Title: Bad Feminist
Author: Roxane Gay
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Published: 2014 Pages: 336
Audio Duration: 11 hr, 46 min
Rating: Good food for thought
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In Short: A collection of essays on anything and everything (like really–from Sweet Valley High to Trayvon Martin) with a mostly feminist twist.
Why I Listened: Feminism is a hot conversation that I don’t feel adequately aware enough to join. As Gay’s essays are getting a lot of buzz, I figured this would be a good place to start. I listened because it allowed me to get to these essays sooner than if I had read them. Turns out this was a win for me as the narration was awesome.
Thoughts in General: To expand. For some reason the idea of feminism makes me a bit squeamish. What does it really mean to be a feminist? Are feminist all angry, man-hating, bra burning women? Can I be a more conservative-leaning woman and still be a feminist? Can I stay at home part-time and still be a feminist? Do some of my ideas about parenting and home life make me less of a feminist? Can I be a feminist and still refuse things like getting my oil changed and mowing the lawn?
I could continue this back and forth for quite a long time but the bottom line is that I don’t really know what it means to be a feminist and exactly what feminists believe in. A few months ago I saw this question simply answered: If you believe men and women should have equal rights and opportunities then you are a feminist. In this sense, everyone can and should be a feminist. It isn’t a dirty word to uncomfortably shy away from in conversation.
Roxane Gay, in her more brilliant moments, shows that one can be a feminist and still indulge in crappy music, bad TV, wearing pink and heels, and have someone who can hold your hand in tough moments. Feminism can take many different forms but the answer is always the same–equality for men and women. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Why does feminism spark such hostility in both men and women?
Besides feminism, Gay examines gender and sexuality; race and entertainment; politics, gender, and race; and of course herself (these are in fact the specific sections of her book). The further into the book I got, the more complicated and heavy the subjects seemed to be–whereas this book started off a little light and hilarious, the ending was serious and sometimes difficult to listen to. If there was one thing I took away from Bad Feminist, it is how privilege affects our lives in so many ways. At times I felt uncomfortable and other times I felt guilty for my privilege.
As the essays started to get into the more complicated subjects, it was hard for me to not listen without getting a little defensive. Gay brings up all of these problems in society (and yes, they are problems), but what are the solutions to the problems? How can we solve the gender, race, political, socioeconomic problems? Gay rarely offers solutions and sometimes the essays ended without any resolution at all. I found this incredibly frustrating but I think the purpose was to enlighten about the problems, not problem solve. In that way, Gay’s essays are very effective.
Some of my favorite moments? Listening to Bad Feminist while cooking dinner. Ha, just kidding (well, kidding, not kidding…) I LOVE LOVE LOVE Gay’s 13 Rules for Female Friendships. I love her assessment of Catniss from The Hunger Games in the essay “What We Hunger For” and her discussion of 50 Shades of Grey (which got me very strange looks as I listened to parts of it in the daycare parking lot before I picked up the girls). And then her “Bad Feminist” essays (Take One and Take Two). Yes yes yes! At times Roxane Gay is hilarious and whimsical–she admits her faults and does not excuse them. At other times she is heartbreakingly candid about the things she has experienced and about the injustices that others are suffering. While there are many laugh out loud moments in Bad Feminist, please also understand that many of the essays are angry. This isn’t necessarily the lighthearted book people have been saying it is.
Bottom Line: Listen to it, take what you want, and leave what you don’t. This isn’t a perfect book but it provides a piece to the feminist conversation. Roxane Gay made me uncomfortable, she made me aware, she made me think. While I don’t always agree with all of her sentiments, there were many aspects of Bad Feminist that I greatly appreciated. This was my first listen in a long time that I actively searched for moments to listen and would often sit in my car longer than I needed to just to finish an essay. Thank goodness most of the essays are short!
A Note on the Audio: Fantastic. Bahni Turpin is absolutely fantastic. My only regret in listening is that I wasn’t able to highlight/dogear some of the brilliant passages of Gay’s, but otherwise listening was a homerun. I did speed it up to 1.5x as the narration was a bit slow. Listen! Listen! Listen!
Have you read Bad Feminist? Or any of the other recent essays dealing with feminism that seem to be taking the book world by storm? What are your thoughts?