My killjoy blog has been a little quiet!
Still, I have been a killjoy at work.
On March 14, we launched my book Living a Feminist Life at Cambridge University. It was an intense day for so many reasons; feminism is always a reason. I gave a lecture for the Department of Sociology at Cambridge that same day, “Brick Walls: Racism and Other Hard Histories.” You can listen to the lecture here. This was the first lecture I have given since I resigned from my post as Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. The last lecture I had given was at Birkbeck on May 18 2016. That lecture was also on walls.
I wanted to talk about walls again: they keep coming up.
My lecture was followed by a panel on Killjoys@Work, which I co-organised with Mahvish Ahmad who runs the Critical Theory and Practice Seminar Series at Cambridge as well as Professor Sarah Franklin, who directs ReproSoc (Reproductive Sociology Research Group) at Cambridge. I share my introduction to the panel below.
We had nine feminists speaking, representing three different political affiliations/ groups: Dr Leila Whitley, Heidi Hasbrouck, Dr Chryssa Sdrolia and Dr Tiffany Page talked about their work challenging sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at universities; Jennifer Edmunds, Nadine Forde and Savannah Whaley discussed some of the strategies and tactics used by the direct action group Sisters Uncut; and Audrey Sebatindira and Lola Olufemi spoke about decolonizing the curriculum at Cambridge. It was so inspiring to hear about all of their work; the care and attention they gave to crafting a feminist anti-racist intersectional politics.
After the panel we had the official launch of the book. My colleague and collaborator Professor Heidi Mirza said a few words. Heidi was introduced by my partner in feminist crime Sarah Franklin, who suggested Heidi Mirza is not a noun but a verb. To Heidi Mirza would definitely be a good thing!
Heidi and I have shared many feminist shelters, and have been throwing each other life-lines for more than two decades. How apt that launching a book on living a feminist life was really about the relationships we have to each other as feminists of colour. We share what we come up against, but we also share so many commitments; so many fors.
I was able to thank my publishers Duke University Press who were represented by Combined Academic Press (a special thanks to Rachel Shand for being there). Many years ago Duke offered to publish a rather queer rather odd little book: it ended up being called, Queer Phenomenology, though it started out with a different name. No other publisher I had approached had been interested; the book was a bit too odd, I suspect: a book about tables, a book about orientation; a philosophical book that was also messy and personal: a book that was hard to place. That rather odd book led to us publishing more books together – and I know that working with Duke, and with Ken Wissoker in particular, has been essential to how I have been able to wander around, creating my own queer trail.
Another of the highlights of our launch day was having Poppy, our much loved companion, be part of the day. She was obligingly a killjoy.
Poppy: she puts the joy in killjoy.
A killjoy has many joys.
I have loved seeing photos of Living a Feminist Life on twitter since it was published last month. Thanks to all of you who shared them! It is always such a privilege, one that I will never take for granted, to witness your own words out and about; to find your books in other people’s hands.
Since the launch I have been out and about a bit more myself: my new website has now gone live, and here you can find information about my books, articles, descriptions of some of my current projects, details of any forthcoming events (my fall 2017 events will be listed soon) as well as a contact form if you need to get in touch with me. Thanks to Chandra Frank for designing my new website!
I hope to be back to my blog in earnest next month. I will be writing my blog alongside a new research project I am starting on complaint.
I will also write on other issues that come up as and when they come up.
It is a promise: a killjoy always has issues.
Introduction to Killjoys@Work Panel, March 14, Cambridge
I want to welcome you all today to our panel Killjoys@Work. Thank you so much for coming, and thanks to the panellists for agreeing to be part of a conversation. Thanks to Mavish Ahmad and Sarah Franklin as well as the ReproSoc team for all your work in pulling the pieces together.
I feel like I could give this introduction as one long thank you. I won’t or maybe in some way I will. Today’s panel was set up as part of the launch of my new book, Living a Feminist Life. My book is in its own way a feminist thank you note: it comes out of and is inspired by many feminist struggles for more bearable worlds. I wanted to launch the book not by having a panel on the book itself but rather having a space to talk about feminist activisms. The book is full of the sweat maybe even the tears of feminist struggle; it is full of the frustration of how hard we have to fight sometimes, it seems, not to get very far. The book is also animated by hope, because that hope was a message I was receiving from others. All around us we can bear witness to an uptake of militant feminisms, the kinds of feminism that are willing to give problems their names, which often means using old names, because the problems are the same old problems, same old, same old; the kinds of feminism that are willing to be pushy, to push for recognition of the problems that do not go away by not being named.
