First Reflection Post on "Feminism for Real"

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"Really and truly, I have become a part of the club that I felt so excluded from in the first place, and I don't like it. I reject the definitions of success that were taught to me in feminist university spaces, but simultaneously can't help but be drawn to them, and this is an ongoing tension for me" (Kate Klein 175).


For my first reflection post, I wanted to focus on Kate Klein's piece "On Learning How Not to Be An Asshole Academic Feminist."

I decided to open with this quote because I identify a lot with what the author says. Additionally, I think it gets back to my initial argument of hegemonic feminism within academia and mainstream culture. Given that I've used these term repeatedly in my posts and comments, I thought I should define how I am using it. Hegemonic feminism can be thought of mainstream/dominant feminism(s) ability to make us want for ourselves what they want. In other words it is the push for gender equality, combating sexual violence, challenging hierarchies and systems of power and etc, and the expectancy that all women should organize around these issues. (Just to be clear I'm not dismissing theses issues.) It is the assumption that women are a monolithic group, across class and culture and that oppression is homogeneous, and that all women should organize around this "force". Thus, there has also been some pushback in terms of how these ideas and topics carried out as projects (usually hegemonic feminist projects) and are aimed at the "betterment" for different communities (which can be neo-colonial). Additionally, this pushback critiques hegemonic feminism for its failure to sometimes take into account the history and the different ways in which systems of oppression affect different communities.

Or another way to explain it:

...as has been well stated by many Indigenous Feminists before us, the idea of gender equality did not come from suffragettes or the so-called 'foremothers' of feminist theory. It should also be recognized that although we are still struggling for this thing called 'gender equality', it is not actually a framed issue within the feminist realm, but a continuation of the larger tackling of colonialism. So this idea in mainstream feminism that women of colour all of a sudden realized 'we are women', and magically joined the feminist fight actually re-colonizes people for who gender equality and other 'feminist' nations is a remembered history and current reality since before Columbus." (26)

Thus, at the root of challenging hegemonic feminism/feminist projects is the idea of refuting how feminism has been and is defined and appropriated to these different communities.

An example of a hegemonic feminist project, as expressed in this piece, is The Vaginal Monologues. Klein writes "....I no longer hold The Vaginal Monologues up as the ultimate beacon of hope for women everywhere. The shoe certainly has many problems, including but not limited to a transphobic implication that everyone who has a vagina is a woman and that everyone who is a woman has a vagina, a rampant heteronormativity, and a recent focus on the Global South that, by virtue of nature of university spaces, ends up casting privilege white women as "sex slaves" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Japanese comfort women, and perpetuating colonist representations of non-Western women" (quotations original 172-3). Another example of this would be SlutWalk and Aura Blogando's critique of it in the piece "Slutwalk: A Stroll through White Supremacy."

As it was argued in this piece, academic and mainstream feminism are hegemonic systems of domination. Therefore, we (this class and academics) are swept-up into this system, to some degree because we are in the academy. Thus, this also makes us complicit (again in differing degrees) in maintaining and perpetuating hegemonic feminism. Or as Klein stated, in the earlier quote I used, "I reject the definitions of success that were taught to me in feminist university spaces, but simultaneously can't help but be drawn to them, and this is an ongoing tension for me."

My own identification with this piece is that I too, sometimes, feel excluded from academic feminist spaces. Yet I come back to it because I too am "drawn" to it. I have to admit there were also times in which I felt I could not engage in discussions within academic feminist spaces, despite the fact I am majoring in GWSS and Sociology. My own feelings here is similar to Klein's following sentiment "....while feminist spaces often purport to support anti-oppression, my experience has been that this is mostly all talk with little concrete action to show for it. When a bunch of white women sit around decrying racism in a space where there are, suspiciously, no women of color around to lead and shape that dialogue, it quickly becomes clear who the space is geared towards" (174). In my own experience(s), I felt discouraged to bring in these uncomfortable discussions because clearly, I too felt, this space was geared toward a specific group within the group(s). At that time, I did not feel I "strong" enough to challenge that status quo. Nor was I was able to articulate my frustrations in such a way that did not come off as "angry" and "threatening." Or as Serita stated in an open tread "I realized later that I wasn't able to confront her in an articulate way showed not my emotion, but rather my logic for why her standards were archaic, inappropriate and misguided." Therefore, I stopped engaging (which is really fucked up considering academic feminist spaces are supposed to be "anti-oppressive", "non-dominating", "encouraging" and "accepting/loving of difference". Then again, is this my own romanticized notion of what a feminist space should look like?) But, I still feel a sense of guilt because of own position. I am, in some way, versed to negotiate the different spaces of community and academia.

Also, I like this piece because it serves as a critique to mainstream feminism(s) idea of arriving at some stage (if there is one) of consciousness, and that from that "Big Feminist Lightbulb Moment" that it supposedly "bolsters a liberal feminist desire for a sovereign female bourgeois subject position" (Donadey, Anne, and Huma Ahmed-Ghosh. "Why Americans Love Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 33.3 (2008): 623-46. Print.). That is, hegemonic feminism assumes that folks take on the role of the independent individual who is "empowered", who should and can do anything and everything, which is also marked by social class.

This then brings me to the close of this article. I think it's interesting that through academia we, academic feminists, do take on a similar role of the "sovereign female bourgeois subject" (Ghosh and Ahmed). I too am annoyed with how I can't engage with folks outside of academia without having the conversation turn "too intellectual." As Klein writes "I couldn't think of anything to say to her that didn't make me sound like a school-obsessed snob...Am I one of those self-obsessed white ladies who couldn't see her own privilege if it hit her in her face?" (175) (Interesting how this subject is constructed, that it a conversation of its own though.)

Some of the questions posed here are things I too am contemplating:

Am I a part of the problem, not the solution? (All taken from pages 175-6)

How can I call myself an anti-violence activist when there are people who have stories of terror and violation that go untold in spaces I occupy because the language in which they express them is not deemed acceptable by hegemonic academic feminism (a.k.a university snobbery)? How much more seriously are my own stories taken as an activist who operates within academy?

....How can I ever hope to be a true agent of social change is all I know how to do is engage with people like me in a university context?

These are questions regarding identity and privilege, questions that need to be addressed as well as self-addressed. In all I also wanted to close this first reflection with a quote, and an important message, of the author. Regardless of what "side" (if there is such a thing) you stand on and in whatever spaces you are negotiating, "....success is that much sweeter when it is achieved alongside and not on the backs of others".

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