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Feminist Killjoy Guidebook and More, Living a Feminist Life
By Erynn Porter
Feminism is a tough topic to talk about, it is so encompassing that at times it can feel overwhelming. Sara Ahmed takes a crack at it with Living a Feminist Life. With both intelligence, grace, and humor Ahmed breaks down the basics of living an everyday feminist life. Even providing a personal Feminist Killjoy Tool Kit to take and build off of, including some great book recommendations. Down to her citations, Ahmed rallies and promotes feminism.
“In this book, I adopt a strict citation policy: I do not cite any white man. By white men I am referring to an institution, as I explain in chapter 6. Instead, I cite those who have contributed to the intellectual genealogy of feminism and antiracism, including work that has been too quickly (in my view) cast aside or left behind, work that lays out other paths, paths we can all call desire lines, created by not following the official paths laid out by disciplines.” (15)
Speaking of institutions, she writes wonderfully about how gender is a confining social structure that we need to break down and how this idea of how certain genders act can be a dangerous one. That the idea of “boys will be boys” is a breeding ground of violence and entitlement to get away with it. She calls it Gender Fatalism. This is especially important with the string sexual assaults on college campus and the light punishment, if there is one at all. She uses the subway to show how each gender takes up space, men spread their legs, taking up as much space as they can. Meanwhile, women are siting with legs together, curled up, trying to take up as little space they can.
We can’t forget how difficult it is for a woman of color to be in academic institutions and try to create genuine diversity. Like many other tales, her skin color makes her stick out and people try to tell her she doesn’t belong. Like when male professors are introduced as such, she is Sara. Or some people could she got her position because she was a woman of color instead of her merits. While interviewing other “diversity managers” they all talk about how they constantly run into a brick wall, when trying to implement diversity measures. It makes many want to give up.
My personal favorite part of the book is when Ahmed ties Grimm’s fairy tales to feminism. Maybe it’s because of my love of fairy tales or maybe it’s because the points that Ahmed makes are mind blowing.
“In the original Grimm story the child is not given a gender; and sometimes in English the story is translated using ‘he,’ although the child is usually ‘she.’ I would make the argument out of this usually: willfulness is assigned to girls because girls are not supposed to have a will of their own.” (68)
She goes to say that the girl is the story cannot win, if she is too willful she is bad, if she gives up her willful ways she is too easily swayed. Many women are stuck in the position where no matter what move they make, it is the wrong move. She also writes about the tale where a willful girl loses her arm, when she dies the arm remains alive. Striking out of the grave with a fist clenched, like the iconic feminist symbol.
There is never a wrong way to talk about feminism but there is the right audience. You can definitely tell that Ahmed comes from an academic background, her text is more on the dryer side. I found myself rereading the same paragraphs over and over again. But I learned a lot. It felt like taking a class, and I wished Ahmed was my professor. I just wish she inserted more of herself, because that’s what grabbed me. Like the time cops stopped while she was walking to question where she came from, if she was from “here” because there had been a string of burglaries and the suspect had similar skin tone. Automatically they assumed she didn’t belong, and then when they found out she did, brushed off the blatant racism with a joke. Or when she was grabbed while jogging and her body remembered the touch, and she wasn’t able to not feel fear the next time she ran. Or how breaking the heterosexual mold causes disturbances in Ahmed’s daily life. Whether it’s a neighbor asking where her husband is or someone assuming her and her partner are sisters. The sacrifices she made to be a feminist killjoy shine brightly. Maybe feminism is at its most powerful when people share their stories, because then it is not just a theory, it’s actual people who are affected and benefit from feminism.