What does it mean to be a “bad feminist”? Author Roxane Gay defines the term in the intro of her book of essays of the same title. She admits she may not be as up on feminist texts as she’d like and sometimes she finds herself singing along to pop music she knows is bad for women. But she also supports equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health with unfettered access to health care. A “bad” feminist accepts that she or he cannot be a perfect ideal and example of feminism at all times.
“I openly embrace the label of bad feminist,” she writes in the intro. “I do so because I am flawed and human.”
Gay is known for shining a light on a multitude of pop culture and viewing it through a feminist lens. She’s written and talked about everything from Girls and the Sweet Valley High young adult book series to The Hunger Games and The Bachelor. She also tackles serious subject matter with grace and honesty.
During an Aug. 27 reading at Women & Children First bookstore in Andersonville, Gay read two excerpts from Bad Feminist as well as a selection of hysterical tweets she once composed while live-tweeting the September issue of Vogue. She then answered questions from an audience of
between 80-100 nearly 200 people crammed into the store. Here are Gay’s remarks on everything from Beyoncé’s VMA performance to blogging/tweeting your day-to-day for all of the internet to see.
On Beyoncé, Feminism, and the VMAs
The haters? They’re gonna get there. A 33-year-old woman put the word feminism up on a big screen on national television on MTV, the channel that plays “Blurred Lines.” Young girls saw that and understood that if you want to be cool like Beyoncé, it’s okay to own feminism. If you have anything negative to say about Beyoncé’s feminism, I can’t see you. I also think that discussing “is she or is she not a feminist” is the stupidest conversation I’ve heard in my life. Who cares? Poverty’s still gonna exist tomorrow whether or not Beyoncé’s a feminist. I don’t care if celebrities are feminist but I do worship at the altar of Beyoncé.
What Beyoncé is doing is just opening the door. I mean, c’mon! I’ve seen the “Partition” video. [Laughter] I don’t think she’s saying that owning your sexuality is feminist — but for a black woman to be married and to own her sexuality and be like, “Yeah we are married and we are doing it every night,” I think that’s amazing. All too often the sexuality of black women is demonized and we rarely get to see an intact black family, and they do exist. When people say she’s just promoting sex, they’re being short-sighted because she’s doing so much more.
Feminism does not begin or end with Beyoncé. She’s just one woman, being a feminist.
On Why Transfeminism is Ignored
Because people are assholes. I think it’s just so hard to think beyond yourself and your own experience. For me, I have trans friends who are teaching me things — and I’m teaching myself because it’s not their job. It’s taken time to for me to overcome my humanity and my laziness. As a whole I think feminists are wary of doing that. And I think there’s some really virulent sections of feminism that are transphobic. Until we continue to press this conversation, nothing’s gonna change. I don’t know everything about [every issue], but I’m learning.
On Eating Disorders
I’m a very lucky person. I am a privileged person. When I get emails and notes from young women and sometimes young men who say “Thank you for talking about fat and fat bodies and eating disorders and just the bullshit we deal with every day,” I’m glad I can be that person because when I was growing up I wanted that person. I recognize now that you have to be open and let people know they can come to you.
On How to Shut Down at the End of the Day
Balance — I watch a lot of television. I teach, I have a day job so it’s not like I’m sitting in my apartment miserable. I have two nieces and a nephew and they are so much fun to spoil. I have a great support network. When things get too dark, I have people I can turn to. I also have to know when to walk away, and just go, okay I know the darkness is still gonna be there and the revolution’s gonna have to wait because tonight I need to watch The Bachelor. I think if more people were honest with themselves and took a break from the revolution, it would get further. I think you can still be mindful of the world’s problems [and still live your life].
On Using Twitter and Writing with Honesty and Openness
I tweet and write as if nobody’s reading. Because the minute I start to worry, it’s not fun for me anymore. Twitter’s my happy place and no one’s gonna take that away. When the trolls come at me, I’m getting more and more confident. My best friend was like, “Stop letting them get you down,” and she’s right. But sometimes I just tell them to go fuck themselves and it feels so good.
I do have boundaries, and things I don’t talk about much online like my relationship, my family. I talk about them online but not in ways that will compromise their privacy. My profile has risen in such a way that makes me want to vomit. And so I don’t want them to have to deal with that as well. My parents are feeling the effects of it and they are dealing with it very gracefully. But they are very private people so I know it’s uncomfortable for them. Even though my mom says, “When you win the Pulitzer, I’m getting a banner in front of the house!” Haitian parents believe all things are possible. She keeps telling people about this banner.
My writing advice is be relentless. I’m relentless as hell. I’m like a cockroach. I’ll still be here after the nuclear apocalypse. You have to believe in your writing. So many writers are like [on Facebook], “Oh, I wrote this shitty thing. Maybe you’ll click on it.” No fuck you, I wrote something really good. I’m nervous about my essays still, but I’m proud of my novel [Untamed State]. [Applause] I’m not gonna say it’s the best book because I look at it and recognize the flaws, but I will do better next time. Recognize the ways you can continue to grow and learn. Those are things you have to do as a writer.
And you have to read a lot. You have to read outside of your friends’ circle and outside of your comfort zone. And I’m sorry, but move on from Hemingway. He’s great but there’s more to the world. Read diversely. Read experimental writing, read poetry, read essays. Reading broadly and all over the place, that’s what’s helped me.
Be humble but be confident and don’t be an asshole. You don’t have to kiss ass or eat shit. Just don’t be an asshole.
Bad Feminist came out Aug. 5. Pick up your copy at Women & Children First today.