I’ve been on the look-out to read more feminist books, but most of the ones I tried reading before focus heavily on either privileged males and/ or sexual assaults, which then leads to me feeling terrified to leave my home…
However, Bad Feminist focuses more on Gay’s opinions about “misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on.” And I felt strongly included.
Roxane Gay’s wit is so sharp and on point, I couldn’t help but be instantly swept away into her writing voice. Her essays reached me, made me feel like I was a part of something.
“I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”
In Bad Feminist, Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.
There were so many great essays that it was simply too tempting not to share my favorites quotes from each and every one of them:
Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.
“So many of us are reaching out, hoping someone out there will grab our hands and remind us we are not as alone as we fear.”
Exactly how reading this collection felt like!!
“ I learned about how ignorant I am. I am still working to correct this.”
“Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor. There is racial privilege, gender (and identity) privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, religious privilege, and the list goes on and on. At some point, you have to surrender to the kinds of privilege you hold. Nearly everyone, particularly in the developed world, has something someone else doesn’t, something someone else yearns for.”
Going into these essays, it was very important for me to get educated about certain kinds of privileges, and Roxane Gay did so in the most informative way.
“You could, however, use that privilege for the greater good—to try to level the playing field for everyone, to work for social justice, to bring attention to how those without certain privileges are disenfranchised. We’ve seen what the hoarding of privilege has done, and the results are shameful.”
How to Be Friends with Another Woman
When I read the table of contents, I was so damn excited to get to this essay. And it was just as great as I had hoped it be.
“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses—pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”
“If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s just you.”
“Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy.”
My mother’s favorite saying is “Qui se ressemble s’assemble.” Whenever she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with, she’d say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.”
This saying, thanks to my mom also educating me about this when I way younger, turned out to be one of my favorite sayings too.
I Once Was Miss America
“Nostalgia is powerful. It is natural, human, to long for the past, particularly when we can remember our histories as better than they were. Life happens faster than I can comprehend. I am nearly forty, but my love of Sweet Valley remains strong and immediate. When I read the books now, I know I’m reading garbage, but I remember what it was like to spend my afternoons in Sweet Valley, hanging out with the Wakefield twins and Enid Rollins and Lila Fowler and Bruce Patman and Todd Wilkins and Winston Egbert. The nostalgia I feel for these books and these people makes my chest ache.”
I’m so glad that Gay captured this feeling because quite a few books make me feel the same.
“Books are often far more than just books.”
And since we’re on the topic, Roxane gave so many great recommendations throughout this collection. I have now, thanks to her, promptly added: Dare Me, by Megan Abbott & Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins. She made them sound so compelling and intricate.
Not Here to Make Friends
“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.”
—MARGUERITE DURAS, The Lover
This essay talked about “unlikable” women in literature and what likability exactly means. And it completely shifted my worldview.
Gay features a phenomenal quote from a Publishers Weekly interview with Claire Messud about her novel The Woman Upstairs:
“If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “Is this a potential friend for me?” but “Is this character alive?”
And in her own brilliants words, Roxane adds:
“…but the ongoing question of character likability leaves the impression that what we’re looking for in fiction is an ideal world where people behave in ideal ways. The question suggests that characters should be reflections not of us, but of our better selves.”
She has incredible last sentences!
Also, I quickly want to mention that throughout this collection I could actually feel Roxane’s passion for literature and storytelling. I could feel how reading really is her first love, as she mentioned, through her great book recommendations.
Reaching for Catharsis:
Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny
I still cannot stop thinking about this essay.
“I don’t think I know any woman who doesn’t hate herself and her body at least a little bit. Bodily obsession is, perhaps, a human condition because of its inescapability.”
It was so deeply personal and detailed that I was moved more than once. And it was, ultimately, honest and breathtakingly alive.
“Sometimes, a bold, sort of callous person will ask me how I got so fat. They want to know the why. “You’re so smart,” they say, as if stupidity is the only explanation for obesity. And of course, there’s that bit about having such a pretty face, what a shame it is to waste it. I never know what to tell these people. There is the truth, certainly. This thing happened and then this other thing happened and it was terrible and I knew I didn’t want either of those things to happen again and eating felt safe. French fries are delicious and I’m naturally lazy too so that didn’t help. I never know what I’m supposed to say, so I mostly say nothing. I don’t share my catharsis with these inquisitors.”
