, several bisexual people I’ve talked to have described their orientation with a romantic divide. And several of the several found the romantic orientation changed over time – they’d spend a few years romantically interested in men, then a few in women, etc.

  21. says

    Shaun,

    I’ve seen some legitimate concerns raised about her participation in the queer movement (It doesn’t matter if I was born this way or chose it or was bitten by a radioactive queer, I deserve rights because I am a person, dammit), but mostly those get buried beneath the biphobia. :(

    You’d never heard of a romantic/sexual division at all, or never heard of that particular pattern? My romantic and sexual orientations are different, which I think is one of the factors that complicated my self-discovery. Another group that often uses the divide is asexuals, who in my experience frequently refer to themselves with phrases such as “asexual and bi-romantic” or “asexual and hetero-romantic”.

  22. Casey says

    I read a pretty good article on the Good Men Project that mentioned this (I hope my quote thing works):

    :
    In the 1860s, the pioneering sexual rights crusader Karl Heinrich Ulrichs wrote of “conjunctive” and “disjunctive” bisexuals. The former could be sexually and romantically drawn to both genders, while the latter could fall in love with just one sex while still lusting for both. Ulrichs claimed that “disjunctives” came in both varieties (some bisexuals could fall in love with their own sex but not the other; some could fall in love with the opposite sex but not their own. But in order to “qualify” as bisexual, disjunctives needed to have physical desire for both men and women.)

    Ulrichs considered both conjunctive and disjunctive bisexuality in both sexes to be a normal variation on the human condition. Though he was scorned and mocked for his enlightened views, the real tragedy may be that he wasn’t just ahead of his time—when it comes to accepting male bisexuality as authentic, he’s ahead of our time.

  23. Cloudtigress says

    Jennifer Kesler:

    A far more viable solution, though it would take enormous work and money to make it happen (but hey, the wealthy feminists ought to want to chip in, right? Right? Ladies? Where’d everybody go?), is this: launch a massive social pressure/maybe even legal reform campaign to make employers accept “household management” as a viable form of employment. Then, suddenly, a “housewife’s” unpaid labor gets recognized just as it should, she has a fair chance at getting a real job with real pay and real benefits (as opposed to working a retail counter for shit and no bennies), and Mr. Asshole may not even have to pay alimony. Win win for everyone, and the best part? Doesn’t cost employers, husbands or wives a dime. (And of course, this option would be available to househusbands, too.)

    Tangent: For some reason this paragraph is reminding me of an old Erma Bombeck column from approximately the 1980’s, where a woman who’d spent her adult life as “just a housewife/mother” went to apply for a job. The secretary (a younger woman than the housewife) who takes her application basically tells her that being a housewife/mother for the last couple of decades didn’t give her any marketable skills like she would have had if she had gone to college and/or held a “real job” for that length of time. The humiliated housewife returns to her car and cries, then thinks about all the things she’d had to do to raise her children and run her house, and gets mad about how the secretary dismissed her. She then marches back into the company and demands another application from the secretary, determined to rework her “just a housewife/mother” time as “skills I learned while running a household fulltime that you the potential employer would find useful if you hired me as your employee.”

    (Been a good while since I have read that particular column, but I think this is a relatively accurate summary of it.)

  24. says

    Shaun,

    Actually, it was the fact that she was performing for HRC that had me write her off the actual ally list and put her on the, ‘doesn’t want to lose the mainstream, not-particularly-cissexist LGBT dollar’ list.

  25. Casey says

    Valerie Keefe:
    Shaun,

    Actually, it was the fact that she was performing for HRC that had me write her off the actual ally list and put her on the, ‘doesn’t want to lose the mainstream, not-particularly-cissexist LGBT dollar’ list.

    HRC stands for Human Rights Campaign, right? I don’t really know much about them…

  26. says

    Casey,

    Yes. Here’s the wikipedia link, but in general the criticism I’ve heard is that they’re too mainstream and too focused on assimilation, and in the process people who are being screwed rather badly are left to drown because, y’know, making waves would upset the hetero-patriarchal boat. Transgender people being some of those left to drown, especially.

  27. Shaun says

    Valerie Keefe,

    I’m not a fan of the HRC actually. At all. As for whether or not performing for a mediocre, mainstreamed organization makes you a bad ally, I suppose that would depend on the message you were trying to present. HRC is still working for (a narrow set of) rights for (a narrow set of) people, they’re just doing it at the expense of other groups. Personally I’m pragmatic enough to work with groups on some issues even if they’re willing to throw me under the bus on other intersections just because we live in a shitty society where “ism” is the norm and I have to be willing to push past that.

    None of that means that we should like HRC or give them our money or uncritically support them (especially not that) but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth using them as a platform if you have the resources to. I can concede Gaga doesn’t need them, but I also think she has conflicted feelings about her own status as a queer person, considering I’ve seen at least one interview of people questioning her right to speak about queer issues as a bisexual person.

    Anyway, I wasn’t speaking about you in particular. If you have a well-thought out reason for thinking she’s not a good ally, that’s great, because I think having criticism of public figures is important. I just don’t like the kneejerk responses in reaction to her bisexuality.

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