In her book Talking the Walk: The Grassroots Language of Feminism, Marilyn Casselman asks a couple of important questions: Why have female experience and knowledge over the millennia not been passed down and ingrained in our culture? And why, with women participating in politics and business to a never-before-seen degree, does patriarchy still have such a stranglehold on the world? She suggests these failures are due to a lack of mainstream support for feminism: feminism has failed to speak to “the average woman,” and thus can never get enough traction to end global female oppression. The book offers itself as a remedy, a tool for attaining self-understanding and empowerment without resorting to jargon, theory, or Marxist analysis – a manifesto for a grassroots revolution.
This is the kind of book I would love to be excited about. Casselman’s prose is full of righteous anger, directed at the numberless tentacles of patriarchy that have limited women’s social, economic, sexual, and personal freedom. Her sources are all over the map, indicating a lifelong passion and a talent for honing in on sexism wherever it arises. But her invective seems unfocused, even scattershot, and too often rains down on the heads of potential allies. So much of the book is given over to random tirades, the shaming of women who don’t share the author’s views, dead-wrong analysis, and an essentialist, reductive view of womanhood – what Casselman calls “the feminine principle,” as if there’s just one, and we all share it! – that it entirely misses the opportunity to engage its audience, let alone mobilize it.
Talking The Walk
The Grassroots Language of Feminism
So where to look for accessible, instructive writing on feminism?
Feminism for REAL: Deconstructing the academic industrial complex of feminism, edited by activist Jessica Yee, presents feminism as deeply rooted in everyday life. Grounded and ambitious, it suggests that feminism has become an idea learned in school, rather than something practised with friends, at work, or in relationships, and it works to fight this misconception. The collection of essays offers the views of writers of different origins, classes, sexual orientation, and gender identity, all of whom address feminism and its institutionalization with humour, passion, and rage.
Robyn Maynard’s piece “Fuck the glass ceiling!” offers an analysis of the global economic underpinnings of sexism (see, a little Marxist analysis ain’t so bad), while showing how local community institutions can inadvertently exploit and silence women. Maynard draws her analysis from her own experience as a community organizer and feminist activist, so it reads as a bottom-up grassroots investigation, in spite of the complexity of its ideas.
Megan Lee’s essay “Maybe I’m Not Class-Mobile; Maybe I’m Class-Queer” describes the author’s experience as a poor student at McGill University, her feelings of invisibility and powerlessness, how this experience affected her relationship with her working-class family, and how her struggle is tied to her gender and race. Several of the pieces explore Indigenous feminism and the counterpoints and critiques it provides to mainstream and/or white feminism – Theresa (TJ) Lightfoot’s “So What if We Didn’t Call it ‘Feminism’?!” outlines the difficulties of reconciling capital-F Feminism with the values of Native communities struggling for self-determination. “Resisting Indigenous Feminism” is a vivid and instructive conversation between two young Native women as they discuss their relationship to feminism as both a concept and a practice. Other writers tackle Muslim feminism, sex work, male feminists, the media, and body image.
Feminism for REAL offers what Talking the Walk does not: a sense of how feminism affects the lives of women on a day-to-day basis, how it can be used as a tool to fight oppression, and how it must be continually critiqued in order to stay relevant and charged with a sense of purpose. Although it can be a difficult read in its challenge to dearly-held principles, it’s also an inspiring and necessary one. Here’s hoping for more like it. mRb