Roxane Gay: Think Big, Act Smart

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Editor-in-chief Jasmine Andersson speaks to Guardian US columnist and ‘Bad Feminist’ Roxane Gay about her heroes, intersectionality, and Scrabble.

What is the definition of a feminist to you? 

Feminism is pluralistic. There are multiple definitions and ways of approaching feminism. That said, we have to start somewhere. A feminist believes women are equal to men, and should be able to move through the world in the same way men do. Our bodies should be free from legislation. We have to care not only about women whose life experiences are similar to ours, but also, those women whose experiences are different.

When did you first realise that you were a feminist?

I’ve probably always been a feminist but there was definitely a time when I was not comfortable claiming the identity because I worried about what it said about me. I began openly embracing feminism in my thirties when I began to understand what feminism is and how much it has made possible for me. 

Why do you think people struggle to identify themselves as feminists?

There is, unfortunately, a great stigma attached to the word “feminist.” People hear that word and think of anger and separatism and lots of other nonsense that’s not accurate. It’s also strange because given the ways in which women are marginalized, anger is a perfectly appropriate response.

What is the biggest concern of inequality for women today?

It really depends but one of the most critical concerns is reproductive freedom and unfettered access to affordable means of birth control. Subsidized childcare is also critical, as are maternity and paternity leave. 

As an Haitian-American feminist, you have to deal with the double-edged sword of race and gender inequality. How can the feminist community rally around to better understand intersectionality?

Feminists need to realize that we’re not only women, we also inhabit other identities at the same time and we need to consider this breadth of identity and how it affects women’s lives. 

I wouldn’t call being a Haitian American woman a double-edged sword, though. Who I am is not a liability. 

Your bestselling book, Bad Feminist, acknowledges that human beings can be contradictory in their actions whilst still being a champion of gender equality. What do you think is your most significant patriarchal achilles heel?

I love romantic comedies, way too much. 

Who is your hero?

My heroes are many but my first and longest lasting heroes have been my parents.

What advice would you offer to student feminists in regards to how they can effect change on campus?

Think big, act smart. 

What is your highest Scrabble score? 

My highest score is probably around 580. 

What do you hope for women’s rights in 2015?

I hope we spend less time discussing the word feminist or who can claim it and spend more time acting upon our feminism.

Jasmine Andersson

Photography: Jennifer Silverberg

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