Feminist. There, I wrote it. Did you flinch in opposition? Did you throw your fist up in support? Or, did you just sit there, utterly neutral? Whenever one hears the word feminist, there seems to be one of those three sentiments that follow. No matter what opinion you hold, sit tight and enjoy the ride as author, Roxane Gay attempts to define what it means to be a bad feminist — bad to the matriarchal bone.
In Gay’s clever essay collection, Bad Feminist, she demonstrates resolve in admitting our flaws as feminists and seeing how the movement can progress from misrepresentation to empowerment. While Gay has a lot to say, she is far from neutral. Instead, Gay is fearless in her opinion as to why both radical feminists and anti-feminists are missing the point. Readers find that in order to be a feminist, it is important to admit that we are not perfect and still working to find solutions. Some of those solutions can be found in Gay’s essays: “Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.,” “How We All Lose,” “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown,” “When Less Is More,” and “Holding Out for a Hero”.
The collection analyzes everything from feminist stereotypes to female protagonists in literature and film. Gay even cites strong examples as to why aspects of feminism have failed. In particular, Gay argues that while the movement is continually changing and growing, it has not always been diverse in their ideologies of women. It should not be one feminist decreeing that another cannot be considered as such if they also choose to wear pink underwear and shave their underarms. It is a choice, and those are details, not the overall picture. As Gay seems to skillfully express, Feminists come in all varieties, and the movement is meant for something bigger — to empower men and women as equals — not to place one homogeneous group on a pedestal.
Though the collection does not evaluate feminist history, Gay remains candid throughout, often admitting that since the beginning and even now, there exist many limitations but there is hope for understanding and harmony. Still, Gay continues to try and make a difference — holding true to her introduction — “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m trying not 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 some noise with my writing while also being myself.”
Gay may not intend to be a leader, but among the negative diatribe regarding feminism, her collection is an awe-inspiring and positive example of bringing about some good while being a little bad.
[Published: 13 August 2014, The Weekender]