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36 Responses

  1. Kai
    Kai May 9, 2011 at 11:15 am |

    Cool. Thank you for the excellent review. Looking forward to reading the book.

  2. rachel
    rachel May 9, 2011 at 11:27 am |

    This was a great review Allison! I’m really glad that there is finally a book out there that talks about the feminist academic industrial complex. I graduated college with a Women’s Studies degree and initially planned to go to graduate school for Gender Studies but I’ve since become disillusioned with this aforementioned insular world of feminism. Is it really constructive to deconstruct to our own choir? I feel like so many primarily-white, primarily-well educated, primary-middle class feminist bloggers are trying out-do each other to see who is the most subversive or transgressive. At a certain point, these conversations often become self-indulgent abstractions from what is really going on out there. I do not want to continue to be a part of a feminism that has not application to real-world practices.

  3. Simplejewel
    Simplejewel May 9, 2011 at 11:42 am |

    I’m a big fan of Jessica Yee, Peggy Cooke and tons of other authors featured in this book ut I can’t help but be taken aback by the title.

    ‘Deconstructing the academic industrial complex’?

    Try and break those words down, would ya? It seems ironic and almost hypocritical to take on elitist feminism and then use such academic language to do so.

    I also have problem with this “FOR REAL” aspect, which creates its own hierachy of which feminisms are ‘legit’ or not. And how is that even remotely productive?

    I think the writing in the book is absolutely fantastic and I really love the choice of authors, so don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but laugh at the glaringly obvious hypocrisy.

  4. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin May 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    I think this is where intersectionality is so crucial. We do often end up as our own inadvertent Greek Chorus, meaning well, but falling short of our aspirations. I think Feminism can be taken into other areas of our lives and, for that matter, should.

  5. Spreading Feminism | the poetry of logical ideas

    […] reading this review at Feministe I came across a quote by Latoya Peterson, badass owner/editor of Racialicious (a fantastic blog […]

  6. comradeannabelle
    comradeannabelle May 9, 2011 at 12:15 pm |

    Thanks for a great review, Allison! As a grad student feeling some frustration with the emphasis on often inaccessible theoretical language in Women’s Studies departments, I look forward to reading Yee’s book this summer and gaining some new perspectives.

  7. Shira
    Shira May 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm |

    I’m glad Allison McCarthy stepped up to review Feminism for Real. This book is on my Must-Read List. I hope feminism can maintain its important self-critiques *and also* move past unproductive stalemates and political in-fighting — whether on or off the campus yard.

  8. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery May 9, 2011 at 1:48 pm |

    Quick question for you, Allison, as I’m a little confused by the subtitle of the book, specifically the creation of this term, “the academic industrial complex.”

    I assume the term is adapted from Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex,” which describes the alliance between legislators, the military, and arms manufacturers which form an iron triangle to feed into one another’s interests.

    What I’m not quite grasping is what the iron triangle is in the case of the academic-industrial complex — are academic feminists in some way explicitly allied with monied industrial interests and legislators to create some sort of cycle by which they profit from the oppression of marginalized feminists? Which industries, and how do they profit?

  9. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. May 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm |

    Tom Foolery:
    Quick question for you, Allison, as I’m a little confused by the subtitle of the book, specifically the creation of this term, “the academic industrial complex.”

    I assume the term is adapted from Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex,” which describes the alliance between legislators, the military, and arms manufacturers which form an iron triangle to feed into one another’s interests.

    What I’m not quite grasping is what the iron triangle is in the case of the academic-industrial complex — are academic feminists in some way explicitly allied with monied industrial interests and legislators to create some sort of cycle by which they profit from the oppression of marginalized feminists? Which industries, and how do they profit?

    Publishing, lecture circuit, media would be a few I can think off the top. But I haven’t read the book yet. Was there explicit mention in the book of industries or was it rhetorical?

  10. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery May 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |

    Judging by the financial health of most publishing houses, if the publishing industry is profiting from the academia-industrial complex, that’s basically the only thing they’re profiting from.

  11. Natalie
    Natalie May 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm |

    It seems trendy to add “industrial” complex to something you don’t like before criticizing it (military, wedding, feminist academia) but it doesn’t make sense here.

    Yee defines the term academic industrial complex of feminism in her introduction as “the conflicts between what feminism means at school as opposed to at home, the frustrations of trying to relate to definitions of feminism that will never fit no matter how much you try to change yourself to fit them, and the anger and frustration of changing a system while being in the system yourself”

    Conflict does not equal industry.

