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Book Review: Bad Feminist (and Thoughts on the Women’s March)

The world sometimes sends signs. Last week, I found a copy of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay at the thrift store. It was the day before the third annual Women’s March. Last year, I couldn’t go because there was this little thing called I was living in Spain. But this year would be the year I could show my support. I joined the Philadelphia Women’s March event on Facebook. And then, it was cancelled. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t informed about the controversy of the movements organizers until well, the day of the march when there was serious discussion about attending or not.

I’m not a very proactive feminist. I’m active but not proactive. There’s a difference. I read books on the subject and share my thoughts with friends, but I’m not an activist. I lead by example and show my support by voting, staying (mostly) informed, etc.

So, when the event I joined was cancelled, I didn’t do anything else about it. Life got in the way. (Some serious life, I should add.) So when Gay’s book appeared for a whole $1.50 at the thrift shop, I was excited. I’d been wanting to read this for a while now. I’ve read a handful of Gay’s essays/articles online and really enjoyed her wit and writing style. Not to mention, her approach to feminism. Because like her, I am a bad feminist.

Even if I couldn’t show my support by marching, then I’d be reading this book at least. And then I read the introduction. And everything just fell into place. It was a sign!

This is what she said on page x:

“The problem with movements is that, all too often, they are associated only with the most visible figures, the people with the biggest platforms and the loudest, most provocative voices. But feminism is not whatever philosophy is being spouted by the popular media feminist flavor of the week, at least not entirely.”

So, if I did choose to march, then I could reasonably argue that the movement is not its leaders. I could support the bigger picture and the bigger purpose of the march as a whole.

There is a way to support feminism and the idea behind the women’s march without supporting the organizers themselves. Gay goes on to clarify:

“When these figureheads say what we want to hear, we put them up on the Feminist Pedestal, and when they do something we don’t like, we knock them right off and then say there’s something wrong with feminism because our feminist leaders have failed us” (page x).

These two quotes fit my head space. This helped clarify what I was feeling. Feminism is bigger than all of us; it’s more than a march and definitely more than it’s organizers.

The book itself was thought provoking. Like the quotes above, there were other insightful parts that I connected with. It is both memoir and essays. I think it’s important to read the novel with that lens. She writes this entirely from her own experience as a black woman, among other labels (including, but not limited to, professor, writer, child of immigrant parents).

She excels at literary analysis and criticism. She balances both critique and her own experience, thoughts, and opinions beautifully.

Some of her opinions, I do disagree with, but I do not think I could artfully explain them.

Overall, I think what she did was important. I feel that some things she brought up in her book are being addressed. I think that’s what the power a book like this does: it starts conversations. A true way to achieve progress is with open dialogue.

Book review and other thoughts after reading Roxane Gay's book Bad Feminist
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I posted this (above) photo on my Instagram, telling my followers that I was reading this book that weekend. I don’t think it’s a badly taken picture. It’s centered, has texture, etc. Now, it might be a series of other factors (time of day, day of the week, etc.) that influenced this, but this post is my least liked picture on Instagram. I can’t help but think the reason it was so unpopular was because it was something semi-political. People are so afraid to be political these days! Rightfully so, but still! I’m not concerned really with how many likes I get on posts but it’s interesting, and telling, that my least liked picture is something political. It’s not even that radical, or controversial! This book came out in 2014. And we still have problems with feminism?

Again, I’m not a data expert and maybe I’m reading into it too much but I think we have work to do. It kind of feels like I’m complaining or being petty, but I think it’s so hard these days to talk about politics! And I think what I’m trying to say is, I wish we could. I wish we could be open and not be so polarized. Dialogue is the answer! Books that examine our culture like Bad Feminist are bridges that broach difficult topics. You walk across it–now matter if you like the design of the bridge or not– to get to more.

As I finish writing this, I’m scared to post it. I wish I was braver. I wish I could be confident blogging about these topics. It’s just not what I’m comfortable doing. Give me crafts and beauty recipes. Give me juicy young adult books to review and cool travel pictures to share. But I am also a writer. And I think it’s important to push yourself every once and while. Write something a little bit controversial or scary. A little bit more opinionated to shake things up.

There’s a book review at the heart of this (I think) which is something else I love to write about: reading. You have to read wide and read often. It inspires other thoughts (or in this case, a lot of other thoughts). Have you read this book? What did you think? Share in the comments below any thoughts you had as you read my rambling review. I’d love to start a conversation!

Happy Reading-

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