Feminism For Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism

by Latoya Peterson

Our multi-talented homegirl Jessica Yee just edited and published her first anthology.  Called Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Yee and her contributors (including myself and Andrea Plaid) keep it raw by illuminating the some of the issues people of color (particularly Indigenous people) encounter when entering feminist spaces.  In honor of International Women’s Day, we are going to share short excerpts of some of the essays in the book.

Jessica Yee: “Introduction”

[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.

Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo: “Resistance to Indigenous Feminism”

E & K: What does it mean for an individual to be considered “liberated?”  What does it mean for indigenous communities to be “liberated?”  I think the pictures we think of as Native women are very different than the end goals expressed in a lot of feminist literature.  In other words, there needs to be more space given to community-based solutions and the hard work that everyone, especially women in our communities do every day.

In academia (and in general) there’s still the problem of tokenism.    Including one article or person of colour, or Indigenous person into feminist curriculum is not enough.  This needs to be fully integrated into all women’s studies curriculum (which is still inherently racist).

E: One crucial element that non-Indigenous academia needs to accept is that no matter how much you read the journals of Columbus, a Native Chief, or through interviews of Native people, you do not have the blood memory that we have within us.   Sorry, if this ruins your PhD on Native people but you don’t have the blood memory experiences that I do and so the internal “validity” of your research will never compare!

K: Internal validity has never been so literal…It also needs to be said that including folks after the fact just doesn’t cut it.  White supremacy exists within institutions and this can’t be changed  by just putting Indigenous bodies in chairs.  There are structural changes that we have been calling for since forever!

Shaunga Tagore: “A Slam on Feminism in Academia (poem)

your ideal graduate student is
someone who doesn’t have to experience community organizing
because you’ve already assigned them five chapters to read about it

your ideal graduate student is
someone who can’t talk about positionality or privilege
without referencing some article

your ideal graduate student is
rich enough
white enough
straight enough
able-bodied and -minded enough
to be given luxury of enjoying sitting in a corner reading 900 pages a week
(with their fair trade starbucks coffee in hand and their lulu lemon track pants on ass)

your ideal graduate student

so WHY did you let me through these doors in the first place
if you were just gonna turn around and shove me out?

to fill some quote for affirmative action?
to appear like a progressive program without putting in the effort of actually being one?

Latoya Peterson: The Feminist Existential Crisis (Dark Child Remix)

(If) I think (about gender, access, and equality), therefore I am (by definition, a feminist).

It should all be so simple, right? But in the immortal words of Lauryn Hill in “Ex-Factor:”

    but you had to make it hard/loving you is like a battle/and we both end up with scars 

    tell me who I have to be/to get some reciprocity

To accept an identity as a “professional” feminist is to accept the layers of baggage associated with the label feminist. Added to the class and race parcels I carry, I find myself changing into Erykah Badu’s metaphorical bag lady – even while I’m trying to let it go and let love heal some of these wounds. If I make my living unpacking racism and sexism, why willingly take on more?

But one thing is clear – the culture of professional feminism is crowding my space. […]

Now, it’s always a different world than where you come from. But this was way different. It was wealthier, whiter, full of events and fetes and conferences. It was earnest. It was aware. But not too aware, since I always felt like I wore the cloak of the outsider. I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends through feminism, and got to meet so many more amazing women, and yet I always had this feeling that I still hadn’t quite landed where I was supposed to be. It was as if I was on this path, but it was leading away from where I was trying to go. Somehow, I always ended up feeling isolated.

Louis Esme Cruz: “Medicine Bundle of Contradictions: Female-man, Mi’kmaq/Acadian/Irish Diasporas, Invisible disAbilities, masculine-Feminist”

I write this to you, making something beautiful in this shared space between us, making it difficult for invasion to take root here. When we recognize each other, it is easier for both of us to relax.  We build what Lee Maracle, recognized Sto:lo author, describes as the golden rainbow between us.  Maracle says that when we build this arch, we are actively resisting invasion because no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. […]

Two-Spirit people are not allowed to participate in societies as our full selves and then we are shamed and blamed for the ways we are hurt by this.  When people say that a space is “women-only” they are assuming that women are always sensitive to each other’s needs, are always able to understand each other’s experiences, these experiences are always the same, and women are not violent.  Explicitly, this says all women are safe; all men are unsafe.  The inclusion of Two-Spirit people in women only space is arbitrary, shifting with who has the power to define the space.  This person in power is rarely Native.  From what I have seen, women who parade feminist ideals are the ones who decide who experiences gender-oppression.  Two-Spirit people can talk about our oppression only when it parallels women’s experiences.   When our lives get too complicated we are judged, ignored, punished, humiliated.  Whether it’s women-only or men-only space, the naming of a space as only one gender encourages invasion and conquest because they don’t allow people to be the complex creatures we are.  This pushes Two-Spirit people to the margins simply because we are not one thing or another.  We need liberation from the confines of gender baggage, too.  This parallels the larger call from Indigenous sovereignty movements asking for our Native Nations to be seen as distinct, sovereign entities.  We are necessarily unique and complex for a reason.

