Essays are one of my favourite literary genres and recently I’ve read some amazing essay collections that have introduced me to new ideas and new writing styles so perhaps I put overly high expectations on Roxane Gay’s essay collection. Overall I’d have to say I was disappointed but this might have a lot to do with my high expectations and perhaps that I am not this book’s intended audience.
The book started off quite well. I liked the introduction in which Gay discusses what it means to be a “bad feminist”, an imperfect woman in a world in which women are expected to strive for (unattainable) perfection at all times. I was able to relate to the sentiment a lot of women have of wanting to steer clear of the feminist title because of its often negative connotations, and also because of not understanding what the theory was truly about.
There are a few reasons why this book didn’t do it for me:
1- This book is too heavy on pop culture, which isn’t really for me. I’m probably the wrong audience for this book because, after all I don’t watch reality TV or any of the television shows Gay critiques, I’m not interested in critiques of 50 Shades of Grey, Gone Girl or Twilight at all so it’s not a surprise that I didn’t enjoy those particular essays.
2- I think I was confused by the main thesis of this book. I expected all the essays to be on feminism, an alternative and more uniting (for our diverse, pluralistic society) type of feminism. This book was essentially a mixture of feminist essays, loosely-feminist essays, essays on observations of race, class and pop culture critique, and some memoir-style essays. I’m not even sure whether I can call the majority of them essays as they read like blog posts. Although I’ve learned a lot from reading people’s blogs, a paperback perhaps isn’t the right medium for this type of writing.
3- I wasn’t challenged enough. I felt like Gay was trying to say, look I’m an academic but I’m still cool. I appreciate and admire postmodernist feminist writers when they write in their own styles and don’t feel the need to stick to conventional, dry academic writing styles, but this particular style just didn’t engage me. I read a lot of feminist literature and I guess what I always look for when I finish books like this are new realizations, new ideas and things I didn’t know before, but this was simply a rehash of the last two years of pop culture discussion on Twitter.
4- I was quite frankly uninterested in most of her essays. Some of the essays ended too soon; I had no idea where she was going with some of them and when I had finally figured it out, the essay had ended.
I can definitely see Gay’s appeal, and the idea of her appeals to me as well. This is a world in which women are constantly being silenced or being called histrionic, strident, etc for having an opinion or talking about controversial issues that make people uncomfortable so I always support women who have found their voice and are able to express themselves. Gay does bring up lots of important topics, such as rape, racism,racial stereotypes, and abortion and these topics still need to be discussed and dealt with.
With all that being said, I did like quite a few of the essays. The ones on race were decent. Personally as a black woman in academia I enjoyed her discourse on the lack of black professors in academia and I have to say that it was not until graduate school that I ever had a black professor (or even black classmates for that matter) and that was a big deal for me.
Gay is definitely a passionate and fearless writer, It’s too bad I didn’t enjoy her essays as much as I’d expected to.