Lately the kids and I have been listening to the soundtrack to Matilda: the Musical, and we’ve been humming or singing one song more or less continuously: Naughty.

We’re told we have to do what we’re told but, surely,
sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

Just because you find that life’s not fair,
it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
nothing will change.

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot
You mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top,
you might as well be saying you think that it’s okay

And that’s not right!

With this earworm playing, I’ve been thinking about Rosalind Gill’s “small-scale micro-negotiations of power in the academy” and Barbara Grant’s “slow tiny acts of resistance”.

There are some inspiring examples of this work in blogs:

Sara Ahmed’s blog was written alongside her book Living a Feminist Life, and continues beyond the publication of the book to undertake “diversity work, the ordinary and painstaking work of working on institutions so they are more accommodating”. This is the sort of blog you want to spend all day reading. Ahmed’s work with students on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct has been dogged and inspiring. Here is how she describes her work on complaint:

To become attuned to sexism, to begin to hear with a feminist ear how women are not heard, is to become out of tune with a world … A feminist ear picks up on the sounds that are blocked by the collective will not to hear. The sounds of no, the complaints about violence, the refusals to laugh at sexist jokes; the refusals to comply with unreasonable demands …

I learnt from this work: those who experience harassment come up against a wall of indifference. They have nowhere to go. Or if they do speak they are heard as complaining. The word complaint derives from plague, in a vulgar sense, to strike at the breast. A complaint: sick speech. Maybe she is heard as speaking from ill-will: not only as being ill, but as spreading infection, as making the whole body ill …

A feminist ear can be what we are for; we need more people to be involved in giving a hearing.

Ahmed resigned from her professorial position in protest against institutional responses to sexual harassment.

Sara Puotinen’s blog is inspired by Judith Butler’s preface to Gender Trouble, in which Butler writes: “trouble is inevitable and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it.” Puotinen’s blog chronicles her commitment to making, being and staying in trouble as a teacher, researcher, child and parent.  This is another long-running blog that rewards immersive reading. She describes her work as “virtuous troublemaking”:

What is Troublemaking?

  • An approach to looking at and acting in the world
  • That pushes at the limits of our most sure ways of knowing.
  • A broad term
  • That encompasses a wide range of practices.
  • Involves thinking critically all the time
  • And the willingness to challenge the status quo.
  • A skill that must be cultivated and practiced
  • That is not only destructive but productive
  • And that involves asking questions and being curious.

Troublemaking is dangerous, creative, fun, virtuous and needed.

For new readers, a video summary helps navigate through years of posts that cover grieving her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer, her troubled positioning in the academy and reflections on pop culture.

I want to spend more time reading, and savouring, both Ahmed and Puotinen’s writings.

Meanwhile, I am still humming ‘Naughty’. The last lines give me pause: “Nobody else is gonna put it right for me/ Nobody but me is gonna change my story/ Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” It’s not just the use of “gonna” (I’m kinda resigned to that) but the individualism of it.

Mischief is so much more fun and fulfilling when it is collective. Niki Harré, Barbara M. Grant, Kirsten Locke and Sean Sturm describe this in The university as infinite game:

In being a ‘woman who makes a fuss’ (even if you’re a man), you will need courage … You will need, somehow, to embrace struggle, at least some of the time. But also, seek to eschew antagonism and, instead, to foster compassion for our mutually frail humanity. More, express gratitude, hold out hope, be quick to find humour, cultivate indifference to convention and a willingness for insubordination.  And, above all, seek solidarity…

I love this for the positive, creative, and constructive impacts of ‘making a fuss’/ being naughty/ getting into trouble in the company of others.

Stay naughty, readers!

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4 thoughts on “Naughty

  1. I love it when we’re naughty together. 😉
    I’m never sure if STARS should stand for slow, tiny acts of resistance or small, targeted acts of resistance. Both make sense.
    I like to think that troublemaking + solidarity = movement for change.
    So I am for both of those things at once 😉


    • I think I misattributed Barbara’s stars when I called it small, targeted acts of resistance. So here I went with her published version. You were one of the people I thought of when writing this post.


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