I’ve been struggling for over a month to write this review, not because I didn’t like the book–it’s an amazing anthology, in fact, and I think it should be a mandatory part of the feminist/activist canon–but because as an activist and a writer, my mode is always “do, do, do.” “Here’s how to make change.” “Here are five things you can do to improve your world.” “This is my experience and why it’s relevant to you.” This review isn’t going to be like that.
Feminism for Real is a challenge to white feminist academics and activists to stop doing. It’s hard for a lot of us to listen actively and compassionately. It’s hard to say “I am wrong, my ancestors were wrong, and I cannot fix it.” I’ve known this for a while, but it’s such a depressing thought, such a disempowering thought, that it’s hard to know what to do with it. And maybe that’s the point.
This is not our battle. What white feminists can do is show some respect, be conscious of history, make space for indigenous feminists and other people of color to do good work, and make an effort in our own communities to stop harming others. We need to recognize how colonialism and imperialism continue to impact huge segments of our societies, and we need to constantly fight against these forces. It isn’t our job to trumpet indigenous feminism, tell everyone about how the cool ideas native people have about women and other genders, or talk about how down we are with indigenous causes. Indigenous people are doing that just fine on their own. It is our job to address the pervasive, continuous, active harm we are perpetrating.
There are a thousand ways to do this. Attack bad government policy, attack the media, attack educators who wouldn’t know education if it bit them in the face. Support indigenous communities by giving indigenous people room to work–by speaking out against policies that take away land, culture, and freedom; by fighting rape; by challenging patriarchy.
As Robyn Maynard explains in her piece, “Fuck the Glass Ceiling!” it is important to recognize that the problem is not just marginalization but exploitation. The harms discussed in this book are not historical, rather we continue to actively perpetrate them. This is a structural problem for which we need to take collective responsibility. Maynard explains:
Justice means–justice has to mean–an end to people deliberately destroying generations of cultures, of women, of lives, and of dignity, for personal political and economic gain.
We can do this, but only by taking responsibility and recognizing where law and policy actively harm rather than help. I would encourage other white feminists and academics to join me in this self-critique, and in the challenge to listen without appropriating. Feminism for Real provides a collection of essays, poetry, and interviews that are a great first step to listening. You can find others on the web at Racialicious, SisterSong, INCITE!, and People of Color Organize, to name a few.
You can purchase your own copy of Feminism for Real from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The centre provided me with a copy of this book, and I was not otherwise compensated for this review.