Fifty Shades of Feminism in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist

In newspapers, news channels, magazines, and social media – we have met these three kinds of people. One is the avowed feminist, as Roxane Gay would have it – the one who sits on the pedestal waiting to be dislodged at the first sign of betrayal of the idea of ‘perfect’ feminism. Second is the anti-feminism who is a self-proclaimed feminist-hunter waiting for the decimation of the ideology itself. Third is the Bad Feminist. This one doesn’t hide the fact that she loves listening to those sexist hit numbers or shaves her legs or that pink is her favourite colour and at the same time, believes in equal opportunity for women and wants them to be represented on par with men in publications, board-room meetings, or the parliament. This one comes with all the little imperfections that we human beings come with. Roxane Gay, the author of a collection of essays, primarily on ‘Feminism’ as well as several other intersectional subjects, is a Bad Feminist.

Roxane Gay is an American writer and professor who has also written Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Ayiti, An Untamed State among other works. She is a New York Times best selling author and is vocal with her pen and speech on issues of feminism, race, sexual violence (rape), immigration, and LGBTQ rights to name a few. Her personal brush with most of these issues lends her an air of sincerity, authenticity, and seriousness that these subjects deserve. This does not mean she is divorced from humour. In fact, Bad Feminist is laden with a wry sense of humour throughout.

The book begins with the author’s constantly evolving understanding of feminism, her struggles to acknowledge the feminist inside her even at the cost of offending the ‘sisterhood’ that wants you to play by the inviolable playbook of feminism. So, even if she does and likes a lot of things that the feminism police would absolutely abhor, she comes to terms with the idea that she can still be a feminist, maybe a bad one at that, but still a feminist! The imperfections of the practitioners doesn’t imply that the idea itself is a dispensable one.

With feminism as the centre point, she moves about the circumference and speaks on a range of issues through her essays. You will find thought provoking critiques of several best selling books, popular films and television shows. As I read through, I realized that a lot of content in the book is focused on American pop culture and its icons. She tells us about the misogyny that comes with most of the Hip Hop lyrics, inadequate or misrepresentation of people of colour in the book as well as the movie The Help, criticism of Fifty Shades of Grey, Django Unchained, her likes and dislikes about The Hunger Games in straight-from-the-heart prose without carrying any burden of formal writing. 

“Any offense I take with ‘Django Unchained’ is not academic or born of political correction. Art can and should take liberties and interpret human experiences in different ways, even if those interpretations make us uncomfortable. My offense is personal — entirely human and rising from the uncomfortable reality that I could have been a slave,”…. “I can’t debate the artistic merits of ‘Django Unchained’ because the palms of my hands are burning with the desire to slap Tarantino in the face until my arms grow tired.” – Roxane Gay

It’s not that Roxane Gay doesn’t contradict herself in the book but she is acutely aware of these contradictions as well as her personal flaws. At times she can be too harsh and sometimes more forgiving than you would expect her to be. Also, since she is an ardent follower of pop culture, the book is full of examples that readers from other countries may not appreciate. However, because her contexts are well explained, it should not be difficult for a reader in India to replace Yin Yang twins with Honey Singh and understand what the author means. But for someone entirely disinterested in pop culture, a few essays can get weary.

For me, one of the defining parts of the book is when Roxane talks about sexual violence and crimes. Starting from her own horrific experience to reflecting on the way ‘rape culture’ as a phrase is frequently used in media, she explores several facets of the subject. Her own experience is heartbreaking and her deliberations on how popular icons rarely get adequately punished for their sexual crimes are piercing. The essay will remind you of how in our own backyard, a rape joke by Salman Khan could not make a single dent on his box office collections or how Mulayam Singh Yadav remains an Honourable Member of Parliament even after saying something as shameful as “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phasi di jayegi?” (First girls develop friendship with boys. Then when differences occur, they level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape). He is not alone. Several people have contributed to the cause of defending or glorifying rape at different times.

Roxane Gay’s book is as inward looking as it is outward looking. She keeps creating bridges between the two worlds to draw her observations. She is candid in her narrations, and talks about a lot from her own life and struggles through its different phases. If you are someone who is conflicted between the three types of people I mentioned in the beginning and would like to have some clarity on matters related to feminism, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist makes it easier for you. She is there with her essays sitting right beside you telling, it’s okay not to tick all the mandatory boxes of feminism, you can be a feminist even without applying to the sisterhood.

Like what you just read? Become TheSeer Insider. You will be receiving one letter from us every Friday to help you spend a more mindful day and make the best of your weekend. Enter your email id below and click on subscribe. We won’t spam you, ever!

Culture Crops – Banning the termites!

“…but how can we ban porn access?” – cried the person in khadi kurta and a squeaky clean white dhoti.

“Why not?” Another person pounded his heavy fist on the desk and stood up in anger. Dressed in khadi kurta and squeaky clean white dhoti, this man additionally had a Gandhi topi (cap) on his head which was gravitating towards the floor in a strange way as if it had life in it and deep down in its cardiac cavity thought that the head that it housed didn’t deserve the place.

