Few people can spark a heated debate quite like Roxane Gay. Can you like Robin Thicke and still be a feminist? Can you hate "Girls" and be one? Whenever there's a big moment in pop-culture, Gay's 100,000 Tumblr followers and 24,800 Twitter followers are eager to hear her thoughts on what it means on a deeper level, if it means anything at all.
The writer just released her book, "Bad Feminist," a collection of some of her best essays about recent pop-culture. Because this much-misunderstood "F" word is still such a loaded term, we talked to Gay about setting some of the myths about feminism straight.
Myth 1: Feminists can't listen to rap or watch "The Bachelor."
For the record, Gay loves "The Bachelor." "I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be an example," Gay says in "Bad Feminist." One of the reasons Gay decided to release her book is to tell women to give themselves a break. "It's important to have high standards, but it's also important to recognize our humanity and that sometimes we're not going to get it right," she tells us. "We can be feminists and we can be imperfect in our feminism. I think what matters is intention."
Myth 2: There's nothing left for feminists to fight for.
Gay says one of the reasons why she thinks many young women are hesitant to call themselves feminists is because they think we've reached a point where men and women are equal. "We're no longer thinking the struggle is real because we're no longer fighting for literacy or the right to vote," she explains. But she says that even though the fight is more subtle, it's still important. "We're fighting for equal pay. We're fighting for reproductive freedom. We're fighting for the rights of transgender women and queer women. The fights are different, but equally important."
Myth 3: Feminists are automatic role models.
Gay may have a big following, but she insists that she is not a role model because everyone is human and bound to mess up. "People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. They get knocked off when they f--- it up. I regularly f--- it up. Consider me already knocked off," she says in her book. Instead, she urges people to keep feminism simple. Believing that men and women are equals and should be treated as such, but also spending Saturday night grinding with guys to degrading music is imperfect feminism, and that's perfectly OK.
More of our conversation with Roxane Gay:
It's interesting that we're still at a point where feminism has to be defined every time it's talked about.
Yes. It's shocking that we are still trying to explain what feminism is, how it functions and how it works in the service of women. It's also a shame that people are resistant to what feminism actually is and they are still holding on to really antiquated notions as to what feminism is. ... It's hard for people to find common ground on any issue, so it's not surprising that feminism is another issue where we struggle with that.
Who are your favorite celebrity "bad feminists"?
I really love Bette Midler. I think she does some really wonderful things and she's very much invested in the quality of women. Susan Sarandon, who I don't even think identifies as a feminist, I think is just bad ass at how she moves through the world. Michelle Obama is a great feminist. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be her, because she's so clear on what she wants to do and why. She's very full of good intention and follow through.
Do you think it's OK for someone to not want to be a feminist?
I definitely struggle with women who say they are not a feminist and don't need feminism because I think they don't realize what feminism has made possible in their lives. But we all get to choose how we identify ourselves. They have a right and I'm going to fight for them anyway. Whether or not you're a feminist, I'm very much invested in the equality of all women.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence