Essayist, novelist and pop-culture guru Gay (An Untamed State, 2014, etc.) sounds off on the frustrating complexities of gender and race in pop culture and society as a whole.
In this diverse collection of short essays, the author launches her critical salvos at seemingly countless waves of pop-cultural cannon fodder. Although the title can be somewhat misleading—she’s more of an inconsistent or conflicted feminist—the author does her best to make up for any feminist flaws by addressing, for instance, the disturbing language bandied about carelessly in what she calls “rape culture” in society—and by Gay’s measure, this is a culture in which even the stately New York Times is complicit. However, she makes weak attempts at coming to terms with her ambivalence toward the sort of violent female empowerment depicted in such movies as The Hunger Games. Gay explores the reasons for her uneasiness with the term “women’s fiction” and delivers some not-very-convincing attempts to sort out what drives her to both respect and loathe a femalecentric TV show like Lena Dunham’s Girls. Although generally well-written, some of these gender-studies essays come off as preachy and dull as a public service announcement—especially the piece about her endless self-questioning of her love-hate relationship with the tacky female-submission fantasies in Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet when it comes to race-related matters (in the section "Race and Entertainment"), Gay’s writing is much more impassioned and persuasive. Whether critiquing problematic pandering tropes in Tyler Perry’s movies or the heavy-handed and often irresponsible way race is dealt with in movies like The Help, 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained, Gay relentlessly picks apart mainstream depictions of the black experience on-screen and rightfully laments that “all too often critical acclaim for black films is built upon the altar of black suffering or subjugation.”
An occasionally brilliant, hit-or-miss grab bag of pop-culture criticism.