Review of Bad Feminist, the New York Times bestseller asking feminists to cut themselves some slack

I saw a copy of Bad Feminist on every bookshelf and in every book store during my Couchsurfing trip in the USA. By the time I reached San Francisco I was basically bullied into buying it by a bunch of impressive reviews. Here’s what I thought of Roxane Gay‘s New York Times Bestseller.cover_bad_feminist

Bad Feminist is a book of short essays that gives us insight into the mind, world and ideas of American writer, professor, editor, blogger, and commentator Roxane Gay. Although it generally takes me much longer to finish a non-fiction book. Bad Feminist had me hooked from the start: I devoured it.

Gay’s essays, ranging from her passion for teen books and the love for The Hunger Games, from accounts of terrible sexual violence to a sneak peek into her younger self’s food habits, are a great example of the past and present of a woman of our day and age.

What makes Bad Feminist  so great is that Gay’s voice makes her extremely relatable.  She appears like a fangirl (for Peeta in the Hunger Games) and, sometimes, like a “serial dater”, but then she puts her sensible hat on and criticises songs like Blurred Lines (despite still dancing to them) or some states’ law against abortion. Throughout all this sharing of her witty, funny and important opinions, she manages to stay human.

All across Bad Feminist, Gay shows how everyone – especially women themselves – expect feminism to be perfect and to solve all problems. It can’t be like that: women have to cut themselves some slack and understand that, while feminism might not be perfect, it’s essentially the belief in equality and freedom for all women. However, all women are different and all women, like all men, have their flaws – which makes their own feminism different from everyone else’s.

The myth of feminists paints them as such an angry, man-hating characters that barely have sex and/or fun that many women, like actress Kaley Cuoco , don’t identify as feminists. Gay herself, at first, had her doubts:

“When I was called a feminist […] my first thought was, ‘But I willingly give blow jobs.’ I had it in my head that I could not both be a feminist and be sexually open.”

With Bad Feminist , Roxane Gay says that women, like men, must have the right to appear flawed, not to be role models.

“I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off.”

Gay’s book is political when she talks about abortion; rightly polemic when she talks about women in the workplace; dramatic when she explains her story of gang-rape and over-eating. My favourite essay though – and the most hilarious part of the book, that had me laugh out loud in a café – is her take on how ultimately creepy Prince Charming is.

Intertwined with reviews of the main Disney movies, 50 Shades of Grey and the Twilight Saga, Gay kills off the myth of these stories’ supposedly appealing male characters with a few words.

“Really, though, the Twilight series is a new kind of fairy tale. Is there anything particularly compelling about Edward Cullen? He sparkles. He’s theoretically attractive but only seems to have one interest: loving Bella and controlling every decision she makes.”

Her review of 50 Shades of Grey is even more ruthless – and hilarious.

“As he sweeps Ana off her feet, Christian says, “We’re going to rectify the situation right now,” which is surely what every woman wants to hear when she has sex for the first time. The virginity situation—it must be rectified. In a seemingly never-ending scene, Christian makes their first lovemaking encounter all about Ana. He makes her come by stimulating her nipples. They fool around some more and finally, Christian can no longer control himself. He takes off his boxers and tears open a condom wrapper while Ana stares at his enormous cock, bewildered because she is so innocent and pure. Of course. Christian says, “Don’t worry… You expand too.” You haven’t lived until you’ve read prose like this. Before long, Christian “rips through” Ana’s virginity, they both come, and her virginity situation is, indeed, rectified, pleasantly for all involved.”

This fantastic essay, which you can read on The Rumpus, shows how every woman in fairy tales accepts her man’s flaws because it’s the price to pay for love – an early-life teaching that we should not complain or look for better men.

I didn’t always agree with Gay: I didn’t like her critique of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. According to Gay, Moran’s view of feminism is too simplistic: you can’t just apply the ‘Are the boys doing it?’ question to everything, from being the boss to wearing a burqa. What’s more, Gay doesn’t like Moran’s idea of using the “strident feminist” insult like black people re-appropriated themselves of the use of the “n-word”. She says doing it would diminish the struggles of the victims of racism.

I understand where Gay comes from: racism is still a serious issue in many countries (America included) and we shouldn’t condemn women who wear the burqa out of their own choice. But Moran is using a timeless tradition of British journalism: she’s “dumbing it down”, she’s simplifying words and issues, for everyone to understand. It’s a figure of speech.

It’s all fine though – as Gay says, we don’t have to agree about everything. Each one of us can have a different conception of feminism. And that’s ok.

Pictures: roxanegay.com


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