Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

cover-bad feminist



3/5 – What? No, I haven’t been putting off this review! Okay, I have but let me tell you something, there are a lot of essays in this book. There is a lot to cover, but I’m not going to individually review every single essay like I had originally planned. I’m going to pick my favorite essays and talk about those. I could go on about every essay, but I would rather talk about the ones I enjoyed.

I finally decided to read this book after following Roxane Gay on Twitter, she does not bother with the haters and I enjoy her snark at those who take low shots at her. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, and she terrifies me.

This book was a combination of very personal essays and critiques of pop culture which included books, songs, movies, and TV shows. She talks about topics from rape culture, to privilege to trigger warnings. However, the essays could be repetitive at times because they weren’t all written and published at the same time. It’s a collection of essays that were published separately so the themes are very similar. However, despite being published in 2014 it feels like it was written in 2017 as we are still facing some of the issues she brings up throughout the book.

Peculiar Benefits 

Okay, I can see this essay being unpopular because of one word which is thrown around so much that it seems to have a negative connotation: privilege. Usually, this word is thrown around in conversations (or heated arguments) about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. I’ve noticed (particularly on Twitter) that it can escalate the argument and then people get defensive.

However, this essay makes the point that we are all privileged. If you are reading this review right now, you are privileged because you have access to a computer or a phone with internet access. There are people in the world who don’t have that. I’m not saying this to throw this in your face, but internet access and electronics are something we take for granted because they are so common in America.

What about the places where they aren’t? What about the places that don’t have access to food and water? The point of privilege is not to make you feel guilty about being white, or straight, or a man, or cisgender it’s to (hopefully) create empathy for those who don’t have what you have. I think we all forget that sometimes during heated arguments.

I’ll get a little personal here. I’m queer and I use this umbrella term because even in my liberal city, I don’t want to come out as asexual and panromantic to everyone I meet. Even if people, where I live, are more familiar with those terms as someone who isn’t straight you find that you never stop coming out to people. You sometimes stay in the closet because it’s easier to let someone assume you are either straight or gay. That is a privilege straight people have because straight is the default sexuality. It’s in everything we consume as a culture, it’s what we see on the street, and yet you still see homophobic comments (by people who pretend they aren’t homophobic) about forcing gay characters in media. I can’t even go to a random article about a show I’m excited about without seeing these hurtful comments and they hurt. They really do. I have always searched for LGBTQ+ characters in books and movies and today, they are more prominent than ever, but the bigotry is still there.

Despite this, despite being half-black (with light skin), despite having a mental illness, despite having been homeless, I still have privilege and that’s okay. If we can acknowledge that everyone is not treated equally, I would hope we can get to a point where we can have a civil conversation about it and try and do better as a society.

If I was going to recommend an essay in this collection, it would be this one.

Typical First-Year Professor 

For those of you who don’t know, Roxane Gay is a college professor. At least she was at the time of writing this essay. This essay is a personal essay about her journey through her first year as a professor and the struggles she had. I wish I could say more about it, but I really enjoyed it. I found that the essays which had more personal elements were more enjoyable for me than the political essays and the critiques.

Girls, Girls, Girls 

Alrighty, I’ve got to be honest, when the show Girls first aired Lena Dunham was my hero. She created a show in which she was the director, writer, and star. That was huge and something I would’ve aspired to once upon a time. However, Lena Dunham has said so much stupid shit that by the time the final season of Girls was airing, I didn’t give one shit about the awful ending.

In this essay, Roxane Gay also talks about Lena Dunham and Girls, however, this book was published three years ago and I’m not sure the exact year this essay was written. She talks about Lena Dunham and Girls as an achievement. It’s a show where the main character who is not thin and also shows off her body as normal women do. I know that resonated with me. However, the show is incredibly flawed.

Just because Girls was different than all the other shows on TV didn’t mean it was all inclusive. Gay points out that Lena Dunham stuck to her own experiences as a white, upper-class woman in her twenties. All of the main characters were white and if there were characters that were non-white they were love interests. (Spoilers for the last season of Girls coming up, if you care.) Hell, in the last season Hannah (Lena Dunham) sleeps with a guy named Paul-Louis who is portrayed by Riz Ahmed who is Pakistani. This was never addressed in relation to his character and when Hannah ends up choosing to raise the child on her own, it’s never once addressed that she’s raising a child who is biracial. What was the point of introducing a potentially interesting storyline which could address race and it doesn’t? (End spoilers)

One of the main points I took from this essay, was that when you are different you look for breadcrumbs. By that I mean, you’ll watch or read something problematic because you see yourself represented. We shouldn’t be starved for representation that we will consume anything that someone throws at us, but oftentimes we are.

The Careless Language of Sexual Violence 

TW: Rape 

This essay examines rape culture in a very powerful way. She details an article she read about a young girl who was gang-raped by several men. And yet, the article was talking about the ruined lives of the boys and men involved. This article and essay made me angry. I was thinking about that girl the entire time I was reading, and I couldn’t even imagine the pain she was in and would continue to carry with her for the rest of her life.

