Bad Feminist Essays by Roxanne Gay

bad If you were to ask any Emma girl on campus if they could think of a day where they were catcalled or anything else of that manner I’m sure that the majority of girls asked could give you countless examples. It is a shame that women go through life being reminded, even unconsciously, that we are not equal to men in society and in life itself even on a physical level. To fight for social equality of the sexes is the main goal of feminism. This word has different meanings for different people and Roxanne Gay within her collection of essays explains what her take on the word truly means and calls herself ironically a ‘bad feminist’. Roxanne asks many questions within her novel about society and women’s representation, but none more prevalent in today’s society than, “There are all kinds of television shows and movies about women but how many of them make women recognizable?”

Roxanne takes you through her life in her collection of essays, as she originally is conflicted in calling herself a feminist as she did not think that she ‘fits the bill’ of what a feminist should look like. When she did finally don the name for herself she did not want to be considered a ‘good feminist’ because that would lead to her, in Roxanne’s mind, to be put on a pedestal that she does not think she should be put on. She also struggles with her own life. For example she struggles with how one of her beloved music artists, “Kanye’s disdain for women overwhelms nearly every track- but then there’s a song like ‘Blood on the Leaves’ that is so outstanding you can’t possibly dismiss the album entirely. We are constantly faced by this uncomfortable balance between brilliance and bad behavior.” There are always contradictory situations in life. There are always things you want to like and partake in but know that they are ultimately wrong no matter how ‘hip’ they might be in our current society. To be a public figure that people would want to emulate, that person would then have to be perfect Roxanne thought. She acknowledges that she has not led a perfect life as that the rest of us could understand, since no one person is perfect. In her Essays Roxanne points out how she understands that she is not the perfect role model, but hopes that others can learn from her mistakes rather than make the same mistakes she did and her own life experiences.

When Roxanne moved to a new town when she was younger she found herself in a new area with no friends, family, or support system. She lived with her boyfriend at the time, but she did not want to be that girl whose world revolved around her man. Her answer to this dilemma was Scrabble. She found her new niche of people as she immersed herself in Scrabble culture. She began by just playing Scrabble online with new friends, but then found herself immersed in Scrabble tournaments held at events that Scrabble enthusiasts of any level could take part in. Roxanne soon found herself having to brush off many sexist remark from men who perceived her to be young and naïve about the subject even though by this point Roxanne was anything but a newbie to the world of Scrabble. Apparently Scrabble is a man’s game. Who knew? She was conflicted on how to react to these crude remarks, as she did not want these men to think that she was the person they believed her to be. In the end, Roxanne did not make her give her retort back at the men because she knew that she could not change their minds on how they perceived her. It was not worth it, Roxanne thought, to start a public argument about these little remarks. She learned to brush off sexist’s remarks and comments because she knew that these remarks or comments did not actually define her as a person.

With the topics of sex, work life, rape, the media, and being African American Roxanne is not afraid to speak her mind for what she believes in. She gives her own personal experiences in her essays. From struggling with her weight during her childhood at fat camp, wishing she could change the color of her skin while wanting to emulate the typical ‘American girl’, dealing with sexism in her daily life and specifically in the life of a scrabble player, Roxanne gives so many more stories that show the struggle of a woman in today’s world. Roxanne throughout her life struggles with her own definition of feminism as her life experiences each help to carve away her own understanding of its purpose in the world and eventually she refines her understanding of the word. “Feminism is flawed, but it offers, at its best, a way to navigate this shifting cultural climate… Feminism has helped me believe in my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.”

Reviewed by Elizabeth L. ’18

 

 

 

 

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The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

kimThe Lake of Dreams is the enthralling story of the unraveling of buried family secrets and the unearthing of long-lost history. It follows the journey of a young woman as she digs up evidence and forms connections between century-old archives and present-day findings. She reveals intimate details of her family’s life, past and present, and attempts to solve the mystery of her father’s unresolved death but ends up discovering more than she bargained for.

When Lizzie is 17, she rejects her father’s request to go fishing with him and he proceeds to go alone and drowns. Lucy is left with the guilt of his death for years and never forgives herself. 13 years later, and she is living with her longtime partner, Yoshi, in Japan. She is unemployed and, after hearing that her mother has been in an accident, she returns home to her childhood town of the Lake of Dreams. On her first night at home, she discovers a lock on a window seat, which she is able to pick thanks to the past instruction of her father, who owned the family Hardware and Lock store. After successfully opening the compartment, she discovers a pile of ancient papers that, at first glance, looked like nothing special. After reviewing the notes, she discovers a pattern. There is a unique border around each of the letters and the style of the writing is consistent through many of the notes in the collection. She connects the intricate frame of the letter to the border on the chapel windows. She contacts many historians and relatives and unearths the story of a long-lost relative, Rose, and her connection to the women’s suffrage movement. The discoveries are centered around Rose’s life almost a century before, and her struggle of having to leave her child after being impregnated at age 15 and being abandoned by the baby’s father. Numerous letters between Rose and her daughter, Iris, and Rose and her brother, Joseph, Iris’ caretaker, are uncovered. She was the model in the chapel windows and was well-acquainted with the famous artist. Lucy visits endless historical societies to dig up as much information as she can to complete the puzzle of her family’s history and ultimately reveal a life-changing family secret: the true cause of her father’s death. All loose ends are eventually tied up and the family tension is put at ease.

