Feminist Research in Practice

by Christina Crespo

That’s what writing is for me, an endless cycle of making it worse, making it better, but always making meaning out of the experience, whatever it may be – Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

Write. Rewrite. Scratch it out. Make a diagram. Talk it out. Do a dance. Come back to it. Write. Rewrite. Repeat. The writing research process is messy. Reading most journal articles, you wouldn’t think it, but I repeat: the research process is messy. Rather than tidy up, feminist research asks us to stay with this mess, to grapple with contradictions, to pay attention to the tensions—to reflect. This special issue of The Classic is the result of undergraduate students in my Understanding Research in Women’s Studies (WMST 4011) course engaging in and reflecting on the feminist research process. Together in this course, we explored the question: how do you do feminist research? Students developed and undertook independent research projects on topics ranging from representation in horror films to perspectives on menstruation. What you’ll find in this issue are their reflections on that process.

What is ‘feminist’ research? (I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t just one thing) 

Doing research means making choices. A lot of choices. Choices at every turn. So many choices that sometimes we might not even realize that we’re making them. However, doing something a certain way “because that’s just how it’s done,” is still making a choice—a choice to keep moving in the same direction. Feminist approaches to research mean being conscious of those decisions, of those directions—of making intentional choices.

How can you do that in practice? By constantly asking yourself, “why…?”

Now, these ‘whys’ aren’t just the usual stuff of research questions (e.g. “why does xyz work the way it does?”). Rather, approaching research this way means asking why of ourselves…Why choose this topic? Why frame research questions this way? Why cite who we cite? Why use this method? Or that one? Why interpret data like this? Why report findings here, or there? Each of these questions speak to the choices we make as we conduct research. Those choices might be limited because of what [insert an assignment description, a professor, a journal format, etc. here] requires. However, the task of the feminist researcher is to find whatever wiggle room there might be and to make intentional choices to move towards more desirable futures. Good intentions may not be enough when working towards change, but intentional choices are necessary for it to happen.

This doesn’t mean that the decisions are easy. In fact, they’re often (though not always) difficult and fraught with tensions (but also opportunities). Sometimes it might even be the task of finding the least shitty option out of lots of shitty options. When working towards justice, Jamila Lyiscott (2019, xiii) states that “in order to do this work, you will need to abandon any notion of neat categorizations, of fixed meanings, and of sweeping victories with shiny bows on top.” This means that the choices of the feminist researcher often require compromise, but as Max Liboiron explains, “[c]ompromise is not about being caught with your pants down, and it is not a mistake or a failure—it is the condition for activism in a fucked-up field” (Liboiron 2021, 134). This means coming to research with patience…and a whole lot of humility.

Putting it into practice

Over the course of the semester, students participated in the feminist research process—from forming a question, to engaging with literature, to collecting data, all the way to disseminating findings. Guided by the work of diverse scholars, students had to continually ask themselves those ‘why?’ questions as they confronted the myriad choices that arise when doing research. While each student developed their own project, collaborative workshops and peer review were fundamental to the process from start to finish.

Rather than reporting the results of their studies, in this issue, students reflect on their experiences of doingresearch in order to further our knowledge of how research is done—and can be done differently. In these methodological reflections, students put forward feminist understandings of, and approaches to, research that can be applied in any disciplinary context—from molecular biology to the humanities. Taken together, these works illustrate a diversity of approaches to how knowledge can be both created and shared. Their pieces include auto-ethnographic reflections, illustrated zines, visual representations, and more. After all, when asking yourself those ‘why?’ questions, it’s not just about what you say, but about how you say it. I hope you find both the content and form of their works inspiring—that perhaps you might use their insights as a jumping off point for asking yourself, why?


Anzaldúa, Gloria. 1987. Borderlands/la frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco: aunt lute books.

Liboiron, Max. 2021. Pollution is colonialism. Duke University Press.

Lyiscott, Jamila. 2019. Black Appetite. White Food.: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within and Beyond the Classroom. Routledge.

Citation style: Chicago 17th Author-Date