A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”
In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.
Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: Non-fiction, Recipe-for-awesomesauce
In parts memoir, reviews, and critical and incisive commentary/analysis, Bad Feminist manages to retain an intimate quality to its essays, almost as if Roxane Gay is confessing, in secret or open, to her desires, fears and fantasies, wants and actions, views and hypocrisy and her bad feminism, a catharsis.
The concept of bad feminism arose out of her inability to always conform to what she believed in, to what was held up as the emblem of feminism. As Gay points out, feminist is flawed, feminists are flawed because we are humans and it is a human concept, in response to human misdeeds and culture. For me personally, the first few sentences expounding on this in the introduction were instantaneously liberating. For others, it won’t be so.
As feminists, I, and many others, struggle constantly to never fall short of that norm of feminism, and it seems like the margin for errors must be done away with in its entirety if I want to progress. And it is tiring. Because I fail. Thus, someone else’s admission felt emancipating, like a kind of camaraderie found. Roxanee Gay is alternately apologetic and resigned, yet accepting of this, recognizing the need to evolve but never needing to break her own back, as she did for a long time.
Bad Feminist Essays uses a lot of popular cultural tools of contemporary time-books, movies-as a platform from which Gay opines; introduces and develops her views. The medium she uses is reviewing-or dissecting, more like-wherein she discusses the aspects, aesthetic and social, of the subject at hand, and from there tangentially, yet with a fixed correlation, come out debates, conflicts and commentary upon reality. The responsibility to reality of these fictional pieces, be it deserved or not, asked for or not.
The running theme throughout the essays is social commentary-on racism, sexism, desensitization to violence et cetra. While there are sections divided which contain essays primarily pertaining to one or two of these topics, the issues are all interrelated and discussed in a thusly manner. Roxane Gay talks about Caitlin Moran, The Help, insensitive comics, Andres Breivik, Zimmerman in a heartfelt but somehow incisive manner; she never personally smacks anyone, personally condemn anyone. She looks at each side, motive, what it grew out of, pointing to everything that is unequivocally, inherently wrong: legislating women’s bodies, the face of danger being that of a young, unarmed black boy, sympathetic writing of a journalist towards the eighteen men who raped a little girl. On the other hand, her frustration, resignation and fear are so palpable in her writing.
Despite having written a collection of incisive essays, Roxane Gay has inserted an intimacy that wholly does away with any sort of clinical dissension that her writing miight have been purported as otherwise.
While there is, in a way, an abstract, extremely wide thread running through the different essays, with the latter being wide-ranging and encompassing all that Roxane Gay knows of, has dealt with, it is surprisingly easy to remain engaged and read the collection for hours into the night. It deals with heteronormativity, black films, slavery, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines(yuckyuckyuckyuck), competitive Scarbble and other things, also including her forever love for Peeta Mellark.
While I did not always agree with Ms Gay, some of the arguments and counterarguments are framed in a structure of subjectivity from which she cannot escape, and every step of the way, she acknowledges that, which in turn, helped me acknowledge that. And I suppose that is one of the greatest strengths of Bad Feminist Essays.
Another thing I noted about the structure of her essays is that albeit she starts out with one statement, throughout the piece she seemingly takes a journey, takes us on one, that by the time the end comes around, she is straddling the opposite, or wondering about it. She herself recognizes the mass of contradictions she is, but with pieces like these in mind, it’s easy to follow how *some* of it comes about.
It appears as though the demographic changes with the topics she deals with. Or perhaps that is incorrect. Her demographic is me, readers like me and who are not like but will be interested. What changes, perhaps, is the people she’s talking about, not talking to, although it was often hard for me to differentiate.
As a corollary of mine to the above, it also felt as though when she focused on one group in particular, other groups closely associated were being shut out, which was unfortunate for while it may not have been her intention, it could distance a lot of readers from a major part of her discussions.
There are some choice phrases or way of thinking that stuck out like a cartoonish sore thumb, pulsing and red like a heart. “Silly and girly” is a phrase that on its own, or otherwise, usually annoys me and I thought it led to a moment of dissonance to see it being used, because it implies that if it’s girly, it’s silly or the other way around. (And not to mention, Gay used it in reference to her devotion to Peeta, something which a LOT of readers and fans will object to because duh.)
She also plays right into the stereotype that feminists don’t shave, by admitting to feeling like a failed feminist since she shaves her legs. In the next paragraph, she expounds why she thinks that-because a feminist isn’t supposed to care for the beauty standards- which makes it a bit clearer but the bottomline is the same: she considers shaving to be against feminism. Which is frankly absurd.
I shave and I am a feminist-no correlation, similar to the way I’m pansexual and I am a feminist. There are ice-cream truck-owners and they are feminists. I like to cut my nails, eat Peanute Butter w/o bread and I’m a feministtttt! Neither is a consequence of the other. Besides, what people need to realize is that for a lot of us, shaving is not about measuring up to the bar of beauty set by media. I personally feel cleaner, or I don’t know, like something is NOT crawling up my legs after I shave. but I know it’s not the same for everyone.
And the spoilers! There are them! Of books I want to read. I think Gay missed the memo that never, ever, occur what may, you shouldn’t reveal the ending. I feel conflicted about whether to decrease my rating for that, but in the end, I liked this book so much, I’m somehow, by some alchemy, able to overlook that.
Another thing I think Gay had an opportunity for, yet missed out on, is the pervasive nature of misogyny-how it seeps down to boys and men, when we talk of gender in binary terms, which we do because it is an indirect ramification of misogyny if nothing else. There are a few reference in passing-doesn’t imply indelicacy-to how men and boys suffer as well because of the sexism but nowhere satisfactorily.
But in what it does, it is a commendable collection. It doesn’t churn out the new, or the radical; rather, it’s someone’s everyday feelings verbalized, most of it something that I could connect to. Although it might not speak to everyone-it can’t do that-I liked it. I liked the expression and the free-fall, seeing in words what I’ve thought but never spoken, never been able to.
Review copy provided by Harper Perennial.