Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Cutting up the academy in Feminism for Real

Jessica Yee challenges establishment feminism

Need a pick-me-up after the election? Buy yourself a copy of Feminism For Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism. Jessica Yee presents a collection of vital and gripping pieces about feminism — with race, culture, gender identity and sexuality at the centre of the analysis.

Self-described as a “two-spirit multiracial indigenous hip-hop feminist reproductive justice freedom fighter,” Yee is founder and executive director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and one of the most prolific activists on Turtle Island. In Feminism For Real, she gathers an impressive range of voices to critique feminism — and offer inspiration for building a better movement.

Partway through her introduction, Yee ditches the usual literary structure to speak with Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council. They have a frank discussion about whether and why feminism is a white woman’s movement, and the forced sterilization of native women as a “genocide issue” rather than a “woman’s issue.” Carmen also details her participation in the collective-run UCSC women’s studies program of the 1970s. Students chose their teachers, including Angela Davis and Women of All Red Nations — a far cry from the situation in women’s studies classrooms now.

University-educated Krysta Williams and Erin Konsmo discuss today’s feminist industrial complex in their collectively written discussion/essay. They illustrate how racism and colonial attitudes can make using the f-word difficult for indigenous people — from cultural differences around the idea of dependence as “bad” to professors teaching that the suffragettes were the first feminists (and that they fought for all women). Williams and Konsmo also raise a point that echoes throughout the anthology: in an indigenous context, gender equality is not radical, but traditional.

Two-spirit Mi’kmaq Theresa TJ Lightfoot describes how indigenous women’s issues are often considered “add-ons” in feminism. She discusses how fighting the destruction of indigenous languages and ending violence against sex workers are feminist issues — and decries how they get pushed aside as “native issues.” As Robyn Maynard points out in the latter half of the book, “colonization is always a feminist issue.”

The contributors to this anthology come from both inside and outside the university world. Some of the most interesting pieces dissect the struggle not to lose oneself inside the academy while trying desperately to change it. Others grapple with translating academia into lived experience and whether to identify as feminist at all — because of the disconnect around race, and two-spirit and trans equality.

Mixed-race “female-man” Louis Esme Cruz covers this topic eloquently, outlining the racism of “woman-only” spaces that emphasize genitalia and “being born female.” Cruz explains how such ideas are imposed by white settlers and how the “woman as safe/man as unsafe” mentality of certain feminists can erase the complex identities of many communities. He asks, “Who gets to decide who experiences gender oppression?”

Andrea Plaid and Latoya Peterson contribute excellent pieces about race, class, slut-shaming and (leaving) feminism. Megan Lee, a mixed-race lesbian, writes engagingly about family and how university can reinforce class division. Anna Saini talks to Yee about how “the missionary slant that feminist ‘saviours’ of sex workers adopt is a modern form of colonialism.” And just so your brain doesn’t overload on essays, the anthology features a smattering of poetry, including work by the brilliant AQSAzine, a collective of Muslim women and trans people.

Feminism For Real is pure dynamite, an amazing feat considering the number of contributors. Some of the later pieces veer off-topic, and a few lean toward overkill, with their “watch me own my white privilege” stances — a distraction from the focus on indigenous and POC perspectives. But the collection is varied, smart, challenging and full of young people who make me want to live in their future.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in hope. Or, ahem, teaching at a university.

Catch Jessica Yee at the launch of another anthology, The Revolution Starts at Home, at the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St W, Thurs, May 26 at 6:30pm.