Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Bad Feminist

Here is the book that is a New York Times best seller, just went into it's 12th printing cycle, and is the UCLA class of 2019 common book. And for some reason it took me almost a year after its publication to read. 

Gif via giphy.com

One of my close friends and I were perusing a Barnes and Noble recommended reads bookshelves when we saw the book. The words "bad" and "feminist," for two self-proclaimed feminists like ourselves, are trigger words, automatically commanding our attention. We debated getting one copy and sharing, and then we realized that we wanted to read it simultaneously in order to discuss it. Definitely worth the $15.99 wallet drain.

Bad Feminist is an acclaimed book of essays by the writer Roxane Gay. Published in August of 2014, the book has catapulted Gay into the public eye, with appearances at prominent events such as TED Women, several writing festivals, and interviews with the likes of the Huffington Post. We're all bad feminists: let's be real, nobody's perfect. We just operate under the facade of being perfect feminists, perfect women, perfect humans, and use that perfection to marginalize those that openly aren't perfect. It takes gumption to break from that mold, to point out the flaws in oneself and others, and Roxane Gay does so masterfully and compassionately. 

The book is split into sections: Me; Gender & Sexuality; Race & Entertainment; Politics, Gender & Race; and Back to Me. Despite these categories, the essays remain intertwined, giving the book the feeling of one cohesive whole. Much of Gay's critique relies on discussing literature and entertainment, such as The Help, to describe many race, gender and class issues she notices in society. What is unique about Bad Feminist in regards to other essays is Gay's unique, pensive voice that permeates every page. Gay relies on her perspective as a (sometime) queer black woman to articulate society's marginalization of her demographic as well as other groups. However, despite Gay's every right to be angry with those who've contributed to the marginalization of voices like her's and others, Gay retains a compassion and empathy for nearly everyone, noting that the oppressed is just as imperfect as the oppressor.

Bad Feminist explores the notion of imperfection and how that impacts every facet of identity and society. In a society that demands perfection, it's hard to point out the structural flaws that keeps us from attaining it; it's hard to admit that we aren't already there. Gay herself admits she pretty much falls outside America's definition of perfection, so instead she uses that position to embrace imperfection. Bad Feminist simultaneously is poking at Gay's own issues at being a feminist (one that finds the song "Blurred Lines" fairly catchy and loves reality TV) as well as feminism's larger issue of excluding non-heterosexual, cisgendered, white women. What Gay does is lets us see the fractures in a functional, albeit slightly terrifying, society. Just like the institutions of American society, she articulates how a person can both be broken yet visibly fine, and how these are the kinds of things we need to actively point out for us to fix the general inequity that governs American society.

Gay's voice is so powerful because of her gleaming compassion. As my aforementioned friend, Sarah, described, "I like [Gay] because she's radically feminist but also radically empathetic." (She also attributed that quote to the book itself, but with both of us combined we still couldn't find it online or in the book so I'm attributing it to her.) Gay doesn't have an obligation to be compassionate to any man in her critiques of gender, any white person in her critiques of race, any heterosexual cisgendered person in her critiques of sexuality, or anyone with a combination of those traits. But she is. She doesn't flatten the oppressor into just those traits. As a cis, hetero, white person (aka me and lots of others), it's definitely easier to read literature that is nice to white people and praises them. However, such literature shouldn't be written to make us happy; it should be written to inflict change. Gay doesn't flatter white people or men or anybody really; what Gay does is she reminds us that beneath our different identities, we're still all human, so let's treat each other as such.

Bad Feminist is definitely one of my favorite non-fiction reads. It's not too long, it's captivating in its subject matter, and its voice is remarkable. You don't have to be a feminist (though you should be a feminist) or a lofty academic to read and enjoy this book! I hope my pseudo-review/analysis is enough impetus to go pick it up from your local library or bookstore, so if you do, make sure to either comment below with your opinions of it or use #theyouthemisms on Twitter and Instagram to share your opinions!

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