As an individual who sees the world as the powerful exercising their control through various types of discourse, it is easy to see why I would find a connection to feminist theory and tradition. My concern for these issues and my desire to challenge problems associated with them may explain why I have now found myself inside the walls of the academy. However, here is the thing… power is inherent in, and exercised by; language, institutions, hierarchies, and the communication of knowledge. These things are, however, the tools which we currently use in pursuit of our labour inside the academy. The attributes which I see in the university building where I sit have their good points, but I also believe they allow for the control of others by creating a barrier. The need to learn the new language of the institution can cause some women to be written out and make it hard for them to enter their voices into the debate.
Feminists exist in many varieties – from social to radical, from conservative to liberal, and many feminists do not perhaps realise that that is what they are. One thing that connects the traditions is the knowledge that women have been through history controlled and restrained. The ways we have sought to tackle this issue are perhaps the creation of our first division in feminism: those who infiltrate the system in order to change it, and those who aim simply to bring it down from the outside. By whatever means we choose to tackle the issue, we can all agree that history shows and reminds us power is exercised through both the language and action of social and political institutions: It is a loaded gun used by those in power to keep individuals in check.
The changes we have seen in the global North and especially in the Western states in rights to vote, own credit cards, live independently and raise our own children, have given us back our ‘autonomy’*. In changing these states in which we lived, we have had to, whether we realise it at the time or not, understand the effects and mechanisms of power held by those who exercise it. This has been highlighted by many feminist authors and commentators, with reference to the way in which political, academic and institutional language was, and still is, used by those in positions of power. Language is a barrier when we do not speak it, but a tool that can call out and change situations when we are fluent in it. For those who do not have an academic mother tongue, the need to learn and formulate language can become a barrier so high it is unsalable.
Yet, in using the foundations and structures of academia to disseminate and challenge knowledge, we potentially fall into the institutions’ own trap of exclusionary language. We create documents and papers and academicised texts that become unreadable by those on the outside. We then fall into the trap of insisting that others follow and even attain a higher standard of fluency in this academic language in use. How can feminist academics claim to create a fairer more equitable world when they cannot communicate with it because they are not understood? If we do not use a language we forget it, just like our basic French from school. If we continue to further convolute and academicise our text, the language will become useless, and simply turn into more white noise in the world of the already powerful elite.
Don’t let us become the thing we attacked against in the first place. I am hoping that this will act as a reminder to myself, of the important of writing to an audience wider than the academy, and also it is a call on others to keep their words accessible.