Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

In the final essay in this collection, Roxane Gay says, "I am a mess of contradictions"--and the collection reflects that messiness--in a good, thought-provoking way. Although Gay is also a scholar (she teaches at Purdue), these essays are not in the least academic. They are deeply personal, reflecting the author's experience as a black woman of Haitian descent who likes men but feels compelled to call them on their shit, who loves rap music while despising its misogynistic lyrics, who is a feminist but wants men to handle such gendered tasks as taking out the trash. She states unequivocally in one essay that rape is NEVER fun; in the next essay, she admits she has heard two rape jokes that actually amused her. As a novelist, Gay wants the freedom to write from any perspective she desires, whether that of a white racist or a Latina lesbian, but she resents when white authors (The Help anyone?) appropriate the African American experience. She is, to summarize, real.

The first four essays, gathered into a section titled "[Me]" deals with a variety of topics. She discusses the frustration she felt in working with the black student association, whose members while delightful individuals do not take seriously enough the work that being a college student or a member of an organization requires. She also examines the concept of privilege, which she acknowledges as important; at the same time, she calls for us to discuss privilege without accusation. The final two essays in the section are funny, describing her first year as a college professor and her early days as a competitive Scrabble player.

The remaining sections of the book deal with various aspects of gender, race, politics, and entertainment/art. Each reader is likely to find some essays that resonate more than others. I enjoyed her skewering of Tyler Perry, her examination of the conflict between believing in privacy and wanting gay celebrities to come out, her reflection on happiness in literature. I also respected her willingness to share her own experience as a gang rape victim and how that experience has shaped her--physically and emotionally.

Gay is evidently a prolific blogger and twitterer and her essays definitely feel more more social network than academic journal. Her style is conversational and personally revelatory. I got a bit bogged down in the middle, but I definitely think Bad Feminist is worth reading.

Favorite passages:
Happiness is not a popular subject in literary fiction.We struggle, as writers, to make happiness, contentment, and satisfaction interesting. Perfection often lacks texture.

The Hunger Games trilogy is dark and brutal, but in the end, the books also offer hope--for a better world and a better people and, for one woman, a better life, a life she can share with a man who understands her strength and doesn't expect her to compromise that strength, a man who can hold her weak places and love her through the darkest of her memories, the worst of her damage. Of course I love the Hunger Games. The trilogy offers the tempered hope that everyone who survives something unendurable hungers for.

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