Roxane Gay is an American writer, professor, editor and commentator. Often quoted as saying that reading is her escape, Gay reads diversely and across genres - and she writes this way too - having written novels, newspaper columns, graphic novels, a memoir and collections of both essays and short stories. She is also at work on television and film projects, among other writing works forthcoming.
Gay’s work explores feminist ideas through the lens of her own experiences. Bad Feminist, Gay’s collection of essays published in 2014, muses on moving through life as a woman, addressing the political and cultural issues within that. Switching genres but expanding on a theme, early 2017’s Difficult Women, is collection of imagined stories of women who push the boundaries of what society expects them to be. Gay often says that she writes the kind of things she wants to see in the world, though her 2017 memoir, Hunger, was a story she desperately wanted to read but did not want to write. Chronicling her experience in a world that is constantly trying to discipline her body and its fatness, Hunger explores the complexity of bodies and warns against punishing people and their bodies for existing outside of what is deemed acceptable in society. Recognising and understanding the diversity and nuance of a woman’s experience is a theme that underpins Gay’s work.
Feminism can be coloured by singular, polarised opinions and rhetoric, but Gay’s life and work rejects this by acknowledging and exploring the grey areas that exist within modern discourse. It is important to explore and engage with issues and problems to fully understand them and not just dismiss them outright. This is seen in Gay’s rejection of identity politics and cancel culture, viewing the former as a means to dismiss someone’s concerns without acknowledging their complexity and the latter as burying problematic ideas or actions without tackling the underlying issues. Within this, Gay is not afraid of contradiction, recognising that an idea or movement can be flawed but also be worthy of support, like the Me Too movement needing to acknowledge women who can’t afford to come forward socially or financially, or the idea of body positivity needing to be even more inclusive.
Gay’s commitment to representing diversity of experience and acknowledging the complexity and contradiction within it, provides depth in a sometimes flat, inflexibly defined feminism. This nuance allows us to analyse and engage with issues and problems in a way that we couldn’t if we rejected them outright, and underlines the value of Gay’s insight in modern feminist discourse.
Buy the book Difficult Women here
Story by Francesca Butler.
Francesca is a London based writer.