[eng] Réjane Sénac - The Unbearable Weight

Humorless “killjoy”, puritans defending equality at the expense of freedom: such is the portrait painted of feminists denouncing the inequalities and violence structuring our societies and our lives. They respond to this discrediting description by claiming the necessity to make visible the injustices, and their extent, in order to deconstruct them by questioning them really, deeply. It is a question of looking in the face the “why” and the “who” of inequalities in order to be able to bring a just and happy “towards what” for each and every one. To denounce jointly a system of domination/oppression and the individuals who make it happen, it is not to feast on a hunt for the executioners or to indulge in victimization, it is to refuse to take part in the denial of the inequalities and their causes. The accusations against feminists, in particular of denunciation (cancel culture), are part of a ruse aiming at stigmatizing the finger that indicates, in order not to see the sad and heavy reality that it shows. Feminists are thus associated with the heaviness they denounce. This while, as more widely the leaders of associations and activists committed against injustices, feminists claim to carry an activism which can also be joyful. Joyful activism is considered an alternative to activist burnout because it is a vector of freedom and benevolence, of sisterhood. This open approach to activism is often associated with the famous quote of the anarchist Emma Goldman, who replied to a comrade who came to tell her, while she was dancing at a party, that her behavior did not conform to the decency required by the struggle: “a revolution where I cannot dance will not be my revolution”.

To be committed to equality is thus to defend the freedom of all to be lightweight, but also not to have to hide the heaviness that constitutes the systems of domination and the individual paths. The stigmatization of the politicization of violence and injustices goes indeed hand in hand with the devaluation of those who are associated with a too serious, too heavy relationship to life. “Take distance”, “Let go”, “Live in the present”, “Positivism or seeing the bottle as half full”, “Enjoy”: these mantras are stated as indisputable and wise advices. In a way, they marginalize those who have been shaped by the heaviness of their history, between the individual and the collective path. The ode to lightness is part of the valuation of a present that does not want to complicate itself with stories because it is detached from stories, big and small. It takes the form of a homogeneous mandate that does not take into account the fact that certain presents are not inseparable from a past that entails contradictions and tensions, violence and confinement. It is to be in denial of the depth, potentially wounded and painful, which makes the human. One is not born light or heavy, one becomes so, not by will or by merit or lack of it, but by what makes up the path of each one, whose inheritance is more or less loaded with hardness and weight. 

It is a virtuous circle for those whose lightness is not an impossibility, whether it be because of their personal history or their membership in privileged groups. Under the guise of benevolence, it is an additional violence for wounded lives, for vulnerable and violated individuals. The praise of lightness is of an apparently easy aestheticism, but politically significant. The epicurean and joyful model, supposedly within reach of the will that promotes, speaks about the unbearable character of the heaviness of injustices and violence. The stake is not to muzzle them under this pretext, but to apprehend them as unacceptable.

Sticking to an injunction to liberation and individual fulfilment, via the promotion of personal development or any other bricolage, between agency and empowerment, does not allow us to question the collective and political dimension of inequalities. This approach is in fact part of a conservative meritocratic logic that transforms systemic inequalities into the legitimate expression of personal weaknesses and strengths. The depoliticizing injunction “If you want it, you can do it” is thus applied as a screen that makes it possible not to see these violences, these injustices that only spoil the party when we make them visible. Spoiling the party is therefore a must. This passage is uncomfortable, even disturbing, for those who walk with ease and confidence on the boulevard traced by a history that narrates their legitimacy to walk ahead. Those who promote this spoiling the party do it conscious of the weight of this history, between anger and dance, towards a more emancipated and shared horizon.

* Réjane Sénac, political scientist, author, among of other works, of L'égalité sans condition. Osons nous imaginer et être semblables (Rue de l'échiquier, 2019). [Unconditional equality. Let us dare to imagine ourselves and be equals]. Her next book Radicales et fluides. Les mobilisations contemporaines [Radical and fluid. Contemporary mobilizations], to be published by the Sciences Po Presses on October 14, addresses the possibility and modalities of a shared emancipation by analyzing what is common and controversial between commitments for social and ecological justice, against racism, sexism and/or speciesism, commitments often apprehended as a sum of particularistic claims. To do this, she conducted a qualitative survey of 124 association leaders and activists.

[1] Translated from the French by Andrea Balart-Perrier.

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