Bad Feminist: Essays
I wanted to reread this because some other books I've read more recently had me longing for the good ole days of 4 years ago, when I read this the first time. If you don't want to read the whole book, there are a few chapters and passages that are so on point, and have so much to do with how the world seems strangely turned inside out lately - even though clearly Roxane Gay wrote this book before that happened.
I particularly wish every single person would read The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion - possible the best chapter on the difference between perceived safety and actual safety that I've found in regular non-psychobabble language.
I know Roxane Gay has newer books out, but this one has some very choice essays that will stand the test of time to become classics, I believe. While some of the essays are showing their age, she really does have her head on nicely and writes cogently and passionately about the things that really matter without ever delivering anything like some of the screeds I've read this year.
I was disappointed with Roxane Gay’s collection of essays, “Bad Feminist.” That is not to say that Gay’s collection of essays isn’t wonderfully funny at times and always on-point. It is. It makes many great points about feminism, “Capital-F Feminism,” race, popular culture, and human experience. Gay’s writing itself is brilliantly crisp and succinct, and she is capable of encapsulating complex concepts in one or two lines. Because of subject matter, Gay’s work is a work of zeitgeist, but the writing itself is also zeitgeist-y in the best possible way. It speaks directly to me as a modern feminist, one who also sometimes forgoes the highroad for the easy one. And maybe therein lies the rub. Maybe I identified too closely with her and her witty and honest charms. Gay Block QuoteAs Gay herself says: “We put a lot of responsibility on popular culture, particularly when some pop artifact somehow distinguishes itself as not terrible.” But if you’re going to stake claim in being part of the queer community (or say you are “a woman who has been queer identified at varying points in her life”), I’m going to expect you to discuss it somewhere in your 300 page collection.
Read the rest here.
I felt Gay was strongest when talking about herself and her perspectives. Her experiences as a faculty member were really enlightening, from speaking to students who really don't care, to others who email her desperately for advice on everything from school to romantic relationships (!). Gay writes about how it exhausts her and while she gets joy from seeing students succeed, she is saddened by the many who don't and the many who struggle to get by with little to no funds because their student loan checks are being sent back home to feed and clothe the family the students left behind.
But I felt Gay tended to spend way, WAY too much ink on popular culture. I found her thoughts on various shows/movies/books (ranging from Sweet Valley High to The Hunger Games to Orange is the New Black) really interesting, but there was too much of it. When integrated with her own experiences (she discusses how she's not at all the like the main characters in Sweet), it's excellent and thought-provoking. I also found her sections about The Help really interesting, as she appeared one of the very few (only?) person who was not white at a showing in her town.
But some of it is quite jarring: she writes about her own emotional manipulation and eventual sexual assault by a boy she thought was her boyfriend in the middle of discussing The Hunger Games. Although I appreciate her willingness to discuss it, I couldn't quite understand how it tied in or why she chose to structure that particular piece in that way.
Some of it was also hard to relate to. I am only somewhat familiar with some of the works she discussed (I've never read Sweet Valley, have never seen a Tyler Perry film, never read the Fifty Shades books, etc.) and so am not sure how much of it is her own interpretation and how much of it was summary. Gay also discusses a film called Fruitvale Station which is a fictional account of the last day of Oscar Grant, who would die after being shot by a transit police officer. I wasn't surprised she ends that chapter calling his death a "murder" and says the officer who shot Grant only served 2 years. Unfortunately she did not discuses the trial in depth, in which the officer was found not guilty of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, but WAS found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Overall though, I thought it was an excellent read and people who are more familiar with most or all of the works she discusses will probably enjoy this book. I don't think it's quite worth all the hype it's gotten, but I do think there are things to think about and isn't deserving of some of the hate either.
If you're hoping for this to be an insightful or in any way analytical review, you're probably new to my reviews. I'm not really great at those. If you want that kind of review, there are many other people out there doing it better than I ever could. This review will be my usual jumble of random thoughts and opinions and stuff.
So, about the book. It was good, and important, but it was far from perfect. I picked up this book expecting it to be about feminism, and instead I got a whole lot of other isms and issues essays I hadn't expected. That's not really a complaint in and of itself, because I really enjoyed it, though I wish that it had been more focused... or maybe had a different title. Something like Bad Everythingist? LOL
Anyway. It made me think. Sometimes that was not a great thing, because these essays contained a plethora of concepts and ideas that made me slightly uncomfortable and guilty about not having realized before. I consider myself to be an intelligent, liberal-minded, empathetic person, yet I've never thought about my privilege, or how non-white characters are portrayed so stereotypically in movies and books, or about how invasive and demeaning it is for women to be expected to justify their reproductive choices, or the double standard that goes hand in hand with it, because men are never questioned on the same topic. Or why books by women are judged and categorized differently just because of the author's gender. Or why female characters must be "likable". I don't notice the "magical negro" trope in movies. I don't give much thought to music lyrics or the objectification of women in... everything. I don't question that there's a changing station in the women's restroom but not the men's. Men are parents, too, right? I tend to give a pass to comedians who say shitty and offensive things because they are comedians, and that's what they do, right?
This collection has shown me how narrow my experience truly is. And it kind of makes me ashamed of how unobservant I am.
The essay dealing with The Help was especially disturbing. This was a book that I loved. I've read it several times, and own a copy. In hardcover. I loved it. But listening to Gay's scathing commentary about it made me see it from a different perspective, and, I admit that it's not a pleasant experience. I was ignorant of my own ignorance, and then had that ignorance hauled out an spread on the table and examined. As much as it was awkward for me, though, I imagine it had to be even more uncomfortable for Bahni Turpin, who read this audiobook, to read about the various ways that The Help was nothing more than a stereotypical white fantasy. She read the audiobook of The Help as well. Maybe she's just a super professional and a job is a job... but I know that I would have felt embarrassed. Hell, I do feel embarrassed and I only liked the book - I didn't perform it.
There were some essays in this book that were gut-wrenchingly brutal and honest, and I found myself nearly in tears a few times. It really never ceases to amaze me the depths of human shittiness. Just when I think we must have reached a bottom, someone gets out another shovel. The essays dealing with rape and rape culture in this book were heartbreaking and infuriating. I want to start handing out copies of this to every person I know just for those essays alone. But... this is nothing new. This is a debate that's like the Lambchops song... it goes on and on and never ends. It's baffling to me that it should be this way. It seems pretty fucking cut and dried to me. Do not rape someone. But everyone's got a justification for something.
Anyway. A tighter focus, and maybe a better format (better delineation between essays for the audio) would have definitely helped this book, but still, I am glad that I read it. I appreciated Gay's honesty about her humanity and her imperfections about these issues, and how she's come to terms with the fact that she can like a song like "Blurred Lines" and still see it as a problem for how women are objectified and treated by men who think they know what women need (read: a good fuck). It was worth reading for the perspective awareness I've (maybe? hopefully?) gained from it.
Oh, and her breakdown of 50 Shades of Grey? Priceless!