Feminist Critique Here and Now

In recent years, feminism has taken on new urgency in the wake of #ubcAccountable and #MeToo; movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore have drawn renewed attention to the importance of intersectional feminism; and the covid-19 pandemic has focused attention on questions of class, gender, immigration status, precarity, mental health, and disability rights. These events were at the forefront of our minds as we came together to conceptualize this special issue in the summer of 2021.


As we have worked on this issue over the past two years, events both close to home and global have further underscored the continued relevance of feminism “here and now.” We would often begin our editorial check-in meetings by talking about what was happening in the world and how these events affected us. We began to draft the call for papers at the height of the covid-19 pandemic while we navigated online teaching, public health orders, and our children’s remote learning. We were acutely aware of the burdens placed on parents, especially mothers, in the context of this ongoing public health crisis. As the first drafts of articles landed in our inboxes in February 2022, the “Freedom Convoy,” with their anti-vaccine and anti-mask sentiments and their ties to the far right, was assembling in our cities. A few months later, as articles were making their way through peer review, the Supreme Court in the US struck down Roe v. Wade, making access to abortion illegal in several states. As we prepared to sit down to write this introduction, two students and a professor in a Philosophy of Gender class at the University of Waterloo were stabbed in their classroom, an incident that left us reeling but also more resolved than ever to commit ourselves to the work of feminism. As we write this introduction, Camp Marcedes has been set up at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in an effort to implore the Manitoba government to search a Winnipeg landfill for the remains of Marcedes Myran and Morgan Harris, two Indigenous women murdered by a serial killer; so far, the government has refused to conduct a search. In the two years over which we have collaborated on this special issue, we have also witnessed a sharp rise in hatred directed towards the 2SLGBTQ+ community (and especially the trans community) as misinformation about gender-affirming care for trans youth, comprehensive sex education, and drag queen story hours at public libraries is weaponized against the community.


These events, ever-present as a backdrop of crisis against which we teach, write, and do research, remind us that feminism is more urgent than ever, but that we need a feminism that is intersectional in its commitment to Indigenous sovereignty, the rights of migrants and refugees, and the rights of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals. We write this introduction during the hottest summer on record, a summer that has seen devastating forest fires and floods across the country and beyond. Caring for the earth and working towards sustainable futures and divestment from fossil fuels is also an integral part of feminist work.


However, despite the urgency of feminist critique, many of us in our fields tend not to centre feminism as a methodology in our work. As an entrypoint to feminism in the introduction to the recent volume In Good Relation, Sarah Nickel points to “a general anxiety around the term itself ” among Indigenous feminists and “a desire to explain” how they arrive as feminists (2). Amid contextual complexities, many scholars adopt what Rosi Braidotti calls a “nomadic feminism,” which she describes as “an opening outwards of the process of redefining female subjectivity . . . that calls for a broadening of the traditional feminist political agenda to include, as well as the issue of women’s social rights, a larger spectrum of options, which range from cultural concerns related to writing and creativity, to issues which at first sight seem to have nothing to do specifically with women” (83). However, as Chandra Talpade Mohanty reminds us, “imperialism, militarization, and globalization all traffic in women’s bodies, women’s labour, and ideologies of masculinity/femininity, heteronormativity, racism, and nationalism to consolidate and reproduce power and domination” (9). Given these perspectives, this special issue is interested in exploring the continued resonance and urgency of feminist thinking in the
twenty-first century.


Our call for papers began by asking, “What is the continued role of feminist theory and feminist analysis in literary studies today in these lands claimed by Canada? How and why is feminist analysis still relevant to our work?” Our call invited contributors to reflect on how and why feminism is instrumental—either directly or indirectly—to their thinking. This invitation was inspired in part by our observation that feminism has fallen out of academic fashion in recent years, but also our conviction that feminism remains relevant, and perhaps increasingly so, in our current geopolitical context. We were excited to think together about the relevance of feminism here and now in a world that feels like it is at a tipping point ecologically, politically, and technologically.


As we collaborated on this issue, we enacted care and kinship by visiting together, talking about our families (chosen and otherwise), discussing what was happening in our lives, and fostering hope and joy about the thinking we were doing together. It felt vital to come together around this work and it was enlivening to be able to do so. In spite of the bleakness of the times in which we live, we have taken great joy in this collaboration and in working with all of the authors in this issue. We want to extend our gratitude to each and every contributor, and to Canadian Literature for offering a space for our thinking.


