Today, it is feminism, not academia, that will teach us to think

Wilfred Laurier University may have apologized for trying to squash debate, but the truth is that universities no longer encourage critical thought.

In The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone argues that truth comes out of struggle. While I believe this, it seems clear the Canadian university system does not.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Vice President and Chancellor have now issued an apology to T.A. Lindsay Shepherd — who was called “transphobic” and compared to Hitler for showing a debate about gendered pronouns in her class. But the PR-induced back-peddling can’t undo the fact that Canadian universities haven’t been a place of healthy struggle for some time.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but some of my most formative years were spent navigating a political struggle. I was spat out the other side of puberty in the era of “empowered sexiness” — the crispy platinum hair and visible g-strings years, to be precise. By the time I left high school, my understanding of the prevailing social climate was that sex could not only be sometimes good, but that it could only ever be good, and to challenge the goodness and rightness of sex and sexiness in the early 2000s meant one was repressed or prudish. At the same time, I was raised in church at the height of the evangelical “purity” movement. On Sundays, sexiness took a break from being holy, and was instead bad, dirty, and the root of all disease. The particular brand of Christian sex education that was popular among young people at the time taught me that sex and sexiness were reserved for marriage, at which point they must both be used to serve and please men.

For a youth who failed to fit the mold of both sexiness and purity, these were indeed confusing and alienating times. As a young woman, I was exposed to some ideas that were worth considering, many that weren’t worth considering, and some that were downright repugnant and oppressive. And, contrary to the logic undergirding many academic institutions today, being exposed to these ideas didn’t kill me (not even lexically!), and they didn’t indoctrinate me in such a way that I was motivated to hurt others, physically, emotionally, or systemically.

Rather, struggling between two “problematic” areas of thought made me intellectually resilient. When I was introduced to the feminist movement in my early 20s, I was relieved to find that it was familiar with intellectual struggle and out of it had come some formidable thinkers — people with the kind of intellectual and political fortitude that actually effect change.

By engaging with feminist politics and ideas, I learned that I can be exposed to men like Jordan Peterson and discern that, while someone ought to challenge the orthodoxy around pronouns, he is not an ally to women, but a right wing contrarian. I learned that I can read lesbian separatist literature, as a straight, married woman, without these ideas (which challenge my own lifestyle and choices) shattering my universe. Feminists taught me that people can hold conflicting thoughts in their own heads that make them feel deeply uncomfortable and that this won’t harm us, but rather will make us vigilant, honest, and sometimes even insightful.

This has been an incredibly valuable thing for me to learn, but I don’t think the university system makes room for people like this anymore. (Granted, you will encounter many grotesque ideas about women there, and few people will give a shit. In my first year back to university after a long break, I remember an English professor “uncritically” showing images of naked women in cages posing as cows to make a point about veganism, and you can be sure no one reported him to a sexual violence committee.) I can’t deny that a university degree is a useful piece of paper in an economy that (sometimes) rewards people who have the privilege of education with the privilege of money, but if you feel alienated and starved for struggle, I recommend dabbling in feminism over academia.

Feminists in Vancouver will know that activist and former front-line anti-violence worker Lee Lakeman often speaks of becoming ungovernable. If the hot mess at Laurier is any indication of what learning has become, I would argue that we should become unteachable, too.

Jess Martin
Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food. In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.

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  • Wren

    Wow, it sounds particularly awful there, but this cracked me up:

  • Omzig Online

    I have been looking for a feminist group to join in my area. I live in a liberal area, and there are at least eight or ten different feminists groups that meet up in coffee shops around town. Every one of them invites “people of all genders, gender identities, trans, and queer people.” They don’t even specifically mention women, or invite women. On University campuses, it’s the same problem.

    I feel like I have nowhere to go except online. How can it possibly be so forbidden for female people to meet up without inviting the class of people responsible for our abuse and oppression?

  • Frances Campell

    Hey Midori,
    classical history phD from your city here. If you want to talk, maybe drop by on my blog

    Sorry I start my posting here with self-promotion, I hope that is okay. I have been reading and loving Feminist Current for years now and I appreciate the content just as much as the postings!

  • Hekate Jayne

    Universities are male institutions.

    They kept us out of education for years (and by us, I mean actual women, not males that “identify” as a woman) out of the sheer fear that they would be shown as woefully inadequate in comparison.

    And they were absolutely right. Women have outdone males in education at every turn, even though males have insured that the system still advantages them.

    Males set up a hierarchy that depends on us being lesser in comparison. That was very obviously a mistake on their part since it is demonstrably false.

