Read Harder: Vol. 11

Jessica Staff Image

Another entry in my continuing adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Feminism is a loaded word. It’s very much a badge of honor for some and something to run away from for others. How I want to take ownership of the word is something that I’ve been grappling with recently. Luckily for us, “read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes” was on the challenge list.

Roxane Gay‘s book of essays, Bad Feminist, seemed like a great place to start on my path of discovery. Early in the book, she admits to not being well versed in feminist history or particularly well-read on the subject. Same here. And like Gay, I have interests and traits that are not 100% “feminist” — our mutual love of questionable pop music just being one. I’m okay with that. I embrace being a bad feminist.

book cover for Bad Feminist

I found the introduction to the book especially powerful. In it, Gay unpacks (like the English professor she is) her own definition of feminism, asking, “How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all of the good it can do?” (page 8). She asks this question again and again throughout the essays. A few that stood out to me:

  • In which she navigates her role as an adviser to a black student organization while in graduate school and wondering if her own place is the result of affirmative action.
  • In which she gives advice for female friendships — being supportive, avoiding toxicity, and starting tough conversations with “GIRL.”
  • In which The Hunger Games and being in awe of the strength in other women helps her explore the sexual assault she suffered as a child.
  • In which she dives into the problem of “good” and “bad” women in Tyler Perry movies.

One of the strengths of the book and the essays is how many of them are framed by pop culture. It’s not necessarily tearing the thing down, but sometimes just understanding that the things we find to be questionable also serve a purpose.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to be a feminist. You can like the color pink, care about fashion and be clueless at the mechanic but still feel strongly about tearing down misogyny, inequality and violence against women. I’m going to keep on knitting and reading romance novels while standing up for what matters to me.

P.S. – Roxane Gay will be in Pittsburgh on March 6, 2017 as a part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series!

“Good” Feminist/”Bad” Feminist

Request Bad Feminist: Essays

Jess is the Clerical Specialist at the Woods Run branch on the North Side. She’s your girl for YA lit, romance novels and knitting.