Before going on to introduce the individual pieces, we will pause to introduce ourselves, in keeping with Indigenous protocols around relationality, as well as feminist understandings of situated knowledges.


I (Heather) write from Treaty 1 Territory, the traditional home of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, Dene Peoples, and homeland of the Métis Nation, where I have lived for the past seventeen years. I am a queer, gender fluid settler of Scottish and English descent, raised on Vancouver Island on the traditional unceded territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. I am a scholar of poetics, queer theory, and feminist theory. I came to feminism as a teenager through witnessing multiple friends endure gendered and sexual violence without redress. When I arrived at university, I found a language and set of ideas to describe my feelings, and I have been building on these ever since.


I (Aubrey) am a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, of mixed Indigenous and Euro-settler heritage. I am writing from the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy. This territory, where we honour Treaty 7, is also home to the Tsuu T’ina and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, as well as the Métis and many diverse peoples. I am a queer woman, a relative to many blood and chosen family members, an avid reader and writer, and a long-time educator. I came to feminism through critical training in literary theory and gender studies, as well as through a love of women’s writing, which led to work in anti-oppressive and decolonial education. Growing up working in a pool hall also helped me hone my skills in feminist critique.


The pieces that we received in response to our call for papers illustrate the diverse ways in which scholars are taking up feminist theories, methodologies, and practices through and in relation to literary works. The authors of the following essays address the complex notions of feminist critique and its relevance in literary studies, as well as the nature of the “here and now” invoked by our call for papers—the present moment in lands claimed by Canada.


Jennifer Brant’s article, “Indigenous Literary Expressions of Matriarchal Worlding as Kinship,” explores the concept of “matriarchal worlding” through the writings of Beth Brant and Lee Maracle, while also exploring her own scholarly journey in relation to feminism. Regrounding in Indigenous “matrilineal knowledges” and spiralic conceptions of time, Brant considers what is possible for decolonial feminisms.


In “Without Togetherness: The Intersectional Impasse of Syd Zolf ’s Collaborative Poetics,” Jessi MacEachern draws on Lauren Berlant’s concept of “genre flailing” to explore flailing as a productive state of incoherence for ethical feminist engagement. MacEachern places Zolf ’s work within a network of innovative feminist poetics and, through a specific focus on collaboration, entanglement, and appropriation, explores the ways in which white feminist thinkers can grapple with their complicity in national myths that uphold white supremacist forms of dominance and colonial control.


“Undernarrated Emotional Landscapes in Toronto’s Scarborough: Téa Mutonji’s Shut Up You’re Pretty,” by Zsuzsanna Lénárt-Muszka, considers the narrative strategy of “undernarration” in Mutonji’s short story collection. Lénárt-Muszka illustrates the ways in which undernarration can be read in relation to the protagonist’s own “disrupted emotional landscape” and speaks, in a more general way, to
the erasure of Black women from the Canadian cultural imaginary.


In “Mistaken Identity: ‘Asian/Indigenous Relation’ and the Afterlives of Feminist Critique,” Rusaba Alam challenges the flattening of “politics of difference” in the context of the neoliberal university. This paper looks to Lee Maracle’s story “Yin Chin” and related texts, as well as to the story of the Telling It conference on literature and politics held in Vancouver in 1988, to examine feminist genealogies and to challenge the ways in which politics of difference are appropriated in academic work.


Erin Akerman’s essay “Home ‘[H]eart-sweet’ Homeland: Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s Domestic Decolonial Literary Methodology” engages with the work of nineteenth-century Ojibwe writer Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. Theorizing with Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson to posit that Schoolcraft’s domestic experiences can be framed as a decolonial methodology, Akerman shows how this methodological orientation unsettles Indigenous-settler relations in that historical period and region.


We conclude with Camille van der Marel’s essay, “Theory in Practice; Or, CanLit’s So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You,” because we see this essay as offering our readers an alternative to the “paranoid” reading practices that have come to characterize much of our work as feminist scholars focused on identifying inequitable and oppressive systems. By reading the responses to the #CanLitDumpsterFire alongside a close analysis of the protagonist from Dionne Brand’s Theory, van der Marel considers the limitations of a “hermeneutics of suspicion” as an interpretive practice, suggesting that this approach risks reiterating damage rather than repairing it. Instead, van der Marel directs us towards reading practices that are anchored in desire and reparative intimacies.


