Roxane Gay’s voice has been steadily growing louder over the last year. As a regular contributor for The Guardian and various other websites, with two books out in 2014, she is also a professor, writer, editor, and commentator; her opinions are worth listening to, and make a refreshing change to the dominant strand of criticism. This lady knows what she is talking about.
Bad Feminist is a collection of Gay’s essays, some having been previously published online, but collected under her coined phrase “bad feminist”. In adopting such a label, she honestly admits the flawed nature of feminism and those who occupy that term; feminist figures are unfairly placed on a pedestal and subsequently torn down when their imperfections are revealed. It’s a safe move on her part—admitting flaws from the outset allows Gay to explore the flaws rather than be limited by them. She embraces the term Bad Feminist; like all of us, she enjoys dancing to certain songs, even when they know they’re bad for women (I’m looking at you, Beyonce and Jay Z).
The subjects of her essays range from The Hunger Games, to sexual assault, to politics, to Chris Brown, to competitive Scrabble, and back again. While some of the references feel dated, stretching back to the “legitimate rape” debacle, Gay’s sound criticisms illustrate her insight into the cultural climate. I read somewhere it’s like she’s always looking around the corner, and I couldn’t agree more; Gay presents each new topic with an honest and candid insight. For her it can be as simple as wanting to watch a TV show where she sees herself—a dark-skinned intelligent lady—at the centre of a TV show or movie, who isn’t playing the role of the sassy best friend, whose identity as an African American isn’t tokenistic.
While I devoured the book whole, I think reading the collection in intervals of essays could have benefits, as the essays can come to feel repetitive and formulaic. Yet within seemingly disconnected essays lies the heart, Roxane, who gives the book its emotional underpinning by weaving in her own traumatic personal narrative.
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Gay writes in the introduction that “Feminism has certainly helped me find my voice. Feminism has helped me believe my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.” We hear you Roxane, and I know my voice felt stronger at the end.