Why Academic Feminism is Full of Shit

Feminism is not an academic theory. Feminism is a grassroots movement of women.

Universities, like all institutions in society, are patriarchal – they are run by men, for men, to further the interests of men and to oppress women. This means feminism and academia are opposites in every way. Trying to bring feminism into academia is like capturing a beautiful, vibrant butterfly, putting a pin through her heart and putting her on display in a museum. She will look pretty impressive and lots of people will marvel at her, but she is also dead.

Feminism is a war on patriarchy not a war between women

Academia is based on competition. The aim is to win, to outwit your opponents, to overturn past theories and come up with new bigger better shinier ones.

Academics love to divide feminists into competing theories – radical feminists, liberal feminists, Marxist feminists, post-deconstructivist-neo-radical-genderqueer-antediluvian feminists… and then set these theories arguing against one another. We are too clever to fall for these divide and rule tactics.

Academics love to divide feminists into ‘waves’ – first, second, third, fourth… as if each generation overthrows the last. Young feminist students are encouraged to write essays mocking feminist ideas from the past, seeing ‘second wave feminists’ as the enemy or patronising them – they had a few good ideas, bless them, but we’ve moved on now. How dare they try to turn us against our own feminist foremothers? How dare they try to turn our role models into our enemies? Feminism is not like water, it does not come in ‘waves’, each one washing over the debris and wreckage of the last. Feminism is a fire, passed down by generations of women for thousands of years, and sometimes it’s a tiny little ember and sometimes it rages so powerfully that whole countries are set alight but it’s the same fire and it never goes out.

Feminism is Real

You don’t need to read books to be a feminist. You don’t need to be able to read at all. If you go looking for feminism in lecture halls and academic journals and books you won’t find it there, because that isn’t where it lives. Feminism is in you. It IS you. And every other woman and girl who ever lived, or is living, or will live… feminism is born from us women, from our life experiences, from our feelings, from our experiences of sexism and oppression, some of which are shared with millions of women and some of which are unique to us. If what you are told to read does not either speak directly to you as a woman, or teach you about the life experiences of other women, or give practical and workable ideas for destroying patriarchy, it is not feminist. Unlike academics, feminists are not interested in questions like “To what extent does ‘queering’ theory deconstruct feminist conceptions of agency?” A feminist exam paper would ask “How can we destroy patriarchy?” and the correct answer would be for all the women to simultaneously storm out of the room, occupy the University buildings and call a global woman-strike.

Feminism rejects authority

Academia is built on the idea of expertise, of all-knowing authority figures educating the next generation of bright young things. This is because patriarchy needs hierarchies, it needs to tell young women that their thoughts and feelings and intuitions are not enough, that they need to be quiet and obey and learn from their superiors. No woman needs an expert to teach her how to be a feminist, what feminism is, or which feminist ideas are the ‘right’ ideas. Feminism is about women’s lives. Every woman is the expert on her own life. Every woman’s knowledge and experience is valuable in its own right. All women are sisters and we listen to one another and respect one another and celebrate our shared experiences and celebrate our differences in a way that all the theories and academics and ‘experts’ in the world could analyse for one thousand years and still never begin to understand.

Feminism rejects academic privilege

Academic training is training in how to use privilege to oppress and dominate others. Academia uses specialist language that the vast majority of women do not understand. This is not because women are stupid. This is a deliberate tactic to exclude us, to ensure that we do not know what is being said about us, to silence and humiliate us in discussion. No matter how hard we try to learn the language, we will never be good enough, we will never quite understand, we will never win the arguments. Patriarchy depends on women never being good enough, always being to blame for their own oppression.

It is not women’s responsibility to learn academic jargon. It is feminist academics’ responsibility to communicate to us in language we can understand. If you are a woman who has been subjected to academic training you need to recognise the tactics you have been trained in. By learning how to use inaccessible academic jargon in conversation and refer to books you have read and theories you have learnt, you have been given the tools to enable you to defeat other women, to make them feel stupid, to come out on top not because you are right and they are wrong but because you have academic privilege and they do not. It is your responsibility to work on yourself to undo this training. Stop assuming everyone has read the books you’ve read. Stop assuming everyone became a feminist because they read a load of books rather than because they were sexually abused and feminism helped them to understand their experience, or because they have a new baby girl and don’t want her to grow up in a world full of shitty misogynistic crap, or one thousand other reasons that have everything to do with experiencing oppression and nothing to do with the University Library. Stop starting sentences with “We all know…” “We’ve all read…” “We all agree that…” You cannot read other women’s minds or know their lives – don’t assume anything about other women and what they know, think or read.

Deeds Not Words

Academia values theory over practice. The more abstract and detached from real life your work is, the better. The more inaccessible your ideas and the less likely the woman who’s been cleaning your lecture theatre every day for the last ten years whose name you don’t even know could understand a word of it, the better. The aim is to create exclusivity in order to acquire and maintain power.

The end result or goal in academia is theory. Fieldwork or research is done in order to produce theory. In feminism, theory is written in order to produce action. Writing a book about rape culture is good, but organising a protest against a notorious rapist is better, volunteering at your local Rape Crisis Centre is better, boycotting corporations that use rape jokes to generate ‘controversy’ and sell their products is better. The best feminist academics are those who work for the grassroots, who ask activists, survivors and women’s organisations what they need and then put the needs of those women on the ground before their own careers and egos. They produce studies that will convince the government to fund more women’s shelters, or research that will help dispel rape myths. Feminism isn’t just something we are or something we have, it’s something we DO, every day. When feminists are concerned about an issue, we don’t write a paper or organise a conference. We get out there and campaign for change and don’t stop until we get it.

Academia encourages inaction. Social justice movements are either ignored completely or else analysed, criticised and sneered at by middle class white academics. Our own concepts and language are appropriated by academics and used against us, used to criticise feminism not in order to improve it but in order to paralyse it, to kill it off before it becomes too big and threatening. Too late. Feminism is big, it is threatening. We will continue standing together and fighting for freedom from male violence and oppression. It must hurt to watch from the sidelines, writing your snide pompous articles that most of us will never read and knowing that you can’t keep us down.

Academia oppresses women. Feminism liberates us!

Graffiti on Cambridge Union Society building saying 'Women Deserve Better'


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