Ghadeer M. (of the AQSAzine Collective): “A Rant: Ya si sayed”

Insecure about your power, hungry for more, you throw a fit, feet in the air and scream out loud hoping to drown out the voices of objections, questions, and inquiries.

Listen to me – no longer will you allow yourself to tell me what to do.  What to cover or not cover, what messages my body will carry for you.

Things are going to change around here.

And I know that you are afraid, and that your violence only foster because of shame of your own mistakes.

But so you should be…

Tremble and quiver from the thought of your cold fate approaching you.

Then sit still and surrender as chaos from soles rubbing on pavements and streets turn into rubble and settle lightly on the shoulders of your pride.

Alone and desolate…like all captured kings.

Dethrones, de-powered. Ropes cut through your throat.

You’ve lost.

Because I’m woman – and I do what I want.


Shabiki Crane: “Pride from Behind”

[…] I was truly “done” with women’s studies after my professor announced to the class that when white women like Britney Spears presented themselves in a sexual manner it was because they were asserting their sexuality; however when black women, like Beyonce did, they were simply being puppets and degrading themselves.  I couldn’t understand the way that both images wouldn’t invoke the same reaction regardless of whether it was seen as empowerment or degradation, but why not the same? I saw two women singing, shaking, shimmying and to my horror, recognized it would never be the same.  It just reiterated the feelings of dis-empowerment I had harboured throughout the years of my life.

Feminism dictates that women deserve to be equal to men; but the truth is it’s telling us that some women are more deserving than others.

Megan Lee: “Maybe I’m Not Class-Mobile; Maybe I’m Class-Queer”

The current model of “class-mobility” reinforces separatism and a class-hierarchy because it posits that in order to escape oppression, one must become an oppressor – and universities do not merely mediate the boundary between professional and laborer, they teach the body of knowledge, the worldview, the values that mark a person as professional, as “belonging” to the middle- or upper-class.

Universities teach us to renounce our sense of identification with the poor; they teach us this by mainly ignoring the existence of poor people  and by treating us as “other” when we do become the subject of discussion.  Universities teach us not to care too much, because it will undermine our professional role.   Universities teach that we are separate from where we came from, that we are “qualified” (which suggests our families and peers are not), that we are justified in having power over people, in speaking for the subjects of our study.  Universities teach us that we are “too good” to wait tables and clean houses, with the implication that those who do those jobs are “not good enough” to deserve better.

Poor people tend to see university as a way out for their kids, but university is also a way in to the class of people whose success is premised on the oppression of the poor.  […]For a kid to become educated meant that he or she would live an easier life that was premised on the oppression and invisibility of the very communities s/he came from.  This left a foul taste in many mouths.

I have had that foul taste in my mouth for years, and I have come to the conclusion that it is the taste of injustice – of being forced to choose between the indignity of remaining poor and the ethically repellent strategy of privilege seeking.  To a poor kid who has the chance to go to college or university, participating in an institution that she identifies as oppressive (either before attending or in the course of her education) might seem like the best choice with regards to her survival, but it is a conflicted survival.

Andrea Plaid: ” ‘No, I Would Follow the Porn Star’s Advice’: A Case Study in Educational Privilege and Kyriarchy”

I could have easily benefited from the feminist-academic complex.  I concentrated on women’s studies as part of my liberal-arts degree and my Independent Study project when I was getting my master’s degree in library science – since writing a master’s thesis was not an option at the time – was on founding and operating a sex-positive library, though I did not specifically study sex as an undergraduate or graduate student.  The fact that I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree allows me to be taken slightly more seriously because they signal that I know certain “privilege codes and signals” gotten from about seven years of beyond high school education, like knowing about or having “the right” books on my bookshelf or in my e-reader (Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, anything and just about everything by bell hooks, some Barbara Ehrenreich and Naomi Klein, etc.), having seen or heard about the “right” movies (anything Pedro Almodovar and Mira Nair, Outfoxed, Matrix, etc.) and the “right” music (usually some form of “alternative” hip-hop, rock, and country).  It also means I know the “right” places to meet other like-minded educated people offline (coffee shops, poetry readings, film screenings, panel discussions, galleries and museums, and so on.) In other words, my stating that I’m degreed lets others know that I’m the kind of “culturedness” that only a bachelor’s and master’s degree “can give” (translation: “can pay for” – which, really, is what educational privilege is welded with and signals)…and if I wasn’t exposed to these things, I can damn sure learn it quickly because I know the “right” places to go find such things, including the “right” Internet sources and from those adjunct and tenured types.

