3. Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

3 Jan

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This book of essays on gender, pop culture and race is indeed as intelligent, funny and likable as everyone has been saying. Roxane Gay is awesome. Roxane Gay for president. She brings humanity and dignity to every topic she touches, from sexual abuse to Real Housewives. For the uninitiated, she’s a black American of Haitian descent, Scrabble nerd, fiction-writer, feminist, survivor, and opinion-writer for websites like Salon and The Rumpus, who with Bad Feminist seems to have reached a wider following than even her previous huge popularity.

She will write about race. She will write about being overweight (she identifies thus). She will write about Girls and what she thinks of it, BET and what she thinks of it, why Orange is the New Black isn’t as awesomely diverse as everyone thinks, why The Help was a racist piece of shit (my words; hers are much more measured). She writes about what feminism means to her, how she eventually accepted the label, and why there’s room in it for everyone. She’ll write about female friendships, about date-rape scandals and sexual abuse scandals and why she loves Sweet Valley High and The Hunger Games.

It’s all Internet bread-and-butter of the kind that elicits such terrifying hate-storms I’m surprised anyone has the strength to put themselves out there—but I’m glad she does. Gay writes in the introduction to the book that “I think constantly about connection and loneliness and community and belonging…. So many of us are reaching out, hoping someone out there will grab our hands and remind us we are not as alone as we fear.” This shows in her writing, which at its core is usually about how we respect ourselves and each other, how we are connecting or aren’t.

I’m a person who mostly shares Gay’s politics, and I still found the essays clarifying and helpful on how to be a decent human in the modern age. She’s the kind of writer who comes up with lines that stick, and simple ideas that I’ve nonetheless found myself coming back to in my daily life. For example, when a woman says “Oh I’m not a feminist, I love pink!,” it makes me want to shoot someone (them), but Gay does this and then provides such a lovely explanation for why that I’m abashed of my judgements and also glad that she’s out there reaching out a helping hand to women who love pink and don’t identify as feminists but could be persuaded to, if everyone acted a little better. “We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism,” she writes. “Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.” These are good words to live by.

Another line apropos of the immediate politics of today (especially if you live in New York City and have been following the Eric Garner case), came in her essay about the movie The Help. I saw the trailer for that movie and cringed, as I often do when Hollywood decides to ‘take race seriously’. You cannot make a civil rights movie starring a white woman. You cannot make a civil rights movie in which black women are romanticized wearing livery while white women are sitting around their gorgeous verandas drinking tea. The fact that so many people think this is okay and the theaters are filled with delighted moviegoers disturbs me. Roxane Gay explains why that is much more patiently, generously, and better than I ever could.

But then there’s this moment, when she writes, “At one point, while teaching Celia Foote [the movie’s white star] to make fried chicken, Minny [a black servant] says ‘Frying chicken tend to make me feel better about life.'” Gay’s comment is: “That a line about the solace found in the preparation of fried foods made it into a book and a movie produced in this decade says a great deal about where we are in acting right about race. We are nowhere.”

Where are we in acting right about race? We are nowhere. Simple, but useful to keep in mind.





6 Responses to “3. Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay”

  1. Melanie Page January 3, 2015 at 8:41 pm #

    This is another one I own on my to-read list! I have to put together 2 book tours first, then I’ll get to it!

  2. Valerie Stivers-Isakova January 4, 2015 at 3:13 am #

    My to-read list is downright silly, and I keep adding to it….. And now I’m re-reading the entire Dorothy Sayers oeuvre, apparently.

    • Melanie Page January 5, 2015 at 2:55 am #

      Where do you get most of your books. Are they from authors/publishers?

      • Valerie Stivers-Isakova January 5, 2015 at 3:18 am #

        I used to read for The Paris Review, and would take books from the free shelf there, which was a source of a lot of wonderful new releases including Bad Feminist. But that was a dangerous habit and I still have a backlog from it. Mostly I just buy books upon friends’ recommendations. And I go to AWP and talk to the publishers and buy a bunch of stuff there. I try to avoid being on publishers’ lists and being sent books I don’t want, since then I’m obliged to donate them, which is just another freaking errand. Or are you asking if I use Amazon? I do! I try not to, but occasionally I do.

        • Melanie Page January 5, 2015 at 3:43 am #

          No, I meant if it was mostly from publishers and how you dealt with things like what the time frame is for reading a book that a publisher or author sent you. I start to feel guilty if I don’t read a book fast enough, though I don’t make any promises about when I’ll have a book read by.

          Buying too many books at AWP is definitely a thing for everyone!

          • Valerie Stivers-Isakova January 7, 2015 at 3:12 am #

            Oh the time frame! I feel that the Internet has killed things like journalistic standards in these matters and that as a toiler for free I get around to it when I get to it. Also, often if it’s a book I really like, it takes me months because I like to let my thoughts sit. I find it’s the only way I can self-edit….

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