Familiar Words; New Ways to Express Feminism

A feminist killjoy “takes pleasure in the work of interrupting the patriarchal norms that pass as joys.” When the guy at the checkout counter addresses his customer as “my love,” the feminist killjoy is the one who says “I’m not your love.”

When academic Erin Wunker had a baby, it didn’t seem like an appropriate time to write a conventional book on her subject, Canadian literature and culture. Her writing happened in “small bursts, on what seemed like little Post-it notes of time.” The structure of her essays, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy, reflects the reality of her personal journey—sleepless nights, interrupted work, sentences and paragraphs that can fit on a Post-it note.

An essay, in both the military and literary sense, means a “try” or an attempt to break out of and through something. It’s good to keep this in mind when dealing with informal essays such as Wunker’s; they are brief, personal, unconventional and tentative. There are no polished answers here, just questions and attempts to answer them.

Notes from a Feminist Killjoy is made up of five relatively short essays; the first on the concept of the killjoy in the current feminist context, followed by pieces on rape culture, friendships, feminist mothering and refusal. In Wunker’s words, a feminist killjoy “takes pleasure in the work of interrupting the patriarchal norms that pass as joys.” When the guy at the checkout counter addresses his customer as “my love,” the feminist killjoy is the one who says “I’m not your love.”

Wunker’s book demands that readers find new ways to talk about things. Phrases such as “sweaty concepts,” “hetero-relational messages” and “cruel optimism” are made up of familiar words used to convey unfamiliar concepts. Wunker wants her readers to stop and examine both the language and the attitudes embedded in it so they can be stripped of inherent inequality and injustice.

That’s a lot to ask of a Post-it note, but she does make you think, and in the background there is always that baby, needy and demanding and worth trying new ways to express ourselves.

Notes From a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life
by Erin Wunker
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Written By

Robin McGrath is the author or editor of 15 books and has published more than 200 articles in magazines such as Beaver, Inuit Art Quarterly, Fiddlehead and Room of One's Own. She lives in Labrador and reviews regularly for the Telegram in St. John's.

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Familiar Words; New Ways to Express Feminism

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