Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist

I binged on two of Roxane Gay’s books: Bad Feminist and Hunger.

Bad Feminist was wise. Hunger was shocking, in an impressively plainspoken way.

The essay in Bad Feminist that moved me to post was “Typical First Year Professor.” This incident, in particular:

When I was a student listening to a boring professor drone endlessly, I usually thought, I will never be that teacher. One day, I am delivering a lecture and realize, in that moment, I am that teacher. I stare out at the students, most of them not taking notes, giving me that soul-crushing dead-eye stare that tells me, I wish I were anywhere but here. I think, I wish I were anywhere but here. I talk faster and faster to put us all out of our misery. I become incoherent. Their dead-eye stares haunt me for the rest of the day, then longer.

Boring people en masse is exhausting. We try not to do it, but we don’t always succeed. The most conscientious professors I know will replay the worst bits of a class and think about how it could have gone better. “Haunt” is the perfect word choice.

I can’t help but wonder about the title of the essay, “Typical First Year Professor.” On the one hand, her reactions are typical. “I don’t save lives, but I try not to ruin them.” “When I walk into the classroom, the students stare at me like I’m in charge.” These are universal experiences. But on the other hand, Roxane Gay is not typical. We learn in the book that she is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, a six-foot-three three-to-five-hundred pound black female professor who loves the Sweet Valley High series. Distinctly not typical.

And while we have the irony detector out, she’s not a Bad Feminist even if she “[has] opinions on maxi dresses!” She shaves her legs! and wants to be taken care of, and lacks a “militant drive.” Like a very good feminist, she issues this challenge:

Stop parroting the weak notion that your’re simply publishing the best writing, regardless….If women aren’t submitting to your publication or press, ask yourself why, deal with the answers even if those answers make you uncomfortable, and then reach out to women writers. If women don’t respond to your solicitations, go find other women….Make the effort and make the effort and make the effort until you no longer need to, until we don’t need to keep having this conversation.


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