Mini-Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay


Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by Roxane Gay that covers an array of topics, including her personal thoughts on the feminist movement and why she calls herself a feminist, what it is like growing up as a woman of color, the way sexual violence is viewed in today’s society, and issues of race and politics. This book covers a lot, but Roxane Gay handles the topics with skill and intelligence.

I hadn’t read much by Roxane Gay before I picked this book up, but I had heard about her and the book sounded interesting, so after reading the free preview available on my nook, I downloaded and read the rest. I’m glad I did, because not only did Gay open my eyes to things that I hadn’t given much thought to, she articulately expressed opinions and ideas that I have had in the past, but have never been able to put into words the way she does. I especially appreciated her chapters in the beginning where she explains her idea of feminism and why she chooses to identify as a “bad feminist.” Gay writes,

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain…personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.”

Gay understands why some women may shy away from the term feminist, and that, like anything else, feminism has its flaws. Still, she points out that, “In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.” She reminds us that feminism is often “[held] to an unreasonable standard,” because when it does not live up to people’s expectations, they decide that “the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.” This is something that I think we could all be reminded of. I certainly needed to be.

Gay also writes deftly on the topics of gender and sexuality, and part of me feels like every essay in her “Gender and Sexuality” section should be required reading in high schools everywhere. Her essays, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” and “Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others,” stand out in my mind as particularly smart looks at the ways we treat sexual violence as a society, and the detriment this has.

Of course, like any book dealing with the topics that Bad Feminist does, not everyone is going to agree with it. Nor should they, necessarily. As Gay herself writes in the first section, “I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I’m just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world.” While Bad Feminist is by no means the final word on any other the topics it covers, it is a smart, accessible addition to the conversation. I look forward to reading more from Roxane Gay in the future.

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