In 2017, I'll continue to be a feminist killjoy


Following the presidential election, Democrats were tasked with acknowledging the complicated set of factors that led to Donald Trump's victory. And so, in a competition of finger pointing, some decided it was easiest to turn their backs on political correctness — identity politics, they argued, had cost Hillary Clinton the election. 

New York Times contributor Mark Lilla became the unofficial leader of this movement when he wrote "The End of Identity Liberalism." In his Nov. 18 piece, Lilla knocked liberals' "fixation on diversity" and suggested they forget about the silliness of transgender people feeling safe in bathrooms and focus on issues affecting a broader swath of the population. 

But it wasn't just him. Political correctness — also known as being respectful and inclusive of marginalized people — became the butt of several jokes, with Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Kimmel Live! being among the first to hop on the bandwagon. 

Whereas SNL in particular had spent the duration of the presidential race mocking Trump, after his win, they took aim at a different target.

"The dating app Tinder announced a new feature this week which gives users 37 different gender identity options," Colin Jost said on the show's "Weekend Update" segment. "It's called 'Why Democrats lost the election.'"

The same week, Kimmel hosted a "politically correct Thanksgiving pageant" on his show, enlisting children to reenact the original story of the holiday. At the end of the gag, during which the children enjoyed a "locally sourced feast" in their "safe space," a narrator reminded viewers, "Please don't applaud, it's insensitive to people with no arms."

It can be tempting to brush off these jokes, but aside from being deeply unfunny, they're harmful too. They punch down. They suggest that racism, sexism and transphobia aren't issues; instead, it's the person who calls them out who's the issue: the killjoy.

The killjoy, after all, had always been the person who readily accepted that there were more than two genders. This was the same person who might have taken a moment to acknowledge at Thanksgiving dinner that the holiday was one that ostensibly celebrated colonialism and the genocide of Native Americans. 

This person is usually me — the feminist killjoy.

What is a feminist killjoy?

I've apparently been one for most of my adult life, though I didn't realize such a term existed until I read feminist scholar Sara Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness. In her book, Ahmed includes a passage about a family seated at the dinner table. Everyone is having polite conversation, until someone says something racist, sexist, homophobic — take your pick. This is the feminist killjoy's time to shine: You cautiously respond to their comment, while also realizing you are about to sap all of the "fun" out of the room.

"In speaking up or speaking out, you upset the situation," Ahmed says. "That you have described what was said by another as a problem means you have created a problem. You become the problem you create." 

I remember the moment I became the problem: Ahead of a vacation to visit our extended family in Virginia, I overheard my mother on the phone with her sister. I don't know what my aunt had said, but it prompted my mom to warn, "You can't say things like that in front of Mimi. She'll get mad." 

My feminism is often viewed as a perpetual state of anger. But I'm OK with that. I'm not sorry to tell my mother, the rest of my family, my friends and my colleagues that I intend to stay angry about the inequalities and injustices in the world. I'll stay angry about offhand comments at the dinner table and about the dozen sexual assault allegations against our president-elect, plus everything in between.

I will not leave my anger behind in 2016, with all of the terrible things that produced it. I will stay mad in 2017, and for good reason. 

I will not leave my anger behind in 2016, with all of the terrible things that produced it. I will stay mad in 2017, and for good reason. 

The case for being a feminist killjoy in 2017 is a pretty clear one.

Trump will be our new president, a man who fueled his campaign on racist rhetoric and was caught bragging about sexually assaulting women. He'd dismissed his infamous remarks as "locker room banter" — nothing more than a joke.

Trump's record with women alone calls for an especially rigorous brand of feminist killjoy. His win means we just may get everything he promised. 

During his presidential run, Trump pledged to defund Planned Parenthood and said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice intent on overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that not only keeps people from dying from self-induced abortions, but gives them greater educational and professional opportunities. Trump of course chose a running mate who himself said he "long[s] for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history" and signed a bill requiring the burial or cremation of aborted fetal tissue as governor of Indiana. 

Even if these two men fall short of realizing these horrors, they've no doubt encouraged state legislators across the country to propose their own anti-abortion laws. Since Nov. 8, Texas passed its own law mandating fetal burial and cremation, while Gov. John Kasich signed a 20-week abortion ban in Ohio.

It's no overstatement to say that women's lives are at stake. And if not our lives, our place in society, which is still, if we look closely, below many men, for even if we manage to earn our equal pay, land the promotion, get everything we want, we'll still fear men who'll hurl sexist insults at us, grab our genitals or worse. We'll live in a country whose president boasts an insatiable appetite to degrade and publicly humiliate women just for sport. 

That scares me.

Carla K. Johnson/AP

If we are unhappy, it is because our country was built on the backs of slaves. If we are divided, it isn't because I've pointed out the existence of racism — it's because racism exists. If we are distraught it's because our new president wants to tell women what they can and can't do with their bodies, and reminded us that he would do whatever he wanted with ours. If we are joyless, it's because there's still a sexual assault epidemic and there are still black men and boys being gunned down in the street.

The least we can do is make sure we're not quiet about it. 

I won't stop being a killjoy unless it stops being demanded of me. Many women have already readied themselves for the battle ahead, making donations to Planned Parenthood in Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence's names, sending Pence bloody tampons and organizing a post-inauguration march that expects to see some 160,000 protesters in Washington.

It's our responsibility also to challenge the rising bipartisan backlash against political correctness. We must remind each other that a joke simply isn't funny if it preys on those who will be most affected by a Trump presidency and its many evils. We must not let anyone trick us into thinking that "political correctness" is a matter of suppressing free speech with "trigger warnings" or "safe spaces," but remember that it's always been about caring about people who have less privilege than we do. 

This isn't to say 2017 will be filled solely with the relentless misery of recognizing our country's deep inequalities and injustices — and pointing them out to other people. Ahmed reminds us there will be joy, too.

"There can be joy in killing joy," she writes. "Kill joy, we can and we do."