At times this essay is hard to read, it’s hard to fathom why someone would do something like this. Why someone would let this continue instead of stopping it. But it happened and we need to be angry when it does. We need to be angry at those who did wrong, not the victim. I see so much victim-blaming and it’s disgusting. Why are we blaming the person who was hurt by this? Why does someone’s clothing matter in this situation? Not to mention, women and men (cis and trans) are often not taken seriously when reporting rape. Why? Because justice isn’t always served.

You know Brock Turner? Who was caught in the act raping an unconscious woman, yeah he got six months in jail and served three. What about all the other instances that don’t make national news?

I would love to live in a world where convicted rapists get the maximum amount of time in prison. I don’t care if Brock Turner’s life is ruined, he ruined a woman’s life by raping her. I don’t know why it’s hard for people to see that.

What We Hunger For 

TW: Rape

Roxane Gay loves strong women, she specifically points out Katniss and her love for The Hunger Games. Then she details her own sexual assault which is all too similar to the girl whose story she mentioned in the previous essay. This very personal essay is heartbreaking and it made me angry that this happened. She was incredibly vulnerable in sharing her story. It wasn’t easy to get through, but I think it’s one worth reading and I will never forget it.

Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others

This essay is about rape jokes. I’m just going to put it out there, I don’t find rape jokes funny at all. If you make a rape joke in front of me, go fuck yourself. However, comedians such as Daniel Tosh think it’s okay. Roxane Gay criticizes him for this but points out that his audience of (mostly) men do. She talks about how they were willing to cross boundaries with women because Tosh told them to. It’s disturbing how some people will do those things because they want to be seen by someone they admire.

I’ve heard many debates about comedians and what they can and cannot joke about, but here’s the thing. We have to recognize that we aren’t going to please everyone so you cater to your audience. With that logic, a comedian can joke about anything and everything. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t an asshole. When Dave Chappelle makes a transphobic joke, I’m not going to watch his shit, but he has enough of an audience that a joke like that doesn’t ruin his reputation. I’m not okay with casual jokes which feature, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or rape. We are heading into 2018 and it’s no longer okay to say those things. So stop it.

Beyond the Struggle Narrative 

Have you ever seen 12 Years a Slave? I have and it’s very hard to watch. It’s based on a true account of a free man named Solomon Northup who is then captured and sold into slavery. The way slaves are treated is brutal and likely accurate. The movie is powerful and disturbing and I never want to see it again. One of the biggest draws of this movie was the fact that it was written and directed by two black men, John Ridley and Steve McQueen respectively. In the essays leading up to this one, Roxane Gay criticizes both The Help and Django Unchained because they were created by white writers.

I would like to make a note here. I personally have no issue with writers writing about things they unfamiliar with. I have done it myself. What is important is to do your research. Make sure it is authentic. Otherwise, it just comes off as exploitative. Alright, moving on.

However, Roxane Gay does not praise this movie. She criticises the movie for not moving past the slave narrative. Black people have more experiences than just slavery or segregation and yet we rarely see movies specifically with primarily black casts about anything else. If you are thinking of Tyler Perry, don’t worry there is an essay about him and his movies too. I found her perspective curious because 12 Years a Slave was considered one of the best movies of that year. Was it because of the slave narrative? I won’t deny it was a technically well-done movie, but what if the story was different?

Last year, I heard rumblings about a movie featuring a young black man that deals with his sexuality. The movie features three parts of his life when he is a boy, when he is a teenager, and when he’s an adult. It is directed by a black man and based off a play written by a black man. The movie features a black cast. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about Moonlight. I saw this movie in theaters and loved it. It’s harsh, it’s beautiful, and features the experience of Chiron throughout his life as he discovers he is gay in a world that won’t allow him to be gay. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone said this movie is overhyped. It won best picture last year at the Oscars and is critically lauded. What I hope isn’t overlooked, is how important this movie is. How important this story is. It’s beyond the slave narrative. It’s just as raw and accurate as 12 Years a Slave (maybe not as brutal) and we need more stories like this. I’d be curious to see what Roxane Gay’s thoughts were on Moonlight, but I was unable to find any article or essay by her on the subject.

In Conclusion

This book is called Bad Feminist and a lot of these essays were written with a feminist perspective, but it wasn’t limited to that. It was written from the perspective of a woman of color, of a rape survivor, of someone who is not skinny, among other things. I believe some of the essays in this book should be read, all of the ones I’ve talked about in this review are worth reading the whole book. They were the ones that made me think and the ones that have stuck with me most. I would like to read more voices of those who are different from me and voices of those who I disagree with on things. Bad Feminist is just as important now and we need more voices like this in the world we live in.

One thought on “Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

  1. Pingback: December and 2017 Wrap-Up | BW Book Reviews

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