Sara Ahmed and “The Feminist Killjoy”
Calling out anti-feminist behaviour doesn’t make you a b*tch; it just makes you a killjoy. Welcome to feminism!
Have you ever felt shame, guilt, or regret after calling out misogynistic behaviour? Have you ever been made to feel like it’s your fault for noticing the double standards in your life? Contrary to what the little voices in your head tell you, you are not crazy! You are just experiencing the killjoy effect.
Although you may feel disheartened to carry on with your confrontational endeavours after being put down, it’s important that you continue being that person who calls others out. Because if you don’t do it, who else will?
Sara Ahmed—a writer, scholar, and activist in feminist, queer, and race studies—characterizes the girl who is “always” calling people out as the “feminist killjoy.” Ahmed explains in her phenomenal book, Living a Feminist Life, that the killjoy is someone who actively gets in the way of patriarchal norms. Although feminist killjoys can be found in all walks of life, they are most commonly found as daughters who are done taking other people’s sh*t. She writes that a pillar of active feminism relies on killing “joy,” or rather, killing the casual and passive participation in the continuation of patriarchal norms.
Ahmed perfectly communicates how it feels to be a feminist killjoy as she writes, “Whenever [the killjoy] speak[s], eyes seem to roll, as if to say, well, you would say that.” The aftermath of calling another person out, or confronting someone on their anti-feminist behaviour, can be difficult. You’ve just “accused” someone of something! How dare you! And even though the misogynist is in the wrong, and they are the ones being awful, you are now being looked at as if you have done something wrong. You ask yourself: Why do I feel awful when they should be the one who is feeling awful? This is the life of a feminist killjoy. You say something. You get put down. You doubt yourself. You don’t know if you can continue saying anything anymore.
As Ahmed grew to recognize that women all over are feeling disheartened by being told they are “too much,” she created a website where like-minded killjoys can go. Here, she posts writings and thoughts on feminism; the website is a place where killjoys can find comfort in knowing they are not experiencing backlash alone.
The term “feminist killjoy” is incredibly important to learn, to know, and to hold close to our chests, because it helps us feel seen. It helps build community. Putting words to a feeling helps us to give power to the emotions we have. In our moments when we want to give up as killjoys, we remember that our experiences are not isolated. Ahmed comments on her frustration with the state of being a killjoy as she writes, “The feminist killjoy appears here: when she speaks, she seems wound up. I appear here. This is my history: wound up.”
There is power in being a Killjoy, even when it feels like everyone resents your words. Continue to kill people’s passive and casual participation in patriarchal ideals, or nothing will change. And without exposing problems, we allow the patriarchal standard to continue. A standard which asserts that if women bring up an issue, they are the issue. If you, as a feminist killjoy, feel burnt out and alone, return to this term and know that all killjoys are here for you, cheering you on!