Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What We're Reading: Essays

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by writer and blogger Roxane Gay. In this eclectic collection, Gay explores a broad range of topics. Some of the essays are personal, and many are social and literary commentary. Although (as the title suggests) there is quite a bit about feminism and gender issues, there is also a great deal in this book about race, class, and popular culture.

Despite Gay's academic background and strong opinions, she is a person to whom it is easy to relate. I particularly enjoyed the essays in which she talks about herself. The story about her involvement in professional Scrabble tournaments was one of the most engaging stories in the book. In the next essay, however, she gets serious as she talks about her experience as a first-year professor--the good and the bad. She talks about her experiences of growing up and going to school, and the experiences of her students. She shares an incident in which she overheard some offhand racist remarks from her colleagues about her that made her feel that she did not fit in.

The next section in the book focuses on gender and sexuality. These essays, in my opinion, were the most thoughtful, and definitely worth reading. They range from firm to haunting, and talk about rape culture and sexual violence, for instance how some jokes are decidedly unfunny, like comedian Daniel Tosh's rape joke at the Laugh Factory in 2012. In "Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them," instead of ridiculing the said girls, she asks "Do you know what you're saying? Do you really?" She attempts to explain to girls everywhere the reality of violence in intimate relationships and the importance of having a say in how one is treated.

There were some sections of the book with which I failed to connect. Many of the essays in the book focus on popular culture and literature, with each directed at one work. There were some essays that I did enjoy reading, like the biting review of the Fifty Shades trilogy (despite the fact that she puzzled me by admitting to actually enjoying the books) and the Sweet Valley High series, but many of them missed their mark. Gay definitely has a lot of negative things to say about each work she discusses, but many times she admits to enjoying certain popular media even with their shortcomings regarding how they treat women. This is meant to lead back to her overarching argument about feminism and the danger of putting feminists on a pedestal only to knock them down if they don't conform to the ideal. I thought this was a book definitely worth reading, and even if you're not willing to commit to reading the whole book, many of her stories are available online at The Rumpus.

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