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Are You a Bad Feminist?

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One of Roxane Gay’s recent readings was down at The Literary Loft in Minneapolis this past April and was sponsored by the wonderful Bust magazine. While the main room filed up fast, there were satellite rooms that broadcasted her presentation and reading via live-streaming televisions.

Gay was introduced, by the fantastic Amber Tamblyn, as “the boss” and was the final of 5 spectacular authors. When Roxanne Gay took the stage, the seven year-old girl sitting next to me asked her mother, “So that’s the boss, right?”

The entire room cheered. Now not just for Gay, but for the obvious-even-to-children reality that this brilliant woman is so definitely “The Boss.”

Gay’s recent collection of essays, Bad Feminist, is the best kind of book. It’s honest, candid, brilliant, and funny as hell. But more importantly, it’s the kind of book we need right now–when the discussion of feminism has become too often limited, oversimplified, misunderstood, and misconstrued. And there’s also a hard reality there, for those of us who are actively and viscerally challenged by the onslaught of discrimination that has been brought into an even harsher focus over the last few years: With all the frustration and seeming powerlessness about our own lives and bodies, we really need to laugh once in awhile so that we can pick back up and keep on going. Gay is at her best when she is funny, and like I said, this boss is funny as hell.

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In Bad Feminist, Gay covers everything from her fixation on the Sweet Valley High books of the 80’s that offered young readers impossibly white, upper class twins to emulate; to Tyler Perry’s questionable “morality; to issues surrounding “coming out” and her wonderfully nerdy obsession with Scrabble. Gay is an incredible generalist dropping bombs in the form of essays like “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown,” and “The Alienable Rights of Women.”

But the best thing that Gay does here is to admit that she’s a “bad feminist.” She listens to music with misogynist lyrics and watches television and movies that don’t give women characters a fair chance at being more than a walking billboard. She does the same things most of us do but she is fully unapologetic about it. In this and in her focus on feminism as a diverse and all encompassing set of active beliefs, she unpacks feminism from the stodgy theoretical libraries and filing cabinets and gives us a real, living, faulty, striving ideal. She gives us our right to be a wide and diverse range of feminists. but also to be fully and completely human.

And we walk away laughing and ready for more.

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