Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Bad Feminist," by Roxane Gay

I was a little uncertain about the title “Bad Feminist” (Harper Perennial, 2014), a collection of essays by Roxane Gay. I admit I am sensitive about the way “feminist” has, to many people, become a negative word, even to those generally supportive of women’s rights and equality. I am proud to call myself a feminist, as I have been for my whole adult life. But upon reading the reviews, I realized that Roxane Gay is in fact clearly a feminist, but chose this title to indicate and explore the complexity of the term and of her own and many other people’s grappling with what feminism means, whether there is one way to be a feminist or not, how feminism intersects with issues of race and class, how the term is used in larger culture wars, and more. I have just finished reading the book, and am enormously impressed by the range, depth, and complexity of Gay’s analysis and interpretations of feminism, in the context of sexism and racism in today’s culture. She writes powerfully and passionately, yet always thoughtfully and never dogmatically. She is sometimes unpredictable and inconsistent – a good thing! – in that her life, ideas, and behaviors don’t always comport with the stereotype of feminism. For example, she freely admits to watching plenty of “bad” television, and to not always being politically correct in her own life and romantic/sexual attractions and behaviors. This gifted thinker and writer is a young, black professor, critic, and dissector of news stories, movies, television shows, Internet discussions, politics, and more. She shares her own experiences generously but not gratuitously; they provide perspective and connections to important topics in the larger culture. There are so many gems, so many thought-provoking essays here. Among many topics, she addresses sexual violence, body weight, academe, comedy, journalism, the law…the list goes on. Gay is also brave in the way she takes on topics of gender, race, and sexuality; especially on the Internet, this sometimes exposes her to toxic attacks. Further, and happily so, Gay is an excellent (even, dare I say it, entertaining) writer, and although her topics are mostly very serious, her writing is never ponderous. Once I started, I wanted to keep reading, and not just because of the importance of the topics. I will now read anything Roxane Gay writes.

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