Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist: Essays - Roxane Gay

It used to be that you could only really know a writer through their work, and perhaps the odd interview. Now we can watch our literary idols stick their feet in their mouths in real time (coughAnneRicecough), thanks to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, et al. Social media has done more than connect us to share pictures of cats and misogynistic screeds about “ethics” in things, it allows us to watch entire lives unfold, ask questions of people we will never meet in the real world, and follow and discuss work with writers while it is still being written.


I follow Roxane Gay on Twitter and see her on Tumblr. I read her articles/reviews all over the web. I “know” her, in that superficial, not-real-but-feels-real way that social media provides. And yet I wouldn’t need any of that stuff to know her, because I’ve read Bad Feminist. That sounds presumptuous, but what I mean is that she puts so much of herself into these essays that it is like she is right there, speaking to you. Gay is the kind of critic I would like to be; she doesn’t shy away from the personal, or try to keep the first person out of her critique. Too many critics I find myself admiring for their apparent skill are actually rather cold and academic, and their voices often slip into my work. Objectivity in art is all well and good (I went to art school, I get it), but we feel things when we read stories, or watch films, or look at art of any kind, so why do so many people think they can approach these things without their own feelings or experience? Gay doesn’t, and I want more of that in my life.


I am also a bad feminist. I make more money than my husband, and yet I can’t seem to give up the reins a little and let him help me more around the house, and then get angry when he has time for fun and I don’t. I shave my legs and read pulpy old sci-fi (if you’re familiar with it, you know where the problem is). I don’t pay enough attention to the issues surrounding women who are not like me. I don’t stand up and talk back when I get catcalled or told to smile because it would make me “prettier.” Most of my favorite books and television shows still revolve around men. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you can see where I’m coming from. But like Gay says in this very book: better a bad feminist that no feminist at all.


The essays collected in Bad Feminist have been published in other places, but unlike most collections of previously available work, I never got the impression that these were just bundled together. It is true that the essays are not just about feminism (bad, good, or otherwise) but race, ambition, politics, memoir, literature, film, television. About life. And when you’re a feminist, these things are all related, because feminism is about more than being female and making certain demands. It’s about creating a world where inequality of all kinds is explored and –maybe someday, dear god maybe- rectified. It’s about looking at the way the media portrays everyone, men and women and everything in between, and how these portrayals pigeonhole us, lessen us, or how they don’t. It is many things trapped in a word with so much cultural baggage, it is impossible to define from one individual to another. My feminism probably isn’t your feminism, but it doesn’t make either any less valuable.


Self-proclaimed feminist or not- and I hope you are- you should read this. Seriously, like, now.


Also, Gay and I had identical reactions to The Hunger Games. Team Peeta 4eva.


(Cross-posted at Goodreads: Bad Feminist)