So… I started my first semester at uni yesterday. All in all, it’s been pretty miserable. Profs have brushed me off, the system has been pretty unaccomodating of trans* issues, and I got hit by a car. (Sure, being hit by a car isn’t strictly the uni’s fault, but why split hairs like that?)
The feminist theories class I’m in is one of the few upsides of dealing with the whole process of being in uni. The teacher is pretty damn awesome; they’re actively doing presentations on pink-washing and campaigning against the school’s insufficient treatment of queer folks.
And at the same time, I find their methods interesting. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with them.
Like… this is a selected list of what’s in the class:
- A speech from Adrienne Rich, Claiming an Education
- Monique Wittig’s One is Not Born a Woman
- A piece from “The Feminist Majority Foundation”
- Haunted by Citizenship: Whitenormative Citizen-Subjects and the Uses of History in Women’s Studies.
- Published in ‘Contemporary Postcolonial Theory: a Reader,’ Where Have All the Natives Gone?
The material is damn well inclusive of queer people, women of color, non-western people. But all of it is from strictly scholarly works, or from feminists who have/had-when-writing institutional backing and power. It’s all from academic journals, print anthologies, and other generally-inaccessible works.
It might just be me, but… it seems counter-productive to tout feminism as an inclusive doctrine and then gate our readings off from general access. The prof’s answer (heavily paraphrased):
Yeah, I know. I fully own up to the fact that our reading list is pretty classist. But I feel that showing and helping you through difficult works is the best use of your time, and it’ll use your time most effectively.
I don’t want to go through works that you can just find wherever and understand right off the bat. I want to help you understand more difficult works, so then you can use that knowledge on your own activism.
It normalizes the idea that academia is the only place where complex, or incisive feminist progress can happen. It devalues work like Natalie Reed’s, or PrincexAchilles’s, or the huge body of work at Questioning Transphobia, all of which is full and compassionate and thought-provoking as all hell.
And it also seems to lift everyone in class up as a pedastal, both in status and responsibility. Not everyone in class is going to be a dedicated activist, and giving us texts under that assumption comes at the problem of “not enough people are undertaking feminist work” from the wrong direction.
I’d argue that a better way to spread feminism effectively is to make large swaths of feminist works intellectually open to people, so they can be shared and understood. Academia and universities are a small part of all the feminist work that is happening in the world, and progress isn’t going to happen by containing works in the ivory tower, even if we surround those works with the ideas of intersectionality and activism.
Thing is… I don’t know a way around that. I want my writings and that of all the good, intersectional feminists out there to find some sort of wide-spread, accessible feminist home, co-existing with all the scholarly high-brow works out there. I’ll definitely be pushing for it every chance I get in my uni and blag work.
But my plan right now? Most of the stuff we’ll be reading will be from photocopies, from journals, from works that are probably out of print everywhere but one rinky-dink publishing company. So maybe I can start typing all that shit up, publishing it on the blag with my annotations.
Or I can write on the blackboard the URLs for all the great blags I know before class ends. Or… something, just to get the ball rolling here.
It’s a really small contribution, but at the same time… every little bit helps. And if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.