Perhaps my expectations had been set awry by the publicity around Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, but I was pretty disappointed by it. I was expecting a manifesto for bad feminism, which I think is a really interesting way of describing fourth wave feminism, and the fact that there is no pure feminism. That stuff comes up in the epilogue, which I discovered is where the vast majority of anything I had heard about this book comes from.
What’s in the rest of it? It’s a collection of short essays on pop culture, race and gender. A pretty conventional feminism stands as the backdrop and viewpoint for much of that, but these are more critiques written by a feminist than feminist critique. There’s a great strength to that because Gay also identifies as black, so you have the inseparability of race from gender in her writing, so it’s something of a demonstration of intersectional feminism. However, much of the first half of the book was quite irrelevant to me because the pop culture references were limited to the United States. I don’t think this is just me being out of touch because I live in Tanzania – there’s an awful lot of American TV that never makes it out of America, and these initial essays spend a lot of time there.
For a book that exposes some pretty big blind spots regarding race relations in America, I found the fact it is being sold in Australia remarkably culturally imperialist. About half the book lacks relevance for anyone who’s not American, which I guess is the reason the ‘bad feminist’ idea has received so much coverage with almost no reference to the vast majority of the book’s content. It begs the question: is the market there in Australia? This is not a dig at Gay. I’m inferring from her comment about the title on the ‘All About Women’ panel, that she’s a bit bemused with the coverage the book is getting as well.
The Bad Feminist epilogue is good but it’s been quoted so much, there wasn’t a lot there that was new, or that you couldn’t get in free articles on the internet. Because this book is a collection of essays rather than a sustained argument, I felt that way about most of it. The critiques of Robin Thicke, The Help, 10 Years as a Slave, etc were all sharp but not particularly unique. To me its value lies in being ‘a collected words of Roxanne Gay’ — some case material of a brilliant writer (who’s also a feminist) being her. I know that sounds harsh. Maybe my expectations were just too high.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.