Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay

Back to reading after the last couple of weeks of cat-centred mayhem. I wanted something lighter and started reading Talk to the Tail by Tom Cox, but then, events, dear reader, events

So I picked up something at random from the bookshelf. Roxane Gay’s book of essays was lent by my friend Claire years ago and I think she may have forgotten that I have it. I knew of Roxane Gay, but I hadn’t read anything by her, so this was going to be intriguing. I was expecting an angry academic feminist, well-versed in all the latest theories and using all the right jargon, but I was wrong.

Gay writes about all the things feminists aren’t supposed to like: her love of trashy reality TV, whitebread YA novels from the 80s and 90s, the films of Tyler Perry, excoriating critiques of The Help (which I read and immediately forgot) and Django Unchained (which I couldn’t be bothered to watch after enduring Inglorious Basterds). She compares and contrasts Rolling Stone’s profile of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with the media treatment of Trayvon Martin, shot by a volunteer guard for walking while black, using it as a launching point for a discussion of kneejerk associations of blackness with criminality. There’s more; fairly short essays on race, feminism and culture expressing not a party line but a considered, educated, humane and witty voice. My favourite was a piece on free speech and comedy, Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others. Gay discusses a comic’s reaction to an audience member protesting about a rape joke (he responded with a joke about gang rape). She argues that rape jokes and the acceptance of rape jokes as ‘free speech’ serve as reminders to women that we’re “still not quite equal”, that if anything, this type of humour maintains the status quo rather than bashes the so-called politically correct liberal elite. Because, as she points out, while all the men were happy to follow the comic’s lead, it took a woman to stand up and say, Enough.

PS: I just wanted to add a thumbs up for her essay on Scrabble tournaments, where Gay explores her competitive streak; weaving strands on feminism, friendship and why writers don’t necessarily make good Scrabble players. I would write more, but I’m off to find her on Words with Friends.