A Killjoy Manifesto

2017. "Conclusion 2: A Killjoy Manifesto", Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed

A manifesto represents many things - a statement or principle, a mission statement, the manifestation of something. A manifesto aims to cause a disturbance. A killjoy manifesto is rooted in current practice, but "cannot be about the freeing of radicals to pursue their own agendas," at risk of reifying the power differentials which already exist in academia. A killjoy manifesto begins by acknowledging current inequities, killing joy by continuously claiming such inequities exist. "A manifesto is required when a struggle is necessary to give expression to something," appealing only to those who also understand its necessity (pg. 252). The feminist herself is viewed as a killer, killing men by disrupting patriarchal norms. She writes that the feminist killer is useful to demonizing feminism, propping up the survival of patriarchy. Calling for the end of white patriarchy is seen as calling for the end of all white men. Exposing violence is seen as a form of violence. Further, the killing of happiness - seen so tied to life itself - is associated with killing. She writes that "political activism is ... a struggle against happiness" (pg. 255). Killing joy is an expression against a world we do not wish to be part of. Killjoys are willing to get into trouble, in the sense they refuse to be women as beings made for men. A killjoy is a willful subject which is willing or not willing to do certain things or ascribe to certain principles. She outlines 10 principles of a killjoy manifesto.

Principle 1: I am not willing to make happiness my cause

You are often asked to do something to make others happy, especially when others know what they are going makes you unhappy. Another's happiness is used as an appeal, and the refusal of that others is reframed as selfish. This principle states that a feminist killjoy is not willing to make the happiness of others a political cause.

Principle 2: I am willing to cause unhappiness

"To expose happiness myths is to be willing to be given a killjoy assignment. Not making happiness your cause can cause unhappiness. A killjoy is willing to cause unhappiness" (pg. 257-258). This does not make unhappiness the cause of the killjoy, though it is often portrayed that way by those who are unhappy with you. The killjoy causes unhappiness by revealing what causes unhappiness (e.g., sexism, racism). We must also be willing to make ourselves unhappy for a more just world.

Principle 3: I am willing to support others who are willing to cause unhappiness

Killjoys often persist through loneliness by finding other killjoys. We must be willing to give support to others who are also unsupported in their killing joy. Ahmed writes: "Audre Lorde once wrote, 'Your silence will not protect you' (1984a, 41). But your silence could protect them. And by them I mean: those who are violent, or those who benefit in some way from silence about violence" (pg. 260). Many remain silent not because they do not recognize injustice, but because they recognize the consequences of speaking up. A killjoy manifesto recognizes that not everyone is in a position to speak up. Speaking out can take many inventive forms.

Principle 4: I am not willing to laugh at jokes designed to cause offense

Humor is a crucial technique for producing ineqality. The myth of the killjoy feminist only speaking up because they are unhappy does a lot of work to uphold inequality, including those purposefully making humor out of feminism's supposed humorlessness, turning it into a joke. Humor also creates the appearance of distance from subjects like sexism and racism, while also reinforcing sexism and racism. A killjoy is seen as "overly sensitive" in situations where critique has been successful; when someone is offended, it is because they are easily offended, weak, soft, and emotional. Ahmed argues to break down what is offensive we must be sensitive.

Principle 5: I am not willing to get over histories that are not over

Many times, people will declare some unjustices over. People declaring slavery is over, while benefitting from the history of slavery, is an example. A killjoy is ready to bring memory and history up, despite accusasions of divisiveness.

Principle 6: I am not willing to be included if inclusion means being included in a system that is unjust, violent, and unequal

Inclusion is often used as an invitation to be enveloped willingly in a larger system of oppression. While some are included for survival (e.g., workers under capitalism), that inclusion is unwilling. We must acknowledge our complicity, but that does not make us hypocrites. We can still speak out against unjust systems. Those with higher positions of power within a system must work harder to dismantle it. A killjoy manifesto refuses to identify hope and happiness with inclusion into violent systems.

Principle 7: I am willing to live a life that is deemed by others as unhappy and I am willing to reject or to widen the scripts available for what counts as a good life

Happiness narrows the possibilities of living a life. We can embody alternative ways of living by living lives deemed by others to be unhappy (e.g., homosexuality). We can create room for wider alternatives to living a feminist life.

Principle 8: I am willing to put the hap back into happiness

Happiness is derived from the Middle English word hap, chance, but happiness has been redefined from what happens to you to what you work for. She asks how we can embrace chance in happiness, not caring for happiness only when we feel that care and happiness will be returned, but also caring for things that might break. Though we do not have to care for all things equally.

Principle 9: I am willing to snap any bonds, however precious, when those bonds are damaging to myself or others

While the snapping of bonds is often sad, some bonds are harmful. To continue on a feminist journey, it may be necessary to snap a bond before being able to continue. Snapping a bond may also allow us to look back and reexamine what we could not before.

Principle 10: I am willing to participate in a killjoy moment

We are willing to be part of killjoy moments, no matter how difficult they are. We might even transform judgment into rebellious action. When we find others in these moments, there can even be joy in killing joy.