Just of lately I have been very keen on non-fiction, which is a huge change taking into account I am usually all for a good crime novel. But I think my brain has switched to theory and non-fiction reading for the day, so it is a little bit difficult to switch off for the night. So, basically I looked at my TBR pile and realized that I had long wanted to read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, a book I was kindly sent by Little Brown to review. My pleasure!
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 in Chains) 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.
Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
When I first heard of the book I thought the title was quite inconvenient. Why Bad Feminist? We all surely want to be good feminists! And then I caught myself in this societal trap of needing and wanting to be the best women we can – and not in a positive way – but in an unflawed, pure, boxy way. These re-appropriations of being a bad woman, a bad mother, a bad girlfriend try to deconstruct what being ‘good’ in a patriarchal society means, and being a feminist cannot escape this supposedly moral dictatorship. So, do not be mislead by the title, after reading Bad Feminist I consider Gay a perfectly flawed and good feminist.
The book is divided into themes that I want to discuss here, because I want you to discover them for yourselves, but, broadly speaking, they cover gender, race, sexuality, cultural landmarks and many other things Bad Feminist is such an eclectic reading that you wonder which issue or cultural construction Gay will tackle next. I have to admit that you can see glimpses of her studies and her teaching position, especially in the way she writes and quotes some very interesting and complex theories such as Judith Butler’s performativity, but she makes it easy to understand. More importantly, she makes everything easy and important at the same time. Had I ever thought Scrabble competitions existed? No, Gay does and she wants you to know on what ground she stands on this (and you want to know too!).
And now, Gay’s sense of humour deserves a whole paragraph, because she is funny, self-deprecating, witty and ironic all at the same time. This is her trademark, I suppose, and it allows her to discus important issues such as gang rape in a confessional way. Reading Gay feels like listening to a well-read friend who wants to tell you about feminism and her views without schooling you. Because, above all, Gay does not treat her audience as unintelligent, lost people who she has to enlighten. And, as a student, this is a feature we are always grateful for in professors. These essays are a dialogue between Gay and your mind and your conscience, so sit down, listen and think. Here is sample:
On women’s inequality in the publishing industry: ‘Stop justifying the lack of parity in prominent publications that have the resources to address gender inequality. Stop parroting the weak notion that you are simply publishing the best writing, regardless. There is ample evidence of the excellence of women writers. Publish more women writers’.
On Twitter and books: ‘Nearly every day I chatter happily about the books I’m reading to my Twitter feed, and it’s great to be able to talk about books without worrying about all the problems of publishing. It’s great to remember that reading is my first love.’
On birth control: ‘More troubling than this oddly timed debate about birth control is the vehemence with which women need to justify or explain why they take birth control – health reasons, to regulate periods, you know, as if there’s anything wrong with taking birth control simply because you want to have sex without the sex resulting in pregnancy.’
So, go and read Bad Feminist if you are looking for the non-fiction book of the year. You will laugh, cry, get angry, remember how much you love reading, and GIRL, you will love it (and get this reference then).