We all could learn a thing or two from Roxane Gay. She’s an outspoken, queer-black-female-fat activist and author of several best-sellers, including Difficult Women, Hunger, and co-author of a Black Panther series for Marvel Comics, World of Wakanda. As her book of the same name will tell you, Gay is a Bad Feminist and wants you to know it’s okay if you are too.
When she isn’t on the public speaking circuit or submitting op-ed reviews to the New York Times and other highly-regarded publications, Gay is an English professor at Purdue University and a columnist for The Guardian. At just 43 years old she’s at the top of her game professionally and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Despite the critical acclaim Gay has earned as an author, she remains underestimated and under-valued by some (her website header is a reminder on how to properly spell her name with one n, not two). To be a woman, let alone a black woman, let alone a fat black woman, let alone a queer and fat black woman in present day America, places her under scrutiny not only as a public figure but simply as a regular member of society.
To be recognized as “good” under this microscope, you need to be great, and Gay is spectacular. To Gay, the glass ceiling is a floor, but if you looked up you wouldn’t see the soles of her feet; instead you’d see her hand reaching down to pull you up. Her collection of essays in Bad Feminist allows readers to think critically about the pitfalls of American society with humour and lightness and takes the pressures of being a perfect feminist and activist off the reader’s shoulders. Gay uses her power to create space for other authors to have the opportunities that may not otherwise be afforded to them.
When we think of activism, we often envision rallies and protests. It’s easy to forget that activism doesn’t require you to stand on a pedestal with a megaphone. Gay’s activism comes from her words, her intelligence, and her thoughtfulness. After all, a main focus of activism is to open minds and encourage others to think critically. She writes of celebrating love, embracing our perceived weaknesses, and standing up to hate at the hands of lawmakers. Regardless of the topic, Gay works tirelessly to speak truth to power and inspire the rest of us to do so as well. She’s proof that despite potential backlash, pushing yourself and others forward is the only way to make a true difference in the world.
The systems of oppression that much of our society was built on don’t only work to keep marginalized groups and individuals from achieving success, they also force those who do manage to achieve it to compromise parts of their own identity, such as their blackness or femininity, and align themselves with those the system prioritizes in order to climb the ladder. Gay’s essence and power comes from her refusal to compromise, and her focus on building success through her identity rather than in spite of it. She teaches us that it’s good to be hungry, difficult, and sometimes bad.
Jasmine Cormier | Assistant Writer
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