I’d read some good reviews of Bad Feminist (2014) by Roxane Gay, and I usually enjoy feminist books. They give me a refreshing and different perspective from what I often face at work. I especially enjoy reading about real-life stories that I can relate to and small, concrete ideas to make things better. I’ve really enjoyed the other feminist books I’ve read , and I was looking forward to this one.
Unfortunately, this book wasn’t what I was expecting, and I ended up being disappointed. If I had paid more attention, I probably would have realized before I started reading that this was not a coherent book, but a series of unconnected essays, written at different times. The book felt like it was all over the place. I couldn’t figure out if it was a memoir of Gay’s experiences or an academic look at women in literature and film. It went from a story of competitive scrabble to discussions of the role of women in books that I hadn’t read.
Fortunately, as I read, Gay began to take on books and films that I was familiar with, which made the reading much more interesting. This helped, but it still didn’t do much for me. I’d either agree with her immediately, like her discussion of Django Unchained, but then I wondered why I needed to read pages and pages of discussion when I felt like she was pointing out the obvious. Another movie that earned Gay’s criticism was Twelve Years a Slave. And, again, I agreed with her up to a point. Gay complains that the majority of stories about Black people involve slavery and suffering. In addition, Gay did not like that Patsey’s suffering was used to fill the narrative of Solomon’s story. Again, I agree with her up to a point. We do need more films like Love and Basketball that show different stories, but I don’t think attacking Twelve Years a Slave, a well-done and true story, is the answer. When I read Twelve Years a Slave, Patsey’s story was the most memorable and heartbreaking. Patsey was not in a position to record her tragedy and I’m glad that Solomon Northup remembered her.
I understand that literature and film are reflections of our society and how women and minorities’ stories are told in these mediums are important. But I’d rather read discussions about what’s actually happening in the real world. That being said, I’d never seen any Tyler Perry movies, so I did find Gay’s discussion of them both interesting and enlightening.
Although Bad Feminist was not what I was expecting, and I was, admittedly, disappointed, I was still impressed by Gay’s honesty and insight. I found her interesting, and I probably would have enjoyed the book much more if it had been more of a memoir than a literature review.
“There are times when I wish finding community was as simple as entering some personal information and letting an algorithm show me where I belong.” (14)
“On my more difficult days, I’m not sure what’s more of a pain in my ass–being black or being a woman.” (16)
“I thought he was going to throw the table over. Male anger makes me intensely uncomfortable, so I tried to sit very still and hoped the uncomfortable moment would pass quickly.” (39)