Roxane Gay Can Love Sexist Hip-Hop & Still Be A Feminist

Photo: Courtesy of TED.
Roxane Gay is a writer of essays and novels, an in-demand speaker, and a wildly prolific tweeter — but she's perhaps most famous for being a self-described "bad feminist." It's a moniker she's proud of. "I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all," she says.

In a talk at TEDWomen this May, Gay laid out exactly how she ended up as the country's most famous bad feminst (she also wrote a book with that title). Yesterday, the video of that talk went online (watch below).

As Gay explains, "What started as a bit of an inside joke with myself and a willful provocation has become a thing."

The thing she's talking about — being "bad" — stems from a world where "we demand perfection of feminists." She references Beyoncé's iconic 2014 VMA performance, in which the singer performed the song "Flawless" in front a sky-high projection of the word "FEMINIST." Immediately afterward, a fierce debate began about whether or not Beyoncé — who dresses sexy and sings pop songs — really counts as one. "They graded her feminism, instead of simply taking a grown, accomplished woman at her word," Gay says.

Instead, she argues, we need to be more accepting of our flaws and complexities. To illustrate this (it's by far the most fascinating part of the talk), she lays out bits of herself that don't fit the mold of a perfect feminst, in a way that's playfully self-deprecating — but stops short of apology.

"I am indeed a feminist and a proud one. I hold certain truths to be self-evident. Women are equal to men," she says, and then she concedes to loving rap songs with misognyistic lyrics (hearing her quote the Ying Yang Twins to a crowd of TED attendees is a real treat), and that she likes to call manual labor "man work — which is anything I don't want to do." She does not take ideological issue with a woman's taking her husband's name or staying home to raise children.

Although Gay is emphatic that she — and, by extension, the rest of us — are allowed to let ourselves off the hook for thess litle contradictions, she also says that as a feminist who is only human, she can do better: "When I justify bad choices, I make it harder for women to achieve equality, the equality we all deserve," she says. And, in turn, she believes that we can do better at forgiving our fellow feminists when they fall from the "pedestal" we're quick to put them on. "We can also boldly claim our feminism — good, bad, or anywhere in between," Gay offers.

The talk is clearly one of the best-received ones, bringing the crowd in Monterey, CA, loudly to its feet. Gay ends with characteristic conviction: "In one hand, I hold the power to accomplish anything, and in the other, I hold the humbling reality that I am just one woman. I am a bad feminist; I am a good woman. I am trying to become better in how I think and what I say and what I do, without abandoning everything that makes me human," she says, including us all.
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