  12. Tony
    Tony May 9, 2011 at 3:55 pm |

    There are certainly many parallels between academia and industry. In academia, you are often judged by how many articles you publish, regardless of whether it has any bearing on real life. It is “industrial” in the sense that you are expected to churn out quantity of publications in the fight for tenure. When you are trying to talk about activism as it relates to the real world, one can very quickly see how this can become a problem. One of the reasons why I left academia was for this very reason, so I can definitely relate.

  13. DP
    DP May 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    There actually is a pre-existing sense in which “academic-industrial complex” is used, but it tends to refer to the nexus of scientific research, engineering and multinational corporations – think MIT students going to DARPA or RPI students writing papers to justify BP’s drilling somewhere – rather than the subjects and objects of social justice writing, feminism, and so forth.

    I, too, am unclear on what the academic industrial complex of feminism represents. I suppose the answer will be “read the book” but it currently reads as rather a disconnected series of buzzwords.

  14. diandra
    diandra May 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    DP:
    There actually is a pre-existing sense in which “academic-industrial complex” is used, but it tends to refer to the nexus of scientific research, engineering and multinational corporations – think MIT students going to DARPA or RPI students writing papers to justify BP’s drilling somewhere – rather than the subjects and objects of social justice writing, feminism, and so forth.

    I, too, am unclear on what the academic industrial complex of feminism represents. I suppose the answer will be “read the book” but it currently reads as rather a disconnected series of buzzwords.

    For me it represents the intersection of academic feminist, the way the media upholds (and represents/tears down) feminist, and the public, capital “F” feminist “in the streets” that reinforces the others. XO

  15. max
    max May 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm |

    Great review– this book sounds really awesome!

    I’d like to throw in my perspective on the ‘academic-industrial complex’ term– from what I understand, it’s supposed to get at the idea that colleges/universities/other elements in academia (?) function like an industry; their focus is offering certain products and making money. This is relevant because it means they’ll focus more resources on the types of departments that will bring revenue (so there go ethnic studies departments and professors), they’ll be less willing to hire or give tenure to professors who pose challenges to traditional academia, they’ll be more inclined to admit or reject students based on financial concerns (and can turn things like admission into a product; for example, using the percentage of students of color to ‘sell’ a ‘multicultural experience’ to white students), just to offer some examples.
    At least that’s how I’ve heard it used. There’s probably a lot more to it that I’m missing. I like the description provided by the quote above, but I think I get how it doesn’t read as a clear definition for people who’ve said so.

    Natalie, I think I understand your classification of the term as trendy, but I personally think it’s been used so much lately because, the way the term has evolved, it’s a term that makes sense to describe a lot of things, and it has several points of reference now so people can kind of go ‘oh, ok, so how can we think about academia as undergoing similar processes as these other things that have been called ‘industrial complexes?’ For me at least it’s very useful in making links.

    And to quickly touch on language critiques– I think they’re super important, but I think it’s also relevant to look at who’s using it, how, and why. I’ve heard the industrial complex term used by a lot of women of color whose primary commitments are to activism though they might also be involved in academia. So in this case I see this more as an evolution of a term being popularized by activists to describe their actual situation as accurately as they can, and so I’m just not sure that the critiques that this isn’t accessible outside of academia really apply here specifically?

  16. IrishUp
    IrishUp May 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm |

    w/r/t Academic Industrial Complex; May I suggest checking out the excellent blogs of Tenured Radical, Notorius PhD, Historiann, or Comrade PhysioProf for some perspectives on the AIC?

    The effect that the AIC has on things like Establishing the Cannon (of a field), whose work gets funded, whose field is Legitimate, what’s a “soft science”, etc cetera, ad nauseum, is extraordinarily meaningful. The AIC also functions as the gatekeeper to Who Gets Prestige and BigBucks in lot’s of other ways. Women’s studies may be small potatoes (and let that sit and marinate), but the AIC is big bucks, and one of the major ways access to power is limited for marginalized people. Starting when we build more prisons than schools (to reference last week’s PIC post), continuing with how we treat our WOC scholars
    http://crunkfeministcollective.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/shayne-lee-your-revolution-will-not-happen-between-these-thighs/ , and then looking back at how white dudes fare
    http://prospect.org/cs/articles?article=presidential_legacy, it may float just below the surface, but the AIC is one of the major avenues by which the patriarchy / kyriarchy is maintained and perpetuated.

