I finally have a full first draft of my thesis. I sent it off to my supervisors a couple of weeks ago, and feedback is starting to trickle in, along with a familiar critique: I sound too much like an activist and not enough like an academic. This difficulty is currently especially obvious in my use of the term “feminism” in a section in the introductory chapter in which I explain some of my personal background and motivations for doing the research. What kind of feminism, they ask. Liberal? Radical? Third wave? Intersectional? Where are your references?
I want to tell them I don’t know, that I’m just the kind of feminist who thinks that the world seems to be a pretty crappy place for a lot of people and who wants to try and make it slightly less crappy. I don’t think there’s a label for that. I’ve never really engaged with feminist theory, to be honest: maybe that makes me a bad feminist. Or maybe it just makes me a feminist who’d rather be doing something about inequality – gendered or otherwise – than reading about feminism. This ongoing conversation is partly to blame for my bigger frustration with the lack of space in a traditional thesis format for the blurriness of boundaries between life and work. I’m encouraged to write about my feminism, but only if I can tie it to the literature. A section I would love to include, on how it’s difficult to separate my work from who I am and what I care about, doesn’t seem to fit anywhere and I’m fairly sure it’s unprofessional to boot. There’s no place for musing about the conversations I’ve had with friends that have led to new ideas, or the moments of doubt that what I’m doing is worthwhile, or any of the information I “just know” because of the nearly ten years I’ve spent working with young people.
So I’m writing a fairly dull document that very few people will see, and worrying that I’ll fail because the stuff that has made the last four years truly valuable has no place in a thesis. Some people have a problem with work-life balance: I have a problem distinguishing between “work” and “life” in the first place.