Review of Feminism for Real: Part One

I finally finished Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism (2011) edited by Jessica Yee. I’m not going to mince words—it was hard to read the book. This was the book that I would have loved as an undergraduate student in Women’s Studies at San Diego State University (SDSU). I was a first-generation college student like so many Latinas on campus in the late 80s and early 90s. (And, there are still lots there today—even with the extraordinary budget cuts and tuition hikes.) But, now I wear a different hat. I suppose some would say that now I am the “Asshole Academic Feminist.” Actually, I hope that no one would say this.

This book is written for the student (in and out of the university experience) who has ever felt that s/he did not fit in and was an outsider in the classroom. Other readers will love this book based on its pointed indictment about the at times vacuous nature of academe and jargon-laden discourse. I remember not feeling like I fit in and that I was the only non-white student in the classroom. I also remember the familial demands that I had that no one else seemed to have. But, by the time I graduated I knew I had my academic home and no home is completely perfect. And, I knew that my career was going to be in higher education.

I do take issue that Yee and others argue that the book is not a “hate on” feminism or Women’s Studies. The book is clearly an attack on mono-feminism (as if this exists!) and Women’s Studies. But, how can feminisms or Women’s Studies evolve if there are not the occasional moments of calling out so that introspection can take place! Now, before I get further in my commentary, I need to be more specific. I do have my BA in Women’s Studies from SDSU and a MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences from State. I ended up earning a MA and PhD in Political Science. I like to say that I’m over educated and under-paid, but that is a different blog post.

Getting back to the book, it’s not uncommon that a discipline has foundational texts and ideas. I saw this in Women’s Studies and Political Science. I did feel badly for some of the essayists in the anthology, as it sounds like a few of them had poor instructors, and some bad classmate experiences. But, I do think that it is important to understand how important foundational texts are in a discipline. They serve to provide the frame of reference. This does not mean that you have to agree or even like it, but being familiar with it is helpful for dialogue. And, having a frame of reference is useful for constructive criticism. As much as I hated the statistics series in graduate school, I also know that they made me a better teacher and scholar. Likewise, being able to counter Liberalism or Liberal Feminism required that I first know the concepts—even if they did not speak to me and my experience.

Again, maybe I have been immersed too long in higher education that what is plainly obvious to me that we learn about different things that at times do not speak to our specific experience. Then we usually (hopefully) can respond to it. Certain sections of the Feminism for Real had me frustrated. I felt like the particular author did not give the ideas, classroom or book a chance to see that there could have been something useful there to learn. Some of the sections were problematic to me, as I felt that the author was not familiar with the topic that s/he was responding to! I’m well aware of the fact that gatekeeping exists in academe and I am not supporting this. My work in the classroom, office hours, and elsewhere attempt to break this method. However, I also want people to understand that learning is not always fun—it makes you angry at times. Causes moments of disbelief for the student or reader and I know this, as I see myself as a life-long student. Learning is messy. It makes us uncomfortable. Feminism for Real made me uncomfortable. Yee and the contributors were successful. They made me think. Made me react.


I was lucky enough to give two off campus lectures this week. One was at a local middle school in town and focused on “Teen Lit and Politics.” Talking to teens is an exercise in patience. Some are interested, bored, phoning it in or really focused on making googly eyes with the person sitting behind or beside them! So, you just have to wing it and be prepared for interruptions, giggling, and some good energy!

The second talk I gave was at UBC in Vancouver and this talk was given to a Public Policy class. I was invited by my friend and colleague, Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega. The entire experience was fabulous. The students were engaged and asked all sorts of questions, and offered provocative points. On the ferry ride home, I was thinking about the trip and had to remind myself about the power that professors have when they walk into the classroom. Some students will be very careful about what they say, since they don’t want to be judged by the professor.

It’s amazing to me that students asking me what I thought about “Lipstick” feminists and other topics germane or tangentially related to my talk made me have this epiphany. I’ve had this moment before, but I must say it’s great to be reminded. I think it’s humbling and makes me as a professor walk back into the classroom with more compassion and patience. It’s good for my feminist politics.

I do think that those of us teaching material connected to social justice issues face this more. Students want to appear like a good social justice activist. I assume that students who self-select to take a class with gender or feminist in the title are probably already progressive leaning. But, this reminder this week was instructive. I walked back into my classroom and we chatted about this.

I explained that there is a big tent for feminists and we had a good conversation about feminists and people (women and men) who advocate feminism. I am hopeful that my students got that feminism is more than button wearing, but can also include having so-called guilty pleasure watching TV. Feminists and feminist advocates are human, too!

I know that my feminist politics are fluid and have evolved over the last twenty years and I’m glad to interact with students who are hard-core feminists, dabbling in feminism, or social justice activists. I hope that the class materials and discussions informs their politics and offers them some ground for more critical thinking. I joked with my students and noted that I don’t judge their feminism or their politics, but instead evaluate their critical thinking skills and their writing with the assignments. I hope that they understand this. I would prefer that they be honest in class and not worry about what I think or if I’m judging them. In the meantime, though, I will try to keep the learning environment safe for them to want to talk, to want to interject their assessment of readings or respond to me or another’s comment. Bring it on.

Being a Feminist Mother: Part I

When I was a new mama, I kept a journal that I named the “Bad Mama Chronicles” (BMC). I wrote entries when I was exhausted and somehow felt that I had failed my daughter that day. I am sure that I could have continued the BMC and the entries would have changed during the course of my daughter getting older and then the arrival of her little sister. Parents know how hard it is to parent, to mother, in my case.

Being a feminist mother has meant different things to me at different times in my girls’ development. So, for time and space, I will refer to what I think today. Being a feminist mother means that I encourage my girls and discourage the influences of pop culture and advertisements in their lives, so that they do not think that they are not smart enough, perfect, thin enough, need the next toy, food, or gimmick to fulfill them. This is a full-time job! I also need to bite my tongue and listen. It was easy in the beginning to be in charge of buying their clothes and dressing them, when they were little girls. Now, both of them have their own distinct tastes and thankfully both of them are sporty, although the youngest like the occasional frilly item.

However, now they both have wider social circles and there are more people influencing their lives. Funny anecdote: a teacher was reviewing the eldest daughters quiz answer and one of her answers to why we should respect a particular woman scientist. She explained that this scientists refused to stay with her philandering husband. The teacher had marked this answer as wrong! Yet, this personal trait also spoke to this scientist’s personal strength of character. I smiled and listened to the teacher and just listened to him. I don’t want to make waves for my daughter and could understand part of his argument; however, I think that her answer was correct–just not what he was expecting.

The best thing that I can do as a parent is set a positive example for the girls. The adage is that actions speak louder than words and it is so true. Some days I think about how I have had a really great day with the girls and other days–not so much. Parenting is a marathon.

This Summer was a great one. My eldest had that epiphany when she realized in a deeper way what it means to be Latina. We were surrounded by my family and when we were alone–we had some conversations about race and I could see her mind working. Later we took a trip to Olvera St. (first puebla in Southern California) and this trip was different from the previous ones. She took in the history. All those years of Spanish CDs and a trip to a Latino historical site made all the difference. Again, actions can speak louder than words.

There are more posts to come about being a feminist mother. This is just the beginning.