The first time I saw the name Roxane Gay was on Facebook (see? It’s not altogether terrible). I’d just seen a trailer for The Help, and thought to myself: “Um, doesn’t that movie seem racist to anyone else?” A friend linked to a piece by Roxane Gay detailing her dismay over the film’s depictions of race in the 1960s south, which are, to say it in academic-speak, problematic. The essay was very, very good, and you can read it here.
Three summers later, it’s the year of Roxane Gay (or, at least that’s what I’m calling it). Her novel An Untamed State (review here) was published to critical acclaim this spring, and Bad Feminist* is available tomorrow. It’s a collection of Ms. Gay’s essays (most, if not all, previously published elsewhere), and you shouldn’t miss it.
Ms. Gay’s essays are short, intense views of a lively mind at work. They vary widely in tone, ranging from the hilarious (the world of competitive Scrabble) to the horrific (Ms. Gay’s traumatic experience of sexual assault as a girl). Her essay on rape culture, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” in which she takes the New York Times to task (among others), ought to be required reading in high school (and, apparently, newsrooms).
Many of Bad Feminist‘s essays consider books, movies, and TV shows from the perspective of race or gender — Ms. Gay’s takes on The Hunger Games, Girls, and Django Unchained are a pleasure to read — showcasing Ms. Gay’s considerable prowess as a cultural critic. She is equally comfortable talking about “high” literary culture and Lifetime movies; this is the perfect book for anyone who’s a pop culture aficionado.
Here’s one of my favorite passages, on Quentin Tarantino:
But Django Unchained isn’t even really a movie about slavery. Django Unchained is a spaghetti western set during the 1800s. Slavery is a convenient, easily exploited backdrop. As with Inglorious Basterds using World War II, Tarantino once again managed to find a traumatic cultural experience of a marginalized people that has little to do with his own history, and used that cultural experience to exercise his hubris for making farcically violent, vaguely funny movies that set to right historical wrongs from a very limited, privileged position. (222)
Yes, yes, yes. Thank you.
Despite what the book’s title suggests, Ms. Gay is a wonderful feminist: engaged, interested and interesting, funny, respectful of others’ differing views. My politics overlap Ms. Gay’s, but not completely; even when we fundamentally disagree, I found much to consider in her arguments. Ms. Gay doesn’t espouse one right way of being feminist, and that’s a message we could all stand to remember. Bad Feminist is a book for feminists and for those who won’t call themselves feminists; it’s a book for everybody. Highly recommended.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.