When I first heard about Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, I went through the following argument with myself:
This intrigues me for some reason.
But no, I can’t read it. Feminists are extremists and outrageous. My friends might worry about me and think I’m going through a dark and angry phase.
Wait, it says “bad feminist.” Maybe that means it’s the opposite of feminist.
But while I don’t feel like I’m exactly a feminist, I know I’m definitely not the opposite of one….
Well, my curiosity won, and so I started reading the introduction half-heartedly. I didn’t actually think I would read the whole book. Upon reading the intro, however, I realized that the author had a point, and that her point was definitely one worth questioning and thinking about. So I pitched it to my book club, and we started on this exploratory journey together.
I have so much I feel the need to express, that I’m going to divide this into two posts. Below is my review of the book, and in Part 2, I will develop this into more of a conversation on feminism as well as some of the discussions the book has already helped bring about with people around me.
The Introduction section starts off with Gay describing her reasoning behind calling herself a “bad feminist.” She feels (and I agree) that feminists have gotten a bad reputation for being extremists—in other words, man-hating protesters of all things feminine. She points out that society tends to put certain women on pedestals for being great feminists, only to disagree with one thing they do later and knock them back down, putting too much expectations on individuals, without acknowledging that no one is perfect.
For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.
So because of this, Gay calls herself a “bad feminist” because she doesn’t meet all of feminism’s expected criteria. Examples she states: she likes the color pink, listens to hip hop and rap music on occasion (despite knowing the lyrics are degrading to women), shaves her legs, etc.
The rest of the book leads to other essays about Gay’s life and experiences, her beliefs, and her analyses on different media pieces. While feminism is the overall underlying theme, it is sometimes a subtle one while other topics rise to the surface. She divides the book into the following sections (with multiple individual essays within some of these sections):
Me [Gay’s professional career/early professor years, and privilege]
Gender & Sexuality
Race & Entertainment
Politics, Gender & Race
Back to Me [a conclusion which expands/wraps up the introduction]
After reading, I was curious to see what others thought after reading it—since some of the topics are controversial—so I’ve since read several reviews on this book, and I’m not surprised that they are mixed. Most of the official ones I’ve read (i.e., online newspaper and magazine reviews) agree with almost all of Gay’s general ideas and acknowledge her writing skills and storytelling abilities. Then there are the reviews and comments online by readers, which are somewhat diverse (although my search was not exhaustive—I merely looked at the comments on a few of the article reviews I read, as well as a handful of reviews on Goodreads). A few are disappointed because of how much the book was talked up to them, and a few said they just cannot relate to it because of the emphasis she put on comparisons to entertainment (shows, movies, books, etc.) of which they have no experience or knowledge.
I will acknowledge that not every essay spoke to me. But I believe, as do a few of my friends who’ve also read it, that this book is important, and hits on key discussion topics nonetheless. Besides, the beauty of a book of essays is how if one essay doesn’t feel worth your time, you can move on to the next without losing momentum or missing out on any need-to-know items for the rest of the book to make sense. Gay hits on the major issues that women can relate to and need to talk about, whether or not you agree with her all of the time. In fact, it’s often better when you don’t agree with something, because that helps bring forth good debates with others, as well as encouraging you to dig deeper in thinking about (and knowing how to defend) your own beliefs. She writes on education, privilege, race, rape, and trigger warnings.
Gay makes no apologies for speaking her mind, and you’re never left wondering what her stance is on something. She is also really educated and seems to have done some research, so while I still won’t take everything she opines as the absolute truth, I did feel that I could try to meet a common ground with a lot of it because she doesn’t just go around throwing out ideas with reckless abandon, but shows consistency in her beliefs.
Yes, there are a lot of reviews and commentaries on entertainment, such as: Girls (HBO TV show), The Help (movie), Orange Is The New Black (Netflix show), How to Be a Woman (book), Tyler Perry and BET channel movies, The Hunger Games (books/movies), Django Unchained (movie), and others. But if you haven’t seen or read whatever it is she is talking about, don’t worry, because she gives it all away. In fact, it caught me by surprise at first, so I must warn you: When reading, if you get to a point about a particular movie, etc., that you have not seen and would like to experience spoiler-free, skip a few pages or to the next section altogether. She doesn’t hold back or give any warning whatsoever. But if you don’t care about that sort of thing, read away. And you may even want to watch or read it afterwards anyway if you’re interested, so that you don’t just have a biased view on it, because she speaks so authoritatively.
I think there is enough variety to where there could be something in this book for just about everyone (or at least every woman)…whether you want an educated debate on the human race and important issues, whether you just want to read entertainment and media reviews/evaluations, whether you are interested in learning about Scrabble (yeah, that was a random essay to me, but entertaining nonetheless), whether you want to hear from a Haitian woman’s point of view and learn more about her, whether you are curious about feminism, or even whether you have been a first-year professor. There’s plenty in this book to relate to, and I found it to be well thought out and concise.
But it doesn’t end here. This book wasn’t just meant for entertainment value. And it also wasn’t just meant to be a memoir for us to evaluate Roxane Gay as an individual with her opinions. I believe it is ushering us into reevaluating the definitions, concepts, stereotypes, and stigmas of feminism, or being a feminist. So please see Part 2 for that.