the contradictions of feminists writing within the ivory tower
The notion of
genre becomes an important issue when discussing the activity of writing,
especially within academia. Janet
Giltrow (2002) illustrates in her text Academic
Writing that genres can be defined as the combination of both the form and
content of a piece of writing. The piece
of writing that is produced depends not only on the way the writing is done but
also the situation and context for which the writing is produced. The similarities that appear in certain
academic disciplines are “not rules but signs of common ground amongst
communities of readers and writers: shared attitudes, practices, positions in the
world, habits of being” (Giltrow, 2002, p. 24).
Yet writing and the notion of genre is not
neutral. Clark and Ivanic discuss in
their text The Politics of Writing
that “writing is at the center of political struggle … [and] is located within
the wider socio-political context … [meaning] the issues concerning writing,
the values attached to it and its distribution in society, are all essentially
political and bound up with the way in which a social formation operates”(1997,
Although I hesitate to define feminism, it is required to help my audience understand what issues I am attempting to address in my research. Feminism is often difficult to define because contexts, subjectivities and many other issues often lead to many different definitions of the concept. Yet for the purpose of this paper I need to define feminism. I would define the concept as a movement that attempts to deconstruct unequal and often damaging power relations in society that are based upon gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and ability. I would suggest that one of the main foci of feminism is to deconstruct the often limited notions of masculinity and femininity in society. My main question or my statement of purpose is to examine the writing women/feminists are doing within academia. I want to attempt to discover ways in which academic writing both empowers and disempowers women in the academy. As well, I want to examine the ways in which feminists attempt to challenge mainstream power structures in society and use academic writing as a source of activism.
This issue will be
analyzed through a small-scale research project. I received ethics clearance to conduct my
research and my participants were asked to participate in the study on a
voluntary basis. I interviewed five
female university students in open-ended interview sessions. I tape recorded these interviews and asked
the participants eleven different questions (Appendix A). I also conducted text analyses of written
work they have produced for academia. The
text analyses were based upon use of the personal voice and narrative styles
and the various types of topics and issues reviewed in the participants’
papers. The participants for my study
were from many different departments across academia. Some participants wanted to remain anonymous;
therefore I gave these individuals pseudonyms and other participants chose to keep
their real names. Two of my participants
were faculty members: Dr. Katherine Arnup, head of Interdisciplinary Studies at
1) What discipline do you belong to in academia?
2) What types of writing assignments or projects do you usually encounter in your academic writing?
3) a) How comfortable do you feel when you write academic papers?
b) Do you enjoy academic writing?
4) a) What aspects of academic writing do you enjoy? Why?
b) What aspects of academic writing do you feel comfortable with? Why?
c) What aspects of academic writing do you not enjoy? Why not?
d) What aspects of academic writing do you not feel comfortable with? Why not?
5) Would you identify yourself as a feminist? If your answer is ‘yes’ how do you identify with feminism? If the answer is ‘no’ why do not identify with feminism?
6) Have you encountered any types of academic writing that did not fit your subjectivity as a woman or your feminist politics? Did you challenge these rules in some way?
7) Can you remember any time(s) when a piece of your academic writing was rejected or given a ‘poor’ mark because you tried to challenge a rule of academic writing that you were supposed to follow? i.e. using ‘y’ to spell ‘woman’
8) Do you think your feminist politics or your subjectivity as a woman translates into your academic writing in any ways?
9) Do you find there are aspects of academic writing that silence your subjective voice as a woman or your voice as a feminist?
10) Do you ever feel that it is paradoxical to write academically and be involved in the academy while at the same time identifying as a feminist? If yes, what do you do about this paradoxical situation? If no, why not?
11) Do you think academic writing can be a form of feminist activism? How and in what ways?
Clark, R. & R. Ivanic. (1997). The Politics of Writing.
Giltrow, J. (2002). Academic
Writing: Writing and