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Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay on BookDragonIf I were to choose the one book that affected me most this year – the one that ran the entire spectrum from giddiest to maddest, from eye-opening in wonder to eye-scrunching in horror – this is it.

Bad Feminist has forever changed the way I read, because I now find myself obsessively re-examining titles past and present through a Gay-lens. In the midst of this season of amplified insanity (exacerbated by a complicated three-part move), I find myself seeking escape via audible renditions of bestselling novels cross-populating most of the ‘Best-of’ lists; too many are not faring particularly well as I dissect with Gay-spectacles firmly perched. Without meaning to attribute unintended words to the good Professor, I seem to be hearing some less-than-patient reactions! Me? Delusional? Why, yes.

Roxane Gay, however, is direct, unwavering, thoughtful. And oh so very, very erudite. She is completely the self-proclaimed Bad Feminist. Her motto is flawless:

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions but I also don’t want to be treated like sh*t for being a woman.

I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.

Someday soon, I’d like to be just as bad!

Divided into five sections plus introduction that begin and end with “Me” and “Back to Me,” respectively, these 38 essays form an illuminating treatise on how to think sharper and smarter. The child of Haitian American immigrants who “grew up middle class and then upper middle class” in a loving, intact family, Gay unequivocally acknowledges her “privilege.” Her education at elite schools eventually landed her a tenure-track position her “first time out” as an English professor. Her teaching, of course, isn’t limited to the curious young minds she calls her students; given her “reasonably well published” career (we’ll let that understatement slide) and her exponentially multiplying social media presence, Gay is doing more than her fair share educating readers everywhere.

Enlightenment is here – through poignant memories, embarrassing revelations, graphic anger, goofy observances, joyful moments, and justified diatribes. You could find something intriguing to quote on every page, which would be the best reason to read the collection in full (and often). Until you can get your hands on a copy (or download to stick in your ear – no one does indignance with such controlled elegance as narrator Bahni Turpin!), allow me to share a few remarks to start you thinking:

From “How to Be Friends with Another Woman”: 1. Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses – pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

From “I Once Was Miss America”: “I watched the popular kids all the time … They were so American, and therefore, exotic because they had freedoms I did not. I was a different kind of American. … I was American at school and Haitian at home. This required negotiating a fine balance, and I am a clumsy person.”

From “How We All Lose”: “We have to be more interested in making things better than just being right, or interesting, or funny.”

From “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence”: “It was an eleven-year-old girl whose body was ripped apart, not the town. It was an eleven-year-old girl’s life that was ripped apart, not the lives of the men who raped her. It is difficult to make sense of how anyone could lose sight of that act, and yet it isn’t.”

From “Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others”: “Perhaps rape jokes are funny, but I cannot fathom how. Rape is many things – humiliating, degrading, physically and emotionally painful, exhausting, irritating, and sometimes, it is even banal. It is rarely funny for most women. There are not enough years in this lifetime to create the kind of distance where I could laugh and say, ‘That one time when I was gang-raped was totally hilarious, a real laugh riot.'”

From “The Racism We All Carry”: “… she leaned in to me and whispered, ‘You know how those people [Koreans] are.’ This was one of those rare moments in which I got to see the rules of racism in action in a multiracial context. A white person felt comfortable confiding in me. In that moment, we were an us conspiring against a them.”

Gay’s range is vast. She successfully spotlights – uncomfortably and laudingly both – Girls, Girlfriends, Green Girl, Gone Girl and so much more. She makes confessions (and judgments) over Sweet Valley High and Fifty Shades of Grey. She prefers Nellie Oleson and Peeta Mellark. She recognizes “When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot.” She’s no fan of Tyler Perry’s films, but she’ll keep watching them. After she saw Rosewood, she turned to her [white] friend and said, “‘I don’t want to see a white person for three days.'” The Help is only a good movie “[i]f you go to the theater without your brain,” which instead of three days of voluntary segregation, “demands three weeks, , maybe longer.”

Bad Feminism gets quickly addictive. Will you agree with every last word? Of course not, but that’s not the point: Agreement is not necessary for appreciation and admiration. Gay’s piercing, insightful engagement, however, surely made reading this the best holiday gift in many, many years.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2014

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