Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Willfulness and Feminist Subjectivity” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Willfulness and feminist subjectivity. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 65-88.


Ahmed traces the willfulness as part of feminist subjectivity, as part of how one becomes feminist, and as how one takes up or raises arms in a feminist revolution.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, theory, killjoy, intersectionality


“This perception of feminist subjects as having too much will, or too much subjectivity, or just as being too much, has profound effects on how we experience ourselves as well as the worlds we come up against” (p. 66).

“[T]o suffer the cost of a judgment can be about who you are rather than what you do” (p. 68).

“The willfulness of women relates here not only to disobedience but to desire: the strength of her desire becoming a weakness of her will. In the history of willfulness, women are found wanting” (p. 70).

“Her will becomes a willful will insofar as it is defined against a collective will or general will. Her own will is deemed to get in the way of what the collective wills. A willful will becomes identified as the will to govern others. Her willfulness, in other words, is interpreted as a will to power, as if protesting against something masks a desire for that very thing. And then when she speaks the language of injustice, that speech is heard as just another way she imposes her own will on others. The language of injustice is treated as a screen behind which a will lurks: a will that is wanting” (71).

“When you are assumed to be for others, then not being for others is judged as being for yourself. Perhaps willfulness could be summarized thus: not being willing to be owned. When you are not willing to be owned, you are judged as willing on your own” (p. 74).

“When separation becomes a command, willfulness is what returns; willfulness not as severance but as perseverance” (p. 79).

“Willfulness: a life paradox. You might have to become what you are judged as being” (p. 82).

“A feminist army that gives life and vitality to some women’s arms by taking life and vitality from other women’s arms is reproducing inequality and injustice” (p. 86).

“Willfulness: how some rise up by exercising the very limbs that have been shaped by their subordination. And: it is those women who have to insist on being women, those who have to insist willfully on being part of the feminist movement, sometimes with a show of their arms, who offer the best hope for a feminist revolution” (p. 88).

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