I just finished Roxane Gay's collection of essays, Bad Feminist, and thought it was quite the thought-provoking read. Today I'm going to just sort of review it and then I thought I'd talk a little more about how I too really am a bad feminist, so to speak, in an upcoming post.
First of all, Gay is an intelligent, African American, early middle-aged, unmarried, childless, witty, opinionated woman. She's a professor and blogger, not a career-activist. She is flawed and honest. You have to know where she's coming from to understand where she's going (but isn't that the case for all of us?).
Gay's book is divided up into a series of essays, focusing on herself, gender and sexuality, race and entertainment, and then politics, gender and race. Going into this, I honestly knew nothing more than the title and the fact that everyone loved her TED Talk (in my queue to watch; I know, I know, I need to get on it). I honestly didn't know that race would factor in as much as it does, but I loved that it did, given the sort of crossroads we're at right now as a society. What I appreciated, though, was that I didn't walk away from this book feeling ashamed of my privilege or my color, which I think a lot of activists end up doing, whether on purpose or not. It makes sense, though, since for Gay her feminism and color are so often linked.
My favorite sections were on her personal life, including the chapters on Scrabble competitions (!!!), career path, and experiences with men. She honestly discusses being, for lack of a better term, gang-raped when she was younger by the friends of a boy she was secretly dating. She doesn't write about herself in a way that evokes pity or applause, though. It's emotional, but it's straightforward.
The definition of "feminist" is discussed at length. What exactly is a feminist? The word has such a negative connotation these days; a feminist is seen as a "man-hater," someone who doesn't shave her legs, as a female that puts down the opposite gender. But that really, truly isn't what a feminist is. A feminist is someone that wants equality and that wasn't to be thought of less because she isn't a man. Gay talks about what it means to be a "bad feminist"- is she one because she is a "woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen"? (Gay xi). Or is she a good feminist? I loved her point that, "the most significant problem with essential feminism is how it doesn't allow for the complexities of human experience or individuality" (305). There is no one-size fits all feminism.
This book isn't for everyone, although I think everyone would at least be provoked to think about gender, and racial, politics.