A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories
This piece talked about people with high public profiles and the boundaries they do/ don’t receive.
“This is, in part, a matter of privacy. What information do we have the right to keep to ourselves? What boundaries are we allowed to maintain in our personal lives? What do we have a right to know about the lives of others? When do we have a right to breach the boundaries others have set for themselves?
People with high public profiles are allowed very few boundaries. In exchange for the erosion of privacy, they receive fame and/or fortune and/or power. Is this a fair price? Are famous people aware of how they are sacrificing privacy when they ascend to a position of cultural prominence?”
“We tend to forget that culturally prominent figures are as sacred to those they love as the people closest to us. We tend to forget that they are flesh and blood. We assume that as they rise to prominence, they shed their inalienable rights. We do this without question.”
“Heterosexuals take the privacy of their sexuality for granted. They can date, marry, and love whom they choose without needing to disclose much of anything. If they do choose to disclose, there are rarely negative consequences.”
“The world we live in is not as progressive as we need it to be.”
“For every step forward, there is some asshole shoving progress back.”
“There are injustices great and small, and even if we can only fight the small ones, at least we are fighting.”
The Trouble with Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us
As the title might suggest, this essay confronts the trouble with prince charming in fairy tales and literature.
“I enjoy fairy tales because I need to believe, despite my cynicism, that there is a happy ending for everyone, especially me. The older I get, though, the more I realize how fairy tales demand a great deal from the woman. The man in most fairy tales, Prince Charming in all his iterations, really isn’t that interesting. In most fairy tales, he is blandly attractive and rarely seems to demonstrate much personality, taste, or intelligence. We’re supposed to believe this is totally fine because he is Prince Charming. His charm is supposedly enough.”
Then she offers a detailed view on the Disney princes, and I was living for this!!
“In The Little Mermaid, Prince Eric has a great woman right in front of him but is so obsessed with this pretty voice he once heard he can’t appreciate what he has. In Snow White, the prince doesn’t even find Snow White until she is comatose, and he is so lacking in imagination he simply falls in love with her seemingly lifeless body. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is given away by her father to the Beast himself, and then must endure the attentions of a man who essentially views her as chattel. Only through sacrificing herself, and loving a beast of a man, can she finally learn that he is, in fact, a handsome prince.”
“The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice.”
Holding Out for a Hero
“There’s a great deal about our culture that is aspirational—from how we educate ourselves, to the cars we drive, to where we work and live and socialize. We want to be the best. We want the best of everything. All too often, we are aware of the gaping distance between who we are and whom we aspire to be and we desperately try to close that distance.”
So much YES to the last sentence!!
“In theory, justice should be simple. Justice should be blind. You are innocent until proven guilty. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. You have the right to be judged by a jury of your peers. The principles on which our justice system was founded clearly outline how our judicial system should function.
Few things work in practice as well as they do in theory. Justice is anything but blind. All too often, the people who most need justice benefit the least. The statistics about who is incarcerated and how incarceration affects their future prospects are bleak.”
“Trayvon Martin is neither the first nor the last young black man who will be murdered because of the color of his skin. If there is such a thing as justice for a young man whose life was taken too soon, I hope justice comes from all of us learning from what happened. I hope we can rise to the occasion of greatness, where greatness is nothing more than trying to overcome our lesser selves by seeing a young man like Trayvon Martin for what he is: a young man, a boy without a cape, one who couldn’t even walk home from the store unharmed, let alone fly.”
One of the most important essays.
Bad Feminist: Take Two
“I am supposed to be a good feminist who is having it all, doing it all. Really, though, I’m a woman in her thirties struggling to accept herself and her credit score. For so long I told myself I was not this woman—utterly human and flawed. I worked overtime to be anything but this woman, and it was exhausting and unsustainable and even harder than simply embracing who I am.”
Simply put, Bad Feminist completely captivated me.
I enjoyed the fact that as I read this collection, I didn’t feel like I was really reading. I felt like Roxane Gay was talking and discussing with me. Her voice is distinct throughout this collection.
And while some essays left a profound mark on me, others were simply entertaining to read in the moment. There is, indeed, something to admire in each piece.
And it all comes down to this: Roxane Gay brings intelligence, gravitas, and heart to her words, so that even reading about her winning tournaments in competitive Scrabble read like the most fascinating piece of writing. She’s talented and powerful beyond measure in my eyes.