The linchpin in all of this and what I’m signaling to others by my degrees is that I’m capable of talking about complex ideas and issues, like the various schools of feminism, because I’m trained to do it, based on the “virtue” of the “right” knowledge and furthermore, take my complex notions to “the masses” who need to hear it and embrace it as part of their lives.  (This notion is one of the rawest forms of educational privilege.) Because that, from what we’re told in these social-class incubators called four-year colleges and advanced degrees, is the great responsibility that comes from the great advantage – and promise – of being an “educated person.”  The more subtle lesson passed to us in college is The Degreed are the only ones worth listening to – the more degreed, the more you’re worth listening to, because you’re an “expert” due to all those years of studying.

Robyn Maynard: Fuck the Glass Ceiling!

[L]et’s examine [the word] ‘marginalization.’ I’ve always felt wary about the community sector’s use of the word ‘marginalized populations’, but I didn’t always understand why I felt it was so dubious.  Now I do: ‘exploitation has always been a better term that ‘marginalization’, because where marginalization just means that people are pushed into, or exist already in, the margins of society, it doesn’t explain how or why.  The process of marginalization isn’t intrinsic to the meaning of the word, and ‘margins’ seem to pre-exist, as a natural location for people to inhabit in a society,  It seems like something that just accidentally happens, and needs to be fixed by pulling people into some kind of imaginary ‘centre,’ which I imagine is meant to be the middle class or something to that effect.  It is a watered down description of the extreme hardships and daily violence experienced by those living in extreme poverty and facing the harshest realities of racism in our society, and it also disguises the reasons for why it takes place. […]

The ever-decreasing ability for the poor, racialized, and Indigenous to access the basic food and shelter needs that ‘marginalize’ people is not addressed and ‘marginalization’ seems to be a phenomenon that just is. The word ‘exploitation’ is clearer. The process of exploitation is inside of this word, it contains, in its definition, the fact that somebody is being exploited for the benefit of somebody else; it is describing a relationship.  And this makes it easier to understand what is meant in stating that the status of racialized, Indigenous, and immigrant women today is ‘structural.’


Interested in reading the rest of the book? You can order Feminism for Real here.


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  • bernard

    I have to object to the term “blood memory” used in the piece “Resistance to Indigenous Feminism”.

    At the very least, the term speaks to a kind of intellectual laziness that should be absent in academia: a person cannot claim authority on a particular subject matter by virtue of biology alone, and claiming to enjoy a particularly robust and intellectually developed understanding of indigenous life (above and beyond that of non-indigenous individuals similarly engaged in the study of indigenous communities) simply on the merit of one’s own indigenous ethnic identity is plainly ridiculous.

    If the author meant “blood memory” to refer to some kind of collective historical or cultural memory shared by members of indigenous communities, than they should have said that. The term “blood memory” is not only deliberately inflammatory, but worse than that, so vague as to be almost meaningless.

    At worst, the term replicates the same racist tropes that the author claims to fight against. It sounds like the uncomfortable residue of 19th century Social Darwinism, and I question what the author would think of a white man who deployed this term in reference to “white” identity.

    • Inukinhealing

      I always always tell non – Indigenous peoples that they can never ever speak of our issues the way I can as a full blooded Inuk woman. NEVER ever can anyone ever explain or speak about my experiences as an Indigenous woman the way I can and should. No one who has ever experiences what we continue to face and thank you for your contribution to this, I might add, will ever understand!

      • http://profiles.google.com/kmjreg Kmj Reg

        And the post above yours and below mine show that they still don’t get it.

  • Ananda Leeke

    So happy to have discovered Jessia Yee’s book. Thank you for sharing it with me. It is a game changer that I plan to read this Spring.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/iantaffi Alex Iantaffi

    This looks amazing and I really want to order a copy! However, from the link you give shipping to the US is $10! Do you know if there is any other way to get this book? Or shall I just try to get my local, independent bookstore to order it?

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  • Digital Coyote

    The academia slam pretty much nailed it, especially the last three stanzas. That crap started the first day of school with a professor trying to get me to quit because he didn’t think I’d know a particular word.

    ‘cept I did.

    And his students already entrenched in the program didn’t.

    It’s only gone downhill from there.

  • http://www.dlancystreet.com reginahny

    Wow. Marginalization vs. the correct term: exploitation just resonated so deeply with me I’m pretty much stunned. Thank you for this post, off to order Feminism for Real.

  • bittersweet

    I neeeeeed this book. To Jessica Yee and all the contributors, a most sincere THANK YOU.

  • http://www.facebook.com/carmen.sognonvi Carmen Sognonvi

    This sounds like an amazing anthology! I’m going to order it now.