I am a Feminist Killjoy
After class or work, I would like to talk you about your favorite art, about good music, or your favorite films. I would like to bond with those who like salt water, yoga, and John Cheever stories. I would like to talk without bringing up identity politics and think only about delightful cultured things. Regrettably, I cannot do that. I am a Feminist Killjoy and I want to bring you all down with me.
I do not revel in this, but I have to own it. In most spaces, identity politics are rendered invisible by either power, or homogeneity. Explicit oppression is normalized. Implicit (or more accurately complicit) oppression is totally ignored. For those of us on the receiving end of this, these power dynamics are not be erased, but only silenced. For me, feminism—or an understanding of gender and sexed injustice— is not a choice.
As a student at Brown University, it is possible to navigate campus gender-aware, class-aware, and race-aware spaces (unfortunately these spaces are do not always intersect) that are all sandblasted with a smooth layer of educational and emerging class privilege. While this is a wonderful thing for students here, it is also a mark of privilege.
As we spend more and more time in these spaces of privilege, for better or worse, I see a few things happen. Some students forget the challenges that we once faced. Some students remain blind to the challenges they will never face. Still others become increasingly aggravated because we know that nothing has actually changed, because we see and fear the limitations of these spaces, and because we still feel the effects of power here.
Feminism is Not My Hobby
Feminism makes me sad, frustrated, and angry, but I keep reading, writing, organizing, and protesting anyways. I keep dedicating myself and alienating myself, and sometimes, especially when I see what others are doing, I question why. Why can’t I be apathetic? What makes a battle worth fighting? What makes us care about some things and not others?
A lot of activists complain about apathy, but we are all apathetic about something. It would be impossible to be totally invested in all of the things that we believe in. But some things give us a sense of urgency. Some things just cannot be ignored. I am coming to terms with my urgency about identity politics.
I believe in causes other than identity politics, but in my mind there is a hierarchy of needs. I would get behind education reform, environmental preservation, etc. but first I need to be legitimated as a person. Countless times, I have walked into a meeting and had someone shake my male co-workers’ hands without even a nod in my direction. When I speak to fervently in class I have been called anything from “cute” to “uppity,” but rarely validated for my opinion. I need to advocate for my own cause before I advocate for another. I need to be on an equal footing before I can go toe-to-toe.
Before I worry about whether or not the air has been polluted, I need to be able to go outside without fear of being raped. Before I work to change standardized test scores I need high school students to stop bullying queer kids to death. Before I can work on gun control, I need to know that racial profiling will not shade those laws so that more and more people are unjustly detained.
Attaining Privilege is No Excuse
I feel urgency for this cause, and I want you to feel it too. I did not necessarily choose to be a feminist and out of some desire for fairness in world I want you to be one too. Identity-base oppression is a social problem and unless we are all working to re-shape our socialization, it will continue.
In many ways, identity-based oppression cannot be entirely sidestepped. You can be the Secretary of State, and someone will still say sexist things about you. You can be the President of the United States, and some racist asshole will still be drawing bigoted cartoons about you. While sitting here at Brown, it can be easy to see our own escape from oppression, to see us as outside of these larger problems, but I beg that you do not put your blinders on.
Feminism for me means refusing to forget, no matter where I go. If I go to FemSex to celebrate sexual liberation and to color-my-cunt, I will not forget how it feels to have someone that I love scream that word at me in anger. I can go to a liquor-soaked-Spring-Weekend concert, but I cannot forget the two men who have used alcohol as an excuse to forgo consent on my body. Even if I strive and leverage my Ivy-League-education to become an I-banker, I know that some other girl will still be working a twelve-hour shift, hoping her boss won’t touch her ass today and wondering if she really is worth $7.40/hour.
Feminism means being a killjoy at the privilege party. While I would like to talk to you about art or your favorite films, I have a few other things on my mind. While I would like to not be a Feminist, I am, and I will keep working until you are too.
-E. L. Cole, Contributor
Image from Tanie Laramie’s Etsy Shop