A Year of Unknown Books: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Bad FeministBad Feminist
by Roxane Gay
Book #7, read during May, 2015

My experience of reading this book was wonderful.  Let me begin with a quote from the preface, page xiii, “I hear many young women say they can’t find well-known feminists with whom they identify.  That can be disheartening, but I say, let us (try to) become the feminists we would like to see moving through the world.”  I was riding the red line train, full of people during rush hour and I cried when I read this.  Though I may not be the youngest feminist woman, this quote is applicable to all women of any age and this simple yet so powerful statement foreshadows the most awesome of insight to come.  Since this book is comprised of essays, including discussions of teaching, American education, women and the media, the TV show Girlfriends, et al, mentioning them all would essentially be rewriting the book, so I’ll pull out a few of my favorites.

Gay’s essays range from the more hardcore, we’re going to dissect these issues right here, right now, including a critique of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be Woman and an analysis of women’s likeability in the media to her love of Sweet Valley High and Scrabble.  Let’s talk about the latter.  I am horrible at Scrabble; just awful.  So much so, that I don’t want to even talk about the game on an average day.  But, Ms. Roxane Gay is great at Scrabble and as of May 2015, she is ranked 870 out of over 2,200, or to put it more plainly, she’s 870 out of everyone ever as of May.  Roxane also manages to talk about Scrabble in a way that left me with an unbelievable sense of urgency to get to the next page, or should I say, she left me “scrabbling” through the pages (thank you, Ms. Gay).  She turned me into her own personal cheerleader, gasping and shaking my head when her opponents challenged and mocked her.  Gay has the amazing gift to bring you into her stories so that you are on her side, and you want to punch her “Scrabble nemesis,” Henry, right in his smug face.  Gay transports us to the silent, tension filled world of competitive Scrabble where shockingly, a game face and swagger are geekily paramount.

Gay does this wonderful thing that I’ve mentioned in other book reviews by the Tina Feys, Julia Sweeneys and Mindy Kalings of the world where she makes our thoughts tangible.  Much like Bossypants, I kept thinking, yes! this is what I think, too!  Roxane, I think that, too, but couldn’t verbalize it.  Gay also talks about things that are uncomfortable for most people, like privilege and race.  It’s uncomfortable for white people to talk about white privilege, but we need to, and Gay explains privilege in all its various forms in a succinct and understandable way.  As a white girl, for me, Gay was like the privilege whisperer.  For those in positions of power, she reminded readers that it’s okay to recognize that you may have advantages over others, and admit it, and for white people, for example, that it was okay for to own up to the fact that some parts of our lives are better than others’ lives because of skin color.  Or, how much money one’s parents had growing up (I grew up in Villa Park, Illinois, so you can imagine, it wasn’t much, but it was so much more than lots of other people).  And you know what?  There’s something liberating in that confession because you feel like you can now work with people; you’ve released your own baggage that was keeping you choked and gagged.  But she also reminds us that there are people who are always going to be more privileged than you in other ways, so don’t feel like total shit about what you have, and some people love to be the “privilege police,” (we all know them) and dig this, “We would live in a world of silence if the only people who were allowed to write or speak from experience or about difference were those absolutely without privilege (18).”  How great is that?

Have you ever read a story where you feel tickled?  As if little bubbles of delight dancing throughout every part of your brain?  That’s how I felt while reading “How to Be Friends with Another Woman.”  She gives us 13 rules, many with sub-points for further clarification on how to be not only friends, but a good friend.  Here are a few of my favorites:

3A. If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem.  Maybe it’s just you.

6. Tell your friends the hard truths they need to hear.

6A. Don’t be totally rude about truth telling…finesse goes a long way.

6B. These conversations are more fun when preceded by an emphatic “GIRL.”

7. Surround yourself with women you can get sloppy drunk with…

12. If a friend sends a crazy e-mail needing reassurance about love, life family, or work, respond accordingly and in a timely manner even if it is just to say, “GIRL, I hear you.”

Trust me, all 13+ points are 100% valid and I recommend you read them all.  I could not have been more amused when I read 3A  because I have been the awful woman who said that, and you know what, it probably was indeed me.

Early on in the book, Gay tells us to be wary of “professional feminists,” women who are held on a pedestal in the media as the truth speakers of feminism.  They can be flawed, thereby complicating matters of feminism in mainstream culture all the more.  Being a published and hugely popular writer, Gay inadvertently dips her toe into this group but does so with humility.  She’s speaking her truth, and this truth is vulnerable, smart, and so fucking insightful.  GIRL, seriously, run out get your hands on this book.