Disclaimer: This started as a review. I’m not sure it ended as one. Apologies for that.
Feminism. I don’t know if there are many words that are as wrought with conflicting definitions and reactions as this word. At heart, it’s the belief that men and women are equal and, as such, deserve equal rights. Rarely is anything as simple as it is on paper. Feminism is often perceived as the fight to prove that women are better than men and feminists as hating all men. There are certainly those feminists that seem to fit this stereotype. They seem to be the most vocal at times unfortunately.
Here’s the thing though, there is no one way to be a feminist. As much as it’s become a dirty word, feminism is at heart something that will only benefit everyone. Often I feel alone in the ways that I sometimes laugh at inappropriate jokes, wear lipstick and currently depend on my husband to carry pretty much all of the financial responsibility. I also haven’t read all the major feminist literature out there, because frankly most of it just isn’t all that interesting.
Enter Roxane Gay and Bad Feminist, her collection of essays.
Gay turns the lens on politics, pop culture and society at large on matter of race and gender. She does so in a way that doesn’t demand you agree with every word she writes. There is a tone more of “this is my story, this is my voice, stop and listen for a moment”. She talks about modern feminisms in all it’s strengths and shortcomings (mostly when it comes to race, but also when it comes to rigidity). This is a message that needs to be put out there. If it makes someone uncomfortable, well maybe they should look at why that is.
Some personal thoughts on a few specific essays that happened to be my favorites:
“Peculiar Benefits”: Ah, privilege. One of those lovely words that gets thrown around too much and starts to lose meaning (something Gay herself points out in this essay). The issue with privilege is that it’s insidious and often times people don’t realize they’re benefiting from it. Living in a first world country, we all benefit from some form of it. I am a Caucasian, straight perceived woman. I benefit from a lot of privilege. There was a point in my life when I had more than a bit of a shoplifting habit. I don’t think I would have managed to carry on for as long and on the scale I did without being white. Maybe to you this isn’t the best example. In a society that increasingly declares anyone who isn’t white deserving of whatever fate the police dole out to them, because they broke any law, it seems like a perfect example to me. So, really, just acknowledge your privilege. Gay makes the excellent point that no one is asking you to apologize for it, just acknowledge that, yes, indeed it is there.
“What We Hunger For”: This was the gut punch essay for me. I am not exactly a fan of the Hunger Games like Gay is, but I understand that catharsis it is for her. The story told here is one that I get far too well. The careless actions of boys who probably don’t even think of me even though I think of them often to this day. The careless words thrown around by other kids that were salt continually rubbed into the open wound of emotional destruction. Slut, whore, easy. Words I hope my own children never use, because of one side of a story when the other side is sullenly and suspiciously silent. (Words I hope they never use for any reason.)
Every essay here is excellent, but these are the two that stood out for me. There were times I laughed with Gay, there were times I cried. More than anything I feel like this is the kind of collection of essays that I feel expanded my world a bit. I saw the world for a moment from the perspective of someone who has had to look through a different lens than I have. There are similarities though. Even if some of those similarities are painful, that is where the hope is. Yes, we are all different and we are all unique due to skin color, sexuality, gender, a million things. We are also all similar in ways that communication across those lines shines a light on.
I am an intersectionalist feminist. I am a bad feminist. I am flawed. We are all flawed, but we are trying to do better. That is the biggest take away from this collection.