Sara Ahmed: I’m a Feminist Killjoy. Are You?

June 28 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Respect Your Limits

Why do we, as women, have to disclose our private stories just to convince society of something? We should absolutely praise women for sharing their stories of sexual assault, abortion, harassment, and all the other intimate details of their lives. But some women don’t want to open up, and those women should be praised, too.

If you’re not the first to join the picket line, don’t let yourself feel like less of a feminist, less of an activist, or less of a woman. Whatever cause you believe in needs you. So make the signs for the picketers. Write letters to politicians. Most of all, respect your limits. Listen to what your body enjoys and what drains it. And lose the expectations; if you want to handcuff yourself to a tree one day and watch documentaries the next, you’re still the same badass lady.


We’ve gained so much from those women who’ve spoken bravely about issues like sexual assault. I remember when Oprah talked about her abusive childhood, and used her show to disclose stories of sexual abuse, assault and harassment. By giving people the opportunity to express their grief and trauma in a total of 217 episodes, viewers could feel less isolated in their own grief and trauma. That kind of connection is crucial for anyone at any age, including college kids. It’s reported that 1 in 5 women on American college campuses experience sexual assault.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Sara Ahmed, Feminist Writer & Independent Scholar

Heavy stuff, right? This is complicated, distressing information. But it isn’t only the survivors of sexual assault that matter; it’s the outspoken advocates and scholars, too. It’s unclear what the statistics about sexual assault were decades or centuries ago because it was hush-hush. Today, scholars like Sara Ahmed are helping research, document and influence how we view women, race and sexuality in this country.

Sara taught race and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. It’s in the space of academia that Sara learned a side of sexual assault and harassment that isn’t discussed often. Some critics might wonder why survivors of abuse don’t speak up – but, as Sara learned, the process of testifying can be traumatizing for victims all over again.

Sara would support college students who had to go through the steps of a university’s inquiry process, for example, if the student brought up a complaint against another individual or organization. Sara mentions that organizations—even ones who deem themselves “feminist”—will advocate more for their own reputation than for what’s right.

In 2017, Sara’s book Living a Feminist Life earned praise from, what Sara herself would say, are “feminist killjoys.” If you’ve ever been in an academic setting in which feminist theory is taught, it can be illuminating and agitating, but also confusing. How can the theory be applied to everyday life, you know, when I’m in line at the grocery store, or swiping on Bumble?

Sara admits that recognizing all the ways in which women, women of color, queer folks and everyone in between are marginalized is, quite frankly, a bummer. (Ignorance is bliss, right?) But even if we’re not trying, we’re noticing moments that undermine us.

Sara suggests packing your “Killjoy toolkit.” The kit includes books that have words that pick you up when you’re down, and tools like a pen and paper or laptop to express yourself. It includes time, time to chill out, regroup, refocus, recharge. And making time for all those things are crucial when you’re standing up for what’s right.


Sara Ahmed said:

"When we loosen the requirements to be in a world, we create room for others to exist in that world."

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