entertainment

Roxane Gay is a bad feminist. She wants you to stop treating men like precious snowflakes.

Roxane Gay on what happens when beloved writers die, pretty celebrities speak, and smart feminists dance.

For more on Roxane Gay and whether we should all be ‘bad feminists’, listen to this week’s Mamamia Out Loud podcast. Download it on itunes, listen in Soundcloud, or download the audio file here.

She calls from her place in Maples, Florida, at 8am our time. Roxane Gay’s voice is raspy but fierce. Her laugh can only really be described as a warm cackle. Her wisdom is infectious.

If you don’t know Roxane, you should. She’s one of the most captivating writers in the world right now.

Despite working as a journalist since the ’90s, Roxane Gay was so prominent in 2014, it felt like overnight success. Publishing two books in one year — a compilation of essays called Bad Feminist and a novel called Untamed State — gave the impression that Gay was unstoppable, almost omnipresent. She became so fabulously prominent, Time Magazine called 2014 ‘The Year of Roxane Gay’.

Roxane, how does it feel to have a whole year dedicated to you? 

Strange! Strange and unexpected and wonderful and weird. So weird.

Sequels are notoriously difficult to pull off. What’re you going to do in 2015?

Haha! Breathing. I’m taking a breath and getting back into writing. It’s a solitary activity, so this might be a quieter, lonelier year for me. Generally, I get by deluding myself that nobody is going to read my words, but I guess that’s changed now. People read what I have to say.

Yes, millions of people. Does that make you feel exposed? Especially when you write about traumatic things? 

I do feel exposed. There’s a certain vulnerability to knowing what an audience you have. Being a writer is strange; the actual writing part is so private, but then people read your work, it’s so shockingly public.

But I overcome that because I think it’s so important to talk about trauma. The more we talk about it, the less power we let it have. Writing about my own experiences is scary, particularly because once a part of you is on the internet, you can’t take it back. I believe in full disclosure, but I also believe in people’s right to privacy, so that’s a dilemma I’ve always got within myself.

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When the author Colleen McCullough died recently aged 77, an Australian newspaper published an obituary. Let me just read you a little sample of what they wrote: “Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.” Basically, what the fuck, what’s going on here?

Yeah, I heard about that actually. This would never happen to a man, no, no. And we could – we’ve all seen pictures of male authors and not many of them are lookers – but they get enough respect not to be reduced to that. Colleen! She wrote Thornbirds, for God’s sake! If you can’t write a book that sells 30 million copies and be remembered properly, what are we even doing? Even when a woman’s currency is her thoughts and her words, we’re still expected to submit to really rigid ideas of what a woman should look like.

It’s a no-brainer than feminists come in all forms. But what happens when a feminist looks like Beyonce – or like Emma Watson? 

Beyonce is a feminist who doesn’t wear pants. I wouldn’t wear pants either if I looked like Beyonce.

Of course she’s a feminist.

As for Emma Watson’s speech, it was probably good for the world, but frustrating for me. We (feminists) have been saying what she said for ages, but suddenly people were more willing to listen to her because she comes in such a delightful package.

So, can men be feminists? Should they be?

Yeah, whatever, if they want to be feminists, they can just be feminists. Men have no problem inviting themselves into everything, every conversation, every movement — so I don’t really think it’s necessary for Emma Watson and co to lay down a red carpet to invite them into feminism.

We don’t have to treat men like they’re precious snowflakes and we can’t do it without them. They should be be fighting for equality – that’s so obvious we shouldn’t really need a big ceremony for it.

Roxane Gay will be appearing at the All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House on March 9/10. View the festival’s full program and purchase tickets here.   She will also appear in Melbourne and Adelaide as part of a 12 day literary tour, including speaking at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on March 5. 

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