Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, is a book I never thought I would be able to identify so closely with.
Within the opening pages, Gay talks about her frequent rejection of feminism in her young age. She explains why “women still fall over themselves to disavow feminism, to distance themselves.” She notes that she did the same in her younger years because when she was called a feminist, the label felt like an insult. When I read this passage of her novel, it was almost as if I was reading my personal story. I, once too, renounced the “feminist” label because of the heavy stigmatization attached to the term. And, I too understand why women work so hard to severe ties from the movement.
Aside from my immediate and close identification with Gay’s viewpoint, what I love most about her writing is her raw honesty. With absolutely no holds barred, she airs out her flaws, and our flaws, as feminists:
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying 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…”
I firmly believe that there are multiple versions of feminism. Like any cultural movement established and led by humans, it varies in form. Never in my life have I found a perspective that I can relate to so intimately. It’s like Gay extracted thoughts, feelings and ideas directly from my brain. I can especially identify with these words as a feminist blogger—I know the words I write are not perfect. I know my thought process is not perfect and I know that I’m not perfect. I also know feminism, in any of its many forms, is not perfect. As Gay so rightly puts it, “Feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.” Gay’s exploration of imperfection, to me, is something every human being can understand. Waldman of Slate magazine writes: “Her essays, which are arresting and sensitive but rarely conclusive, don’t care much for unbroken skin. They are about flaws, sometimes scratches and sometimes deep wounds.”
Gay’s acknowledgment of her flaws and contradicting behaviors—she despises how music glorifies the degradation of women yet admits to singing along as her “very being is diminished”—humanizes the feminist movement, which is what a lot of men and women need. Her admittedly imperfect way of raising her voice as a proud (and bad) feminist creates a more inclusive feminism. Not only does Gay encourage this inclusiveness by exposing her own faults, she does so by revealing the flaws in feminism as a whole. Despite her loyalty, Gay concedes that feminism is “bad” sometimes too by suggesting its biggest failures are the exclusion of queer, transgender and women of color.
Gay’s writing is captivating and alive with humor but she writes from a place of hurt. It was interesting to be allowed an opportunity understand not only what she wrote, but how and why. So…is it good to be a “bad” feminist? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that Bad Feminist is worth the read: