image via: goodreads.com
Roxane Gay opens her collection of essays with an explanation for the chosen title, stating, “I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. […] I have certain…interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.” Gay’s writing facilitates a discussion about the triumphs that women have experienced while also being open about where our culture is deeply failing those same women.
In an essay titled, “How We All Lose,” Gay unpacks some of the issues she has with Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men, mainly noting, “What does it mean to suggest that the end of men is explicitly connected to the rise of women?” Though feminist triumphs in the quest for equality are noted, Gay also makes a point for us to examine the lack of comfort that many women in the world are living with. There is so much work that has yet to be done for the women who are still seeking the progress that we are, at times, collectively unsatisfied with.
Her critiques are accessible and succinct, with topics ranging from The Fifty Shades Trilogy, to Chris Brown, to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” to The Help. These essays are so poignant because they give readers a chance to pause and reflect on the content they are consuming, and the gender and racial stereotypes that they perpetuate. Gay also notes her own ‘feminist failings,’ if you will, about finding a song like “Blurred Lines” catchy while also being highly aware of its implications on topics like consent and rape culture. She gives full disclosure about her internal contradictions, which makes her writing not only timely but relatable.
When discussing HBO’s Girls, for instance, Gay critiques its lack of racial diversity while also explaining that the responsibility for correcting this lack of representation does not fall on Lena Dunham’s shoulders alone. Gay also notes the work of Judith Butler regarding gender performance and alludes to the standards to which women are pressured to adhere to. There is also a standard to which the ‘essential’ feminist is held to, including traits like, “hate men, hate sex, focus on career, don’t shave.” While this collection of traits may seem laughable, they are, sadly, all to often what many associate with the term feminism.
Gay herself admits to buying into this inaccurate stereotype in the past, but her essays are a call to action for feminism to be universally known an umbrella term for the equality of women and men in all realms. The freedom for each of us to be who we choose to be without constantly struggling to be a woman in the “right” way is what her book showcases. It is a shout into the void giving each of us the permission to be ourselves –our imperfect, contradictory, but enlightened selves.