In a world where the nominees for President of the United States are a woman with decades of public service credentials vs. a straight white male known for his misogyny, racism and anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim comments, Roxanne Gay’s essays, though written before either candidate was nominated, are, if nothing else, provocative.
Ranging from her take on the word ‘feminist’ to how pop culture treats women (and how she loves songs and shows that she knows she should hate) to the entertainment industry’s failures regarding race, and more, these essays are generally thought provoking, easy to follow and both personal and political. Some are better than others – her essay about her foray into competitive scrabble is probably the most entertaining in the book (though doesn’t have much to do with feminism) and “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” is an eloquent polemic about the violence of our everyday world. It could easily be updated (it was written in 2011) to address police shootings or recent incidences of mass shootings or, even, the violence of a Trump campaign rally. That’s an essay I’d love to read.
Gay’s essays on pop culture are interesting for her academic approach (she is an associate professor of creative writing at Purdue.) But her writing is much stronger when she weaves her personal experiences into her analysis as she does in many of the essays on race and politics. “The Politics of Respectability” (though it too would benefit from an update to her reliance on Bill Cosby quotes) is fascinating and “The Racism We All Carry” is still timely.
I’ll be honest – I’m not a big fan of essay collections. And Bad Feminist didn’t sway me to change my thinking on that. But there definitely are a number of essays in this collection that raise important questions. And I also like the underlying theme – that we are all imperfect, so even those who strive mightily to be good feminists end up being mediocre or even bad at it. And that’s okay. (That might be a metaphor for this book …)