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Feminists Roxane Gay and Erica Jong were bound to clash at DBF

An unintended clash over the state of feminist inclusion took place when the AJC Decatur Book Fest paired writers Roxane Gay and Erica Jong together last Friday evening for the festival's keynote conversation. 
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?The Guardian wrote all about how "awkward" the exchange got in a piece that fleshes out the culturally divided terrain emerging as second-wave feminism gives way to a younger more diverse generation.
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?With Jong being the celebrated novelist of the groundbreaking 1973 book on the subject of female sexuality, Fear of Flying, and Gay, an academic and author best known for her 2014 book of essays Bad Feminist, they've both been critical of feminism's legacy of exclusion in their own progressive ways. But on some points regarding equality, they found themselves expressing opposing views. Needless to say, the teachable moments abounded.
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?Whether or not the Decatur Book Fest intended that when it paired the authors together, it made for a prickly discussion. But Gay also seemed less interested in pushing an agenda than deferring to the senior and more accomplished Jong. Which is probably why it took questions from the audience to bring things to a head.
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?The most vivid illustration of the disconnect occurred when Gay, in response to an audience member's question about feminism's lack of cultural inclusion, stressed the importance of intersectionality. At which point Jong asked, "What's that?"
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?Gay continued, breaking down the multiple identities women inhabit that can either afford or deny broader access to privilege: “You have to think about how there are multiple barriers for equality for some women. That it’s not just gender. It’s also sexuality, class, race, ethnicity, ability. And we have to take these things into account. We have to realize that just because we’re women does not mean we’re equal.”
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?Things got testy from there. Though I was in attendance, I wasn't recording the Q&A so I'm posting this account of the exchange from the Guardian's Anna Schachner below:
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??? Jong’s response began rather differently. “I also want to say that anybody who says that feminism is only a white thing is ignorant of the history of feminism,” she began. She mentioned blues singers, black abolitionists, and black female civil rights leaders, “who were all passionate feminists beyond any white women you could name”.
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? Jong said she thought anyone who claimed otherwise was speaking from “historical ignorance. “We have a long tradition of people of colour, of women of colour, being feminists,” Jong insisted. “A long tradition.”
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? When Gay agreed but reminded Jong that mainstream feminism has historically excluded women of colour, the audience clapped. Jong, apparently taken aback, demanded: “And I don’t know – are you talking about me?”
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? Gay answered simply, and almost consolingly, “No.”
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? Jong went on to say, “Because I can tell you that in my history I was called, like you, a bad feminist. In the 70s I was called a bad feminist by many people because I liked to wear lipstick and I liked to wear high heels and I thought men were cool and I liked to wear fancy underwear. So that’s just bullshit. I mean it’s ignorance.”
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? Gay responded: “Yes, but I think we’re speaking beyond – it’s not about us. Just speaking about feminism, like some of the current concerns of feminists.”
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? As the audience mumbled, Jong then insisted: “Current concerns of feminism are multiple, many. And number one, women with brown or black skin have been passionately involved in feminism from the beginning. Two, we recognise that.
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? “Gloria Steinem when she started Ms. magazine made people know who Sojourner Truth was,” Jong continued. “People didn’t know about her before. This white movement began popularising these figures who had been buried.”
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? The rest of Jong’s response included her assertion that the Black Lives Matter movement (referred to in the original audience question) was “a political movement trying to show us our failure of empathy, and as such I salute them”. And she was adamant that reading black writers was important, as was reading “African and European and British and Caribbean and whatever” writers. “But let’s not confuse animals,” she urged. “Feminism has always been interested in people of colour, in my view.”
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? Now, it was Gay who off-handedly mumbled, “OK.”??
?You can read the the rest of Schachner's account at The Guardian.



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