  17. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil May 9, 2011 at 5:27 pm |

    I, too, am unclear on what the academic industrial complex of feminism represents. I suppose the answer will be “read the book” but it currently reads as rather a disconnected series of buzzwords.

    I think if you drop the word “industrial” (thus losing the reference to Eisenhower) the meaning is pretty clear.

    It may also just be part of the “Title: Snarky/Catchy/Pun Subtitle” effect, like God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible or The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine or just about any other contemporary book of non-fiction one encounters.

  18. Athenia
    Athenia May 9, 2011 at 5:54 pm |

    I’m totally with Latoya–I always want to know how I can take feminism to different spaces. I try to work with my friends and family…but for me, I’m not making way my way in non-traditional jobs and fields.

  19. IrishUp
    IrishUp May 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm |

    @Fashionably Evil; sure there is the catchy subtitle effect, but I think that’s not the only consideration. For one thing, Eisenhower referenced the academic-govt complex in that same address:
    http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2009/01/academic-industrial-complex.html

    Also, consider how many schools have huge financial ties to BigPharm, BigAg or the MIC (MIT & Raytheon, anyone?). Then consider the individual effects of how much a certificate or degree can mean to whether one can even compete for a certain level of job, and what kinds of pay one can ask for. It’s virtually IMPOSSIBLE in almost any “professional” field to function without having paid for a certificate/degree at a college/uni. Academic Industrial Complex fits.

    Think of the “populast” scholars in any given field – they’re all white guys, right? How many marginalized scholars get those kinds of platforms – vanishingly rare tho they are? Who do you suppose gets tenure, and access to the university press? Whose ideas get published enough to become mainstream? Whose area of study is considered publishable? Who decides what the appropriate scholarly jargon is to discuss a particular field? Academia is heavily invested in making sure these conversations and decisions are happening on playing-fields of AICs choosing

  20. IrishUp
    IrishUp May 9, 2011 at 5:58 pm |

    err, that should be populIst. sorry.

  21. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    max: And to quickly touch on language critiques– I think they’re super important, but I think it’s also relevant to look at who’s using it, how, and why. I’ve heard the industrial complex term used by a lot of women of color whose primary commitments are to activism though they might also be involved in academia. So in this case I see this more as an evolution of a term being popularized by activists to describe their actual situation as accurately as they can, and so I’m just not sure that the critiques that this isn’t accessible outside of academia really apply here specifically?

    I was writing a comment, but saw this and decided to quote for truth instead. Seriously, this is a book that needs to be read through at least once without defensiveness and fear. There is always room for critique, as Allison’s review shows, but this book is not hate-on for feminism – it is truth, but it is also love. It’s exactly what we keep saying we need to hear and bring into our spaces.

    For people questioning whether the nature of the academic-industrial complex of feminism gets raised in the book itself, yes, it does. For a flavour of that, you can also check out Latoya’s On Being Feminism’s Ms. Nigga, which was written after the book was published, but also builds on the chapter she contributed (so much so that I wrote the URL into my copy as an “additional reading” bonus).

  22. k not K
    k not K May 9, 2011 at 6:06 pm |

    Latoya is great, as usual. And in fact this entire book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review!

  23. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 6:10 pm |

    I’m actually a little annoyed with how much attention is being paid to the book’s subtitle over its content, but I guess that’s a function of people not having read the book and going with the thing that’s easiest and most obvious to discuss – i.e., the front cover. But I urge people to read the book, at least those chapters which are available free online (check the links Allison has provided). I’m trying to donate copies to my local public and university libraries (I don’t actually know if they will take walk-in donations, but I’m going to try, dammit), and I encourage anyone who can afford to and has an inclination to to do the same. I really, really, really hope we can have a deeper conversation here than just dissecting three words on the title page of the book, especially after the hoopla of the Filling in the Gaps post. I wonder if there’s room to do a book club/roundtable type thing? Honestly, I’d be willing to chip in monetarily to help some people get access to the book, although I know for some people it’s a question of time and not money.

  24. Lena Chen
    Lena Chen May 9, 2011 at 6:11 pm |

    I just got the PDF of Feminism For Real from the publishers and I’m even more stoked to finish it now that I’ve read this review. It would be great if we could consider some of Yee’s ideas in examining the way the feminist non-profit industrial complex operates. I’m reminded of Steph Herold’s Feministe essay on discovering as an optimistic young activist that major feminist organizations demand conformity, resist change, and abide by hierarchies: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/03/25/when-the-movement-disappoints. The power structures and imbalances within feminism are self-replicating, and social justice isn’t different from any other line of work in this regard. This is the ugly side of the movement that no one likes to talk about.

