Monday, November 21, 2016

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay.

Just finished reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I already follow her on twitter, she's a great cultural critic. I've read pieces of hers here and there, but this is the first of her books I've read. I've already pre-ordered Hunger as well. She has a novel called Difficult Women scheduled for release in January 2017.

It's a nice collection of current-culture feminist critiques.

From Blurred lines, Indeed:
It’s hard not to feel humourless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening: it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly. (Page 189)
Here she's discussing the pervasive misogyny we see daily in popular culture, but she's also projecting past that, it's everywhere, all the time. She's also referencing her feeling like a nag/debbie downer by her pointing out this sexism all the time, how it makes her seem humourless. This is something that's often on my mind, since stand-up and humour are very dear to me, but so is the resistance to bigotry.

From The Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion
I don’t believe in safety. I wish I did. I am not brave. I simply know what to be scared of; I know to be scared of everything. There is freedom in that fear. That freedom makes it easier to appear fearless-to say and do what I want. I have been broken, so I am prepared should that happen again. I have, at times, put myself in dangerous situations. I have thought, You have no idea what I can take. This idea of unknown depths of endurance is a refrain in most of my writing. Human endurance fascinates me, probably too much because more often than not, I think of life in terms of enduring instead of living. (Page 152)
Gay comes to this passage through a critique of the concept of "safe spaces" and trigger warnings. I understand what she's saying, but I see no harm in using a trigger warning when creating something you know to be a representation of traumatic space.

If I'm down, and having a hard time, and I see a movie has trigger warnings regarding a lot of sexual violence I might choose to opt out of seeing the film, and keeping it for a day when it won't kick me while I'm down. A trigger warning is the option to say no, and to walk away. I absolutely understand that the world does not adhere to this type of nicety, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have it's value, or what it isn't at least an attempt at recognising the trauma of experience.

I relate to Gay's passage immensely. I also think there are parts of me that lean towards masochism. There is a way that trauma can dull certain synapses, in equal measure. Sure, maybe I have a high pain tolerance, expanded empathy, and deep emotional intelligence, but I also have a low understanding of romantic love and low level trust in men.

I live in pain-reduction so much, it limits my choices. I have nearly zero ambition these days. I'm always in crisis mode - in limiting my stimulation. I'm tired of enduring, but I have no reference for what living looks like.

Gay's framing of a bad feminist is based on what has traditionally been a white-upper class version of feminism. I'd argue that with millennials, there is more of an understanding of the fluidity of identity, and that like many things, it exists on a spectrum.

Feminism is the fight against patriarchy. More than that, it's the notion that women are people, and as such deserve the same unalienable rights as men. Furthermore, they deserve person-hood and autonomy.

Gay is a great feminist. There is no such thing as a bad feminist. You can be a racist feminist. You can be an elitist feminist. If you're "bad" and believing in equality - you're just not a feminist.

There is no one right way to be feminist. As there's no right way to be Canadian,  American, female, male, or queer.

So Gay might be a bad feminist of her own identifying. I'd argue she's a great one. But identities, especially those that hold on too tightly to a narrative, tend to alienate. And a reading of her work understands how she came to that title.

I recommend her book.

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