I first learned about Roxane Gay when I read her review of Jodi Picoult Small Great Things. She sparked in me an appreciation for her deliberate telling of what she saw and didn’t sugarcoat her observations, but also didn’t appear cruel in her suggestions.
So, Ben & I listened to her book of essays Bad Feminist as we were falling asleep for a couple weeks. Some of the essays were listened to multiple times because I felt like I missed too much. Other essays were listened to multiple times because I adored hearing Gay’s analytical brain break down all sorts of pop culture that I defaulted to liking without really giving it much thought.
She has such a diligent way of expressing truth about the flaws presented in different ideas and works and art while still honoring the efforts put forth, yet still asking for more.
Her knowledge of tropes and stereotypes and industry is expansive. I felt reassured in some ways knowing some of the concerns I had seen in certain stories (take 12 Years A Slave, for example, largely highlighting the slave narrative in Hollywood instead of more complex plots) were real concerns to her too. At the same time, some of my thinking was challenged. One of the films that helped me think, process, and relate to President Obama’s election is Lee Daniels’ The Butler. I have even shown it in class alongside reading texts like Ernest J. Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. And while I still feel like Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker in the movie) was tremendously helpful in showing young, white, privileged me some of the suffering and segregation of American history, my eyes were opened to some of the issues presented with the film through Gay’s comments and observations.
She does such a good job of making an observation and then unraveling it so anyone can understand the roots of what she is seeing. She made some intelligent insights about shows like Orange is the New Black and works by Tyler Perry. She is so capable of offering critique and still acknowledging successes. And I am very thankful for her willingness to be honest about her dissatisfaction with stories, even when they highlight black writing, direction, and casts. Well-rounded, complex, engaging stories about the black experience are deserved.
Her comments on feminism itself are also so spot on. I feel like she gives me permission to just breathe and to remember to separate movements from individuals within movements when needed. She says,
“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. 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.”
At some point, I would love to read Hunger. It’s a different lane than Bad Feminist, and is instead a memoir about weight, body image, and taking care of yourself.