starlady: (justice)
Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and the American Indian Genocide. Boston: South End Press, 2005.

I read this book because of this post by [personal profile] viklikesfic in [community profile] feminist50.

So, to cut right to the chase, I think that this is one book that every one who considers themselves a feminist ought to read. Smith does not pull her punches in examining the linkages between sexual violence and the ongoing struggle of Native Americans in general and Native American women in particular for rights, respect, self-determination, equal opportunity, and their rightful sovereignty. The book is particularly good at showing, with vivid description and telling examples, what intersectionality means and how, as Smith says repeatedly, when sexual violence is committed against Native women they are being assaulted not only as women but as women of color and as Native women; the violence is an assault on all aspects of their identity at once, which cannot and should not be separated. She also extends her arguments about sexual violence to seemingly nonrelated issues like the appropriation by mainstream (white) culture of Native spirituality as well as environmental justice and land (usage) rights; these too, she says, are a form of rape. Furthermore, she shows that sexual violence against Native women in all its forms is an ongoing phenomenon in the United States, not something that stopped or only happened in the past. And for my money I think every woman ought to read her chapter on the pro-choice movement, and how framing the discussion in "pro-choice" terms rather than of "reproductive rights" is profoundly disadvantageous for women who aren't middle-class (and white).

This is a book by an activist/academic, but it is not an academic book; it is an activist text, and one aimed primarily at other Native activists and organizers. (Indeed, the lack of background detail at certain points was slightly frustrating. I know a little about such things as the Wisconsin treaty rights struggle by the Anishinaabeg thanks to the worst class I took in college, but I'd much rather have such things explained in-text; given the controversial nature of most of them, they're not something I'd trust to Wikipedia.) For those of a mind to disagree with Smith, the subtitle of the book alone contains sufficient fighting words, and the text has plenty more; Smith was actually denied tenure at UMichigan-Ann Arbor after this book's publication. But the fact that it isn't an academic book is also the reason why Conquest is so readable; and all other things being equal, if I were on a tenure committee I would want Smith at my institution regardless of whether her books were "scholarly," because the academy needs more people like her, and not less.


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