February 8, 2012 • Podcasts
Shameless Book Club: ‘Feminism For Real’!
Continued from page 1
LK - I was looking for that radical intervention, that for an academically trained feminist would slap me upside the face and teach me something so new I had never even conceived of it before. Did I get that? Not quite. But I think that this discussion leads towards giving me some of the things I was looking for, and hopefully this discussion will continue to all of you who are now listening. And also, I wanted it to be in my face so that, as a former women’s studies TA, it was something that I could maybe think back to my experience and have some sort of hip radical women’s studies professor bring to their classroom and have the same kind of intervention within their classroom. That this book could perform that work of revolution. I had high hopes, I had really high hopes, those blogs were praising this like you wouldn’t believe, so that’s where I got that from.
RG – I was expecting a really bad-ass book that was really different from Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti, which was really problematic. I was really frustrated while reading Full Frontal Feminism, because it’s a mainstream feminist text and I felt like this book is the complete opposite of what Full Frontal Feminism is and it is the type of feminism that I want, that I want to work towards and I want to be a part of. A feminism that is literally, because it’s a book, inclusive of many different voices, and that just its existence is a radical intervention because it is so presented in a way that is so not traditionally academic. What I didn’t expect was for it to hit me so emotionally. Because it was like, the only other academic stuff that I have read that has gotten to me really personally has been anything by bell hooks - because of the way that she envisions education, graduate school and university is a type of education that I wasn’t having. I didn’t expect to reflect on my own ... I didn’t expect to have my feelings about class reflected so well in this book. Because even as a TA, to talk about class with students - it’s really hard because - it’s hard to acknowledge what class you’re from or to talk about class privilege. Having that chapter in here about class being mobile and stuff was really really good, and I was also really happy to learn more about Indigenous feminism, and hear more Indigenous feminist voices. Yeah.
SS – I had a question: at the beginning of the anthology, Jessica talks a little bit about discomfort, and when I read the anthology, I felt quite uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, and I felt that was a really powerful thing for me personally. And I’m just curious about your personal experiences while reading the book. Did you feel a lot of discomfort? And how did that discomfort affect you?
LK – Absolutely. I think that one of the things that this book accomplishes is that it calls out the reader. I felt very called out, to be like “no, I am an academically trained feminist but I’m not a women’s studies major, and this is not what I experienced,” so it forces you to take a position, which I think is a really great thing, because then you have to reflect about it, and it really got me thinking about the types of privilege that I experienced and to look back on my academic experience and to wonder if there were certain things that I was capitulating to that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. So I think that was a really positive thing, and also to value my affect response to this experience and maybe reflect on what that might say, especially coming out of years of university and grad school - and this is not an experience that encourages you to feel in any way - and that was great.
JH – I was uncomfortable in lots of different ways in reading lots of different sections. Partly because I realized that I hadn’t thought about a lot of things that I thought that I had thought about, and then I read it and I thought, “oh, I hadn’t really thought about that before.” There was one piece that really hit a light bulb moment for me, and that was Megan Lee’s piece called “Maybe I’m not class mobile, maybe I’m class queer.” There’s one particular line where she mentions that university is a classist institution and I had always thought like: yes, it is inaccessible to many people because of various financial barriers, and that is sort of where my financial analysis of it ended. There’s a line where it says, “the culture of university imposes a homogenous set of classist values, including dangerous delusions of meritocracy” - and I went, “oh my God” - because I had always sort of subscribed to this idea that if you are smart enough and work hard enough then you are going to get what you deserve in university, that you will be able to advance and move through. It made me really uncomfortable to realize that that thought in itself is hugely privileged and I really need to unpack that.
RG – it’s really interesting that you brought in that part about Megan Lee and meritocracy, because when I saw that, I highlighted and wrote it down because that’s one of the things that I am experiencing in grad school is that, if you work hard of you will be one of the privileged students who gets a grant, then you can live on your grants, and you can - well, you can’t survive, right? - and so it’s like that idea of working hard, but it’s so untrue because of multiple reasons of why she outlines the rest of it. But I felt uncomfortable in some parts, but I felt really challenged throughout it all. One part, going back to resistance to Indigenous feminism, Erin Konsmo writes - is it ok if I read like a segment?
SS – Please do.
RG – “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 made of 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, so the internal “validity” of your research will never compare.” And what I wrote was like, “whoa,” cause that spoke to me. Besides studying Indigenous issues, studying anything that’s not Iranian, like studying any other ethnicity, I have thought about doing and that really spoke to me. Especially that part: I don’t have the blood memory of those experiences. And then I wrote, “whoa,” and then, “Ronak, get used to feeling uncomfortable,” cause this is stuff that, you know, we’re not encouraged to explore in research methods. What I take in research methods, they don’t tell you: “well, if you’re not from the community and you’re not from the bloodline, you may never understand anything.” You might dedicate your whole life to studying a group or even a subculture and you’ll never truly understand it, and no one’s ever written that. That to me was really big, reading it brought a lot of clarity to me.
And just one more piece that I wanted to talk about. Even though I really like Louis Esme Cruz’s piece on medicine bundle of contradictions, I found it really challenging because I’m not, I don’t know a lot of the language so when there’s one part at the end, he writes that “my medicine is bound with this knowledge being many things all at once assisting me to grieve what I and we have lost in getting here while we grow something new together, I’m hopeful for this process of unsettling things again.” So he talks about decolonization, he talks about being 2-spirited, and just a set of languages that is very new to me, like I don’t necessarily know what medicine references and what I was hoping to have was like a glossary of terms.
