Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: A Review by Joanne Phipps #CompassionOrBust

bad-feminist-book

*Please note that while we at Illuminated By U have recommended this book for this month, it is up to you as the reader, to use your discretion as to whether you read the book in its entirety, sections of your choosing, or not at all, by your own free will. If you consciously choose to read, please be aware that due to the possibility of triggers, we suggest that the following sections be skipped: Pages 128-154, 177-204 due to sexual references, violence, abuse, and content that may trigger PTSD, anxiety, paranoia, and other states that are not positive to your mental well-being. *

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays written by Roxane Gay published by Harper Perennial in 2014 and has since become a New York Times Best Seller. Gay is an American born feminist writer and professor of English at Perdue University and the co-editor of PANK, a nonprofit literary art collective. Her other works include fictional pieces: Ayiti and An Untamed State and nonfictional piece to be release next year: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.

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

Feminism is a movement that is powered by individual human beings. The same human beings that are imperfect just as the imperfect human beings who are against the feminist movement. And yet, much like women’s body standards are portrayed on magazine covers and in the media, feminism is upheld to a completely unattainable standard that, when we see the movement itself, and not the imperfect people acting and speaking on its behalf, being imperfect or falling short of our expectations, we jump to the conclusion that the movement itself is flawed. Just like with any other major movement, we associate feminism with those who are the most public of figures representing it, and when they say something we ourselves do not agree with, we submit to the idea that feminism has failed us because the leaders of the movement have appeared to fail us.

But the thing is, just like every other human in the world, every other movement in the world, every other idea in the world, every other belief system in the world, there is no such thing as perfection. We are all flawed, messy, imperfect. We all have different opinions and beliefs, because we are all individuals, even among those with the same beliefs, there is never a hundred percent sense of satisfaction or acceptance of everything a group of movement presents. Even groups with long histories like Christianity or Buddhism have members within their belief system that feel wronged or lost in their belief from time to time.

This book is broken down into individual essays compiled into an important and inspiring piece of work by Roxane Brown. Her voice is relatable in its humorous and yet thought provoking approach to her acceptance of the title “bad feminist” despite being far from bad.

Feel Me. See me. Hear me. Reach me.

This is the first essay in the Bad Feminist book, and it only took about 2 paragraphs in for me to love it. Especially with current events in the United States, and living so close to a city like Charlotte that just experience rioting due to social injustice as the result of an officer involved shooting of an African American male, I think this essay is an important one for anyone of any race to read. While it’s hard for anyone to truly relate to how people, even a woman to relate to another woman, of other races feel, this essay really touches on how even in the black entertainment world like that of BET African American women are still portrayed as lesser human beings than their male counterparts and even African Americans as an entire race are only successful if they are famous for things other than their intelligence, humanitarianism, or philanthropy. And what it’s like for a woman, the dedication, the hard work, the drive it takes, to break through.

 

 

Peculiar Benefits

“My education on privilege began long before I could appreciate it in any meaningful way. Privilege is the right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” Enough said, right? Except it’s in the way that we say things, the way that we talk about privilege and toss the word around, that makes it hard to truly understand.

It’s easy to overlook our privileges in life when we see the things that make is the opposite. Our skin color if we are not Caucasian, our gender if we are not male, our religion if we do not claim Christianity, our birth place if it is not within the U.S. You have access to electricity and internet, or else you wouldn’t be reading this. If not at home, than somewhere you either drove to, took public transportation to, or was within walking distance. Are your bills paid? Do you have a job? A home? And it is ultimately your choice once you recognize your own privileges in life whether you choose to do nothing with them, boast them, or use them to make a positive impact in the world.

How To Be Friends With Another Woman

This is basically one of the greatest lists you will ever encounter about anything, ever. If you are more of a book “skimmer” than a dedicated reader, this is one section I suggest reading in its entirety as it’s something that can relate in one sense or another to nearly all of us. However, just like with everything else in life, no book, including this one is perfect. We at Illuminated By U agree that while no female friendship is characterized by women being bitches or toxic, we also feel that NO female HERSELF is characterized as a bitch or toxic either, and we found that in this section of the book that there may be a line that is misleading as to where the worth of women is placed.

