This could quite possibly be my favorite post because I’m writing about a book that I just finished less than 60 seconds ago that made me “LOL”, gave me chills, and had me in tears at various points, sometimes, all at once. I just put down Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. If I had the time, a few days holed up in my room with my laptop charging and this book, I could write a lengthy post about each chapter but like most working girls, I’m not afforded that novelty.
What I took from this book is that Gay is advocating for feminism while eschewing the stereotype of feminism: “…militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating, humorless.” What Gay did for me with this book, and what I hope its doing for other men and women who pick it up, is make it okay to say “I am ___” without having to fit into the mold of whatever society perceives “___” (in this case, feminism) to be. Before reading this book, I really felt like the only one – the only one who will stand up and say “I am a feminist” but almost feel guilt about the things that I like and believe in that might not fit in with the traditional, “good feminist” ideals. However, I never felt like that was reason enough to say “I’m not a feminist” because like Gay, “I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism.” So I really identified with her in that aspect and reading this book made me feel more comfortable with myself and with my belief and proclamation that I am a feminist.
Throughout this book, Gay’s pop culture references really interested me and I was excited to read about so many of them including Gone Girl, Fifty Shades of Grey, “Blurred Lines”, and movies like The Help and Twelve Years a Slave. However, the one that I was most interested in was when she mentioned American Psycho. I read that book just before this and at first I was entertained, then I was disgusted, and in the end I wound up conflicted. I didn’t even write a post about it because I really didn’t know how I felt, but Gay writes: “…Patrick Bateman in American Psycho is a very interesting man…Serial killers are people too, and sometimes they are funny…I want characters to do the things I am afraid to do…I want characters to be the most honest of all things – human.” In this context, Gay was discussing the likeability or unlikability of fictional characters, but even reading this allowed me to put some order to my very confused feelings about American Psycho. I wanted to like the book badly because I read other books by Bret Easton Ellis and really enjoyed them, my boyfriend is a huge fan of the movie and was excited to hear how the book was, and it’s one of my closest friend’s favorite books- he wrote a thesis on it for grad school. So I had high hopes, I’d seen the movie myself and knew what it was about, but what I found (and this might sound terrible but forgive me) worst of all, worse than the fact that he was a killer, was his treatment and view of women (the ones he wasn’t killing, like Evelyn and Courtney). Maybe I felt that way because I’ve never known a killer, thankfully, but that disdain toward women is something that hits closer to home. However, reading this little mention of it in Bad Feminist made me feel like its okay if I enjoyed it, any of it; Patrick Bateman is a character in a book and it’s okay to be entertained by him.
Aside from feminism and the female experience and how those things are affect and narrated by pop culture, politics, and Gay’s own personal experiences, she discusses race, at length. She writes about how all of the things that affect and narrate the female experience also affect and narrate the experience of a person of color. I, not being a person of color, appreciate this greatly because there is no sense in attempting to make a movement if that movement excludes anyone. Feminism is a female issue, not a white, brown, yellow, black, pink, issue. That is not to discount the experiences of women of color, but there is strength in numbers and I’ve held dearly to the belief that my standing up for feminism isn’t just so I can make as much as a man makes for equal work, but so that dozens of women in India aren’t dying in sterilization camps, so that women in the Islamic religion or countries can chose to wear or not wear a hijab of their own accord, so that my friends aren’t referred to as “pretty for a black girl”, and so that women, or anyone who identifies as a woman for that matter, can walk down a street at night in any part of the world and not fear the male passing by.
During the parts of the book that Gay discusses race, just like when I read Americana, I was a student. I had no ownership nor could I relate directly to what Gay’s experiences were, but I really took to heart what she had to say about privilege. Gay explains “Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Growing up, I went to a Catholic school in Brooklyn and while it was a private school, I considered myself fortunate enough to grow up with peers of many different races and backgrounds, even religion – not only Catholic kids went there, some kids’ parents just wanted them there because it was safer than the public schools at the time. I grew up not realizing racism was a thing because it didn’t cross my mind to care about anyone’s race – they were just my friends. In a way, that was a good thing because I never had hatred in my heart or embedded in my being toward a group or person because of their skin, background, sex, or religion. But in another way, that was a bad thing because I didn’t know enough to be sensitive to racism, to understand that just because I didn’t dole out that racism that my friends still experienced it in other arenas and from other people. That is something that I learned as I got older and its something that I’m still learning. I have also learned that I am privileged and that doesn’t mean that my life has ever been near perfect or that my story doesn’t count, but that that calls for a certain sensitivity, too. Gay writes: “One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is accept and acknowledge my privilege. It’s an ongoing project.” That is something that I’ve been working on for a long time and this book, this chapter, really pushed me along in the process and the best advice I could have been given is “…remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.” I can relate this very much to my relationship. My boyfriend is Puerto Rican. There have been so many times that I’ve been hard on him about working harder to accomplish certain things, thinking and telling him – “Well, if I can do such-and-such why can’t you?!” I have been guilty of not taking into account that not only has/is he a victim of racism, but he comes from a place where no one is afforded an opportunity to succeed and it takes that much more drive/determination to accomplish things as simple as getting a job. On the other hand, he has minimized my feelings, assumed that everything has been handed to me on a silver platter, not taking into account the sleepless nights, the hard work, the mental illness I struggled through on top of all of my hard work. We’ve frustrated each other but we’re working on it by remembering to take into account that we each experience the world differently and we can’t make assumptions about one another’s experiences.
There is so much more than I can write, so much more I want to say, but I have to watch an episode of The Voice. I wish I could thank Roxane Gay for this book, for teaching me so many lessons, for igniting more passion in me for this fight than ever (the reproductive issues chapters – WHOA! Bringing me back to watching that filibuster on YouTube gave me goosebumps all day), and for making me feel like its okay to read American Psycho and dance to Lil Jon in my car on my way to work while still proudly declaring that I am a feminist.