On growing & cultivating our feminisms

I’m fortunate to be a part of a small group of feminists that meet monthly(ish) to talk feminism. Each month one of us hosts and prepares an informal presentation on a topic we are interested in learning more about and discussing. The topic I chose for our latest meeting is “On Growing & Cultivating our Feminisms,” and this post is taken from the material I prepared for it. I hope you find it helpful. Note: All references are included at the end of the post (or, at least they should be).

Reflecting on Feminism(s): Three prompts to get you going

One: Getting too comfortable with the label?

Be wary of seeing feminism(s) as a static and stagnant concept, rather than something one actively reconstructs depending on the moment and one’s company (see: Weber et al., 2008; and cf. with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy post on Toxic Feminism—warning, you might want to warm up your eyeballs first because they’ll be rolling a whole lot).

Prompt #1: How do you understand and define your feminism today?

Two: Seeing failure as failure (My original title was, simply, “Nope.” lol)

Collisions often occur at the places where feminist theory and practice meets the everyday, likely because misogynistic and patriarchal views still underpin much of our societal ways of doing and being. It can be critical, therefore, to pause when one encounters feelings of failure. Might it be that this sense of failure is actually an indication of something else? For example, if one fails to preform the definition of being a good academic—a definition that, say, privileges the individual over the collective—perhaps this failure, and its attendant feelings, might be co-opted as evidence of refusal, resistance, or otherwise (see: Breeze, 2018; Burford, 2017; Chemaly, 2018; Cvetkovich, 2012; also, see: Simpson, 2014).

Prompt #2 : If possible, try to recall a time when you felt like you failed or felt like a failure. If you haven’t done so already, what does adopting a feminist lens bring into view that was previously obscured or downplayed?

Three: On the “But I’m a feminist” shtick

Being a feminist doesn’t mean you are justified in seeing or using feminism as a shield, a catchall universal solution, or as a card that oddly exempts you from clap-backs (see: Cargle, 2018, for but one incisive view). Similarly, if we are seeing or using feminism as a monolithic concept that incites fear or erasure of differences, rather than a helpful tool that can inform a critical analysis (of these differences and fears), we are potentially protecting ourselves from discomfort (and growth). In Audre Lorde’s words, “it isn’t differences that separate feminists but their refusal to recognize those differences and to examine the distortions which result from misnaming them and their effects” (quoted in Barker & Scheele, 2016, p. 43). Related: painting oppression and marginalization with the same simplistic, unilateral “brush” (so to speak). In her book, “Excluded: Making feminism and queer movements more inclusive” Serano (2013) argues that feminism is rooted in the multiplicity of intersections—intersecting forms of oppression, marginalization, sexism, etc. In other words, it’s not appropriate to adopt the adage that “men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, end of story” (p.44). Dig deeper.

Prompt #3 : To what extent do you feel connected to and supported by a feminist community? What is one way you can stretch, challenge, and provoke your understanding of “feminism” without applying for the Woke Feminist of the Year Award?


Barker, M-J. & Scheel, J. (2016). QUEER: A graphic history. London, UK: Icon Books Ltd.

Burford, J. (2017). Not writing, and giving “zero-fks” about it: Queer(y)ing doctoral “failure”. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 38(4), 473-484.

Cargle, R.E. (2018, August 16). When feminism is white supremacy. Bazaar. [Online Magazine Article]. Retrieved from: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a22717725/what-is-toxic-white-feminism/

Chemaly, S. (2018). Rage becomes her: The power of women’s anger. NY: Atria Books.

Cvetkovich, A. (2012). Depression: A public feeling. Duke University Press.

Frontier Centre for Public Policy. (2018, Jull 11). Toxic feminism. [Blog Post]. Retrrieved from: https://fcpp.org/2018/07/11/toxic-feminism/

Serano, J. (2013). Excluded: Making feminism and queer movements more inclusive. Berkeley, California: Seal Press.

Simpson, A. (2014) Mohawk Interruptus: Political life across the borders of settler states. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Weber, J.K., Costello, L., Gross, A., Clemens Fox, R. & Jacobs, L. (2008). A dialogue on action: Risks and possibilities of feminism in the academy in the 21st century. Thirdspace: A Journal of feminist theory & culture, 8(1). http://journals.sfu.ca/thirdspace/index.php/journal/article/viewArticle/weber/228