The Evolution of ‘Feminist’–Starting With Jian Ghomeshi

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So Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC radio star, minored in Women’s Studies when he was studying at York University. Maybe this had no influence whatsoever on his shocking, abusive, treatment of women, as chronicled in the Canadian media, including our social media, in the past week. But I do have to wonder if Ghomeshi could, to some extent, have learned how to abuse women through taking university Women’s Studies courses when he did. It’s an appalling idea; but, based on my own experiences with academic feminism, I can’t help but consider it.

Ghomeshi is 47 now so, according to my calculations, he would have been taking those courses around the same time that I had returned to university in my early 30s to do an MA in Education. I was then confronted by an angry, bitter, form of feminism that portrayed men in general in the worst possible light, that seemed to be a relic of the most vitriolic feminism of the 1960s and 1970s. Feminism, at least in Canada, outside of our academic institutions, had significantly evolved since then–or at least I thought it had. But, apparently owing largely to a professional interest in maintaining the status quo, those academic feminists didn’t see this–or wouldn’t openly acknowledge it if they did see it.

Even as a grad student, I was critical of this kind of feminism, and got into some trouble for it. (The most noteworthy incident is that my Master’s thesis, in which an academic publishing house initially was interested in publishing, was so strongly shot down by an academic feminist reviewer that the publishing house chose to abandon the project. The comments this reviewer had scrawled on the manuscript were just rude. Not as bad as a fist to the head, but something like it.) But then I was allowed to be critical. I was a White, middle-class, woman who grew up the oldest of five in a female-led family, with a very strong mother, and who already had some career success behind me when I went back to university for an MA, so I could afford to be critical. That was so unlike Ghomeshi’s position.

I imagine a young Iranian guy trying to fit into a predominantly White Canadian culture, who hadn’t yet had a great deal of experience of Canadian culture outside of our universities, listening to those academic feminist rants about an evil, abusive, Patriarchy, and I wonder, I just wonder, if maybe his misogynist, abusive, tendencies that have come to light in the past week were, in part, Ghomeshi’s way of fitting in. That is to say, a way of being a Canadian man, as he understood Canadian men to be, through doing that minor in Women’s Studies at a Canadian university when he did.

Before all of this Jian Ghomeshi business started, I had been planning to write a piece for this blog simply about the evolution in recent decades of the meaning of the term ‘feminist’. I’d been interested for several months in how many young women today are unabashedly describing themselves as ‘feminist’ (the British actress, Emma Watson, and the American entertainer, Beonce, are prime examples) although most older women, such as myself, are now much more reluctant to use this term. This includes even those women who, in the past, described themselves as ‘feminist’. I wanted to try to make some sense of that.

But, inevitably, I’ve also been thinking in the past week about Jian Ghomeshi and, especially after I learned that he had minored in Women’s Studies, I couldn’t write a piece about feminism without mentioning him. Maybe there is–or maybe there isn’t–a relationship between the Ghomeshi case and the ‘ENIMFIST’ anagrammatic variation of ‘FEMINIST’ from the list of variations at the top of this post. (Most, like ‘ENIMFIST’, aren’t real words, although a meaning is suggested through the meanings of the constituent parts.) I’ll have more to say about the evolution of the meaning of ‘feminist’, and those anagrams, in a later post.

 

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