February 20, 2015

Feminist Friday: On Privilege and Bad Feminist and Perceptions,
or a rambling love affair with words

I've been making my way enthusiastically through Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. I really recommend it to anybody, and everybody.

Here's an obligatory pic of me enjoying the book:

Okay, that's more me trying to enjoy the book, while dogsitting my mother's furry child, who I'm fairly certain she loves more than me (but not more than her grandchildren--such is life!). It gets four furry paws up, however...on my lap.

I hadn't read anything by Gay before, so I didn't know what to expect. It kept popping up on my Google alerts though, so I added it to my Amazon cart after Christmas when I was spending up all my gift cards.

I don't know what I expected. Perhaps if I'm being honest, I didn't expect to relate to it in the way that I did. I knew from reading blurbs that Gay was a professor, that she had a doctorate, that she is the child of immigrants.

And I...I'm not. I'm not a professor, I barely have a college education, my family has been in the United States since the 1850s--long enough to forget that we had ever lived anywhere else.

And if I'm being truly, brutally, painfully honest, there's the race differential. I am a white woman, who grew up in South Carolina, in a particularly small-minded part of the world. And Gay...Gay is not. She's a woman of color, and (rightfully) proudly so.

So if I--continuing in that brutal, painful, self-reflective vein of honesty--really and truly admit what I expected, or rather, didn't expect, from this book, I'd list the connection that I feel with Gay right at the top of the list. I wouldn't want to, because it makes me feel icky, but I would, because I'm being honest.

I did not expect to see so much of my own soul--with of course marked differences, because we are obviously different people with markedly different experiences--laid open, surgically so, on the pages of this collection, and yet, there it is. So many points where I find myself nodding physically along with what Gay writes.

In "Peculiar Benefits," Gay makes this observation:

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. Of course we resent these accusations.

So far (and I'm not nearly finished with it yet, although you can follow my progress on GoodReads if you're really and truly bored) Gay has not lobbed an accusations of privilege from the pages of her book, and yet, it's made me really take a step back and look at my own thought life.

Why? Because I connected, and I didn't expect to. That unexpected connection made me wonder why it was so...well...unexpected.

Privilege is one of those loaded words. It's one that my spouse, for instance, hates to hear--he's a white heterosexual cisgendered male, and he feels the brunt of accusations of privilege acutely, because life is hard. It's hard for everyone.

Gay also makes this observation in that same essay:

To have privilege in one or more areas does not mean you are wholly privileged. Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgement of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.

When I examine my own privilege, what I see feels distasteful. I have privileges from my race, from the education and work of my parents, from my Christian heritage (even though I've since rejected it). These privileges exist, regardless of what I choose or desire or do. That's why they are privileges--wholly unearned, they linger.

The best books, I think, are the ones that you enjoy while you are reading, but that also knock about in your mind even after you've closed the covers, after you've shut it down and moved on to whatever else you are doing. They are the ones that keep popping up.

Bad Feminist is one of those books for me.

It follows me around while I'm reading other books, while I'm folding laundry or making dinner. While I'm writing. It's there, in the back of my mind, making me think, making me add new lenses to my frame of reference, making me view my movements through the world in new ways, making me question my own reactions and thoughts and connections.

And that is the absolutely best kind of book.

No comments:

Post a Comment