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Friendship and the Feminist Killjoy

Mar 15, 2017 Jill Macintyre

Last Friday, author and academic Erin Wunker presented a talk entitled “Feminist Friendship as a Way of Life” to a full library theatre. Organized by the women’s and gender studies (WGST) department and presented as the final event for International Women’s Week at Mount Allison, the talk focused on what it means to be a feminist killjoy and how women can form feminist bonds of solidarity within their community.

Wunker is well known for her 2016 book Notes From a Feminist Killjoy. In her introduction to the presentation, Leslie Kern, WGST program advisor and director at Mt. A, described the book as a politically engaged account of how feminists can refuse the promise of happiness under oppressive socioeconomic structures and instead kill that joy with other feminists.

Inspired by feminist scholar and activist Sara Ahmed, who coined the term “feminist killjoy,” Wunker writes about motherhood, community-building and pop culture through an intersectional feminist lens.

But what is a feminist killjoy? Do you get angry about syllabuses that only feature elite, white male authors? Have you made a room uncomfortable by bringing up social justice? In the words of Ahmed, “Are [you] prepared to be other peoples’ worst feminist nightmare?” Then you might be a feminist killjoy!

According to Wunker, a killjoy is someone who “chafes against systemic oppressions like racism and misogyny.” A killjoy “is not a friend to those oppressions. Those oppressions are the so-called joys of patriarchal cultures, that umbrella term that affects all of us regardless of our gender identification, [but] does not affect all of us evenly.”

Wunker’s talk explored how women can form bonds of solidarity and deep friendship despite countless pop culture portrayals of women as unsupportive, catty and toxic.

Molly Hamilton, a third-year political science and WGST student, said the talk opened up a discussion about the complexities of friendships between women.

“[Before] I never really acknowledged how pop culture has been so cruel in the way [it] portray[s] female friendships,” she wrote in a Facebook message to the Argosy.

According to Wunker, we need to move beyond these false representations of womanhood and focus on building compassionate friendships because “the feminist killjoy cannot do it alone.”

Sophie Betts, a first-year English and WGST student, said that fighting against injustice can be draining.

“It’s exponentially [more] comforting to have feminist friends who understand this exhaustion and who are willing to be your shoulder to cry on before you get back up and riot some more,” she wrote in a Facebook message to the Argosy.

After lecturing on the necessity of feminist friendships, which she interspersed with pop culture examples and personal anecdotes, Wunker opened the room to discussion.

Attendees raised questions about motherhood, non-familial sisterhood and how to support marginalized women.

Maria O’Leary, a third-year psychology and WGST student, attended a reading by Wunker at Thunder & Lightning in December and read her book before coming to the talk on Friday. O’Leary said the event was inspiring.

“She [lectured] in a way that was very approachable,” O’Leary said. “I think a lot of people, when they hear that kind of material, really shut down and feel like it’s being shoved down their throats, but [Wunker talks] in a way where you listen, reflect and grow.”

Whether it is picking up a friend’s child from daycare or showing up at a rally to support marginalized groups, Wunker encouraged all in attendance to form and maintain genuine and compassionate feminist friendships.