Book Report: Bad Feminist

“My favorite definition of ‘feminist’ is one offered by Su, an Australian woman who, when interviewed for Kathy Bail’s 1996 anthology DIY Feminism, said feminists are ‘just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.’”–Roxane Gay, from “Bad Feminist: Take One”

Photo courtesy of Harper Perennial.
Photo courtesy of Harper Perennial.

I guess I must be a bad feminist for taking so long to read the book that kept the word “feminist” on everyone’s lips in 2014: Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist. It has been orbiting my life for some time now, and (praise working in a feminist office), I only recently picked it up on loan from my boss. I am so glad I finally read it. This is the kind of book that should be canonized, the kind of book necessary to a feminist education, to an education, period. It addresses everything from reproductive rights to rape culture to police brutality towards people of color. Plus, Gay has an affinity for pop culture that makes me wish we could binge watch bad reality TV shows together (she and I both have an inexplicable soft spot for Rock of Love).

Gay’s essay structure is clear and easy to follow. Nearly every essay in the collection has three components: a personal anecdote, a tie to pop culture, and a big, universal theme. My personal favorite is the essay “Not Here to Make Friends,” which examines the double standard of the likable protagonist. As a writer more interested in writing “bad girls” than 2-D virgins, more Mary Gaitskill than Charles Dickens, I often wonder why a female character has to be likable.

Men write broken male characters all the time, but we look at their brokenness as their struggle, as something outside of them, but a female character’s brokenness becomes internalized, something that she is at fault for. Discussing whether a female character is likable is about as annoying as discussing whether she is sympathetic.

Ways I am a bad feminist: I’ve seen every episode of Rock of Love–and if they brought it bad, I’d watch it again. I love to have smooth shaved legs and I own my fair share of dresses. I listen to some questionable popular music. But I don’t think any of these detract from my core belief that all genders should be treated equally.

There is no one way to be a feminist, as I suspect there is no one way to be a Democrat or to be a vegan (both of which I am). Any group, movement, or organization will hopefully have the same idea of what the goal is and should accept the reality that each individual may have a different idea of how to reach it. That’s okay. Diversity is important.

A feminist who neglects intersectionality is ignoring that feminism is about more than gender–it encompasses race and sexual orientation and many other components as well. The problem for me is when people fight over who is better at being a feminist. Or what the right type of feminist is. I don’t believe one feminist is better than another, and if that makes me a bad feminist, well at least I’m in good company.

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