Bingo 7 (The Collection) for the diagonal L to R, top to bottom BINGO!
I have had Bad Feminist on my physical TBR shelf for some time. I was motivated to read it for the Bingo square, but also because I’m writing a course syllabus for this fall in which I am considering including a section from Bad Feminist. I figure, if I’m going to teach it, I should know the whole thing for context. I have heard a lot about Roxane Gay as a writer, have seen her in the news a time or two, and I follow her on Twitter. Even so, I’m not sure I knew what to expect.
Bad Feminist is a collection of essays, some of which are quite short that cover a range of topics, but mostly concentrating on pop culture, race, and as the title suggests gender, feminism in particular. Some of the essays are pretty thought provoking for their ideas about privilege, race, and gender and how those things show up in pop culture and modern society. Her observations about the 50 Shades series are interesting both for the point that it’s really common in fiction for a woman to be the vehicle for a man to achieve personal growth. Similarly, her discussion of Sweet Valley High, though interestingly not the original Sweet Valley Twins, and Orange is the New Black, and Hunger Games look at gender, sexuality, race, and inclusivity in ways that highlight the importance of critically considering even things in our lives that we don’t often think about that closely. There are a few more serious places, including a recurring discussion of body image and rape, both personal for Gay, and she explains why and how.
Roxane Gay is clearly an educated, thoughtful person; it shows in these essays. My problem with the collection as a whole is that after I’d read about the first half, the second half started getting predictable. Many of the essays focus on a theme to the tune of “I like it even though it’s problematic. It’s complicated, but that’s ok.” She’s also not afraid to state an opinion, as in “Let’s be clear: Team Peeta. I cannot fathom how one could be on any other team. Gale? I can barely acknowledge him.” There is also a pretty powerful snark in several of the essays. Admittedly, the snarkiness is often deployed to mock things like toxic masculinity, but it also kills of the reasoning and analytical perspective, which I think are the more valuable parts of the collection.
Overall, it’s a good if uneven collection of essays. I wonder now though if the title is a bit misleading. Gay makes a good argument for the problems in feminist thought through the years, but by calling her brand “bad”, she’s almost diminishing her positions, which is a shame since they have a lot to offer.