To live a feminist life is to be a feminist at work. Until I resigned, my own working life had been based in universities: I was a student for around 10 years and I have been an academic for over 20 years. So much of what know is shaped by where I have been located. I carry the university with me; I value the work of the university because I value knowledge and education. I value what it can do: to learn and to engage with others who are learning. Universities are also institutions that are structured by power relations all the way down. We create feminist programmes and centres because universities, however much they exercise the language of equality and diversity, often do not express those commitments other than in policy. So yes: most of us with feminist commitments end up working for organisations that do not have these commitments, even when they might appear to have them. After all we often acquire our commitments to do something because of what is not being done. To work as a feminist means trying to transform the organisations that employ us – or house us. This rather obvious fact has some telling consequences. When we try to shake the walls of the house, we are also shaking the foundations of our own existence.
But what if we do this work and the walls stay up? What if we do this work and the same things keep coming up? What if our own work of exposing a problem is used as evidence there is no problem? Then you have to ask yourself: can I keep working here? What if staying employed by an institution means you have to agree to remain silent about what might damage its reputation?
By saying resignation is a feminist issue I am not saying to resign is an inherently feminist act even when you resign in protest because of the failure to deal with the problem sexual harassment. I am saying: to be a feminist at work means holding in suspense the question of where to do our work. The work you do must be what you question. Sometimes, leaving can be staying, with feminism. Sometimes. And not for all feminists: other feminists in the same situation might stay because they cannot afford to leave, or because they have not lost the will to keep chipping away at those walls.
So it is time to tell the story. This is my story: of how I came to resign; how I came to the decision not just to leave my post, but the university system.
This is my story.
It is personal.
The personal is institutional.
↠ Sara Ahmed on her resignation from Goldsmiths and the academy. (Rest.)