Read on for some thoughts from Sara Ahmed — who is a renowned Pakistani-British feminist writer and independent scholar.

All of the words below are by Sara Ahmed.

Feminism is a sensible reaction to the injustices of the world.

To kill joy is to open a life, to make room for life, to make room for possibility, for change.

A killjoy: the one who gets in the way of other people’s happiness. Or just the one who is in the way—you can be in the way of whatever, if you are already perceived as being in the way. Your very arrival into a room is a reminder of histories that “get in the way” of the occupation of that room. How many feminist stories are about rooms, about who occupies them, about making room? When to arrive is to get in the way, what happens, what do you do? The figure of the killjoy could be rethought in terms of the politics of willfulness. I suggested earlier that an activist archive is an unhappiness archive, one shaped by the struggles of those who are willing to struggle against happiness. We might redescribe this struggle in terms of those who are willing to be willful. An unhappiness archive is a willfulness archive.

To become a feminist killjoy is to get in the way of happiness or just get in the way. We killjoy because we speak back, because we use words like sexism or transphobia or ableism or racism or homophobia to describe our experience, because we refuse to polish ourselves, to cover over the injustices with a smile. We don’t even have to say anything to killjoy.

Some of us, black people and people of colour, can killjoy just by entering the room because our bodies are reminders of histories that get in the way of the occupation of space. We can killjoy because of how we mourn, or who we do not mourn, or who we do mourn. We can killjoy because of what we will not celebrate; national holidays that mark colonial conquest or the birth of a monarch, for instance. We can killjoy become we refuse to laugh at jokes designed to cause offense. We can killjoy by asking to be addressed by the right pronouns or by correcting people if they use the wrong ones. We can killjoy by asking to change a room because the room they booked is not accessible, again.

Once you are a feminist, once you come to identify that word as your own, it is as though you are “switched on,” such that being “on” is your default position, and all that you encounter, all that you consume, that you do, becomes something to be challenged, questioned, resisted. It can be exciting—to become attuned to how things have taken a shape in the way that a story is a shape, how things are not necessary or inevitable, how they are open to being challenged, how we can create alternative stories. But it can be tiring, always being “on,” and there is no doubt that sometimes we wish we could just switch off and watch a movie! In a way you could use permission notes—I put some in my killjoy survival kit. You can give yourself permission to turn off when being on is too hard. This does not always work, mind you. Sometimes, you might be tired, and you just want to watch a feel-good movie, when the killjoy comes up again, which is to say, you become her. You can find yourself questioning and critiquing things again.

Since sexism and racism are in the world, we need to engage with the world—know it, understand it—if we are to transform it. We cannot withdraw from sexism and racism. And we can be engaged and even enjoy what we challenge.

Sometimes being a feminist killjoy can feel like you are getting in the way of your own happiness; and if happiness means not noticing the injustices around us, so be it. But that’s not the only way of telling a feminist story, because apprehending the world from a feminist point of view is apprehending more, not less. Living a feminist life helps to create a more complete picture because we try not to turn away from what compromises our happiness. Of course sometimes it can be tiring being unhappy about so many things! But I find joy in the fullness of living a feminist life, though not only, and not always.

  • Are told you are angry no matter what you say
  • Witness people’s eyes rolling as soon as you open your mouth as if to say: ‘oh here she goes!’
  • Are often accused of getting in the way of the happiness of others (or just getting in the way)
  • Have ruined the atmosphere by turning up or speaking up
  • Have a body that reminds people of histories they find disturbing
  • Are willing to make disturbance a political cause
  • Are willing to cause unhappiness to follow your desire
  • Will not laugh at jokes designed to cause offense
  • Will take offense when it is there to be taken
  • Will point out when men cite men about men as a learned social habit that is diminishing (ie. most or usual citational practice)
  • Will notice and name whiteness. Will keep noticing and naming whiteness
  • Will use words like ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’ even if that means being heard as the cause of bad feeling (and are willing to cause bad feeling)
  • Will refuse to look away from what compromises happiness
  • Are willing to be silly and display other inappropriate positive affects
  • Are willing to listen and learn from the work of feminists over time and refuse the caricatures of feminism and feminists that enables a disengagement from feminism
  • Are prepared to be other peoples’ worst feminist nightmare
  • Are prepared to be called a kill joy
  • Are willing to kill joy
  • Are willing to participate in a killjoy movement