Roxane Gay: Bad Feminist
A Code Like A Girl Book Review
This is the second of 10 feminist books I am planning to read and review this year for Code Like A Girl. For each review I am going to answer the same questions as if someone else is interviewing me about the book.
How did you read this book?
As with the first book of this series, I listened to the audio version of the book during my commute. Unlike last time the author herself did not read the book, instead it was read by actrice Bahni Turpin. I think Bahni did the best she could with this book, but I must say that by the end I just wanted the ranting that was this book to be over. I don’t know if that was due to the performance of the narrator or the content itself. Perhaps a bit of both.
What was your favorite quote/passage?
In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.
I love that she is calling out that feminism can’t be perfect, because people are not perfect. Feminism is a movement I feel is more scrutinized than any other for the very reason it exists. When women are trying to empower themselves it makes many men and even some women uncomfortable. To try and deal with this discomfort they will look for any reason to discredit the movement in an attempt to hold on to the fstatus quo.
Am I what society would consider the perfect feminist? Of course not. Their perfect feminist doesn’t take her husband’s name, doesn’t shave her legs, doesn’t plan a wedding where she felt like a princess for the day, or enjoy purses and pretty shoes.
Am I a kick ass feminist?! Hell Yes!
Why? Because feminism is about equality for women with men. Equality does not mean being the same as men. It means having our voice and opinions valued in equal measure with male voices and opinions. My last name, state of hair on my body, or shoes I wear are irrelevant. My constant fight to raise the bar for women is what is important.
So in essence I am not sure I agree with Roxane’s concept of a Bad Feminist. To me you are only a Bad Feminist if you are pretending to be a good feminist while actively trying to undermine the movement. However, I do see the point she is trying to make. Which is, we need to stop thinking that feminist have to be a what society perceives as perfect feminist in every single aspect of life.
What is the most surprising part of the book? Why?
I was ready to be blown away by this book. So many people recommended it to me. The first chapter did not disappoint. However the rest of the book fell a bit flat for me. I was not blown away and that is what surprised me the most!
What did you learn about yourself by reading this book?
“The Help is billed as inspirational, charming, and heartwarming. That’s all true if your heart is warmed by narrow, condescending, mostly racist depictions of the white women who employed the help; the excessive, inaccurate use of dialect; and the glaring omissions with regards to the stirring civil rights movement in which, as Martha Southgate points out in Entertainment Weekly, “white people were the help”; the architects, visionaries, prime movers, and most of the on-the-ground laborers of the civil rights movement were African-American. The Help, I have decided, is science fiction, creating an alternate universe.”
I learned that I did not see that the depiction of the maids in the book and movie “The Help” was itself racist. I saw what the writer and director wanted me to see. Women of colour being oppressed in the south during the 1960s. I saw a white woman standing up for the these coloured women and that made me think it was a good movie and good narrative. Wow! I am ashamed to admit that I was wrong. Very very wrong.
First and foremost, women of colour do not need white women to fight their fight for them. They are more than capable of doing that themselves. Secondly, as Roxane mentions, it was people of colour who lead the civil rights movement, and it was people of colour that day in and day out during those years showed courage, strength, and resolve beyond measure to effect the change.
Were there white men and women on their side helping? Yes, and that is awesome. Should it be celebrated? No. Should there be a whole movie about one woman in the south standing up to her white friends to help the colourd people of her community out? No. There should be movies about the amazing people of colour that risked their lives and the lives of their families to fight for equality.
Thank you Roxane for opening my eyes to this injustice. I will now look at the world of entertainment with a more critical eye than I did before.
What is the one thing you want everyone to know about this book?
This book is in fact a series of essays Roxane has written that are loosely tied together with the common thread being her experience as a Woman of Colour. Some essays I found exceedingly interesting and eye opening like those around her concepts of feminism, hollywood, social media, and reality tv.
Some essays felt more like lengthy rants, than shining light on issues in a new way and at times I felt myself wishing the book would be over soon.
Overall I am glad I read it, it challenged me to think more deeply about my concept of feminism and it gave me knew insights to the challenges of women of colour in America.
What part of the book made you most uncomfortable?
Roxane has a whole chapter about weight. I was excited about this. As someone who has recovered from an eating disorder I expected some loud and proud statements about body acceptance and love. Sadly, Rossane is someone who is still in the midst of this struggle.
She rightly spoke about not wanting others to assume what it is like to be a large woman. She didn’t want others to tell her how to feel. I can identify 100% with that. However, she often repeated concepts that I find very harmful for other women and many of her views of size and weight loss are mired in diet culture as we see it in media today.
To have such a strong feminist still believe that you must be thin to be healthy and that her size is of any real importance was sad for me. It even made me a bit angry because so many other women will read it and assume that is ok.
That said, she is talking about her experience and that is the truth of her experience. It is always hard for me to listen to this type of message. It brings back some of the old voices in my head.
So if you have any experience with eating disorders, then I recommend you skip the chapter on weight.
If you met the author what would you ask her?
What books should I read so I can continue to get a better understanding of the struggles of women of colour? I know and understand the struggles of being a white woman in a male dominated industry, but I can’t even pretend to know what that would be like as a woman of colour. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try to understand, so that I can ensure Code Like A Girl is trying to address issues for all Women In Tech, not just those experiences that look most like mine.
What is/are the major takeaway(s) you got from the book?
The thing that stuck with me the most is that many people judge by the actions of those who work in its name. However, they are just people, so they will make mistakes. We can’t let the mistakes of women who are doing their best (and even if they aren’t) stop us from continuing to push for equality for all genders!