Monday, November 2, 2015

Bad Feminist: Striving for More

If you think I would instantly want to read a book titled Bad Feminist, you would be right. This collection of essays by Roxane Gay is wonderfully insightful, featuring witty and angry observations about the current state of women in the world, who have come so far yet have so much further to go.

The book begins with an introduction about how feminism can be a lot of things. What is isn't though, is a bad word. Feminism is not a movement to be disavowed and sneered at. It has its flaws but its aims are noble, and women who eschew feminism while partaking of its benefits are kidding themselves. Then follow a few essays about the writer herself, a black woman and a professor, a woman who would see the staggering poverty in Haiti during family trips and is aware that despite the racism she has faced in the United States, she is still living with an enormous amount of privilege in comparison to others. Again, privilege is not a bad word, but a misunderstood one that puts many people on the defensive. Right off the bat, Gay wants you to own that you are a feminist and you have privilege, in some shape or form. Once you're OK with that, we are ready to proceed.

There is a section on Gender & Sexuality that commences with a wonderful essay entitled "How to Be Friends with Another Woman." If you insist on being a woman who won't read a book called Bad Feminist, at least read this one essay. It is a delightful melange of hilarity and wisdom that breaks down the sisterhood and the fact that women can be awful to one another. But in the end, we all need to engage in a little soul-searching and put some work into our female friendships. The rules of these friendships are complicated - for example, Gay advises you to "tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear." But this is quickly followed by, "don't be totally rude about truth telling, and consider how much truth is actually needed to get the job done. Finesse goes a long way."

There is a marvelous section on Race & Entertainment that looks at movies by and about black people and both the faults and merits of films like The Help, Fruitvale Station, or everything by Tyler Perry. The section on Politics, Gender & Race looks at the debate on reproductive freedom (seriously why is this still a debate?), the merits of social media versus ordinary journalism, and the way that racial profiling plays into the narrative whenever something terrible happens in the world. There are several essays about sexual violence, including the author's own personal experiences, and an indictment of the flippant way society treats such occurrences, which makes young women think they are worthless and deserving of such acts.

The essays in Bad Feminist range from funny to heartbreaking. One minute you could be reading a hilarious story about the intensely competitive word of Scrabble, and the next minute Gay is begging young women to stop letting Chris Brown beat them. Gay is very clear that this is her view on the world, it doesn't have to be yours. But a lot of what she has to say is important, well-articulated, and perfectly reasonable. Oftentimes, she can see both sides of every issue, but she will stand on the side that she has chosen because of her personal background and beliefs. It might not tally with your stance, but you can still respect it. And the final sentences of the book summarize the core thesis that should resonate with everyone, male or female: "I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all." 

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