Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Hey, you know what pairs really well with red wine? Books on feminism. BAD FEMINIST has mixed reviews among my friends, with some of them loving it and others hating it. As with any controversial book, that mixed reception only made me want to read BAD FEMINIST for myself. Because your favorite neighborhood snowflake here loves to read up on feminism in its many incarnations, to get the dirt on the latest schools of thought.

First off, BAD FEMINIST has some of the flaws that MEN EXPLAIN THINGS TO ME did, in the sense that the title suggests that the bulk of the essays will be about one thing (feminism) but much of the space contained inside are devoted to other topics (not feminism related). BAD FEMINIST has the advantage, however, because the digressions are about subjects that are still highly relevant to feminists who believe in intersectionality with regards to class, race, and gender.

In BAD FEMINIST, Roxane Gay writes on many subjects, with a focus on pop culture but also on herself, in a personal and professional context. I learned about her teaching career and the struggles of reaching out to minority students. I learned about her absolutely terrible experience with rape. I learned about her opinions, as a person of color, on books and movies such as Django Unchained, Girls, The Help, and Orange Is the New Black. I learned about why she considers herself a "bad" feminist, per the title, and honestly, I don't see why liking girly things or exploitative content is necessarily bad as long as you are conscious of the flaws of such content and discuss the potential problems they represent. Part of being a feminist is empowering yourself to speak out against problematic representations and constructs of women, and with this book, I'd say Roxane Gay is off to a fairly good start.

BAD FEMINIST is a fairly good book and I agreed with her on many of her opinions, although I still don't see why she is a "bad" feminist. Bad is such a highly charged and subjective term...and the way she uses it here, it seems to indicate that "good" feminist = eschewing feminist things.

Some of the things in here that I think will turn off potential readers are the exhaustive discussions behind some of the catalysts behind the strengthened Black Lives Matter movement, privilege (specifically white privilege) and abortion, but what she said honestly needs to be said - as many times as possible. I read this essay a while ago about women who identify as anti-feminist and it was interesting because it suggested that women do so because they are lauded by men as being "good" women: the ideal standard with regards to the feminine ideation. Women who don't want to be feminists because they want to be "good" wives and mothers (as if you can't have both, and still be a feminist). Women who don't want to be man-haters. Privilege is something that many people aren't aware of consciously - or if they are aware of it, they accept it as the status quo, in the hopes that they too can be a part of that tapestry if they "play by the rules." Many of the most vocal critics are the people who perceive that they have something to lose if the construct changes, and they try to warp that argument into a narrative that employs scare tactics (the disruption of "traditional values" typically) in order to lure more people into that myth, and preserve the status quo.

The same goes for BLM - (some) people have very specific ideas about the roles that people of color (specifically black people) have in the narrative of our society, and are reluctant to change their way of thinking - even when it results in violence. I honestly don't get why people get so freaking worked up about the Black Lives Matter movement, because the message is so important and keeps flying over so many people's heads. It isn't saying that black lives are the most important; it's calling out a specific group of people who are repeatedly getting screwed because of stereotypes. It's the same reason that feminism is a better term than equalism - if you null out the disenfranchised group with a bland name, it becomes far too easy to shut down dialogues more than we already are and be all, "Stop focusing on black lives, don't you know that all lives matter?" Or, "Women already won the vote. Why do you keep talking about women if you want things to be equal?" The name itself is a call to action, and a shortcut that tells you exactly who is in need of support and change.

Anyway, this book was pretty good despite the many digressions, although I'm going to warn you now: Roxane Gay casually spoils the twist of Gone Girl in one of her essays, so if you haven't read GONE GIRL, I suggest avoiding this book until you do. It's kind of hilarious because in another one of her essays she discussions SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL but says she doesn't want to spoil the book for anyone. Oh, I see, so Sweet Valley is sacred but you're going to go ahead and tell everyone the m a j o r . t w i s t in GONE GIRL? Why don't you just go ahead and spoil FIGHT CLUB, too, while you're at it, Ms. Gay? IT'S NOT LIKE PEOPLE ARE BOTHERED BY SPOILERS.

Apart from that HUGE SPOILER in one of the essays, BAD FEMINIST ages well despite being published several years ago, and bar a few notable exclusions, could have been published yesterday and still touch on many of the same subjects that are on people's minds. I recommend it to people who are interested in frank discussions of pop culture and feminism and want to learn more.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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