The novel highlights the significance of dreams and how they symbolize events from the past or omens for the future. “Some dreams matter, illuminate a crucial choice or reveal some intuition that’s trying to push its way to the surface. Other, though, are detritus, the residue of the day reassembling itself in some disjointed and chaotic way.” Dreams lead Lizzie to discover places and people from her past, and ultimately direct her towards a life-altering discovery.

My main criticism is that, during the middle of the novel, the plot is sluggish and seems as though it is never going to intensify. There is some confusion over what the ultimate secret actually is because everything that Lucy is discovering throughout the book is all part of an unsolved mystery too, so until the last few pages, it is unclear what the plot is building up to be. It becomes more of a historical novel and less of an edge-of-your seat thriller. This dull section of the book is kept alive by Edward’s powerful use of poetic language and exhilarating word choice. Although the historical portion of the book may be boring to some people, Edwards uses language that is captivating and striking, so the text moves naturally and swiftly. “Rows and rows of books lined the shelves and I let my eyes linger on the sturdy spines, thinking how human books were, so full of ideas and images, worlds imagined, worlds perceived; full of fingerprints and sudden laughter and sighs of readers, too.” This sentence stands out to me due to its eloquence and deep poetic effect it conveys. I would recommend this beautifully written novel to anyone looking for the suspense of the revelation of family secrets and the unveiling of century-old history that ultimately changes the lives of many people.

Reviewed by Charlotte K. ’18

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

nightSome novels are for escaping reality, for forgetting the pains of living on this planet by traveling to some faraway land – other novels are for precisely the opposite. These are the books that rip you apart from the sheer truth of them. The books that reveal the depths of pain present in the world and make you wonder how humanity can be called civilized. However, these books are also filled with hope, and show the reader not only the horrors but also the love and goodness within the human race. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is such a book. The novel follows two sisters, Isabelle Rossignol and Vianne Mauriac, as they struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of France during World War II.

Vianne, the eldest, is a young mother living in the small countryside town of Carriveau. The stability of her life is completely undone when her husband is mobilized. She is left to support her daughter, Sophie, on only her small teacher’s salary. As the war progresses, life becomes increasingly difficult for the residents of Carriveau. A Nazi soldier is billeted at her house, and she finds herself being forced to share her home and dwindling food rations with one of the men responsible for her and her daughter’s hardship. As the Occupation progresses, Vianne must make impossible decisions while attempting to support not only herself but her family and friends. Vianne learns that, however impossible it may be, “mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid”.

Across the country, Isabelle has just been expelled from her latest finishing school when war breaks out. The reader follows her to Paris, where, turned away by her detached father, she is swept up in the crowd of panicked Parisians fleeing to the countryside. Just outside of the city she meets a young man, Gaëtan, and the two travel across the dangerous warzone between Paris and Carriveau. As the years pass, Isabelle matures with the war as she learns to use her anger for good in the Resistance movement, and she runs an operation to help downed airmen cross the Pyrenees into Spain. But with every trip across the mountains she successfully makes, the Nazis come closer to catching her.

The Nightingale is beautiful and heartbreaking, and I could not stop reading once I first picked up the book. However, I do have a few small issues with the writing. My primary grievance is with the central romance within Isabelle’s storyline. Isabelle and Gaëtan’s relationship is a bit clichéd – Gaëtan is the mysterious convict and Isabelle is the rebellious eighteen-year-old willing to look past his enigmatic past – but clichés don’t always bother me. What I have an issue with in this case is the speed of the relationship. After only a few days of knowing Gaëtan, Isabelle falls for him. On the beginning of one page of text, Isabelle admits that she “really didn’t know [Gaëtan] at all”; ironically, a bit farther down the same page she tells him she loves him.

However, The Nightingale is not primarily a romance, and focuses on so many more relationships than Isabelle and Gaëtan’s. Hannah’s writing beautifully explores the complex relationships held between fathers and daughters, friends, mothers and their children, husbands and wives, and invading soldiers and the residents of the occupied country. The strength within Hannah’s characters is incredible, and reminds me that for all the atrocities in the world there are countless people willing to risk their lives to help others. The Nightingale teaches us that “it’s better to be bold than meek… if you jump off a cliff at least you’ll fly before you fall”.

 

Reviewed by Tara F. ’18