Feminism for Real: Must-Read for “Academic Feminists”

by Anitra Cottledge

Recently, one of our former interns sent me an email asking for feminist book recommendations. Ever the #nerdland resident, I sent her a list of 35 books. One of the most recent additions to my list of feminist must-reads is Jessica Yee’s Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism.

If you keep up with the feminist intrawebz, you probably caught some of the commentary about the book. I have had notes in my Moleskine about this book since September 2011. I’ve used some of the material in the book in our staff training, and since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of my major takeaways.

I think the book has a particular kind of significance for those of us in student affairs. We are part of academia, and many of us would also consider ourselves activists. In fact, many of us who are student affairs professionals also teach in some capacity, and as such, don’t subscribe to a false split between “academic” and “activist.”

For a book under 200 pages, it packs quite an unapologetic punch (Yee breaks down “Western notions of polite discourse,” which is thrilling.). As a woman of color in higher ed, I have to admit, I can’t give an unbiased review of the book. I had too many giddy chuckles and conversations (yes, out loud) with the book where I said something like, “Yes! This is what I’m talking about!” or “I know that’s right!” Reading it was like coming home, and many of the pieces validated those moments when something in the feminist arena chafes against my social justice sensibilities to the point where I’m ready to say, “I can’t with you/this today.”

Hopefully, you will read this book for yourself, and draw your own conclusions. In the meantime, here are a few points to consider for student affairs professionals.

• If you teach, have a resource library, or utilize personal writing in your staff development or training, Feminism for Real is a wonderful addition to your current efforts. The anthology includes many forms of writing and expression: poems, zine excerpts, conversations/dialogues, interviews, which is important for being accessible to different ways of knowing and being.

• The perspectives included are as broad as the forms of writing. Not only is it refreshing to hear from a wide range of voices, but it’s also refreshing and necessary to see feminism envisioned as a constellation of issues: there are essays about eating disorders, class “queerness,” sex work, discomfort with the label “feminist,” etc. The essays represent different entry points into the always complex conversation about feminism.

• How do we all deal with trends in feminist organizing and discourse? What is “intersectionality” and what does that really mean and look like in the day-to-day rhythms of our work in student affairs? Some of the pieces challenge us to examine both theory and practice, as well as the congruence between the two.

• One of the essays, “The Feminist Existential Crisis (Dark Child Remix)” by the ever-awesome Latoya Peterson, addresses the phenomenon of the “professional feminist,” and asks questions that have salience for all of us who are “academic activists,” “academic feminists:” Is this the place for me? How is my work (as a feminist, as an activist, as an academic) valued? How do I sustain myself and my work in systems and institutions that may not affirm my values?

For me, this book is recommended reading for all us of in higher education. As Jessica Yee says in the introduction:

“It is not a hate-on of academia. It is not a hate-on of feminism.”

Feminism for Real is a call to action for each of us in the academy, to think about our loci within this world, to examine where we have privilege and where we do not, and how that manifests in our work.

Challenging, but so worth it.

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