I found this book by accident when idly perusing the shelves of a local store looking for inspiration.
I am damn glad I did.
Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by author and professor Roxane Gay that discusses feminism in the modern world, her being a feminist and how this seemingly clashes with other parts of her life – things she likes listening to, watching on TV or reading in popular culture.
Hence Bad Feminist.
Ms Gay is searingly honest about her own life and experiences, how she struggles to reconcile them with who she is, who she wants to be and who the world expects her to be. And it is this expectation – what society says a woman should be like, act like, think like – that she tears apart for the absurdity that it is. She points out the inherently unequal way women are perceived and subsequently treated, the deep unfairness of this treatment and the large number of issues faced when trying to move beyond this state of affairs … or, in today’s world, at least to not move backward.
To see starkly there on the page in black and white and in such a clear, concise and intelligent manner, what you know to be true intellectually and from experience, is quite startling. But everything she says has truth at its core. We know it happens. We know it exists. The difficult question is what can we do or are willing to do about it.
The author is of Haitian descent – she is a woman of colour. She unflinchingly illustrates how this adds a second layer of discrimination to that of gender – there is an undeinable race factor insidiously at work. She also makes a clear and important point of highlighting how the current mainstream feminist movement does not cater for women in this catagory. They suffer yet again.
But she also doesn’t restrict her thoughts and writing to society’s expectations of women. Who society views as dangerous, the coming out experience and being a part of the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community all get the spotlight shined on them.
The book discusses these issues and more in sections titled Me, Gender and Sexuality, Race and Entertainment as well as Politics, Gender and Race and Back to Me. Topics such as Sweet Valley High books, the language of sexual violence, Chris Brown, the idea of Prince Charming, the use of inappropriate humour, portrayals of the black struggle in The Help and Django Unchained, the alienable rights of women, Twitter and how society responds to tragedy are used to delve into what can be very uncomfortable truths. These truths may make us squirm in our seats and our skin feel clammy, but thanks to Ms Gay and the attention she gives them, they also compel us to ask questions of ourselves that we have been avoiding.
The essays are all engrossing, fascinating, disturbing and heartbreakingly honest in the picture they portray of life as we know it. They force consideration and questioning both of wider society and of ourselves – the readers.
Facing the reality of the world we live in is hard but necessary.
Not everyone who reads this book will agree with Ms Gay. In fact, many people won’t, either fundamentally disagreeing with her perspective or just not being ready to be confronted with such honesty and that has to be ok, but I do believe that it is beholden on us all to have open minds, to think and to be aware.
A highly recommended, hard hitting read.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)