To co-opt a phrase from Oprah, it is not often that I have an ‘Aha moment’. That is not to say I have been completely bereft of epiphany, but it can be unusual to really and completely resonate with an author, particularly when it comes to the subject of feminism. I always find feminism difficult to both talk and write about because it has for too long been mired in controversy and is of course, incredibly subjective. Part of feminism’s problem, in my view, is that there is no over-arching agreement about what feminism is or what is should be. It if a self-fulfilling cycle that feminism perpetuates: it’s is about choice and therefore sometimes the choice is not to identify with it.
As an undergrad I studied in great detail about the first wave feminists. These were the feminists agitating for women’s suffrage, something many of my contemporaries take for granted. Certainly in the context of Australian history, there was much to overcome; the state sanctioned transportation of convict women to [sexually] service the men of the colony, the public jurisdiction of private reproductive rights, powerless legal standing both within and outside of marriage and inferior socio-economic circumstances.
These hard-fought battles were later overshadowed by the second wave feminists whose objective was to legislate no-fault divorce and further protect women’s reproductive rights and choices. Many of the second wave feminists developed a reputation, fairly or otherwise, or aggressive and angry posturing. These women were deemed misandrists and deviants. It was in the aftermath of these complex political and intellectual conflicts that women of my generation struggled with identifying as feminists. We want choices and we want rights but are less keen to wear the label of feminist as it was understood in the 1970s.
Roxane Gay’s book is a series of essays, part biography and part comment on Gay’s world view. I don’t have much in common with Gay in terms of background except for our gender. But I did find myself time and time again exclaiming ‘yes’ as I journeyed through her essays. I am particularly indebted to her articulation of feminism’s failings. She writes:
‘People do terrible things all the time but we don’t regularly disown out humanity. We disavow the terrible things. We should disavow the failures of feminism without disavowing its many successes and how far we have come’ (Gay, xiii).
Like Gay, I too resisted feminism for many years and have now embraced it in all its flawed and imperfect glory.
This book may not be for everybody but I believe it is definitely worthwhile. Gay’s dissection of popular culture phenomena is particularly engaging, particularly her analysis of The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Gay’s tome also gives some incredible insights into the world of competitive Scrabble (who knew?).