Five minutes with Roxane Gay

Friday, March 9, 2018 - 09:59

Roxane Gay is an associate professor of English at Purdue University, and a contributing writer for The New York Times. In 2014 Gay released Bad Feminist, a collection of essays which merged pop culture with her own experience to explore the complexities of being a feminist whilst also enjoying things which can seem at odds with that ideology.

Roxane Gay in conversation with Rachel Zellars - Montreal
Roxane Gay appearing in conversation with Rachel Zellars at an event in Montreal. Image courtesy of Eva Blue

Gay’s latest book, the New York Times best-seller Hunger (2017), again draws on her own experience with startling intimacy as she looks at sensitivity about food and bodies to explore oir shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance and health.

Ahead of her appearance at WOW Baltimore, we grabbed five minutes with the best-selling writer and essayist to discuss finding her place in feminism, intersectionality and grappling with pop culture.

One of the things I like about The Bad Feminist, is your acknowledgment of a position on a spectrum of feminism. Is this a position you consciously sought to place yourself, or is it more a case of realising and embracing your place, rather than trying to force yourself to meet an expectation?

It's both, really. We have to make space for ourselves in the movements that matter most to us. But I was able to make space for myself within feminism by recognizing and embracing the ways in which I live my feminist ideals and the ways in which I fall short.

Do you still really believe that you’re ‘failing as a feminist’ as you once put it, rather than say, excelling at a very relatable feminism?

This is not a question.

You’ve previously suggested too many women are afraid to be labelled as feminists; do you think this still the case? Or has it perhaps been lessened by prominent social movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp?

This is absolutely still the case. There are so many women who are reluctant or afraid or unwilling to be labeled as feminists, for a range of reasons. But mostly, they shy away from the label because they know there is a social cost, despite the prominence of MeToo or TimesUp.

So many women shy away from the label of feminist, because they know there is a social cost, despite the prominence of MeToo or TimesUp
Roxane Gay

Your forthcoming book, Not That Bad looks at rape culture. Do you think it is time that we shifted the language and focus on this, and begin calling it ‘rapist culture’?

‘Rape culture’ is an appropriate name for what rape culture is and it includes looking at rapist culture, but to only call it rapist culture leaves out some critical issues regarding rape culture, how people are conditioned to see sexual violence, how popular culture reinforces certain ideas about sexual violence, etc.

I’ve seen you described as a representative of intersectional feminism - how far do you think we still have to go before intersectionality ceases to be seen as an offshoot of feminism?

We're still defining what intersectional means, which is a pretty damning measure of how far we have to go. I do hope for a day when feminism simply stands for intersectional feminism, as it should, but first people have to understand that women inhabit multiple identities that must be considered when discussing matters of equity and equality.

Lastly, is it still possible for someone to be a feminist, and yet crank up the volume on rap tracks featuring misogynistic and degrading lyrics?

I wrote a whole book about this. Yes, it is possible to be a feminist and listen to misogynistic music. That said, at some point we have to hold ourselves accountable for the pop culture we consume. The more we demand such music, the less incentive musicians have to change what they supply.


You can see Roxane Gay in Conversation at Southbank Centre on 10 December, as part of our 2018 literature and spoken word events programme.

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Image courtesy of Eva Blue photography see website