To be a feminist is to be a feminist at work. And to live a feminist life is to participate in that work, that work of chipping away at the walls of whiteness, of hetero-patriarchy. But however hard that feminist work is it, and it is hard because we come up against so much resistance, so much anti-feminism, it is from doing that work that we work so much other stuff out. In the book I felt I was reaching back to an earlier feminism, when feminism was a life question, posed as a question of how to live with others as well as question of how to transform the structures that make life so tenuous for so many. That reaching back is shared; we reach back because of what is around us, histories that are still; what is not over: what we do not get over. Being a feminist involves having some of the same conversations we have had before: about how to organize; how not to reproduce hierarchies in who speaks and who does not speak in meetings; how to build relationships out of the web of our own fragility. After all the histories that bring us to feminism are often the same histories that leave us fragile. Even our shelters, our precious feminist shelters that we build so we have a place to go, to retreat, are fragile because we often have to build them upon the same foundations we are trying to shatter.
A shattering can be a starting point. Some of the terms that are used by feminist activists today, terms that are dismissed too often by too many – like safe spaces and trigger warnings – matter because they are about working out how to stay in a world, a world can be condensed in a room, when histories of trauma makes it hard to be in that world. If the structures we are trying to transform are the same structures we have to survive, the feminist activism is about life, about how to keep going, no matter what we come up against: because of what we come up against. Feminist work is also about sharing the costs of feminist work.
We have made the figure of the feminist killjoy a thread across the three groups who will be speaking to you about their feminist work today. She may come up because she is brought up, or she may pop up unexpectedly.
Why the killjoy? She tends to come up whenever feminists speak up. To name sexual harassment, to account for the whiteness of the curriculum, to talk of domestic violence, to say they cut, we bleed, is to get in the way of happiness of others. So much happiness depends upon turning away from what compromises unhappiness. When violence disappears from view, and violence is often reproduced by not coming into view; then to speak of violence is to make violence appear. And then you do appear violent, as if you are forcing something unpleasant onto others, even being mean to others.
I think of the killjoy as a kind of feminist memory. It is not just that we remember being her, those times at family tables, those dinners ruined, when we are wound up by someone who is winding up; though she is for many of us that. It is not just that we become her when as women of colour we bring up racism at the feminist table, or the atmosphere noticeable changes when we enter the room, turning up can bring racism up; though she is for many of us that too. As a figure she acquired her potency from a feminist history, a history not only of those who have been charged with unhappiness but those who have been willing to receive that charge. When we receive that charge, we don’t necessarily become unhappy or unhappier. I still remember when I first began giving talks about feminist killjoys how the atmosphere would become electric. I could almost hear a sizzle, snap, snap. Even though she brings up a difficult history, a painful history, she seems to pick us up.
Feminism: how pick each other up.
I have two conclusions in the book, a killjoy survival kit, followed by a killjoy manifesto. The sequence does matter: we must first survive. Audre Lorde once said that there were some of us who were not meant to survive. For Lorde, for some of us, survival is politically ambitious; you have to be inventive to survive. A manifesto might be how feminism survives. It is not that the feminist killjoy has a manifesto. The feminist killjoy is a manifesto. She makes violence manifest; she brings violence that is already in the room to surface because of what she says, because of what she does. To suggest that the feminist killjoy is a manifesto is not to say that we have obligation to speak out. We are not all in the same position; we cannot all afford to speak out. Killing joy thus requires a communication system: we have to find other ways for the violence to become manifest. We might need to use guerrilla tactics, and we have a feminist history to draw upon here; you can write names of harassers on books; graffiti on walls; turn bodies into art; put red ink in the water.
We might even stop citing “white men” when we write our books.
Yes we are willing to be that blunt.
Sexism makes it hard to speak about sexism. Racism makes it hard to speak about racism. The harder it is, the more creative we have to become. We wiggle about, we create room. A kitchen table becomes a feminist of colour press.
Some of you might have heard Angela Davis speaking in London on Saturday. She made yet another important contribution to our collective feminist survival. I really liked how she stressed that it is from activism that we generate new feminist ideas. She also stressed how much we receive from the work that has already been done; we receive rights yes, access to worlds, yes, at least for some; possibilities, yes, possibilities of living together, of being together. We also receive, I think, energy that passes through each of us like a jolt, switching us on. It is from difficult experiences, of being bruised by structures that are not even revealed to others, that we acquire the energy to go on.
The more we expose the weight of history, the heavier it becomes. We snap. Feminist snap: those moments we do not take it anymore; the work we have to do so that we do not take it anymore.
The work we have to do. The work there is to be done. So today, we are going to open up a conversation about feminist work, about being feminists at work, killjoys@work.