The Feminist Finger-Snap

In a recent Feminist Killjoys blog post, Sara Ahmed, former Director of the Centre for Feminist Research at Goldsmiths and author of Living a Feminist Life (2017), explained her decision to resign an academic post at her University as an act of feminist protest and self-care: The “act of leaving was a form of feminist snap: there was a moment when I couldn’t take it anymore, those walls of indifference that were stopping us from getting anywhere; that were stopping us from getting through.” Ahmed parses the meanings of “resignation” saying it can be read as “passive,” but that it can also be an “act of feminist protest.” 

Over the past year, I have repeatedly returned to Ahmed’s blog post, mulling over her succinct and on-point term “feminist snap.” The word “snap” is defined as a behavior—a sharp bite in response to a perceived threat, or a sudden sharp sound. Its connotation is mostly used in derogatory and stereotypical ways, to indicate that someone has lost control of their faculties in a way that endangers others, as in “the postal worker just snapped.”

Understood in a more positive way, feminist snap can be a catalyst for action. Women and men who perform the “feminist snap” undergo an epiphany—a realization—that they themselves must take action to destabilize the status quo of androcentrism. When I worked in the women’s movement, a colleague named Mary told a story of how she performed what Ahmed might call a “feminist snap”: she was invited to speak publicly before a large audience about undergoing childhood abuse and her subsequent decision to transition genders; she was afraid to speak in public, but she explained that “I realized what I had to say was more important than the fear I had in saying it.” Her type of feminist snap, like Ahmed’s, refuses to contribute to the everyday archive of silence.

Other colleagues made different choices; for instance, a good friend left a Deanship in protest over the unfair treatment of a departmental colleague who was being harassed because of his ethnicity. What this example makes visible is the uncertain futurity for equality, since when one chooses to perform a feminist snap by resigning an academic post, the intellectual leadership canon is reduced by one.

We can add to Ahmed’s theorization by thinking about a more positive way in which to conceptualize “snap”: In addition to being understood as a breaking point, “snap” also represents finger movements that communicate and signal a collective unison or rhythm, as in, “she snapped her fingers to the beat.” Snapping can also be a call for attention, as in, “she snapped to attention.” Snaps can be discerned through sight, hearing, and even the sense of touch.

A “feminist snap” begins with a realization of inequality; you might witness someone being sexually harassed, or you might hear a gendered and biased slur. You may even feel a slight snap within yourself at the sickening realization that a gendered inequality has occurred. You can perform a feminist snap by vocalizing a biting response to biased dialogue, or you can pen a critical response to a biased image, or you can ask your scholarly collective to snap to attention and help in moments of distress.

When my young daughter first learned how to snap her fingers, she explained that all the school kids knew how to snap, and therefore she wanted to learn, too. First I demonstrated a finger-snap, and then I gently positioned her tiny fingers. After a week of diligent practice, she finally beamed with pride, and happily snapped all the way to school. Now I realize that, in seeking to snap, my daughter wanted two things: sovereignty and facility of her own body, as well as the social value that occurs in a collective of other snappers.

The Feminist Finger-Snap is a response to an instance of inequality or oppression; it is a call—a signal—to one’s flock, urging all to destabilize the inequalities of the status-quo, and instead, practice to perfection the tools of speech, words, and finger-snapping in order to stand on the right side of equality.