Can a feminist sing along to music that degrades women? Why do we put so much responsibility on one film or TV show to address the diversity issue in Hollywood? Roxane Gay tackles these questions and much more in “Bad Feminist,” a collection of essays on what it means to be imperfect in the quest for equality, and April’s selection for the Social Justice Reading Group.
Gay’s essays evoke a gamut of emotions – from silly and amusing to intense and vulnerable. In the first section of essays entitled “Me”, Gay invites the reader into her world. She describes life in grad school and as a first year professor. She considers the way she possesses middle class privilege yet lacks privilege as a person of color and a child of immigrants. But it is in “To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically” that Gay talks serious business…Scrabble tournaments.
In the second section, “Gender & Sexuality”, Gay explores different ways in which society constructs gender and sexuality through language, literature, music and television, and in everyday situations. In “How to Be Friends With Another Woman” Gay lists 13+ ways of how women can be friends with each other. Some are judicious, such as “5C. Don’t tear other women down, because even if they’re not your friends, they are women and this is just as important.” Others are humorous. “9. Don’t let your friends buy ugly outfits or accessories you don’t want to look at when you hang out.” Gay also examines the destructive effects of sexual violence in several essays. In “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” and “Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others”, Gay weighs in on the creation and perpetuation of “rape culture” through rape jokes, indifferent attitudes, and media representation. She personalizes the analysis through disclosing her own trauma in “What We Hunger For”.
Gay investigates the lack of diversity in Hollywood within the third section, “Race & Entertainment”. In these essays Gay asserts that many roles for African Americans are based on stereotypes, are predicated on misery or subjugation, and are “white interpretations of the black experience”, such as in the movie The Help. In “Surviving Django”, Gay compliments the artistic craft of Quentin Tarantino’s film but notes “what struck me most was how Django Unchained is a white man’s slavery revenge fantasy, one where white people figure heavily and where black people are, largely, incidental.”
The fourth section, “Politics, Gender, & Race”, centers on intersectionality with such essays as “The Politics of Respectability” and “The Alienable Rights of Women”. In “A Tale of Two Profiles” Gay juxtaposes Trayvon Martin with Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in arguing that our society has particular perceptions of who does and does not look dangerous.
Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” brings a much needed perspective on the complexities of feminism, gender/sexuality, and race in media, politics, and society.
The Social Justice Reading Group will meet on Monday, April 30th at 6pm at May Memorial Library.
Katie DeVriese is a reference assistant at May Memorial Library. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.