Back in late September (where did October go??) I ordered Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and finally got around to reading it a month later. From Goodreads:
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 Unchained) 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.
I was so, so excited to start Bad Feminist. First off, though, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t find Gay to be “bad” at all in regards to feminism, because it’s clear she holds its core values: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The word feminism has become warped and demonized (“man-haters,” compared to nazis, etc.), which is really unfair to the movement and inaccurate. Feminism is about HUMAN equality and progress, social justice, for the good of society as a whole—it’s not just a movement for women because, of course, everyone benefits from women succeeding and flourishing.
Further, in the book Gay tackles feminist issues as a woman of color. Many of her essays deal with issues of gender and race, especially in relation to pop culture, like Girls, Fifty Shades of Grey and Django Unchained. A few subjects didn’t resonate so much with me, like Girls and Fifty Shades (never saw/read myself), but it was fascinating to read her perspective on them and so many other topics, like The Help, for example. I both read the book and saw the movie a few years ago and enjoyed it cautiously… I remember feeling a little weird about it but couldn’t quite formalize my thoughts as to exactly why. But Gay voiced her criticisms of the film in a way that totally clicked with me. Before, I feel like I had an inkling of how poorly the black experience has been portrayed in film and TV—and again not that I can speak from any personal racial experience—but Gay really drives the point home in her essays especially about Django Unchained and the Tyler Perry movies.
There are a few essays that really stand out to me: “How We All Lose,” “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” and “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” in particular. I think I might have shouted out loud YES! when I read this in the “Blurred Lines” essay:
It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. … These are just songs. They are just jokes. It’s just a hug. They’re just breasts. Smile, you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness—one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’s worth is consistently diminished or entirely ignored.
After a huge rush of excitement and fervent reading in the beginning, the middle third of the book started to drag just a bit for me, I think mostly just because it was super-critical essay after super-critical essay, and it just brought me down a bit one after another in succession. The ending, though, when the final two essays return to being more personal, clicked with me, too—that you can have contradictory feelings and still be a feminist. For example, I admit that my husband does much of the so-called “men’s work” around our house (garbage, car stuff, etc.) BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. Sometimes, gender roles are gender roles and it doesn’t mean anything. I do the majority of the cooking, and my husband and I split the laundry and dishes. So what, right?
I’m so glad I came across this collection—Gay’s writing is phenomenal and accessible—I’ve appreciated her viewpoints on social media recently regarding current controversies surrounding Lena Dunham and the viral NYC catcalling youtube video. I definitely look forward to reading Gay’s An Untamed State soon!
Read from October 20 to 30, 2014.