Author: Roxane Gay
Info: Copyright 2014: New York: Harper Collins
Where acquired: Library check out.
Rating (on a scale of 1-4 stars): ✮
What it's about: Bad Feminist is a collection of essays chronicling the author's experience with feminism. She tackles such subjects as rape culture, popular music, television, and literature.
"We need to get to a place where we discuss privilege by way of observation and acknowledgement rather than accusation." - p. 19
On religious systematic misogyny: "I am also reminded that women, more often than not, are the recipient of God's intentions and must also bear the burden of those intentions." - p. 99
On the objectifying of women and attitudes about obesity: "In the last Dear Fat People letter [in the novel Skinny by Diana Spechler] Gray writes, 'You wonder why we hate you? You are the visible manifestation of the parts of ourselves we hide.' There is truth in that too. Fat people wear their shit on the outside, with sagging breasts and swollen ankles and heavy thighs. Unlike a heroin addict who might be able to cover track marks with long sleeves, a fat person cannot hide the fact that something has gone awry. Fat people have secrets, and you may not know what those secrets are, but they can be plainly seen." - pp. 119-120
"Some statistics loom so pervasively they have become myths. For example, a commonly recited 'fact' is that more black men end up in jail than attend college. Ivory A. Toldson, a professor at Howard University, refuts this statement, noting in a series on black education for The Root that 'today there are approximately 600,000 more black men in college than in jail, and the best research evidence suggest that the line was never true to begin with.'" - p. 247
OK, You might want to take a potty break and get a beverage before diving into this.
A caveat before I begin: I've endeavored to make all of my reviews as open and honest as possible. Also, I usually avoid politically charged themes or arguments in my blog because they go nowhere. Everyone who agrees with me would keep reading, while those opposed would cut me off and never again read any of my work, no matter how innocuous. However, because this book is fraught with politically charged themes, I must touch on them or my review won't be honest.
I relish books that make me think. I loathe books that do nothing but make me angry enough to want to throw said book (or said electronic reading device) across the room. There is enough anger, both warranted and unnecessary, choking the life out of so many people. I am in no way interested in adding to the fire. So, my job here is to wade through the minefield with honesty and decorum.
I have so got a stomach ache right now.
First, a simple question, could someone tell me where the humor is supposed to be? In descriptions of this book, the essays were called "funny and insightful." There's nothing funny about this book.
We'll get to the "insightful" part in a minute.
Second, let's look at the basic definition of feminist. A feminist is
A person who supports feminism which is the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.
Nowhere in that definition does it say that the feminist must be female, black, open to any and all sexual orientations, no wealthier than middle class, feminist but anti feminine, pro abortion, and anti male. However, this, plus more, is Gay's definition, in addition, she feels that she (or others of her particular race and persuasions) is the only one qualified to tell the feminist story. I don't even qualify. Yes, I'm black a black woman, but I'm not of her various qualifying persuasions. In that, she is a bad feminist.
In graduate school, I studied both a course in women's literature and history. Yes, I know it was almost 20 years ago, but I do remember some of it. In the beginnings of the women's movement, this basic definition was what feminism was about: voting rights, equal pay, equal protection under the law, property rights, and battling to eradicate systematic misogyny. Quite frankly, anyone in this day and age who doesn't believe in those things is a doofus and needs to crawl back to the cave and stay there.
In the 20th century, that definition was severely skewed to the things I listed above. The author is a victim of that skewing. In that, she is not a bad modern feminist.
Though written well, this book is a cacophony of schizophrenic contradictions:
- The author bristles at the use of the term "sexual assault" instead of "rape." At the same time she substitutes the term "reproductive rights" for "abortion rights" or the right to destroy the product of reproduction. I find this a deplorable misnomer. As she says, call it what it is.
- The use of profanity. This isn't even drunk uncle cussing; it goes deeper than that. No, I'm not a prude, but I'm not very tolerant of the F word or crass descriptions of sexual organs and their use. Yet, she is offended by the N-word, except, of course, when it is used by blacks about each other.
- Her inference that she "doesn't believe in safety" betrays the fact that she does believe in safety for whom she deems worthy to be safe, ie: black women and no one else.
- She spends several (and I mean several) chapters on racism. What does this have to do with feminism again? Well, let me rephrase that, she spends several chapters on the racism of whites toward all other races of humans. Now, correct me if I'm wrong--and I'm not--but if a person of color hates, shuns, or otherwise demeans a Caucasian simply because his skin is white, does that not constitute racism? Does Auntie need to pull out her dictionary again? Gay only sees one brand of racism. I also took great umbrage at her assumption that all Southern white people are racists. I want to tell her "Dear heart, I'm only a couple of years older than you. I've lived in the South all my life. In Alabama, no less--the "Heart of Dixie," the home of George C. Wallace, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the attack on the Freedom Riders. My parents lived the Jim Crow South; they didn't read about it in a book. My older siblings were growing up right in the heart of the civil rights movement. I've only had an extremely minute fraction of what my parents and older siblings went through. We have all seen horrific things done by both whites and black in the name of 'I hate your skin.' I work, attend church, and am friends with many kind, gracious, God fearing, whites and blacks who don't have a racist bone in their body. Most of the overt racism I see comes from blacks toward whites, and, ridiculously, towards other blacks who are lighter or darker than they. You, my dear, know nothing. Oh, a side note, my mother was (and still is) a domestic worker--and a darn good one, so you might want to watch what you say about 'maids' around me."
- For the author, there are no good people, well if they are white or men, or worse; white men. There is no possibility of change or redemption of anyone. I guess you would think that if you "used to believe in God," but don't now. She wants to see change, but doesn't believe that everyone has to change. No matter how much progress is made, she keeps saying it isn't good enough. Gay even goes as far as to assert that the suggestion that blacks stop tearing up their own neighborhoods, black men stop making babies they don't want and leaving the mothers to raise alone, get a job, and stay out of jail is somehow kowtowing to "the politics of respectability." Since when is being a productive citizen of any color (ie: not acting like a jackass) a political linchpin? This chick is twisted.
- Gay goes into the whole "privilege" apology thing, and I blow my stack...again."
- She spends the last two chapters of the book completely contradicting everything she just wrote in the previous chapters. Kind of a "do as I write, not as I do" hypocrisy. Really?
- There is so much other
crapvisceral drivel that I don't have time, space, or blood pressure medicine to go into. I think you get the idea. It's a crying shame too. Annie had read and enjoyed the book and recommended it to me. We generally like the same books, even if for different reasons. So, it was disappointing that I dislike this work so much.
Like Women, Food, and God, a book I read a couple of years ago, this book was misnamed. Instead of Bad Feminist: Essays, it should have been called Bad Feminist Essays. There is a difference.