Halberstam poses the question, “Can we find feminist frameworks capable of recognizing the political project articulated in the form of refusal?” (126). While refusal as it relates to feminism and femininity can manifest in numerous ways, Halberstam is interested in exploring what they call shadow feminisms. These are the feminisms that are not rooted in the political action or the celebration of womanhood as many mainstream feminisms are, but instead in radical refusal and passivity. It is important to distinguish the radical passivity of Halberstam, categorized by a refusal to be, as different from the passivity accepting societal norms and expectations
One shadow feminism that Halberstam explores is that of antisocial feminism, or feminism preoccupied with negativity and negation (130). In their low theoretical example of antisocial feminism, Halberstam discusses the movie Chicken Run, and one of the chickens refusal to actively resist her exploitation, yet she does not want to die at the hands of pie bakers. Antisocial feminism operates under the understanding that there are, “…other ways of thinking about political action that don’t involve doing or dying,” (130). Through antisocial feminism, one can simply be, without label, category, or expectation, and through this refusal to be, there is power.
This idea of being through antisocial feminism is similar to the last chapter of Luce Irigaray’s This Sex Which is Not One, entitled “When Our Lips Speak Together.” Irigaray explores the power that lies in simply existing and being, without action required. This existence itself is what challenges dominant discourses, as dominance would like to irradiate different and diverse existences. Existing in the margins of dominance is a failure to that dominance, and the simple non-action of being is what is so powerful. Halberstam’s antisocial feminism is a framework that acknowledges the power that exists in the margins, where neither action or dying are required, as existing in this space is what is actually the most powerful. While Halberstam uses the term “unbeing” has perhaps a hint more force in its refusal of action, this feels much closer to the tender existence that Irigaray explores than complete irradiation of the self.
Both Halberstam and Irigaray also challenge what it means to fail. In both instances of being, or unbeing, failure is also what creates the unbeing itself. These existences of radical passivity are those that are forced into the spaces in which this is a necessary and ideal mode of being. Those that are radically passive are those that exist only in the margins, and have failed, in some societal way, to be participate in the “queer art of failure.” While there are certainly disadvantages to existing outside of dominance, it is far more preferable. There is a certain happiness and ease that those with privilege experience, but this is not real and deep happiness, it is happiness brought on by capitalism all the things and roles that those who exist within dominance. Instead of true happiness, it is satiation. Halbestam’s failure and unbecoming are essentially required for true happiness, that operates outside of understandings of being. To fail in the form of radical passivity is to create true fulfillment and happiness, outside of pre-existing and narrow ideas of these concepts.