But then, when I thought that, it brought me back to an Iranian anthology that I read which was called “a world between” where distinctly the editors write, “there are words in here in Farsi and we’re not translating them because that’s an act of resistance - because we want to challenge the reader who’s not from our community to challenge what they know.” And so to me, reading how Louis is talking about medicine is to me very different from my Western ideal of what medicine is. I thought that was really important because it meant that it was challenging everything I knew about what one word was. And I sat on my bed thinking about it for a really long time and it made me want to know more.
JH – I think that’s a really important example. It’s something that the book does really well. That it shows various people’s experiences without sort of necessarily breaking them down and trying to make them accessible to people who have not experienced them - because that is the way that people feel when they go into academia and they’re hit with all of these theories and all of this stuff. So it’s actually a way of flipping it on its head and saying to those of us who are academically trained people: “yeah, sometimes you’re not going to understand the words that are being used, and you’re going to have to go and do the extra work to read up on it and find the sources or whatever,” and that’s the experience of people who come to academia and are just expected to know the language.
LK– I want to go back to something Ronak said, about the blood memory in Krysta and Erin’s piece. This was actually the piece that made me the most uncomfortable, and I’m still trying to work through what it was exactly that brought those feelings to the surface and I’m not quite sure if I’ve reached that point yet, but it is interesting that you brought that, that you read that paragraph because I circled “blood memory” and put a question mark and kind of wrote “potentially problematic” in the margin of my book. Because I wasn’t entirely sure what was meant by blood memory. And I think that’s part of what Julia was saying, that you have to go out and do beyond just what is provided for us in the book, so I just wanted to share that.
NA – Our discussion is bringing to mind some thoughts about responsibility as well, because in some ways it’s our responsibility to pick up where the book leaves off or to fill in some of the gaps ourselves. To be go-getters and to self-educate, and there are cases where the book gives us the tools to do that and where we have to find those tools for ourselves. But in the same way, can we translate this into the academy wherein our women’s studies classrooms we should be doing exactly the same thing? So I am wary of the potential of the book setting up this kind of divide, and I’m happy our discussion isn’t doing this, of “oh, the academy is over there and that’s them over there,” when I think that collaborative discourse is so much more productive and useful. So it’s just one way to translate our experiences with this book into other spaces.
RG – One thing that I really like about the book is that it’s presented in a way that it’s not necessarily on how to fix the academy. Right, it’s like a space on how to cope and heal. And how the academy has hurt you in different ways. For me, above everything, it really showed me about how I’m in grad school - yeah I am, I’m very privileged to be in grad school. I feel very strange about that privilege because I’m from a very working class family, I’m the first in my family to have a full university degree - but, yeah, it made me realize, I’m applying for PhDs in January and I’m hopefully going to be able to pursue school. It made me realize that if I want to stay in the institution, I can’t just stay within the academy. I have to do the community work that I’ve started since I’ve been integrated in, since I was a child, my parents and my Iranian diaspora community on how I need to not only stay within this one realm of the academy - how lived experiences are really important and for you to live experiences.
But also, one part, one poem that I re-read like hundreds of times is by Shaunga Tagore - she is an editor at Shameless and she is super awesome - and she wrote a slam on feminism in academia and this poem just spoke so much to me because when I wanted to go into grad school , I never thought I would want to do a PhD, I never thought I would want to be a teacher. It’s just I really wanted to go into school so I could learn theory and I could apply it to my life and work that I do.
One part of the poem that she writes that I want to read: so she says, and she is talking to, I think, a professor. I feel like she’s talking to a professor in this part: “What is it about your knowledge and education that prevents you from imagining? All the different reasons that someone may be in graduate school or feel the need to study gender/race/sexuality and class. Some of us are not here to one day soullessly recite the entire canon of queer theory development with our hearts and minds closed. Some of us do not wish to compete to be the newest biggest baddest radical faculty hire. Some of us need to engage with feminist theory so we can ground it in our community activist work, our creative work, our personal relationships to our families communities, histories, for our own fucking deserved piece of mind.”
And when I read this, it made me cry. Because neither of my - my dad had to drop out of, I think he was in grade six or seven, when in Iran, so he could drop out and support his family. My mother was expelled from high school because she was an activist, and when they came to Canada, neither of them were able to finish their degrees. My mom actually started a women’s studies degree, then dropped out after 2 years because she had to get a job to support me. And my dad never finished any of his degrees. And so, for me, wanting to pursue a PhD, it’s because I want to learn more. I want to try to understand things I don’t understand. Like, I don’t understand like things like my parents can never go back to Iran, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand neocolonial structures and things like that and I want just for my own piece of mind to figure it out and my own identity of being Iranian-Canadian and things like that, and unfortunately, I haven’t had a space outside of the academy to do that. If I did, I would love to have a space outside of the academy to questions these things, and become minded with this theory, but I don’t, and so going to school for all the reasons that Shaunga listed out really resonated with me, because I have no desire to be like a tenured academic. But I want to do a PhD; I want to stay in grad school because I want to learn more.