  25. IrishUp
    IrishUp May 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm |

    @Jadey; Donating the book is an excellent idea.
    I had hoped that my posts would provide some resources for those who were unfamiliar with the business of academia and why it might be referenced in a title. OP, please delete if my posts are off topic.

    FFR’s content is what I’m excited to read, not the title, but that is a very interesting point about the cover. I’ve only just downloaded the chapters to start reading.

  26. La Lubu
    La Lubu May 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm |

    Yee’s quote: “the conflicts between what feminism means at school as opposed to at home, the frustrations of trying to relate to definitions of feminism that will never fit no matter how much you try to change yourself to fit them, and the anger and frustration of changing a system while being in the system yourself”

    …was crystal-clear to me, and is frankly what most makes me want to read the book. There is an inherent conflict between academic feminism and “feminism for real” (which I define as “feminism which makes a positive difference in the everyday working/living/making the ends lives of women….but YMMV). Academic feminism seems to me (from the outside looking in) to be about drawing boundaries and erecting barriers….and what attracted many women towards feminism was its potential for democracy; it’s potential for co-creation. Feminism was supposed to be about the inclusion of women….and yet, as feminism becomes *F*eminism, as it becomes institutionalized…..actually improving women’s lives has taken a back seat. The academy seems to have taken the teeth out of feminist movement.

    And yes, that’s a form of industrialization. I liken it to “Taylorization”—a form of deskilling work and separating workers into subgroups, keeping them apart from one another so as to “increase productivity” (and not coincidentally, erecting barriers between those workers to impede effective organization against capital).

    The first thing I thought of when I read: “feminism at school as opposed to home” was…..my family. The striking gap between the priorities of institutionalized feminism and the most pressing issues in our lives. How the institutionalization of feminism makes the women in my family, in my neighborhood, in my life see it as irrelevant, not just because it doesn’t have the same priorities, but because it doesn’t see them/us as part of the solution. Academic feminism seems to advocate the same individualized solutions that the rest of academia seems to thrive on. Meanwhile, academic women have some of the worst pay equity and equal opportunity in the workforce.

    I see a tremendous disconnect between the approach to feminism in the academy, as contrasted with the approach to feminism in labor union circles. I like that Yee and others are seeking to bridge those gaps, re-situate (and resuscitate!) feminism to those of us who need it most.

  27. Jadey
    Jadey May 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm |

    @ IrishUp

    Well, as I said, it’s kind of understandable that when people haven’t read it yet, they’re going to engage with the bits that are fastest to read first, and the discussion on the AIC has definitely been interesting. But I do really hope that more comes out as more people read the book, or at least the portions available online.

    I haven’t actually finished the book myself! I’ve been pecking away at it in small bits since mid-March. Every time I pick it up and read a few more chapters, I end up with so much more to think about. Most recently I read Robyn Maynard’s chapter, “Fuck the Glass Ceiling!”, which includes a recounting of her experience working on a community ‘zine project with exploited* (“marginalized”) women that got its funding cancelled and support withdrawn when the women who produced the ‘zine were not appropriately inspirational and thankful enough and were too angry and truthful about their experiences.

    This resonated with me as I’d just encountered a situation where I felt that some community programs were far more invested in providing a good customer service experience (not a problematic goal in an of itself) than actually trying to bring about the structural change they claimed to be aiming for, and I was wondering about the ways in which we become enemies of change through our very best intentions and what the relationship really is between social activism and community service provision. There’s room for partnership there, but there’s room for betrayal as well. It was not fun to think about, but Maynard’s essay brought it home for me just what is at stake when we try to make combine social change initiatives with funder-dependent organizations, and how it can go seriously wrong.

    *Maynard explains in the essay her reasoning for mistrusting and avoiding the more common term of “marginalized”, which is that it frames oppression as an act without an actor, as opposed to exploitation, which includes the reference to someone’s profit from another’s oppression.

  28. a feminist historian
    a feminist historian May 9, 2011 at 8:04 pm |

    Thank you for the review and links. Although I was initially reluctant to purchase the book because of the cost, I decided to order based on the sample chapters which are available online.

