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Bad Feminist: I Feel Like I Should Like This More Than I Do


I'm unclear about how to feel about Bad Feminist. "How to" here meaning I don't know which angle I'm supposed to take when talking about it. As a book, did it impress me? Not really. Am I comparing it with some of the only other feminist literature I've read, namely bell hooks and is that unfair to Roxane Gay? Probably.

I went into Bad Feminist feeling like I should read it. I pretty reluctantly put it on my to-read list, so my opinion should be taken with, at the very least, that particular grain of salt. Throughout it I rarely liked Roxane Gay as the person she presents herself as in her writings, but I don't know if that even matters. She has written a collection of essays that mostly deal with pervasive social justice issues in our culture, and overall I'm glad I read it.

Honestly, I think other people would have done it better, but she covers many possible faults of the book in the introduction where she labels herself the titular "bad feminist." "Bad feminist" here meaning no one should be held up as the gold standard of feminism. They'll eventually fail in some way, because we're human. That failure, or just being a "bad" feminist, does not negate feminism's ideals.

I found myself irritated with some of the essays because of the same reaction many people have to just the word feminism — it felt like things were being taken too seriously; they she wasn't letting some things just be enjoyed, but instead had to see problems with the fact that everything cannot be everything to everyone. She mentions this latter issue in the book, so she's aware of it, and I'm not saying my irritated reaction was correct.

Just as it's the reaction some people have because of their warped view of feminism, it's also the reaction people had for years about discussions of gay rights. It's still encountered when I complain about a complete lack of LGBT representation on the terrible ABC show Once Upon a Time. "Why can't our fairy tales just be straight? That's how they were written," is the boiled-down response to these complaints, because people don't want to start thinking about having to revise something they've always had and derived comfort from. They see that sort of revision as a set of politically correct changes — an inorganic shift to the thing they love that will feel clunky and placating, rather than them simply allowing the possibility that gay people have always existed, and it's possible for them to exist in fairy tales too.

Because of this parallel, I'm uncomfortable with my instinctively annoyed (but conditioned, not natural) reaction to complaints about a lack of representation from other minorities. I might be annoyed, and unable to prevent myself from disliking it, but I can recognize that my reaction is bullshit, and sometimes people need to keep complaining until other people accept there's a problem.

The things I wrote down from Bad Feminism weren't from her Trayvon Martin essay, or her Chris Brown essay, but instead things I realized we had in common. Things like "I don't remember much about grade school, but I remember the first and last names of the popular kids," which made me instantly picture three girls who were 70% of the reason I missed 40+ days of school in 7th grade after begging my mom to let me stay home because I didn't want them to be mean to me. There is also "Inside books I could get away from the impossible things I had to deal with. When I read I was never lonely or tormented or scared."

That not only was identifiable, but it was a thing I had never articulated before. There are all sorts of clich├ęs of books as a refuge, but I had not encountered those particular words being associated with them before.

Overall, the collection felt pretty piecemeal, but the further in I got, the more unified it seemed. Maybe it was just the early essays that seemed randomly picked from her portfolio, and then as it got to the halfway point, it seemed more driving towards an overall theme. I would recommend it if you don't want to look hard for feminist essays. It's easily digestible. There are pieces on The Hunger Games and Orange Is the New Black (the latter of which I STRONGLY disagree with, but that is fine), and it feels remarkably Now, which is good since it was published this year.

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