Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

“I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain…interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.”   –Roxane Gay

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like a bad feminist. Much of what Roxane Gay says in her essay collection Bad Feminist describes emotions and thoughts and experiences that I identify and connect with deeply. And just as Gay finds freedom in identifying as a bad feminist, I find peace in knowing I am not the only person who feels like a bad feminist from time to time.

This book felt like personal liberation for me because I got confirmation that someone thinks the way I do. I also found it liberating to read about feminism and race and gender from an author who meticulously lays out her arguments, drawing in examples from various texts, current events and pop culture. Gay’s arguments are strong and delivered with conviction, but she by no means is rabble-rousing. This is a woman who understands that her point of view is one of many, but that doesn’t make it any less important for her to say her piece.

I will not lie and say that there were times where I had to step away from this collection in favor of lighter reading. It can be exhausting to care so deeply and be so passionate about your beliefs; it’s an exhaustion that Gay voices herself. While this is merely a book with words on pages, it deals in a nonfiction that we see playing out in the media and the internet and in our lives every single day.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some lighter moments throughout the text. They’re few, to be sure – you can’t be funny when talking about rape and rape culture, which Gay explores in the essay “Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others.” One of the lighter bits, and one of my favorite parts of the entire collection, is the essay “To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically,” in which Gay tells of how she got into playing professional Scrabble. Gay reveals how Scrabble, much like professional sports, involves many rules, ruthless players and mind games. Her descriptions of her experiences at various tournaments tickled me with their seriousness that bordered on ridiculous.

Perhaps the most enlightening parts of Bad Feminist for me were the essays where Gay deals with race. As a white, heterosexual woman, I understand that I enjoy certain privileges over those who are not white and not heterosexual. I will never be able to understand the experiences of those who are different from me in these ways.

And while it is not Gay’s, or any other black person’s, responsibility to educate me or anyone else on their struggles and the way society has systematically oppressed them throughout history, I know it is important that I am exposed to Gay’s stories of her personal experience. While I always endeavor to see things from the perspective of others, I know I am not even close to perfect in that goal. Gay’s essays on race helped me look at things in new ways, and I am deeply grateful for that.

This book is required reading for anyone who identifies as a feminist but has trouble living up to everything that fraught word has come to mean. It also should be required reading for anyone who strives  to bridge the gaps of understanding created by race, religion, gender and socioeconomic status. Reading books like this won’t solve all the problems we face as a society today, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Have you read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.