Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

Checking the reviews before I bought this book I found I wasn’t the first to wonder about the title.  There are certainly a lot of different directions a writer could go with the words “bad feminist”. The title reflects the first (and closing) essay in a wide-ranging book of political and social observations by a daughter of Haitian immigrants.

By describing herself as a bad feminist Roxane Gay is able to poke at the increasing misperceptions about who feminists are and how some feel they should behave. “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be an example. 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 the world, trying to make some 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 to take the moral high ground.”

Being a human with flaws is greatly underrated. And it can make one the target of criticism on either side of the political spectrum when one doesn’t adhere perfectly to the party diktat. Gay’s argument enlarges to express that feminism seeks equal rights for men AND women and is thus a worthwhile approach to adopt for anyone. Instead those who fear there’s something to lose from it paint feminists as hairy, angry, sexless ballbusters who want to emasculate men and have abortions in a Tupperware Party group atmosphere. We live in a time in which all argument devolves into propaganda.

This is just one of a surprising variety of essays on topics that include her favorite childhood books, being gang-raped as a teen, reviews of The Help and Django, reviews of Tyler Perry, how we talk about rape, and the world of competitive Scrabble. Her consistent urging through most of the book is to trust people if they say that something is a hurtful statement or perspective. And she takes a balanced approach on this. On the one hand she talks about the difficulty in writing in a world of “trigger warnings” that may, in themselves, trigger pain or anxiety. Balance this with her adamant statement that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences for that speech. Be a racist. Be a Nazi. Don’t expect sympathetic praise just because you expressed the ugliest part of your thinking.

Gay expresses a lot of dislike for a world of privilege, but doesn’t shy from saying this can also be a black issue.

It’s an excellent book written from a perspective of someone who has overcome more than a fair share of horrific things in her life but can still express herself with some sympathy and humor.