I didn’t consider myself a feminist until my last two years in college. It’s not that I was afraid of being seen as a overbearing, opinionated, man-hating woman. In all honesty, I just didn’t get feminism. I didn’t see how feminism benefited me. The feminist ideals that were presented to me before those last two years in college were always in connection with white, middle class women, which I am not.
Fortunately, I had amazing professors in college; they made sure their lectures were diverse and inclusive. It was in a feminist theories in performance class that I was introduced to Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa, two outstanding Latina women that made feminism relevant to me. I’ve been actively interested in feminist theory since then, particularly when it concerns people of color. I should mention that there is “good” and “bad” in feminist texts, just as there is in any other type of literature, and so this is the part where I tell you that I was quite disappointed in Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist.”
This collection of essays is the first I’ve read from Gay, and it is actually the only reason I know of her name. Because there was a lot of hype for the collection, I was expecting it to be revolutionary in the way it talked about feminism and how it relates to the world. I imagined and expected her definition of a “bad feminist” to explain how there is no right or wrong feminism. But I got the feeling that the term actually reinstates the idea that there is such a thing as “Essential Feminism.” Certainly different types of feminism exist, but not a clearly right and clearly wrong feminism. Perhaps I read her explanation wrong, or I just don’t get what a bad feminist really is.
My skewed definition of a bad feminist may be why this collection did not impress me. Or maybe it was the amount of essays that seemed open-ended, but mostly unfinished. There were so many essays that had great things to say, but those things have already been said many times over. And Gay didn’t really seem to have a fresh perspective on it. She mostly related it to something in pop culture, which is important because pop culture rules the masses, but I didn’t get some of the references. She was very blunt and blamed a lot of people for not doing a good job on their work, which, I realize, I am doing right now, but I don’t think my pull on the public is as influential as hers.
Gay’s writing is confessional and intelligent, but it was a little bit too lax in some places, which made the reading experience easy yet unsatisfying. I think I was expecting a more academic set of essays and instead got essays that were more concerned about pop culture and feminism (if it related to feminism at all).
I did enjoy some of this collection, however. “What We Hunger For” and “A Tale of Two Profiles” are both excellent essays on two very difficult topics to discuss. The former is Gay’s account of a sexual violence so severe that I’m not quite sure what to call it or how to talk about it. Gay writes this account and the aftermath with honesty and grace, right in the middle of talking about “The Hunger Games” and Katniss. She uses the books and films to talk about strength and weakness in a way that everyone can relate to and as a way to talk about her experience.
“A Tale of Two Profiles” brings up a great point about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Trayvon Martin and the way we as a society criminalize black men. Gay’s point is simple: Martin looked like what we perceive to be a criminal, but Tsarnaev did not. Tsarnaev in fact, days after the Boston bombings, was said to be a regular guy, an everyday typical teenager. How wrong people were. Yet Martin was immediately faulted for allegedly trying to harm George Zimmerman. This essay was excellent because it brought a very complex issue down to one point.
Despite these two essays, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated with this collection as a whole. I was left wanting more, yet knowing that perhaps Gay had nothing more to say. She was raising more questions than offering perspectives, which is fine, but I’ve read similar things with much more analysis. Unfortunately, I’m giving this one two stars.
And on a side note, I apologize for not posting in over a week! Things have been quite hectic recently, and I had no Internet connection at home, which made everything so much worse. I’m working on another project I guess you could say, but I’m still going to be posting! Maybe not as often, but it will happen. Thanks to everyone who has followed me recently and to those of you who have been keeping up with my blog since the start!