This is the very best blog post about feminism that I’ve read in a, well, a long time. Sara Ahmed on feministkilljoys.com discusses becoming feminist, developing that feminist consciousness and lens through which you see everything, the getting it right, then the getting it wrong, then the getting it right again, and the overwhelming realisation that this has changed everything.
Well, I didn’t plan to stay away from my blog for such a long time! But when I was rewriting Living a Feminist Life over the summer, I did leave my blog behind. I seemed to find it hard switching between blog and book: it seems to be one or the other.
Other reasons: I have had the best hap ever. In July a little puppy came into my life. She has changed my life as I knew she would, as I knew she should! Her name is Poppy and she has as much attention as I can give her. I am quite sure she will end up in my “Killjoy Survival Kit.” She’s wriggle her way right out of it. Wriggling is in there, too.
So, just to get back to my blog, I am sharing part of a new section I wrote in the first chapter of my book ‘Feminism is Sensational,’ which develops an earlier post. This section is followed by another called ‘Problems with Names,’ which also develops an earlier post.
The blog: a step on a feminist trail.
The section is called ‘feminist consciousness’.
When did you begin to put the pieces together? Perhaps when you put the pieces back together you are putting yourself back together. We assemble something. Feminism is DIY: a form of self-assembly. No wonder feminist work is often about timing: sometimes we are too fragile to do this work; we cannot risk being shattered if we are not ready to put ourselves back together again. To get ready often means being prepared to be undone.
In time, with work, things begin to make more sense. You begin to recognise how violence is directed: that being recognized as a girl means being subjected to this pressure, this relentless assault on the senses; a body that comes to fear the touch of a world. Maybe you learn from that, from what that repetition does; you realize retrospectively how you came to take up less space. You might express feminist rage at how women are made responsible for the violence that is directed against them. Feminism helps you to make sense that something is wrong; to recognise a wrong is to realise that you are not in the wrong.
Becoming feminist: how we redescribe the world we are in. We begin to identify how what happens to me, happens to others. We begin to identify patterns and regularities. Begin to identify: this sounds too smooth. It is not an easy or straightforward process because we have to stay with the wrongs. And think about feeling: to direct your attention to the experience of being wronged can mean feeling wronged all over again.
We need to attend to the bumps; it is bumpy. You had already sensed something amiss. Maybe it was an uneasy feeling at first. As Alison Jaggar describes “Only when we reflect on our initially puzzling irritability, revulsion, anger, or fear, maybe we bring to consciousness our ‘gut-level’ awareness that we are in a situation of coercion; cruelty; injustice or danger” (1996: 181). A gut has its own intelligence. A feminist gut might sense something is amiss. You have to get closer to the feeling; but once you try to think about a feeling, how quickly it can recede. Maybe it begins as a background anxiety, like a humming noise that gradually gets louder over time so that it begins to fill your ear, cancelling out other sounds. And then suddenly it seems (though it is not sudden) what you tried not to notice is all you can hear. A sensation that begins at the back of your mind, an uneasy sense of something amiss, gradually comes forward, as things come up; then receding, as you try and get on with things; as you try and get on despite things. Maybe you do not even want to feel this way, feeling wrong is what brings a wrong home. Attending to the feeling, might be too demanding: it might require you to give up on what otherwise seems to give you something; relationships, dreams; an idea of who it is that you are; an idea of who it is that you can be. You might even will yourself not to notice certain things because noticing them would change your relation to the world; it would change the world to which you exist in relation. We have to stay with the feelings that we might wish would go away; that become reminders of these things that happened that made you wary of being at all.
Perhaps there is just only so much you can take in. Perhaps you take in some things as a way of not taking in other things. As I have been putting a sponge to my own feminist past, I remembered another conversation. It was with a teacher of mine at university, Rosemary Moore who taught the first feminist classes I took: Nineteenth Century Women’s Writing in 1988; Twentieth Century Women’s Writing in 1989. I hadn’t thought about this conversation for a long time; though it is probably not true to say that I had forgotten it. I asked her whether my essay for the course had to refer to women or gender. Her answer was that it didn’t but that it would be surprising if it didn’t. Why did I ask her this question? I had come to University hoping to study philosophy. I was especially interested in what I called “scepticism,” philosophies that proceeded by doubting what is, as a way of questioning what’s what. Sadly, philosophy at Adelaide University was pretty much straight analytical philosophy and scepticism was dismissed as self-refuting in the first lecture of Philosophy 101. To study the kind of work I was interested in I ended up in the English Literature department because there they taught what was referred to as “theory.” And I choose the women’s writing courses not because I was interested in “feminist theory” (even though I was passionate about feminism) but because I was interested in “critical theory.” I was interested in how we know things, in questions of truth, in perspective and perception, in experience and subjectivity. I wanted to ask how I know what I see as green is what you see as green; those sort of questions were my sort of questions.
© and source/ rest: feministkilljoys.com, Sarah Ahmed (posted using inoreader/ ifttt).
p class="wordpresspost">(Excerpt etc. first posted on. Orig. attribution above.)