Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
Bad Feminist is a manifesto about womanhood, race, pop culture, representation, and violence. The title essay is a rebellion against the dominant image of feminists as anti-feminine and obsessed with ideological purity. One main point is that it’s better to be an imperfect feminist than not one at all. I think it’s really important that Gay gives us permission to have feminist ideals and still be flawed human beings who don’t always live up to their values. I like that she argues that feminism and girliness are not opposed. Yes, it is possible to wear heels, make-up, and skirts and be a feminist (duh). No, a feminist does not have to feel constrained by her convictions to only perform actions that are explicitly feminist. What a relief. Allowing ourselves and other women to be human might be the most important thing we can do to help feminism to grow and triumph.
In addition to redefining feminist practice for today’s world, Gay writes deeply personal stories that resonate and entertain. There’s a hilarious one about her experiences as a competitive Scrabble player and a heartbreaking one about being raped when she was very young, another about her struggles with food, related to that trauma. She frequently connects cultural criticism to her own life, so that her perspective on the things she’s reading and watching is a totally unique one.
Reading these essays was like talking to a smart, rant-y friend about your favorite books, movies, and TV. Gay revels in hate-reading and watching reality TV with irony; she gets actual joy out of how terrible the prose in 50 Shades of Gray is. Some of the essays are a bit dated, and many of them have been published online already. Her criticisms are biting, but for the most part seem to me to be fair. She writes the rules for female friendship, weighs in on the “likeability” of fictional characters (her conclusion–that she likes characters for their unlikeability–wasn’t terribly different from mine), and patiently explains why emotional responses to “minor” tragedies doesn’t diminish “larger” tragedies. Not only is she incisive, pinpointing the exact crux of each issue she addresses, but she’s also empathetic and compassionate, inhabiting as many perspectives as she can to understand them and communicate to all.