Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist Roxane GayRating: 

Bad Feminist is an anthology of witty and confessional essays mixing personal experience; opinions on race, politics, media, gender and sexuality; and reviews of books, TV and film – sometimes all in the same essay. Roxane Gay lays out what it is to be a feminist. That there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ one. Being human precludes us from perfection. We’re complex creatures. We can enjoy something even if we don’t agree with the ideas behind them. That’s the very definition of cognitive dissonance.

…feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

I know I’m a bad feminist. My guilty pleasures include the Charlie editions of the misogynist Two and a Half Men. I adore Seven Brides for Seven Brothers despite the sexist view of the role of women, the multiple kidnappings of women, the Stockholm Syndrome, and the shotgun weddings. BUT there’s pretty dresses, lovely songs, and acrobatic, synchronized dancing.

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain . . . interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism , but I am still a feminist . I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.

Like Gay, I enjoy fairy tales. I like happy endings. Despite the suffocatingly strict gender roles they like to fit girls into. Paranormal and historical romances are modern adult fairy tales filled with overbearing alpha males. They stalk and harass their potential mates who always accept and marry these, what in real life we’d call, sexist jerks. And most of the time, I love them anyway – just like their brides.

I know, I should hang my head in shame.

Over the Christmas break I came across a Q&A with Gay. I read each of the linked articles. All of them were good, but it was the heartwrenching Things I Know About Fairy Tales that spurred me to move Bad Feminist to the top of my 2015 TBR pile. Strangely this essay is missing from the book. Knowing its contents increased the value of her opinion on certain subjects and gave me valuable insight into what drives Gay. I admire her for sharing the most intimate details of the worst experiences of her life and admitting what most would never say.

We’re all at least a little racist, she says. It’s true. For whatever reason. Even if we’re not aware of it.

Gay’s mentoring of black university students was a sad reminder of the effect of internalized racism on motivation, on ambition. They lacked the drive to achieve more than what they perceive is expected of them, until Gay badgered them to do better. An exhausting undertaking to nag multiple people to greatness.

Quite a bit of my enjoyment in reading Bad Feminist was derived from sharing similar opinions and experiences, of surviving what life has thrown at us while not letting it diminish us. Although I didn’t always agree or understand everything she discusses.

Towards the end, cultural differences proved a barrier to grasping certain subjects. As a Brit, Tyler Perry means nothing to me. It turns out I’ve only seen him in Alex Cross although some of Gay’s criticisms concerning the themes  he regular uses bore out in that film. The repealing of reproductive rights is another issue about which I’m appalled by, but once again I found myself asking:

‘Is America a dystopian society when it comes to its neglectful and abusive nature towards its women?’

America’s problem with white men regularly shooting young black men is yet another a subject I’m not particularly familiar with. Sure, the UK’s had some serious issues with institutional racism, like the police’s handling of the 1993 racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence. Last year it was revealed the police had been by spying on Lawrence’s family looking for dirt instead of hunting for the killers.

Then there’s the death of Jean Charles de Menezes shot dead by police two weeks after London’s 7/7 bombings in 2005 after being misidentified as one of the suspects involved. And finally, the event that precipitated the 2011 England riots: the death of Mark Duggan, who was thought be armed, shot dead by police in London.

Bad Feminist is an emotional rollercoaster of emotion. From laughing, to indignation, poignancy, anger and even WTH. That foray into the world of Scrabble tournaments and its idiosyncratic competitors was a tangent I wasn’t expecting, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Gay doesn’t pull punches. She’s a tattooed professor who likes to swear, loves to play Scrabble and doesn’t suffer fools while still managing to seem open, honest and approachable. You don’t come across someone like that everyday.

Bad Feminist is my first foray into black feminism, and it won’t be my last.

Mindful of the fact Gay dislikes trigger warnings, I won’t add any. And by mentioning them, I realize I’ve implied there are some. Oops.

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