Bad Feminist: Essays Read online





  Contents

  [INTRODUCTION]

  Feminism (n.): Plural

  [ME]

  Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.

  Peculiar Benefits

  Typical First Year Professor

  To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically

  [GENDER & SEXUALITY]

  How to Be Friends with Another Woman

  Girls, Girls, Girls

  I Once Was Miss America

  Garish, Glorious Spectacles

  Not Here to Make Friends

  How We All Lose

  Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny

  The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll

  The Careless Language of Sexual Violence

  What We Hunger For

  The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion

  The Spectacle of Broken Men

  A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories

  Beyond the Measure of Men

  Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others

  Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them

  Blurred Lines, Indeed

  The Trouble with Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us

  [RACE & ENTERTAINMENT]

  The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help

  Surviving Django

  Beyond the Struggle Narrative

  The Morality of Tyler Perry

  The Last Day of a Young Black Man

  When Less Is More

  [POLITICS, GENDER & RACE]

  The Politics of Respectability

  When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot

  The Alienable Rights of Women

  Holding Out for a Hero

  A Tale of Two Profiles

  The Racism We All Carry

  Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.

  [BACK TO ME]

  Bad Feminist: Take One

  Bad Feminist: Take Two

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Praise

  Also by Roxane Gay

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Introduction

  Feminism (n.): Plural

  The world changes faster than we can fathom in ways that are complicated. These bewildering changes often leave us raw. The cultural climate is shifting, particularly for women as we contend with the retrenchment of reproductive freedom, the persistence of rape culture, and the flawed if not damaging representations of women we’re consuming in music, movies, and literature.

  We have a comedian asking his fans to touch women lightly on their stomachs because ignoring personal boundaries is oh so funny. We have all manner of music glorifying the degradation of women, and damnit, that music is catchy so I often find myself singing along as my very being is diminished. Singers like Robin Thicke know “we want it.” Rappers like Jay-Z use the word “bitch” like punctuation. Movies, more often than not, tell the stories of men as if men’s stories are the only stories that matter. When women are involved, they are sidekicks, the romantic interests, the afterthoughts. Rarely do women get to be the center of attention. Rarely do our stories get to matter.

  How do we bring attention to these issues? How do we do so in ways that will actually be heard? How do we find the necessary language for talking about the inequalities and injustices women face, both great and small? As I’ve gotten older, feminism has answered these questions, at least in part.

  Feminism is flawed, but it offers, at its best, a way to navigate this shifting cultural climate. Feminism has certainly helped me find my voice. Feminism has helped me believe my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.

  How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

  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.

  Feminism, as of late, has suffered from a certain guilt by association because we conflate feminism with women who advocate feminism as part of their personal brand. 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. We forget the difference between feminism and Professional Feminists.

  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.

  I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.

  I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they fuck it up. I regularly fuck it up. Consider me already knocked off.

  When I was younger, I disavowed feminism with alarming frequency. I understand why women still fall over themselves to disavow feminism, to distance themselves. I disavowed feminism because when I was called a feminist, the label felt like an insult. In fact, it was generally intended as such. When I was called a feminist, during those days, my first thought was, But I willingly give blow jobs. I had it in my head that I could not both be a feminist and be sexually open. I had lots of strange things in my head during my teens and twenties.

  I disavowed feminism because I had no rational understanding of the movement. I was called a feminist, and what I heard was, “You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.” This caricature is how feminists have been warped by the people who fear feminism most, the same people who have the most to lose when feminism succeeds. Anytime I remember how I once disavowed feminism, I am ashamed of my ignorance. I am ashamed of my fear because mostly the disavowal was grounded in the fear that I would be ostracized, that I would be seen as a troublemaker, that I would never be accepted by the mainstream.

  I get angry when women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances born of feminism because I see a disconnect that does not need to be there. I get angry but I understand and hope someday we will live in a culture where we don’t need to distance ourselves from the feminist label, where the label doesn’t make us afraid of being alone, of being too different, of wanting too much.

  I try to keep my feminism simple. I know feminism is co