Living a Feminist Life

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: February 2017

Author: Sara Ahmed

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Queer Theory

In Living a Feminist Life Sara Ahmed shows how feminist theory is generated from everyday life and the ordinary experiences of being a feminist at home and at work. Building on legacies of feminist of color scholarship in particular, Ahmed offers a poetic and personal meditation on how feminists become estranged from worlds they critique—often by naming and calling attention to problems—and how feminists learn about worlds from their efforts to transform them. Ahmed also provides her most sustained commentary on the figure of the feminist killjoy introduced in her earlier work while showing how feminists create inventive solutions—such as forming support systems—to survive the shattering experiences of facing the walls of racism and sexism. The killjoy survival kit and killjoy manifesto, with which the book concludes, supply practical tools for how to live a feminist life, thereby strengthening the ties between the inventive creation of feminist theory and living a life that sustains it.


"Fans of bell hooks and Audre Lorde will find Ahmed's frequent homages and references familiar and assuring in a work that goes far beyond Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, capturing the intersection so critical in modern feminism." — Abby Hargreaves, Library Journal

"I appreciated Ahmed’s transforming everyday words that we don’t think about, words like willful, arm, wall, and snap and making us think more deeply and see them as something profound, something activist and powerful." — Tonstant Weader

"Living a Feminist Life is a work of embodied political theory that defies the conventions of feminist memoir and self-help alike. . . . Living a Feminist Life makes visible the continuous work of feminism, whether it takes place on the streets, in the home, or in the office. Playful yet methodical, the book tries to construct a living feminism that is neither essentialist nor universalist." — Melissa Gira Grant, Bookforum

"Living a Feminist Life is perhaps the most accessible and important of Ahmed’s works to date. . . . [A] quite dazzlingly lively, angry and urgent call to arms. . . In short, everybody should read Ahmed’s book precisely because not everybody will." — Emma Rees, Times Higher Education

"Beautifully written and persuasively argued, Living a Feminist Life is not just an instant classic, but an essential read for inter­sectional feminists." — Ann A. Hamilton, Bitch

"This book is about a wriggling out, a speaking out. And it teaches me to write, to think, like this — word twists word, and body to thought. Because for Ahmed, words make worlds and her book — the first after she left academia in feminist revolt — is full of bluesy world-play."
  — Caren Beilin, Full Stop

"Living a Feminist Life is the perfect introduction to Ahmed’s academic work, if a general reader is unfamiliar with her. . . . For me, her lack of despair is the book’s strongest point. Ahmed’s work is as cutting and critical as it is joyful. There is a distinct hope and optimism for the future of diversity work – but still a demand for better." — Evelyn Deshane, The F-Word

"For anyone looking to understand contemporary feminist theory, this book is for you. Drawing mainly on the scholarship of feminists of color, Ahmed brings critical theory to life through practical examples and personal experience. This is an essential toolkit for building a feminist consciousness, practicing feminism, and surviving life as a 'feminist killjoy.' bell hooks couldn’t put it down." — WATER

"Undeniably, Ahmed’s book is a highly crafted work, both scholarly and lyrically, that builds upon itself and delivers concrete, adaptable conclusions; it is a gorgeous argument, crackling with kind wit and an invitation to the community of feminist killjoys." — Theodosia Henney, Lambda Literary Review

"Ahmed gifts us words that we may have difficulty finding for ourselves.... [R]eading her book provides a tentative vision for a feminist ethics for radical politics that is applicable far beyond what is traditionally considered the domain of feminism." — Mahvish Ahmad, The New Inquiry

"Anyone at odds with this world—and we all ought to be—owes it to themselves, and to the goal of a better tomorrow, to read this book." — Mariam Rahmani, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Living a Feminist Life offers something halfway between the immediacy and punch of the blog and the multi-layered considerations of a scholarly essay; the result is one of the most politically engaged, complex and personal books on gender politics we have seen in a while." — Bidisha, TLS

"Living a Feminist Life puts a name to her life’s work, while also serving as a guide of sorts for other feminist killjoys, Ahmed’s reclaimed term for feminists who (among other things) dare to be wilful by rejecting social and gender norms that demand otherwise.  Ahmed circles back and around her earlier work, including her Feminist Killjoy blog, in her distinctly ruminative fashion, while also sharing more of her own experiences than she has previously – be it growing up brown in white Australia, embodying ‘diversity’ in the contemporary neo-liberal university, or being a lesbian feminist. Beyond this, Living a Feminist Life is also a very useful book with which to think about the purpose and process of feminist writing, her own included. . . ." — Zora Simic, Sydney Review of Books

"Especially compelling is Ahmed’s insistence that living as a feminist is not a sudden, euphoric escape from patriarchy and other structures of domination. Instead, it’s a lifelong project of chipping away at regimes that continue to exert considerable force. To practice feminism is therefore to encounter both frustration and widespread disapproval. It means, Ahmed warns, being seen as selfish, mean, and chronically dissatisfied—the bringer of discord to family dinners and professional meetings alike.  For those of us willing to pay the price, Living a Feminist Life assures us we’re in good company." — Susan Fraiman, Critical Inquiry

"Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life gives the old feminist mantra of “the personal is political” a new boost of relatability. In her very unique poetic language, she engages with everyday experiences, objects, encounters, feelings, and embodiments.... [I]n reading Living a Feminist Life, readers will find a companion, a vital guide to their killjoy survival kit." — Golchehr Hamidi-Manesh, Kohl

"Ahmed ... writes theory like nobody else.... Ahmed’s book is a feminist gift for its readers. You are invited to enjoy it, the rhythm and all." — Leena-Maija Rossi, European Journal of Women's Studies

"It’s not easy being a feminist and Sara Ahmed has written a powerful, thought provoking and moving account of just what that means. But more than that, she provides us with a survival guide, some coping strategies combined with wisdom and inspiration. To read this book is to feel the warmth and strength of a sister(hood) wrapped around you." — Heather Savigny, European Journal of Women's Studies

"Living a Feminist Life encourages its reader to refuse to go along with institutional and interpersonal injustices. In centering disruption and contestation – be it publically speaking out or rolling one’s eyes – Ahmed’s feminism is a refreshing counter narrative to institutional drives for 'equality' without conflict." — Marie Thompson, Contemporary Women's Writing

"Ahmed does for her readers what Audre Lorde did for her – document a way to live differently." — Katherine Parker-Hay, Textual Practice

“Sara Ahmed’s account is fresh and invigorating. It will be an excellent resource for graduate students in feminist studies and undergraduates interested in feminism, difference, and feminist action.” — Jill Locke, Politics & Gender

"[Ahmed's] prose style . . . is incantatory and quizzical, probing and playful. . . . Ahmed holds particular words up to the light and lets their unsuspected facets gleam, polishing their queer potential." — Catherine Keyser, Public Books

"Living a Feminist Life hopes we can survive doing feminist theory, and energises us to do so." — Clare Croft, Feminist Theory

“I live in south London, not far from where Sara used to lecture, so her work has always felt close, with an ability to touch and grasp—a quality academic feminist discourse often lacks. This book allows everyone to grasp, wrestle, and digest it, proving yet again that making theory accessible does not have to compromise quality. If anything, it’s quite the opposite.” — Travis Alabanza, Out

"Living a Feminist Life is at once unflinchingly uncompromising in calling for radical feminist social change and generous in acknowledging the need to ease a seemingly relentless struggle and the impossibility of purity. It is at times—justifiably—an angry book but also a joyful one." — Barbara Fultner, Hypatia

"Provides practical tools for how to live a feminist life. . . . Animates the hope that women might break the walls between us and transcend our different standpoints." — Chin-Ju Lin and Benny C. Lu, Feminist Encounters

“From the moment I received Sara Ahmed’s new work, Living a Feminist Life, I couldn’t put it down. It’s such a brilliant, witty, visionary new way to think about feminist theory. Everyone should read this book. It offers amazing new ways of knowing and talking about feminist theory and practice. And, it is also delightful, funny, and as the song says, ‘your love has lifted me higher.’ Ahmed lifts us higher.” — bell hooks

"I read Living a Feminist Life with a deep sense of recognition. This is a book that feminists will find illuminating—acutely painful at times, but mostly profoundly insightful. Written in Sara Ahmed’s trademark evocative style whereby concepts, experiences, words, ideas, structures, and bodies are examined thoroughly from all possible angles, the book documents what it means to understand and lay claim to living everyday life as a feminist. Analytic gems like 'sweaty concepts' and 'feminist killjoy' are peppered throughout, causing the reader to pause and reflect—stopping us in our tracks, making the act of reading a 'sensational' one, thus enacting theory in the flesh. A beautifully written, smartly provocative book that belongs on our shelves, in our classrooms, and in our daughters’ hands." — Chandra Talpade Mohanty, author of Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sara Ahmed is a feminist writer, scholar, and activist. She is the author of Willful Subjects, On Being Included, The Promise of Happiness, and Queer Phenomenology, all also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. Bringing Feminist Theory Home  1
Part I. Becoming Feminist  19
1. Feminism Is Sensational  21
2. On Being Directed  43
3. Willfulness and Feminist Subjectivity  65
Part II. Diversity Work
4. Trying to Transform  93
5. Being in Question  115
6. Brick Walls  135
Part III. Living the Consequences
7. Fragile Connections  163
8. Feminist Snap  187
9. Lesbian Feminism  213
Conclusion 1. A Killjoy Survival Kit  235
Conclusion 2. A Killjoy Manifesto  251
Notes  269
References  281
Index  291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Honorable Mention, Gloria E. Anzuldua Prize, presented by the National Women's Studies Association

Sara Ahmed is the recipient of the 2017 Kessler Award, presented by CLAGS

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