Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

badfemWhen you follow feminist/queer sites like Autostraddle, you hear about books like Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. Naturally I had to pick it up, as much from sheer curiosity as from the positive reviews I’d read. What exactly is a bad feminist? Am I one?

Turns out that, according to Gay, a bad feminist is not such a terrible thing to be. She argues that even though we may not be Perfect Feminists (e.g. we may shave our legs and wear lipstick and know all the words to D-12’s “My Band”) we can still be feminists. Feminism is many different things to many very different people.

We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays, many of which were originally published online, about race, sexuality, privilege, popular media, gender, politics, and the author herself. Gay touches on everything from police brutality, to “women’s fiction,” to rape culture, to Wendy Davis, to Django Unchained and Orange is the New Black. She writes about the traumatic sexual assault of her childhood, her experience as a Black academic, and her love of Scrabble.

The book is an easy read in that it’s accessible. It’s not dense like academic feminist texts; you don’t have to slog through it feeling depressed. You can laugh. Gay writes conversationally. She’s funny, clever, and has a whole lot of opinions. I absolutely loved her personal essays, especially the one in which she describes her first Scrabble tournaments. (It made me want to 1. play more Scrabble and then 2. definitely not play in Scrabble tournaments.)

At times, I wished she would have gone deeper. Some of her essays read like reviews or opinion pieces. They feel unresolved and, sometimes, a little bit meatless. To someone who is fairly familiar with today’s feminist movement, these essays may feel like nothing new.

That being said, though, I did greatly enjoy her essays on race. As a white woman, I don’t know enough about racism or the particular struggles faced by people of color, so I really appreciated her observations on these topics. It was enlightening to read about her upbringing as a Haitian-American and her opinions on racially charged movies like The Help and Twelve Years a Slave.

If feminism isn’t really on your radar, or if you think you might be a feminist but you’re not sure, or if you eschew feminism because you think it’s old and stuffy and unnecessary, then this book is for you. It’s one imperfect woman’s unapologetic view on what it means to be a feminist today, and it’s entertaining to boot. Bad Feminist will give you a lot to think about.


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