How We All Lose

Part of the reason I love this essay so much is that straight from the beginning it addresses the fact that for so many who see feminism as this toxic movement it’s because they think that by empowering women, encouraging women, women moving forward in society, that we can only do that by taking away from men, by pushing men down, and that’s not the case. Feminism, humanism for that matter, doesn’t exist to benefit one half of the whole by taking from the other. And this idea that for women to make strides men must stop moving all together is detrimental.

During this essay, she talks about her experience reading The End of Men and I find myself again personally taken by her words as I not only have and currently am studying in the male-dominated field of engineering, but I’ve also worked in the male-dominated field of the U.S. Fire Service, where tradition is deeply rooted, and tradition says it’s a man’s world and women will only tarnish the proud world they have built.

Some Jokes are Funnier Than Others

I love reading works by an author who makes themselves seem real, especially in the case of a book like this one. We have all had moments where something has made us laugh and uncomfortable at the same time because we know it isn’t funny, because we know we ourselves shouldn’t find it funny, yet we laugh, because just like Roxane Gay, we are imperfectly human. And we are all also guilty of out casting someone because their humor was not our “taste” or we weren’t/aren’t their target audience.

[Race & Entertainment]

The next section of this book deals with essays influenced by one of the greatest influencers of our society and the feminist movement, pop culture. Media, television shows, music all influence us from childhood through the rest of our lives. While some of these essays are, enlightening and thought provoking, they are also full of potential triggers for those of your who have experienced sexual violence/abuse in the past, or may be offensive to some readers, so please read with caution if you choose to read at all. Each individual essay in this section has a title that will address the pop culture or subject matter being discussed. These essays run from pages 205 to 253.

[Politics, Gender, & Race]

If you are living in the U.S. this section will hit very close to home after an election that has created an enormous sense of division in our country even before it’s shocking conclusion.

While some may argue that to receive fair treatment minority communities should strive to act like the socially accepted “norm”. This takes away from our need for equality and has us climbing a ladder to simply be accepted. And acceptance, doesn’t mean fairness. Acceptance by the majority population doesn’t help combat and fix the injustices we face with social programs it just helps us feel more “social”.

Later, in our journey here at Illuminated By U we will be discussing social media, etiquette, and the pros and cons of a social media driven world. This is true when we look at feminism, racism, anything that can be promoted and demonized through social media platforms. Platforms like Twitter, Periscope, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram allow you to get information out there within seconds, but it also allows people to respond and counter your opinion(s) within seconds too.

Social media platforms make it extraordinarily easy for us to get information out there about things most the population would know nothing about otherwise. We can easily pass around petitions for political issues we feel passionate about, notify people of bills trying to be passed in other states that we feel violate people’s human rights. And we can easily defend our position while opposing someone else’s. We can easily comment, post inappropriate grumpy cat mems, links to try to persuade. We can easily offend, and in turn tarnish not only our own character but the character of the platform we are representing.

Not only are the political issues we seem to be facing on-going, constantly threatening to take back the rights of people, especially women, repeatedly, no matter how far away from the 1950’s we get, but they are over extraordinarily personal issues. We are talking about FEMALE reproduction being discussed and determined by a bunch of middle-to-late aged MEN in suits and ties. I’m sure most of you have seen the videos that occasionally float around Facebook where men in their twenties are hooked up to machines to simulate contractions during birth or cramps during menstruation. To be frank, it blows my mind that those simulations are the closets men can get to understanding female reproduction. That they can experience just a taste of the physical side effects, not the weight of baring the sole responsibility for avoiding pregnancy or parenting/aborting when the unwanted happens, and yet they still carry such weight over what can and cannot be done by women with their own reproductive organs.

Claiming Humanity

Don’t worry if you’re flipping through the book trying to find this section and can’t, because it doesn’t exist in the book. This is just a section of my own personal thoughts, in hopes to get you thinking. Even the words in bold: Claiming Humanity. What do they make you feel? What is humanity to you? What makes us human?

To me, humanity is about the characteristics we carry within us. Compassion and kindness towards our fellow beings, the ability to love, emotional connections to the world around us. Even Webster’s Dictionary defines being a human and never once mentions race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion. It doesn’t break humans down into first class humans, second class humans, and so on. We have done that to ourselves, and now it’s time we fight to undo that.

Fighting for your beliefs doesn’t always make you popular. It isn’t always glamorous and you don’t always become famous for it. But standing up for what is right, standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves, there is a lot of integrity in that, and integrity cannot be bought or sold.

 

 

Resources

Bad Feminist Reading Questions

Bad Feminist Podcast

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