by Roxane Gay, 2014
One of my favorite things to admit is how quickly my identity as a feminist would be questioned if one were to look at my Spotify playlist. As much as I champion my right to remain single, independent, and with equal opportunity, I still like to shake it like a salt shaker when the Ying Yang Twins come on. I find it amusing because it goes against the grain of the stereotypical notion of “feminist.” Truthfully, I freely admit my penchant for booty music because it exemplifies one of my core beliefs about feminism – there’s no one right way to be a feminist.
In her book of essays, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay explores this very thing:
I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying – trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.
How refreshing that idea is.
The essays in Gay’s book run the gamut of her experiences. From her competitiveness in Scrabble tournaments to her identification with the strong women of The Hunger Games to her missive to “Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them,” Gay’s ruminations on pop culture are intelligent, complex, and well thought out. Through each we learn a little bit more about her as a person, as she reveals her own stake in what some might dismiss as pop culture nonsense. In fact, the book’s strongest element is Gay’s insertion of her own life narrative into these criticisms. It is one thing to analyze pop culture from above, but it is far more effective knowing how it affects the author personally. In doing so, Gay allows us to similarly engage in the subject matter through the lens of our own experiences.
If there’s one point with which I firmly disagree with Gay, it is in her essay “Beyond the Struggle Narrative.” Here she asserts that there is nothing new to add to the slave narrative, rendering it no longer worth retelling. It may be true that there is nothing new to add, but, as with any major point in history, we tell these stories so that we may never forget them, so that generations after us will remain aware of the atrocities we humans are capable of and the resilience we show in the face of such adversity. We retell these stories because they are still powerful and, while we do need to broaden our portrayal of black lives beyond this one point in time, we do ourselves no good to forget it. (I am, however, 100% on board with her subsequent takedown of Tyler Perry’s rampant popularity.)
This disagreement does not take away from my identification with and enjoyment of the book. What I love about Gay’s work here is that in her own admission of “bad feminism,” she invites us into the conversation to agree or disagree as we may. We are all imperfect in our practices and we are all a mass of contradictions, but this does not mean that our values and beliefs are invalid. The best we can do is examine our convictions and work out how best to serve them, as Gay so excellently does here.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a collection of essays, read a non-fiction book about feminism]