“Okay, let me tell you something very clearly. I will resign if a ban is effected on porn access.” – came the reply.

“And what’s your rationale behind that?” – asked the Ban-Nar (pronounced like Vaanar in Hindi by replacing v with b, meaning the one who bans, variation – Ban as in Ban, and Nar taken from Hindi meaning-Man, effectively – the banning man).

The question was put in a sharp and stinging voice. The Ban-Ban (pronounced like bang-bang but only after eliminating both the spots taken by G, they were always against bans) had no answer.

There were more intelligent ones in the room.
“I will tell you why a ban is not right for us.” – said the man in khadi kurta and squeaky clean black trousers and additionally a black sleeveless Nehru jacket on his kurta. He had no Gandhi cap. Nehru jacket was a sign of intelligence. Gandhi cap wasn’t. Such people were known as Nehru-Coats who almost every time hijacked discussions and manifested a certain flair in their earnestness of debating eloquently. They almost never had a subject of their own to discuss and were always looking to bump into whatever was going on. They held the highest offices in the government because of their perceived erudition.

“Us?” – Ban-Nar was surprised.

“Yes, let me ask you this. What’s the average age of the people in this room?” – Nehru-Coat asked presuming that Ban-Nar wouldn’t know the answer.

“65?”

“You are close, it is 68. And how are you faring in your sex life?”

“Are you serious? I am not married.”

“Does that warrant a sexless life?”

Ban-Nar smiled but didn’t say anything.

“I presume you have an active sex life. So, how are you doing these days?” – Nehru-Coat was not ready to relent in his line of interrogation.

“It’s getting difficult. Can we take this offline?” – Ban-Nar didn’t want to trivialize the matter with details of his own life.

“I have no personal interest in your sex life. Nevertheless, you know most of our boys are unmarried. They have the sex life of an infant and they are growing older every day. The ones who have wives are more treacherously placed than the unmarried ones. The wives find no time for them amidst all the school inaugurations they have to do. Even if they do, they are no longer what they used to be.” – Nehru-Coat was clearly the brightest in the room, so thought the occupants but one.

“This is sexism! Women watch porn too. How dare you say wives are no longer the way they used to be? What about you people? Your belly reaches everywhere two minutes before you do. Have you ever seen yourself in the mirror? You have only 6 to 8 original teeth left. Look at your head, looks like the US drones have raided it. Your eyes are ready to shoot off like projectiles any moment.” – The lady was a tad too harsh on Nehru-Coat. He didn’t look as bad as she had wanted him to. In fact he had more hair on his head than most of the men inside the room. The lady went on for another couple of minutes. Clad in a strange mix of orange and white with print of pink flowers, that looked more like a bed cover than a sari, she was the Secretary of the women’s wing of the party. The aim of the wing was to give wings to the dreams of women. The President was of course a man. History had shown that men always represented women better than women themselves.

The victim of the epithets seemed indifferent. As if, he was expecting the backlash, rather he wanted that backlash from her. He was dotingly fond of the way she spoke. As a matter of fact, he had an appreciative smile on his face all the while.

The lady soon got a polite shut-up call from another woman who was also against the ban – “Can we first listen to his line of argument?” She was less conservatively dressed in a kameez but there was nothing remarkable about her appearance. Such ones were known as Ordinary-Women.

Nehru-Coat continued – “Look, many of us are leading a celibate life just for the sake of the ideology and the growth of the party. We have sacrificed the most basic instinct of ours. We are all aware that sex is a natural instinct. The way we have filled the political vacuum of this Nation, porn fills the sex vacuum in our life at this age. Do you want us to court women openly and be an embarrassment for the party? The opposition members are constantly embarrassing their own parties by sleeping with women outside marriage. On the other hand, we have been always hailed as chaste, morally perfect beings. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to control such instincts?”

Ordinary-Woman intercepted him and shouted in support – “Yes, he is right. Though I have a husband, he is of no use, doesn’t even last for 5 minutes. Where do I go? And by the way, I am bisexual.” – Her voice was more of a cry of a man falling into a dry well. By the time she reached her second line, she was already salivating at the Secretary.

Ban-Nar was listening to all this intently.

Nehru-Coat continued – “There will be chaos. You will have desperate leaders in the house ogling women members. Instead of discussing the nation, they will be discussing sex. You know that men will be men and you must not get surprised if somebody gropes some woman leader one of these days. You can’t ban porn. It will wreak havoc for all of us. We can’t live in a sex vacuum. We have to unwind somewhere. We have to rule the country. You think sex starved people can run this country?”

The Secretary was furious again – “What makes you so sexist, Sir? What makes you think only men will be doing such acts? Women too have equal rights to ogle and grope. We will do the same to the male members of the house.”

The occupants of the meeting room looked at the Secretary with deep reverence for the spirit of equality thriving in her. They were still in awe, rather were already fancying their chances of being groped by women on the floor of the house.

A couple of junior leaders from some state who were earlier named and famed by the media for watching porn during business hours had, dramatically, changed their stance. They lifted their hands rather excitedly and started raising pro-ban slogans. They had already imagined the Secretary groping them and how one thing could lead to another. They looked up, looked at their hands, and were smiling to each other when somebody from the senior rung shut them up, not very politely.

