Introduction: Knowing and Doing
Knowing and not doing are equal to not knowing at all.—Fortune cookie,
Vina’s Cafe
After thousands of articles and hundreds of books, what can be said that
doesn’t reiterate the familiar explanations of academic feminism in the
United States? The institutional histories have already chronicled its emer-
gence from the activism that swept college campuses; the construction of
an infrastructure from programs, publications, and associations; and the
continuing struggle for equal opportunity in higher education. The intel-
lectual critiques have already probed the foundational categories that
synthesized its discourse, the epistemic modalities that inflected its knowl-
edges, and the identity politics that fissured its community of practitioners.
My purpose in reviewing some of these matters is to answer a question
about academic feminism as a formation: how did it happen that a bold
venture launched thirty years ago to transform academic and social institu-
tions was itself transformed by them? Since we see things the way we are
rather than the way they are, I want to begin with my own story of how I
gradually came to understand the conditions of social (trans)formation.
married at nineteen and mothering two children, I spent the mid-1960s
immersed in middle-class suburban domesticity—cooking, cleaning,
storytelling, doctoring, and chau√euring to play groups and nursery
school. But one June evening my whirl through this comfortable routine
veered into a jolting ride down the road to feminism. That evening, after
my husband and I had agreed to divorce, he gripped my arm and said, ‘‘If
it’s the last thing I do, I’ll destroy you.’’ And he almost did because for two
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