Roxane Gay identifies as a feminist and still listens to rap and mainstream music.
Gay said the older she gets, however, the more wiling she is to change the radio station because she does not want to expose her young nieces to music they do not understand.
Gay said this guilt inspired her New York Times bestselling book “Bad Feminist,” a series of nonfiction short essays on sexuality, politics, gender, race and identity.
“Bad Feminist” was selected for this year’s Common Book program, held by UCLA First Year Experience, which distributes books to incoming first-year and transfer students during orientations. The Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA brought Gay to Royce Hall on Monday to host a discussion on the book, where she touched on the topics of identity, consumerism, capitalism and stereotypes.
“Actually where the book came from was this idea that I know this music is degrading and diminishing to women, of black people, and that we can do better, but the beat is so good,” Gay said.
Gay admitted she is human like everyone else and full of contradictions. She made it clear that both the consumer and the media have a responsibility to initiate change in diversity in the media.
“We have to, at some point, turn the channel or turn the TV off and say, ‘I’m not going to watch that until you give me a more well-rounded representation of people of color or women,’” Gay said.
Gay also said networks hold responsibility and should strive to deliver content based on what is ethical and not what will continue the capitalist cycle. At the same time, the writer questioned the diversity that is currently present in shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “Empire.”
“We’re seeing some really interesting diversity in television right now, but two of the most diverse shows are about women in prison and a drug dealer turned record mogul who commits murder,” Gay said. “So what does that say about diversity? I love ‘Empire,’ but I think it’s also very frustrating that the diversity we get is of a very specific time.”
The author also opened up about what it was like to grow up in the Midwest with Haitian, immigrant, conservative Catholic parents who encouraged both her and her siblings to think for themselves.
“When I started developing my own identity, my own opinions, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to express them,” Gay said. “There have been some things that are rocky like sexuality – bisexuality is just a thing Haitians don’t understand – but I just stood my ground.”
Gay said her integrity does not change just because her opinions do, and that she has been fortunate enough to have such open minded parents.
Gay’s overarching message throughout the discussion revolved around how there are no sides or allies, but how instead, everyone is responsible in the fight for social issues.
First-year psychobiology student Echama Mba attended the event and found it to be eye-opening on the idea of feminism as a whole.
“I thought it was provocative and I thought she was really honest about her responses,” Mba said. “I had no idea what feminism was and now I think feminism is equality.”
Ivan Makeenko, a fall quarter foreign exchange economics student from Moscow State University, attended the book discussion. Although he has yet to read “Bad Feminist,” he has been interested in intersectional feminism for several years now.
“I’m hoping to get some fresh inspiration from reading ‘Bad Feminist,’” Makeenko said. “It’s important to look for role models who are women when it comes to feminism because they’re the ones that know what they’re talking about.”
Lauren Opatowski, an alumna of the University of Michigan, attended the book signing and the discussion after overhearing a conversation about Gay being in Los Angeles.
“She’s helped given me a way to discuss issues that are really important to me without frightening people because I think when you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to get caught up in your emotions,” Opatowski said. “I think she’s able to say it’s okay to be a bad feminist.”