Roxane Gay’s essay collection, Bad Feminist, is essential reading. The professor cum Twitter personality works through the question: “How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do?”
Beginning with herself, Gay presents the body of a black woman as a platform for analysis, examining the politics of that state of being from objectification in the media to absence in legislative practices. Her thoughts on Tyler Perry films, trigger warnings, and racial profiling are sandwiched between hilarious and heartbreaking pieces about who she is as an individual, both separate and a part of being a black woman. These bookend essays demonstrate how identity is the crux of perspective on issues of feminism and are refreshing in essay-form when in academia the norm is to secularize the criticism from the critic as much as possible.
Gay makes you weep with her for the conditions women in America are currently living and then humbles with the ever-present awareness of how much worse it is in a lot of other places in the world. You’ll struggle to hold all the broken pieces of women Gay writes about, young black women and women of colour striving to find anything at all worth celebrating on TV and movie screens and in between the printed lines of literature. You’re giddy with her over Sweet Valley High novels, you want for her to win Scrabble tournaments, you’re as conflicted when she tears apart Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” but admits that she dances to it in her car.
I tore through the first half Gay’s novel until my mind was a swirling mess of worry. Worry about all the problematic content out there and how it has very real effects on society. I recommend pacing yourself in order to digest all of the issues Gay presents thoroughly. Most of the time I spent reading Bad Feminist I was nodding my head in agreement or wincing at the troubling statistics. I did not always agree with some of Gay’s sentiments but she refuses to be pigeonholed as a “capital-F Feminist” and gives the reader freedom to do the same.
Gay’s introduction, a powerful essay which outlines her framework for feminism, is a piece I did not know I had been waiting for:
I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: 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 because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.
Gay’s feminism is grounded in profound humanity: complex, convoluted, and contradictory. She eschews dichotomy and I applaud it. Chasing perfection is problematic in all fields, feminism included. Everyone should be reading Bad Feminist, it may offer up more questions than answers but the questions Gay presents are just as valuable if not more so.