Roxane Gay: Perfecting the art of imperfect feminism

Nicole Leonard

The path to idealism is paved by misconception. This is a concept that writer, self-critic and speaker for WKU’s Cultural Enhancement series, Roxane Gay, has explored extensively throughout her career.

From body shaming to disgracing feminism, Gay sought to comprehend her own character flaws and to explain them in writing.

Gay’s most recent books accomplish two critical tasks: she bogs down the notion that feminism is composed of a homogeneous ideology and admits that character flaws are normal.

The feminist movement has experienced shifts in the ideologies that predominate its discussions. Branches, or brands, of feminism are reflective of the differing personalities that dictate feminists’ goals.

The idea that one feminist believes exactly what another does indicates a poor understanding of what the movement aims to achieve.

Gay highlights the common fallacy that all feminists are man-hating dykes who reject feminine standards such as shaving their legs and wearing heels. It is a broad generalization with a poor foundation, but it is the delusion that rendered her and many others ashamed of the title for years.

However, by the time it appeared acceptable to outwardly profess her belief system, she was all too well aware of the imperfections that plagued her personal brand of feminism.

Pressures attached to a person’s association with any given group include a desire to embody the archetype of its ideology. Humans are creatures of contradiction and should not be held to the impervious specifications of idealism.

Like Gay, a woman who crusades for female empowerment as well as the intersectionality attached to the feminist psyche may also indulge in rap music that degrades women.

No woman, no person is absolutely perfect. Our vices betray us. Our inability to wholly avoid the temptations of lazy girl feminism hinders us and the collective movement we claim to represent. But this is acceptable and should be expected.

Hasty generalizations ascribed by those who oppose a group, as well as by those who participate, ignorantly disregard the individualism fostered within each of its members. To perceive any social movement or party of people as having entirely identical advocates is folly.

There is no such thing as a perfect proponent of any given ideology. Strong women have weak moments, and this does not automatically negate their strength. Recognizing faults and progressing forward, despite the nagging sentiment that we will never fulfill the ideal which our principles promote, is pertinent to our relationship with peer groups and to our perception of ourselves.

My feminism is not yours, and I should not degrade your feminism simply because of its variation from mine. Moreover, we must recognize that we will falter in our own pursuits that do not necessarily pertain to the interests of a group. We fail only ourselves sometimes, and that, too, is acceptable.

We often strive to create ourselves in the image of a specific person or type of person. We change ourselves and formulate a persona because our individual experiences have conditioned us to perceive a body type, a style or a way of being as something admirable.

Normalizing flawed character is a path toward self-acceptance individually and in the context of a group. Acceptance does not demand that you necessarily concede to these flaws permanently. It only means that your focus has shifted away from a dissatisfaction toward seemingly invariable qualities. It recognizes fault and gives you a reason to aim for something better than that which previously confounded you.

Gay’s writing exemplifies the irony that a person can be critical of his or herself while still acting on the call to stand up for what they believe in. Her feminism is not perfect, but that does not mean it cannot be a massive force within herself and throughout the movement she champions.