Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Week four, book four.  This is a collection of 37 essays on the topics of race, gender, sexuality, and feminism.  These topics are often taken up within the context of pop culture, from the The Bachelor and Girls and Fifty Shades of Grey to the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Fruitvale Station.  Gay is an associate professor of English at Purdue University but she does not eschew the low-brow.  This is something I appreciated about Gay’s voice and the collection in general.  She manages to interrogate the more problematic aspects of something like say, reality TV or Kanye West’s toe-tapping misogyny, while also acknowledging the draw.  In talking about Kanye West’s album Yeezus, she criticizes the corrosive misogyny of lyrics such as “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”, yet calls other parts of the album outstanding.  She says they make her want to dance and sing along.  She likes them.  She says the only thing she needs to do in order to enjoy this music is ‘forget she is a sentient being’, and she does this sometimes.

While I appreciate Gay’s ability to embrace high and low culture, and believe her ability to provide a balanced view on each individual topic is laudable, I was both surprised and slightly bored by the tepidity of her opinions.  The essays in this book have a watered-down quality.  They are exceedingly brief, consider all sides of the issues to a fault, and seem to land nowhere in particular.  

I found myself particularly irritated with the endings to many of the essays, which often feel rushed.  In her essay on whether or not rape jokes are funny, Gay talks about an incident in a comedy club where a woman walks out on a comedian making rape jokes.  She ends the essay with these words: “What surprises me, what really troubles me, is this: only one person stood up and had the strength of conviction to say, ‘Enough’.  I was like ‘whoa, hold up, the end?”  It would be okay if that were the only truncated ending, however the majority of the essays leave you dangling over the precipice of what feels like the tip of the iceberg.  This doesn’t feel like an intentional choice, but rather it feels hurried and not thought through.  This book feels more like a collection of Gay’s preliminary thoughts on various issues than a book of fully fledged essays.  I wanted more, so much more, which I guess could also be seen as a good thing.  

I think I was in part surprised because I follow Roxane Gay on Twitter, where she is spicy, feisty, forthright, straight up, provocative.  She swears at followers, bots, chauvinists, and racists.  She claps back.  I guess I was looking for this person as I read the essays.  Instead I found a considered, measured, intelligent woman, but minus the fire of her Twitterfeed.  There was a remove between Gay and her subjects which, while perfectly appropriate, surprised me and at times bored me.  

Overall, the collection is well-written, albeit lacking in the depth and personal voice I was hoping for and expecting.  Bad Feminist earns 4 pugtails!