The Geeky Feminist and Poppycock write about the difficulty of talking over issues with other feminists who have an academic background in feminism. I have to admit that my academic knowledge of feminism is negligible. I have only read the following books about feminism or gender issues (none of which I am necessarily endorsing):
-- The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis (my view on this book can be found here).
-- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
-- Most everything Camille Paglia has written (I have lots to say about her so that will follow at some point, I promise.)
-- Deborah Tannen's books about how men and women communicate differently
-- Who Stole Feminism? by Christina Hoff Summers
-- The Frailty Myth by Collette Dowling
-- A jumble of stuff by Mary Daly, Carol Christ, and a number of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and pagan feminists in the one and only Women's Studies class I took, a course called "Feminist Theologies."
-- Stuff in popular publications like The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, and the like.
Other than that I know virtually nil about feminist theory. It took me a long time to figure out that the term "patriarchy" does not actually refer to an imagined cabal of sinister white men controlling everything from the top. I don't know too much about the "male gaze" so I just don't talk about it one way or the other. I also don't know about the critiques of feminist academic theory. But I don't think that you need to have to be perfectly acquainted with every academic idea out there to be effective in discussing feminist issues. I simply start with my basic feminist axiom (that ensuring women's freedom and equality of opportunity in all spheres of life is a crucial priority) and work from there.
In the blogosphere, I have learned a tremendous amount from feminists with an academic background, feminists who are just ordinary women, and non-feminists. I evaluate what I hear in terms of my axiom and, while I feel that academic feminism contributes immensely to the discussion, we ordinary folks have a lot to add too. I doubt anyone would question that.
Feminism is a big tent. While I think the academic perspective is valuable, feminism would quickly become a sterile discussion if it were closed off to voices of women who are shaped by real world experiences outside of academe. In my experience, feminists are generally welcoming to a number of different voices-- from the professor to the housewife to the factory worker to the non-western woman to the religious woman to gay, bisexual or transgendered women to sex workers to male feminists and to anyone and everyone else who cares about women's equality. Yes, some feminist groups and movements have been guilty of focusing on only certain types of women, but I think feminists have been receptive to that criticism and have or are working hard to change that. And yes, some feminists may at times criticize certain women's choices-- like sex work (when it is a choice) or being a homemaker (when it is a choice)-- while other feminists may exalt those as valid choices. But it is a big tent with room for everyone who cares about women's freedom and equality.
The Geeky Feminist touches on another issue I have been thinking about a lot-- the role of our emotional responses in shaping our feminism. The Geeky Feminist feels that she can identify injustices but at times doesn't have much to add beyond, "#*(!*!)!" The academic feminist discourse seems intimidatingly cerebral to her, and she also worries about losing credibility by responding to issues in too impassioned a way.
I have, I think, a fairly cerebral approach to things, but I have learned to listen to and then assess my emotions as well. As I have said frequently, I am passionate about feminism. Feminist issues are deeply emotional because they go to the core of how we live our lives, the degree of respect we enjoy, the degree of freedom we enjoy, and the equality of opportunity we enjoy. When someone makes an argument or takes an action that we perceive as impinging on our dignity and freedom, well yeah, duh, of course, we're going to feel heated about that. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I don't think there's anything wrong with venting or having a blog that says, "#*()!*#)!*)!#*!)"
But I do think that we should all be able to take a step back and assess our emotional responses because, if we don't, then we are at risk of losing personal credibility. After all, the anti-feminists of various types are plenty emotional too -- so emotion doesn't solve the question of who is right. That having been said, I don't think discounting emotion is wrong either.
I have strong emotional responses to all sorts of things in my personal life and things that I read about on the news. I used to discount my emotional responses. But now I listen to them and assess them. I will say to myself, "Gee, I have a visceral reaction to X. Why do I feel this way and am I correct to feel this way?" Listening to my emotions has, I think, given me a lot of insight. For example, the Larry Summers transcript made me angry (and no I don't want to rehash that debate on this thread, I bring this up to show how I deal with emotion in my thinking). When I was younger, I would have said to myself, "Happy, you're being unreasonable. Even if you don't like it, he has a right to an opinion." The older me says, "Happy, is there a reason that you feel angry at Summers and is it justified?" And when I re-read the transcript, I realized that what bothered me wasn't that he was broaching a possibility I didn't like but that he was endorsing a conclusion prejudicial to women without seeming to know much about the topic. There have been other times when I have concluded that, "Gee, Happy, you're overreacting. There's another side to this." But I no longer simply discount my emotional responses. Usually, my emotional response is a first indicator of a valid point view, even if it may not turn out to be the point of view that should prevail.
I don't think you need an academic degree in feminism to be able to place your emotional responses to things in proper context. And it's also important to remember that a blog is not an academic journal. If you want to use a blog to talk about your personal experiences and impressions, I think that's great. After all, the feminist movement gained power in the U.S. in part because discontented suburban housewives stopped saying, "I guess I'm just neurotic," and started examining the broader societal issues that affected their lives in ways that caused those initial emotional feelings of unhappiness and discontent.