I am just heading off to Australia – to do an event at University of New South Wales on Happiness, Ecology and Life in Glass, as well as a talk at Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at Sydney University on Feminism and Fragility. I might be away from blog for some time. And: today I sent off the manuscript of Living a Feminist Life to the publishers! It is just a baby step, as I wrote the book without a contract and no one has read the whole thing as yet, and I am expecting to come back to it with some writing tools in hand this summer.
I have learnt so much from writing this book and this blog: they are interwoven, as many of the chapters “take off” from blog posts, and the blog definitely shaped the style and sound of the book.
It could have been called Everyday Feminism. It could have been called Feminist Killjoys.
But it’s called Living a Feminist Life!
Here’s a few paragraphs from the introduction.
What do you hear when you hear the word “feminism”? It is a word that fills me with hope, with energy. It brings to mind, loud acts of refusal and rebellion as well as the quiet ways we might have of not holding onto things that diminish us. It brings to mind, women who have stood up, spoken back, risked lives, homes, relationships in the struggle for more bearable worlds. It brings to mind, books written, tattered and worn, books that gave words to something, a feeling, a sense of an injustice, books that, in giving us words, also gave us the strength to keep going on. Feminism: how we pick each other up. So much history in a word; so much it too has picked up.
I write this book as a way of holding on to the promise of that word, to think what it means to live your life by claiming that word as your own: being a feminist, becoming a feminist, speaking as a feminist. Living a feminist life does not mean adopting a set of ideals or norms of conduct although it might mean asking ethical questions about how to live better in an unjust and unequal world (in a not feminist and anti-feminist world); how to create relationships with others that are more equal; how to find ways to support those who are not supported or less supported by social systems; how to keep coming up against histories that have become concrete, histories that have become as solid as walls.
It is worth noticing from the outset the idea that feminism is about how to live, about a way of thinking how to life, has often been understood as part of feminist history, as dated, associated with moralising or even policing stance of what might be called or might have been called, usually dismissively, as “cultural feminism.” I will return to the politics of this dismissal in my chapter on lesbian feminism. I am not suggested here that this version of feminism as moral police, the kind of feminism that might proceed by declaring this or that practice (and thus this or that person) as being “unfeminist” or “not feminist,” is simply a fabrication. I have heard that judgment; it has fallen on my own shoulders.[i] But the figure of the policing feminist is promiscuous for a reason. Feminism can be more easily dismissed when feminism is heard as being about dismissal; as being about, say, making people feel bad for their desires and investments, or about rejecting anything that is inconsistent with a set of ideas. The figure of the feminist police is exercised because she is useful. Many feminist figures are anti-feminist tools; although we can always retool these figures for our own purposes.
In this book I refuse the relegation of the question of how to live a feminist life to history by suggesting that this question makes everything into something that is questionable. That question is one we can keep present, make present. After all if our aim is to build feminist dwellings, we need to dismantle what has already been assembled; we need to ask what it is we are against, what it is we are for, knowing full well that this “we” is not a foundation but what we are working toward.
[i] Literally: one time when I was a PhD student a feminist member of staff pulled my off the shoulder top over my shoulders saying something like, “you are supposed to be a feminist.”