Breaking Down âBad Feminismâ<br />

Our Friday night turn-up destination is packed to capacity. My girlfriend Uche and I have made our circles around, eyeing all things interesting—whether women’s fashion or men’s cocktail choices. It was girl’s night, after all. After being at the spot for less than an hour, full of sweat from dancing to old school hip-hop, magic happened. The beginnings of UGK’s “Let Me See It” hit the speakers, and we instantly rose out our seats like we were spellbound.

Uche and I are feminists, and yes, our brand of feminism intersects with southern rap and ass shaking. We’ve learned not to be ashamed of that intersection, but to embrace it.  We’re “bad feminist,” and we love it like Pimp C’s verse on the track we’re dancing to.

When I heard that brilliant novelist/essayist Roxane Gay was to publish a collection of essays titled Bad Feminist, I was immediately elated and ready. I constantly comb through Gay’s Tumblr, all antsy, hoping I’ll find new prose from the author to revel in. I search for new essays she’s written and revisit some that have made me think (like this essay which discusses Gay’s views on HBO’s Girls). I preordered Bad Feminist, because bookstores that carry even highly published and much-anticipated Black woman writers are hard to find where I live. Needless to say, Gay’s writing had me at “hello,” and her new collection pushes me further into my love affair with her.

From Gay’s introduction, I felt as though I was talking to an old friend. So much so, I brought it along on a date at the pool (because I roll like that, with books on dates and such) and read highlighted portions of its introduction to my companion. As we discussed the current feminist movement, he asked me how feminists can hope to come together in one movement if there are so many individual definitions of feminism. He wanted to discuss feminism’s shortcomings, which meant he was paying attention, so I was down. I told him that the Feminist Movement is no different than any other. 

“For instance” I explained, “there are/were several variations of the Civil Rights Movement—from separatists to integrationists—but there were/are common goals that tie each together.” My definition of feminism as a sassy, southern Black single mother will be entirely different than that of a conservative, married, White stay-at-home mom. What we might have in common as feminists is that we both agree women deserve the rights, respect and equal treatment every other human being does.

When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.

As for flaws in feminism, Gay writes very early in her introduction that “…feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed… When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.”

Gay’s statement was quite meaningful to me, as I often struggle with my (lack of) experience with ally-ship from White feminists. I become frustrated with the absence of intersection and inclusion when trying to present my narrative and perspective to White women, which they often flat out ignore or somehow turn back towards their own wants.

Concerning her choice to use “bad feminist” as a descriptor, Gay asserts:

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy… I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women…”

Gay proceeds in the pages that follow her intro asking us to keep her “bad feminism” in mind. She doesn’t want to be a role model, per se. She isn’t pushing forward a feminist agenda. She’s simply sharing her thoughts and experiences as she moves through the world—imperfect, vulnerable, passionate and honest.

She understands why many women reject the feminist title, as she did at one time. For years, she says she refused to call herself a feminist because she was Black and queer—parts of her that fit outside of the seeming goal of the movement, to “improve the lives of heterosexual White women to the detriment of all others.”

While reminiscing on trips to Haiti as a child, Gay explores the “Game of Privilege.”  She discusses her experiences as a new professor (who wears Converse, has tattoos and is the “child of immigrants”) teaching students who probably never had a Black teacher before. She provides of list on how to be a (true) friend to another woman, writing, “If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem.”

Roxane Gay delivers sermons that read like easy conversations. Bad Feminist is an important collection of prose—prose that matters to those still trying to find their voice.

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.