Nehru-Coat still had that reverent smile on his lips. The Secretary looked at him after finishing her monologue and noticed the fading smile as he rose to speak again.

“I’m sorry but I am not a sex…”

He was interrupted by Ban-Nar when he announced that it was a serious issue and they would meet after the parliament proceedings were adjourned for the day.

The members of the parliamentary committee had met to discuss the possibility of a ban on porn access on the internet. Once the announcement of the present adjournment was made, they started treading towards the upper house. The walk was reminiscent of the first walk that a child takes for school with the greatest of effort, clinging to his/her parents’ hands. It took about 1 hour for 12 people to vacate the meeting room. Well, effectively only 10 people.

Two were still in the room. Somehow they knew what they were hanging on for. Nehru-Coat and the Secretary had stayed. The door was fastened from inside. The Secretary flung herself into Nehru-Coat’s arms and said – “so, what were you saying? You are not a sex addict? I bet you are. I caught your eyes lusting at me.”

In reality, he was just trying to say that he was not a sexist when he was interrupted by Ban-Nar. He held her by his chest and replied with a James Bond effect in his voice which could never be alluded to the leaders of the country. They were mostly marked as illiterate, boring, and most of the times funny – “I bet you are right. You are such a bitch. I know what you meant by all those rebuttals on the porn debate.”

“You have to be a bitch here, there are too many dogs around. You know what drives dogs, don’t you?” She had already disrobed him of his nobility by stripping him of his Nehru jacket. He was like any other leader now. The air of erudition had been flung away with the jacket.

“So, my dear custodian of democracy, what do I do with you now?” – Secretary had suddenly turned into a seductress.

“Wait, we need to go to the Parliament after this. Be careful with the clothes.”
“Ha Ha Ha, you are such a PussyHeart!” – The seductress threw an insult no man would complain about at such a moment.
“PussyHeart? Where did you learn that?”

“I see, you must be knowing ‘DickHead’, for the ones who are dumb as a dick. You know how dumb a dick is. Don’t you? And PussyHeart is for the ones who get shit scared by everything. Have you never watched any humiliation video?”

“No, what’s that?”

“The girl humiliates the man while having sex with him. Men who would go at war on such insults otherwise, love the same during sex. That’s why dicks are dumb, you see. That’s humiliation porn. You indeed, are a dick-head dear. Wait, I will show you.” – At this point they were ready to make fast-love. The Secretary examined her purse for her cell phone and fiddled with the screen for a few seconds and played a video. Apparently, the girl in the video was heaping abuses on a man while bouncing on him.

It was already an hour that the parliament had started its proceedings and the undressed ones in the parliamentary committee meeting room had fornicated.

Back as their usual self, with the orange-white sari as fresh as she wore it in the morning, and the erudition inducing Nehru jacket on his shoulders, they moved towards the entrance of the upper house. However, looking at the placards outside and the sounds of sloganeering, they sensed that the house would be adjourned again. Nevertheless, they reached the house. Nehru-Coat scanned the floor for Ban-Nar who was the leader of the upper house. He was not there.

As Nehru-Coat took his seat, Ban-Nar made entry and sat just beside him. He looked unusually happy. With a very friendly hand around Nehru-Coat’s shoulders, he whispered – “Hey, I think you are right.”

“About what?”

“About the ban. There should be no ban.” he paused and continued – “for us. Let’s put the ban for the country anyway. They need to be cultured.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to convince you about earlier. We are cultured. Let us cultivate culture for our countrymen too. So, who will decide which porn sites to block and which ones to spare?” – Nehru-Coat thought it was a dirty job and by convention, dirty jobs were never done by the Nehru-Coats or the Ban-Nars, or even the Secretaries.

“We have some experts. Let the two juniors from state do it. They have years of experience in taxonomy of pornography. For gender equality, let’s have the Ordinary-Woman in the panel too.” – Ban-Nar had everything decided in his head.

“Yeah. That will be good. I realized today I am still naive.” – sighed Nehru-Coat.

“By the way, are your aware of the word Pussy-face?” – asked Ban-Nar excitedly.

“..and you are naive too. Who called you that? There might be some truth to it.” – Nehru-Coat smirked.

The ordinary-woman appeared at the entrance and walked up to her seat taking calm and confident strides. She glanced at Ban-Nar, smiled and took her seat.

The house was adjourned soon after, following a huge din over the issue of farmers’ suicides. Internet porn was banned by the evening. Culture Cultivation was touted as the panacea for the dying farmers by the state run Far-Mer TV (Far pronounced as far in English and Mer pronounced like Mar in Hindi – verb form of death) at Prime Time bulletin. The other TV channels were confused as ever.

 

DisclaimerThis story is a work of fiction. However, there are a few allusions that do exist in reality like porn, parliament, farmers, upper house, english, hindi, and sex. Other similarities are coincidental. House Adjournment is a myth. Kindly refrain from taking excessive load.