I don’t often review non-fiction, but I went back to uni last weekend and it’s been a busy week, so unless I reviewed this one I wasn’t going to be able to get a post up today. It’s weird not to have finished any books since the weekend, but I’ve been reading other (mostly less fun) things — La Chanson de Roland, for example. Not loving it.
Engie @ Musings From Neville’s Navel recommended Bad Feminist to me, and then yesterday I found it in the college library. It doesn’t actually have any library stickers or markings, so I’m not sure if it was meant to be there or not, but I figured I’d read it while I had the opportunity.
On the whole, I found it an interesting read. It’s a collection of essays rather than a single book, but that helped; it meant it didn’t drag on, although there were a few bits and pieces of repetition. As a writer, I found the chapters on the media’s representation of women and people of colour to be informative and interesting. As a feminist, I’m always interested in other perspectives, and I was gratified that someone else disliked Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman (because I found it incredibly frustrating).
But. I had a few problems with this book.
Firstly, it’s very American. Which is understandable. Roxane Gay is American, so I wouldn’t expect her to write about anywhere else, and it’d probably be difficult for her to do so anyway. But this meant large chunks of it dealt with issues I don’t encounter in my everyday life. I live in Britain. You can get birth control for free on the NHS, without even the prescription charge you pay for other medicines. We don’t have nearly as many rules about abortion and stuff. Generally, we’re way ahead of the game.
As a result of this geographical focus, it references books and TV shows and films that I’m not even sure exist in Britain. Like the Sweet Valley High books. Do we have those? I’d never heard of them before. I sort of doubt we’ve got them. It didn’t matter a great deal, because Gay explained things (for the most part), but it made some passages way less relatable and I couldn’t understand some of the experiences.
She also referenced a lot of books I haven’t read, films I haven’t seen, and just generally experiences that I didn’t have, but Engie said she had the same experience, so I think that’s not because it’s American.
(I do wonder if British books are just an incomprehensible to Americans, but I think as a small country we’re slightly more aware that we aren’t the whole world. In my experience, Brits know more about America than Americans know about Britain, partly because we have so much of their TV.)
My other main problem with the book was that it didn’t really discuss trans women as much as it could have done.
It didn’t ignore them, and for the most part it didn’t equate feminism with sex and stuff (unlike Moran’s approach), but at the same time, some of the essays did overlook the existence of trans women in the choice of language used. Saying that only women can be pregnant is an important point in the context of male legislators making rules about women’s bodies, but ignores the fact that some trans men and non-binary people can also be pregnant.
I know that for a book that really deals with trans issues, you probably have to look for trans writers. I know that it’s a sensitive topic that people don’t want to approach without personal experience. But I wish I could one day read a book on feminism and not spend half of it thinking, “Okay, but not everyone with a vagina is a woman.”
That said, there was plenty to recommend the book. It’s got some personal essays and some more analytical ones. Gay talks about playing competitive Scrabble in a way that’s entertaining and makes me realise I’d be terrible at Scrabble. (I just don’t think about words in terms of the letters that make them up, and tend to opt for simple words whenever possible. This is why I’m also not very good at crosswords.)
My personal experience and difficulties with relating to the US-centric content mean I’m only going to give it three stars, but since my rating system doesn’t work brilliantly for non-fiction, I wouldn’t read too much into that.