We see a number of generative connections and resonances between these articles that we hope readers will find fruitful. Brant’s and Akerman’s articles, for instance, explore tensions between Indigenous and white conceptions of feminism and gender from different places in feminist genealogies. Foregrounding Indigenous women’s literary engagements and lived experiences, these papers illuminate understandings that sustain decolonial and Indigenous movements and worldviews. Alam’s article, relatedly, explores solidarities between Indigenous and Asian communities in British Columbia in relation to intersecting feminist genealogies. This exploration invokes the theme of collaboration, which also arises in MacEachern’s thinking about how feminist entanglements can work to undo colonialism and white supremacy. The questions of entanglement or intersectionality are crucial across all of these articles, as each essay grapples with feminism in relation to other aspects of identity, such as race, language, Indigeneity, embodiment, or queerness.


The process of narration is explored and challenged in Alam’s and Lénárt-Muszka’s articles, as the former takes a deconstructive approach to reading narrative and the latter examines undernarration, or what is present in the unsaid, the gaps, and the aporias in the text. These examinations remind us of how feminist tools enable readers to push beyond accepting what is said explicitly, instead asking critical questions about what is not acknowledged, whose voice is missing, or which stories are not valued. Reading through absence also resonates with the theme of complicity across these papers, whether it is the possibility of being complicit with white supremacy and colonial violence as explored by MacEachern, with the erasure of Black women as explored by Lénárt-Muszka, or with the perniciousness of paranoid reading as explored by van der Marel. We see MacEachern’s and van der Marel’s articles as offering some possible critical tools for opposing complicity in their consideration of poetic flailing and reparative reading, which we hope readers will be able to find useful for their own thought.


Brant’s broad questions on feminist critique are also usefully brought into dialogue with van der Marel’s big-picture considerations of reading practices and critical approaches. In response to these papers, we are left asking important questions ourselves. How do we engage more fiercely in feminist critique? How do we undo the dynamics that bring us to resist meaningful engagement? What are the limits of certain reading practices and critical approaches from within feminist theory? How do we keep our feminist work rooted in Land, community, and relations with matriarchies and queer kin, while leaning into desire and reparation? The papers in this issue open up numerous questions and reflections for us, and we hope that readers will find their own connections and inquiries, as well.


Finally, this issue features a readers’ forum on the theme of feminism here and now, with contributions from seven scholars and leaders in our fields: Asha Jeffers, Lily Cho, Linda M. Morra, Hannah McGregor, Sophie Moulaison, Tanis MacDonald, and Erin Wunker. In sharing how feminist critique resonates in their work, these thinkers offer a pulse point for contemporary feminism and its significance for literary studies in Canada. We provide a brief introduction to this forum to speak to its curation.


We look forward to ongoing dialogue in response to this special issue, as we are excited about the set of ideas these essays present. We hope that they provoke further thought about the ongoing relevance of feminist critique in the work we do. We wish to express our gratitude to the exceptional people who contributed to this issue, as well as to the Canadian Literature journal team who welcomed us in and guided us along as guest editors. Finally, thank you, merci, maarsii to all our readers!


Works Cited


Braidotti, Rosi. Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming. Polity, 2022.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “US Empire and the Project of Women’s Studies: Stories of Citizenship, Complicity, and Dissent.” Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, vol. 13, no. 1, 2006, pp. 7–20.

Nickel, Sarah. Introduction. In Good Relation: History, Gender, and Kinship in Indigenous Feminisms, edited by Sarah Nickel and Amanda Fehr. U of Manitoba P, 2020, pp. 1–19.


Aubrey Jean Hanson (PhD) is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta and an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education. Aubrey works in the areas of curriculum studies and Indigenous education. She is the author of Literatures, Communities, and Learning: Conversations with Indigenous Writers (Wilfred Laurier UP, 2020).


Heather Milne is a Professor of English at the University of Winnipeg. She works in the areas of poetics, feminist theory, queer theory, and museum studies. She is the author of Poetry Matters: Neoliberalism, Affect, and the Posthuman in Twenty-First Century North American Feminist Poetics (U of Iowa P) and editor of Social Poesis: The Poetry of Rachel Zolf (Wilfred Laurier UP 2018) and Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (Coach House Books, 2009). Her co-edited collection of essays Museum Queeries: Two-Spirit, Indigiqueer, and LGBTTQ* Interventions into Museums and Curation (co-edited with Angela Failler, Sabrina Mark, and Michelle McGeough) is forthcoming with Jageillonian UP in 2024.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.