Smerth Review: Werds about Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
For Bad Feminist we really wanted to engage in an activity that might be considered ultra-not-feminist (although it could be argued that it’s just ultra-feminine and that isn’t mutually exclusive with feminism. But we digress). So we went to a tea room! Just picture it: rural South Carolina, its as hot as the devil’s breeches and Laura and I pull up into a joint aptly named “Laura’s Tea Room”. We enter a quaint downtown building (you know what I’m talking about, brick with a glass storefront, creaky wooden floors and ceilings 20 feet high). We’ve made sure to wear “Sunday Best”, or at least our versions of it. But the tea can’t begin until we pick out our hats (see below). Having done that we are seated at a cozy round table covered with accoutrement featuring every traditional display of flowers that you can think of. Flowered tablecloth, flowered tea cups (I forgot to mention, you also get to pick your tea-cups), flowered napkins and teapot in a cozy, and OF COURSE, a vase with flowers.
We snack on cucumber sandwiches and little ittie bittie tarts and scones, and we start to boil ourselves from the inside out with serving after serving of unique, whimsically named teas. Did I mention we actually don’t like tea? Yeah, no. But you know, it’s the experience.
Alright so...Bad Feminist. The premise of the book is that Roxane Gay feels like a bad feminist for engaging in certain behaviors or rhetoric. She feels like she’s not living up to the potential and demands of the feminist movement(s). I think we all feel this way from time to time. At least, I’m assuming that the rest of you are as imperfect and flawed as me and Roxane, and that sometimes you say things that reek of the patriarchy. But the reality is that feminism isn’t just one thing, and we need to stop policing and punishing ourselves and engage more in reflection. Why did I assume that your endocrinologist was a man? What made me critique the overt-sexuality of that woman’s outfit? Roxane is just trying to tell us that it’s ok if we don’t adhere to a strict form of feminism, or rather someone else’s view of feminism. We should be listening to ourselves, doing what makes us happy, trying not to hurt anyone, and listening to other women.
I think we can all agree that this sounds pretty good, right? Do your thing, and be considerate. What was more challenging for me (and boy I feel like the internet is a wild and rangy place to be admitting your own ignorance) was my intake of Roxane’s point of view as a feminist who is also a person of color. I will be the first to admit that I live a pretty homogenous lifestyle. Its an accident of fate and demographics but it is also a product of the lingering and ever-present inheritance of such delights as the post-slavery legacy, the Jim Crow era, the war on drugs, and the inexplicable public narrative of denying racism’s reality. OOF. Let’s take a minute here. Go look up pictures of puppies. That sentence was a DOOZY. And despite my knowledge of the real and ever present danger of history I don’t end up taking in a lot of POC’s POVs (something we’re looking to improve with next year’s Werdsmerth lineup). Reading Roxane’s point of view (and I think it’s important to point out that it is Roxane’s point of view and not some sort of overarching and comprehensive point of view for all women of color) was good for me. It was so good. I didn’t agree with everything, hell I didn’t even understand everything. But that’s the point! You listen. You digest. You synthesize, and through all of this you become a better person, a better feminist.
Roxane also talks a lot about completely different topics as well. Take note, if you’re planning on starting soon, that the first chapter is about Scrabble. Yes, Scrabble. I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you how that essay related to feminism, or bad feminism, even now, many moons after I’ve digested and synthesized. Ultimately, this book resulted in one of the BEST conversations Laura and I have ever had as friends about feminism. Somehow Roxane’s voice, her own willingness to admit her flaws, made us more willing to talk about feminism without worrying about how what we were saying sounded. Please read this book and have a conversation with someone. 5 gold stars if you disagree and still come out loving the other person.
Mary’s Star Rating: 4.5 stars
I read Bad Feminist just a couple months after reading Roxane Gay’s newest book, Hunger. Therefore, I feel like I came at this book from a different perspective, seeing as I already was familiar with Gay’s style and a even a few of the scenarios discussed in Bad Feminist. Also, I’d like to point out that oftentimes, I listen to a book on Audible, whereas Mary pretty much always reads it in book form. I feel like that also sometimes sets us apart in terms of how we absorbed certain books. With this one, Gay herself didn’t read the book, as she does with Hunger, but it still was a compelling narrator, which is essential.
I’m terrible at coming up with articulate reviews well after reading books – the specifics don’t stick with me for long. All I can seem to remember, unless I reread, which I do often, are emotions and vague generalities of the books I read. It’s sad, but it also means that rereading always holds something new! I’m saying this because, as we catch up with our reviews from 2018, the earlier books of the year are a little foggy for me.
What I do remember is the conversation Mary and I had in my living room in Columbia about Bad Feminist. It lasted hours, and covered many many different topics of discussion. We talked about how we felt that the essay regarding Scrabble tournaments felt a little out of place in the book, how each essay spoke to us personally, how, as Mary mentions, we don’t have enough of a scope of POC perspectives to be able to identify with those elements of Gay’s writing, but how we want to strive to be better in that realm. And that’s part of the point. We can always be better. We can be better friends, better citizens, better family members, and better feminists. Because without striving to be better, without endeavoring to understand more points of view, why even are we here? What even are we doing?
This is rambling. More succinctly:
I adored Gay’s chapter on female friendship.
I admire her honesty and her willingness to bear her personal trauma and struggle, because stories like hers remind us that either (1) we are not alone or (2) there is suffering beyond what we know, and we need to work together to prevent it and… help each other live through it.
In that vein, I’m always fascinated to hear of someone else’s personal life – their loves, their beliefs, their big life events. I’m pretty much an open book with friends and even acquaintances, and would love to be able to display that amount of vulnerability on such a large scale.
I also, in this book and specifically in Hunger, relate to Gay’s writing in regards to her weight. We don’t have the same experiences but we have similar experiences of feeling deep shame about our bodies mixed with a big dose of “Fuck it, I’m fat. Deal with it.” I’ll probably write about this in more detail later, maybe when reviewing Dietland, but you know, baby steps when it comes to internet vulnerability, like I said.
Laura’s Star Rating: 4.0 stars