Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Book Review: Back2Back Feminism)
Logistical thoughts before reading the book:
1) A book of essays was a new frontier for me. I can't remember the last time I read a collection of essays outside of a homework assignment. One aspect of Black and Bookish is to get out of my comfort zone, and Bad Feminist did that in a great way.
2) I always read books from cover to cover, and this was no exception. It never occurred to me to read the articles in any order other than presented. I trust the publisher, and believe the book flowed well from beginning to end. Other reviewers have said they could not relate to the amount of entertainment references. They wanted to erase the power and intelligence of her words because of their disinterest in her subject matter. I want to do the opposite, knowing the limitations are on me.
With that in mind:
I distance myself from the media she talks about due to lack of interest, and miss opportunities. Here are a few examples: I have swayed away from HBO's Girls, because I don't feel connected to it. Additionally, she doesn't make me want to go and watch the show either! She solidifies my thoughts on their misrepresentation of minorities and limited views of feminism. She talks about the morality in Tyler Perry's movies, most of which I have not seen. Even though I agreed with her analysis, I don't subscribe to that morality, so I have stayed away from it. She talks about seeing Django Unchained, but I couldn't even begin to sit through another slave movie. She reviews LOTS of books by authors I've never hear of, and not because they are obscure, but because I don't read a lot of fiction. These are all limitations on me, not her or her choices of content.
So why do I love this book so much?
I enjoyed her first few and last few chapters more so than the middle. I was much more moved by the critiques of herself than of the books she did or didn't liked. I did like that she talked openly about her personal history, and how that compared to the chapter theme. Each review had an open vulnerability that mapped out her so called "bad feminism."
Yes, she spent time pouncing on the injustices of sexism and racism, but she did so from Roxane Gay's perspective, not from a feminist playbook. She has no feminist tenants, understanding the messiness of listening to rap music or enjoying reality tv. This doesn't eliminate her standing as a feminist- on the contrary, it uplifts it. She carves out space for nuance. Her self-exploration shows you don't have to be all or nothing.
Let me put it another way: it gave me space to grow as both a woman and a feminist. Feminism appears to be flawless, and women are scrutinized for everything they do. Her intersectionality taught me to let go of guilt around feminist perfection. It helped me to internalize that my feminist limitations are still considered Feminism. It also created space in my own philosophy to accept other flawed men and women, because being a card carrying feminist can be hard. We tend to forget that feminists are not a homogenous group.
I follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, and she boldly lives her life by her own standards. Her book is an ode to being human, not in a flawed way, but in a realistic way. The word feminism has a wide range of standards, and she knows that she can't live up to all of them. No one can.
There are no perfect feminist role models. I don't need to participate in the feminist wars, or watch my back. I can say I am a feminist, sans any footnotes for clarification. I will leave room in my life for nuance. Some "feminist" wiggle room.
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About The Author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to guide the authors of tomorrow into the bookstores of today. When she's not hanging out on line, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.