Celebrated cultural critic and novelist Roxane Gay came to the Southbank Centre in December 2018, to take to our Royal Festival Hall stage for her first ever UK in conversation event.
An associate professor of English at Purdue University, and a contributing writer for The New York Times, Gay released Bad Feminist in 2014, a collection of essays which merged pop culture with her own experience to explore the complexities of being a feminist in modern America.
Gay has become renowned for her humour, honesty and sensitivity; all of which are in evidence in her latest book, the New York Times best-seller Hunger (2017). Drawing on her own experience once again, with startling intimacy, Gay looks at sensitivity about food and bodies to explore our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance and health.
Back in 2018 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.
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.
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.
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