Wednesday, March 7, 2012

the good old feminist sharing circle, or, notes from a cranky feminist

Soooooo - I went to this talk the other day that was put on in conjunction with International Women's Day week.  It was, for the most part, against my better judgement.  But I had a friend that wanted to go, and I thought that I should give it the benefit of the doubt.  Anyhoo - the talk was on community based feminism, or as the organizers put it 'taking feminism out of the academy.'  Already, of course, the title puts my knickers in a bit of a knot.  What with me being, for all intents and purposes, a feminist of the more or less academic variety.  You know, a nerdy-girl-talk-theory-to-me-let's dissect-this-shit kinda academic feminist. And so, I was already feeling pushed up against the proverbial wall when I entered the room to find a series of chair organized very purposefully, in a circle.  And all my hackles raise here.  (Dear God.  Not a circle talk!!)

You see - in addition to being a feminist of the academic variety, I am also a feminist of the cranky variety.  And the feminist-sharing-circle-let's-hold-hands-and-sway-in-the-forest-and-who-has-the-talking-stick? kinda sentiment makes me feel, you know, mostly violent.  I am so not that girl.  I don't do earnest.  Not in feminists, not in anyone.  Earnest makes me cranky.  Bright-eyed and bushy tailed and all-my-clothes-have-been-upcycled-from-the-dumpster-not-because-I'm-hard-on-cash-but-cause-I'm-all-anti-oppressive-and-cool-like-that makes me cranky.  Like, seriously, hella cranky.

Moving along... so, I'm sitting there, all in my cranky-femme-yes-I'm-wearing-a-whole-lotta-make-up-AND-I-love-the-academy glory, you know, in a circle... trying to talk myself into not leaving.  Because I'm feeling twitchy like hives are coming on.  And because I already know, based on my very visceral response, that my presence here is likely a bad, bad idea.  Because I have no poker face.  None. Because I cannot control my eyebrows from raising, I've been told, condescendingly, when I'm supremely annoyed.  But, I stay.  The speakers look like they might be interesting; I might learn something, because it's important to challenge those visceral responses sometimes; yadda yadda yadda.

I wasn't wrong.  The speakers were, for the most part, rather interesting.  All three of the speakers, who were women of colour, had some well-thought out and interesting things to say about their experiences within feminism, the feeling of tokenism, the journeys they'd taken to come to the place of calling themselves feminists.  They spoke about their work in the community, in various organizations, and how they felt these contributed to feminist goals.  It's important to hear about these things, and I appreciated the perspectives.

Not that some things weren't said that pushed my buttons.  To the contrary.  My buttons were pushed.  There was some requisite Women's Studies bashing, and comments about make-up and the internalization of 'patriarch-ikal' values (a. this is a mispronunciation that freaking KILLS me, but I guess I'm all academic-snobby like that, and b.  this make-up wearing girly-girl isn't prettying herself for the boys.  Just sayin').  There was also a discussion about the intrinsic degradation of the word slut, which is a word I happen to greatly enjoy (though I know not everyone feels this way, so fair enough, I guess).

But other than those minor irritations, what was really problematic to me, was the way the group facilitators (organizers) framed their questions to the panelists.  Each question seemed to be posed in a way that forced panelists to place so-called community based feminism and academic feminism in opposition to each other.  To value one over the other.  To share their experiences of marginalization within the academy.   And so on and so forth.   Problematic.  Period.

I've written papers raging against this sentiment a bit.  This supposed chasm between academic and community feminism.  You see, in feminism, there's this thing called praxis.  Praxis is about the interrelationship between theory and practice.  Practice without ideas behind it turns out shitty.  Always.  Really shitty.  And theory that loses it's grasp on the fact that people actually live in this big old patriarchal world of ours can be a little hard for lots of folks to access.  But regardless - theory is important.  Because, you know, we need people to actually think about things.  Community organizing is, of course, also important.  What's more - (and this is just crazy-talk, I know) - academic feminists also belong to the feminist community, just as much as the feminist protest march organizers.  And the last thing I'd like to point out here, is that we wouldn't even have this lovely movement we call feminism without some amazing women thinkers.  Who wrote and thought and acted and stirred shit up.  Writing, thinking, acting, This stuff is all important.

AND - if this supposed chasm between academic feminists and community based feminists really does exist - and if people whose knickers were knotted about this fact actually wanted to do something to, you know, change that, how about holding a speaker series comprised of community based feminists AND academic feminists?  How about getting the dialogue going?  Or at the very least, how about asking those community based feminists some better questions.  Say, like:  "how do we bridge the gap that you see between academic and community based feminism?"

Sigh.  I didn't stay after the break for the 'discussion' session, though as you can tell, I would've had a lot to talk about.  Mostly because I wasn't sure I would come off gently.  Or rather that I was sure I would come off cranky.  You know, because I was.

Instead, I took my internalized-patriarchal-values-make-up-wearing-theory-and-slut-loving-self out to watch a friends hockey game.  More internalized patriarchal values to dissect there, too, no doubt.

Next time, I'm gonna trust my gut and stay home.  Or at least run far far away as soon as I see 'the circle.'


  1. you couldn't have said it better!!! LOVE IT!!

  2. Thanks anon. :) Nice to have cranky company!