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.