If you have a birthday this year, I am giving you a copy of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I consider it required reading for life.
Bad Feminist is a collection of essays – part personal, part social commentary – about a variety of topics – media, politics, entertainment, Scrabble(!) – all written within the context of feminism. The thing I like most about Roxane Gay’s take on this topic is that she outright admits that she is not a perfect feminist – hence the title. She likes pop music and reality TV programs and a whole host of other things that aren’t exactly aligned with the agenda. Which is a relief because so do I.
She writes: “I resisted feminism in my late teens and my twenties because I worried that feminism wouldn’t allow me to be the mess of a woman I knew myself to be. But then I began to learn more about feminism. …It was easy to embrace feminism when I realized it was advocating for gender equality in all realms, while also making the effort to be intersectional, to consider all the other factors that influence who we are and how we move through the world. …I do stray from these principles, but I also know it’s okay when I do not live up to my best feminist self.” That. I will have some of that.
I’ll fully admit that I didn’t love reading the book in public. The cover – a pink and white job with the title in 100 point font – can be spotted from a mile away. I suppose that’s the point – but I would have preferred something a bit more subtle because even if I know that being a feminist doesn’t mean that you’re an angry, aggressive man hater, a lot of other people don’t. Quite frankly, I make enough enemies on the 6 train without my choice of reading material helping me along.
For this reason, when I was out a few weeks ago and my date spotted the book in my bag, my immediate reaction was to throw a scarf on top of it. And then I decided to behave more normally. I said, “It’s a collection of essaying about feminism. I don’t agree with all of them, but the book makes you think. And it’s something we all need to think about.”
“Hey, you don’t have to explain it to me,” he said. “I have a mother and a sister, I’m a feminist too.”
I appreciate his effort, I really do. But I hate that answer. Absolutely hate it.
I hate that some men have to call on their mothers and sisters as reasons to support this cause. I hate that they sometimes need to have a daughter to care. I don’t understand why some people can’t just support feminism simply because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone should be able to get behind the movement so long as they agree with the idea that men and women are equal and should be treated equally. No daughter required.
I fully understand why it’s important not to criticize men who advocate in this way. It’s alienating. It’s like turning up your nose and saying “Thanks, but no thanks. You don’t get it.” It’s especially problematic to argue with the people who are trying to support you because it might make them less likely to do so in the future. I don’t want that. But I also don’t want to endorse flawed logic or categorize any old support as “better than nothing.” Because – to borrow an idea from the book – better isn’t good.
So in my – hopefully – most charming way, I tried to explain it to him. It went well for the most part. And when I was done with my speech, we discussed booties, cake and TV. Which is fine with me, because I’m a bad feminist too.