    As someone who is currently in grad school for history, focusing on women and gender, I do tend to react defensively to critiques of “Academic Feminism” (which I don’t entirely see myself as a part of, but that’s another story), especially when some of the critiques don’t entirely jive with my own experiences. I speak as someone who finished my undergrad only two years ago and who now works with a rather prominent historian of women and feminism. (Well, prominent in History anyway.) But just because my experiences with “academic feminism” are different from Yee’s or the other contributors doesn’t make any of them invalid, and I think academic feminists need to engage with such critiques. Unfortunately there isn’t a copy of it yet in my university’s library system, but I will try and request it as soon as I figure out how to do that. If others who are in academia can do that as well, I think that would be pretty great.

    The existence of an academic industrial complex is undeniable; its connection to women’s studies and related fields is IMO debatable. Given how these programs are often the first to receive funding cuts, I’m somewhat skeptical. It is also my opinion that women’s history *has* become more inclusive in terms of writing about race and class (and to some degree) sexual orientation. If you look at the list of presentations for this year’s Berkshires Conference, for instance, it’s pretty clear that presentations exclusively about white middle class women are not the majority. Does academic feminism still have a ways to go? Absolutely, and it certainly doesn’t help that its essentially working on the same problematic publish-or-perish framework as the rest of academia. By the same token, however, the rush to publish has resulted in a pretty huge body of work on women’s history. My adviser and her generation essentially had to invent the field, whereas I probably won’t even get the chance to read all of the books related to my sub-field.

  29. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. May 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm |

    Read the available chapters. So far its amazing. Any one hear about whether they might provide it in ebook form?

  30. Max
    Max May 9, 2011 at 9:22 pm |

    A quick correction, the link to Latoya’s interview has a space between “peters” and “on” in her last name, rendering the link invalid.

  31. Jillian
    Jillian May 9, 2011 at 10:42 pm |

    Really excited to read this now! Great review!

  32. Lauren
    Lauren May 10, 2011 at 9:00 am |

    Great review Allison. I’m glad to see this book getting the coverage it deserves.

    To echo some previous comments, I’m also a bit disappointed that so much intellectual energy has gone towards dissecting the subtitle. To be fair, much of that disappointment is because I’ve read the book, whereas I understand those commenters have yet to access and read the book (it can be ordered here: http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/ourschools-ourselves/feminism-real). In any case, a common theme across the chapters is to unpack and critique that very tendency: the one where academic feminists cling to high terminology and belittle those who don’t demonstrate complicated usage of the terms, or trace the history of them as recognized by the privileged academy which excludes so many. Don’t get me wrong, I rely on heavy theory as a grad student, but this book has made me check myself, and forced me to wrestle with so many uncomfortable truths about the feminism I study and the feminism I live (and they’re not always the same).

    There are so many passages I could copy here, but instead, I’ll leave you all with:
    -a link to a slam poem by Shauna Tagore, featured in the book and read here by her sister Proma: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/audio/feminism-real-slam-feminism-academia/6952
    -the facebook group:
    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Feminism-for-REAL-edited-by-Jessica-Yee/161813713868671

  33. Natalie
    Natalie May 10, 2011 at 9:43 am |

    Lauren:
    To echo some previous comments, I’m also a bit disappointed that so much intellectual energy has gone towards dissecting the subtitle…. In any case, a common theme across the chapters is to unpack and critique that very tendency: the one where academic feminists cling to high terminology and belittle those who don’t demonstrate complicated usage of the terms, or trace the history of them as recognized by the privileged academy which excludes so many.

    I think it’s important to be realistic about what’s happening. No one is expending “so much” intellectual energy by writing a couple of blog comments, and not every critique or, in this case, question is trashing or belittling. I don’t see anyone saying anything about the quality of the book or the quality of Yee’s writing here.

  34. thetroubleis
    thetroubleis May 10, 2011 at 9:55 am |

    I was already planning on buying, but this review just further reinforced that decision. I would really like an ebook if that is feasible at some point. I find them more accessible for various reasons.

  35. nifka
    nifka May 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm |

    I wouldn’t necessarily call the illustration of that belly “fat”. It is pretty small, and to label this belly with a word that is so often used as ammunition to put folks down without the necessary “taking back” of this word is distracting. Its a belly. It isn’t taut & white, but it certainly isn’t large to the point of attempting to be subversive. Its a belly that seems removed from the typical lenses and frameworks bombarding our bodies on a regular basis, a healthy looking belly, perhaps even Yee’s belly.

  36. erika shaker
    erika shaker May 20, 2011 at 10:45 am |

    hi there–thanks for this review! i’m wondering, though, if you could correct the name of the publisher–it’s actually the canadian centre for policy alternatives. http://www.policyalternatives.ca (the link is correct but not the name). many thanks!

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