We should all be feminist killjoys

Updated: Jun 14, 2019, 07:50 IST | Rosalyn D'Mello

Being a feminist killjoy is arduous work, but it guarantees one thing -- you will always be on the ethical side of herstory

We should all be feminist killjoys
The feminist movement involves the raising of consciousness. Representation pic/Getty Images

Rosalyn D'MelloI'll admit it. I am dreading returning to New Delhi. The weather reports make it seem utterly uninviting. I am unable to fathom how animals, labourers, and the general populace without the means to air conditioning are coping with the soaring temperatures and the accompanying dust storms.

I still cannot wrap my head around how we have gone for so long being oblivious to the consciousness that what we are currently experiencing is not climate change, but climate crisis. It's not the weather that I'm afraid of returning to so much as the apathy that is directly responsible for it. We have completely normalised our breathing of hazardous air. To compound matters, there is the knowledge of coming back to a country that recently renewed its commitment to the BJP-led belligerent, fascist, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-intellectual, anti-minority, anti-farmer, anti-indigenous government.

That it was allegedly democratically elected does little by way of reassurance. It is said that we get the government we deserve. What about those of us who believe we deserve so much better? For me, the link between continuing patriarchy and the rise of aggressively fundamentalist rhetoric and policies has never been clearer. I'm still finding the vocabulary to articulate this thought. But to put it quite simply, it has to do with the well-documented link between capitalism and patriarchy; a completely misguided and misplaced belief in profit as the bottom line, and an overinvestment in an idea of progress and development that we've bought into, without considering the costs of how we ourselves constitute collateral damage.

In Three Guineas, a treatise in which Virginia Woolf expounds to a male writer the potential role of women in preventing war, she makes a case for the outsider's inability to accommodate a patriotic stance, because the very country to which the outsider presumably belongs has historically marginalised her by treating her as a second-class citizen. "...if you insist upon fighting to protect me, or 'our' country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or to protect either myself or my country. For, the outsider will say, 'in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.'"

I have been using my time away to lick my wounds, to gather my energy reserves, to make sense of everything that unfolded over the past year, all the missed opportunities during the #MeToo movement, the sense of collective amnesia that seems to have marked its aftermath. How those of us who fought, who broke the silence, who had the courage, have now been sidelined completely.

I found great strength in Sara Ahmed's book, 'Living a Feminist Life'. She posits the term 'feminist killjoy' to describe women like me, women that no one wants to invite to any party or have at any dinner table because our feminist 'tendencies' dictate that we cannot help but point out hypocrisies, injustices, misogyny, inequalities, whenever we see them. She urges us to recalibrate the potentiality of this position of seeming alienation. "To be unseated by the table of happiness might be to threaten not simply that table, but what gathers around it, what gathers on it. When you are unseated, you can even get in the way of those who are seated, those who want more than anything to keep their seats. To threaten the loss of the seat can be to kill the joy of the seat," she says. "Let's take the figure of the feminist killjoy seriously! One feminist project could be to give the killjoy back her voice. Whilst hearing feminists as killjoys might be a form of dismissal, there is an agency that this dismissal rather ironically reveals. We can respond to the accusation with a 'yes'."

Being a feminist involves knowing that you can never be content with the existing status quo; as long as we do not live in a more equal world, there will always be work to do.

Hence the saying, 'Her work is never done,' because unlike revolutions that have been run by men, where one form of power is overthrown only to reinstate another form of oppressive power, the feminist movement is a slow one, because it involves the raising of consciousness. It involves first un-conditioning the self from patriarchal brainwashing, then a gradual awakening into a feeling of empowerment, a recognition that our salvation is interlinked, which must impel us to invest in systems of nurturance and kindness, the opposite of hate and war and violence.

It's arduous work, but we do it because one thing is guaranteed, as a true feminist killjoy, you will always be on the ethical side of herstory/history.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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