Today in the first year Gender Studies class I teach, we were discussing the conclusion of Sara Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, “A Killjoy Survival Kit”.
At the end of the class, I asked the students (as a fun activity, or what I think of as fun, anyway) to add something to the toolkit. Each student shared a great answer (which is for them to share, not me, so I won’t list them here) and then I realised that I needed to add something too, and I hadn’t prepared anything, and that it needed to be as good as all the answers they had given me and each other.
So I added boots.
I added boots because I had been thinking about a conversation I’d had with a friend last week. We were discussing our mutual love of wearing steel capped boots, and the way we felt while wearing them. This feeling was best expressed by my mum when she borrowed my steel capped (general purpose army) boots during a visit when I lived in London. As soon as we left the flat, she said “I can see why you wear these now, I feel like I can take on the world!”
The orientation (to use another of Ahmed’s ideas) provided by the experience of wearing boots that make you feel strong, competent, able to walk forever, and able to stomp through anything is a useful addition to the feminist survival kit. Boots give bodies a firm base so they can stand their ground, take up space, and stop hiding.
Ahmed’s point, after Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, as well as Audre Lorde’s A Burst of Light is that how we experience the world, and how our bodies feel in it gives us our parameters for thought, and action. Woolf wrote that (gendered) material conditions determined who could think, when, and what they might be able to imagine, given their circumstances. Lorde wrote that self-preservation, care and survival is a political act in resistance to (racist) systems that pathologised her, and that gave her an orientation from which she could continue to fight them. Ahmed extends this to the practical suggestion of composing a toolkit for survival, one that provides the material conditions that allow for feminist resistance, thought, writing and work. To which I would include a sturdy pair of steel capped boots.