    And this is the backlash that comes from us being accidentally superior in a lot of cases. Males get frightened and then manipulate their systems so that they retain control in the only way that they know how, which is to bully, threaten, intimidate, colonize. With violence or threat of violence.

    Pretty soon, all political offices, university staff, business owners, legal positions, etc. will be held by males 100%. But half of them will “identify” as women, wear dresses, bake pies, knit, wear lipstick and giggle demurely, and male systems will recognize them as women.

    At that point, feminism has won, because dudes in dresses are so progressive, tho, so us uterus havers can sit down and shut up now. Because look how advanced the “women” are.

    Erasing us erases male oppression of us. That which does not exist cannot be oppressed.

    • Missy

      And the typical MRA excuse for girls outperforming boys in education is that the schools and teachers are purposely focusing on girls while not giving the boys the attention they need because “girls and boys learn differently.” Of course they ignore the fact that even in countries where girls aren’t even considered worth educating, the girls still come out on top.

      The truth is that nothing has changed, schools and the world in general still favors and encourages boys while girls are left to fend for themselves, and they STILL outperform boys the majority of the time.

      As with every other case where women and girls have stepped out of the gender norms men have established, men can’t accept the blatant facts of reality, women really are the superior sex, always have been, always will be. We will always prevail no matter how males and their systems try to stifle our potential and achievements. One side effect that men never took into account when they oppressed women through their violence and patriarchal systems is the amount of resilience and resistance women have build up from being treated as property and slaves for centuries, how it keeps us fighting even though men want and expect us to just give up and submit. There’s no way in hell men could handle the amount of torture and suffering that they constantly heap onto women. Men are weak, and the existence of the patriarchy further proves their failure as human beings.

      • Hekate Jayne

        Exactly. Well stated.

        The male view of women in education is a typical male reversal. Universities are still tilting the majority of advantages to males. That is an easily verified fact.

        But males reverse it in their manipulative, hysterical fashion, and hope that their overly emotional cries of BUTBUTBUT UNIVERSITIES FAVOR WOMEN, THO” drown out facts.

        Facts upset them. They are unable to accept the reality, so they over emote.

        One of the things that I am the most proud of is our ability to survive and thrive while the ruling class runs around in circles attempting to keep their boot securely on our necks. Males don’t have even basic skills to survive on their own. If I were that pathetically dependent and violent with the inability to control my emotions, I am not sure that there would be a point in living, lol.

  • Hanakai

    Universities exist to produce wage slaves and mindless hard-working robotic humans to serve the needs of the corporations and the war machine. In light of this, it is unsurprising that the universities miseducate the young and inculcate repressive tolerance in them.

    None but ourselves can free out minds.

  • Alienigena

    I think feminism is best expressed and acted upon in ‘the wild’. Gender studies is not feminism and that is what most academic departments, that are supposed to include feminism, are called. Being a bit feral just means that you can survive in the wild and aren’t ‘domesticated’ which in the case of women and girls, is a good thing.

  • Omzig Online

    With regard to Linsay Shepherd’s debacle at Laurier University, I am absolutely fucking fed up with people comparing ideas that they find “problematic” to the holocaust. It is a cheap, rhetorical ploy used to evoke an emotional response, and its effectiveness gets weaker every time it is misused. No, Nathan Rambukkana, calling a male by a male pronoun is not “problematic,” and it is NOTHING like the genocide of six million Jewish people.

    There are, however, thousand upon thousands of women and girls that are murdered by their male partners worldwide every single year. Now THAT sounds a little more like a holocaust to me, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Rambukkana?

    • FierceMild

      It makes me cringe and steam at the ears every time anyone compares some unpleasant experience to what Jews endured under the Nazi regime. Is your favorite player on a college football team suspended for a game for bad behavior? Nazi refs! Peanut butter not allowed at your niece’s elementary school? Nazi school district. TV show you like got canceled? Nazinrating people! It’s as if we’d like to pretend that Nazis were not real people who butchered Jews because it made them feel powerful.

  • FierceMild

    Milton is one of my dark feminist secrets. I hate him for what he did to women as a class trough his art…but I still read him. He’s my lipstick.

  • Missy

    “What’s holding the superior sex back?”
    The inferior sex, that’s what.

    More and more women are finally putting their foot down and taking their place in STEM fields despite misogynistic social obstacles and constant harassment they often endure by threatened male egos.

    Also, despite centuries of sex-based oppression, women still managed to make huge contributions in science and technology.

    So you can just fuck right off with you condescension because the fact is that when given the opportunity in these fields, women are not only equal to men but often surpass them.