REVIEW: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministRating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Non-Fiction, Pages: 320, Level: Intermediate

Book Description:

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink- all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

Bad Feminist is not the typical type of book I would normally pick up on my own. The only reason I read it was because it was selected as the group read for a book group in which I participate and I am so glad that it was. Roxane Gay had me so worked up and stinking mad that I wished she were right in front of me so I could give her a piece of my mind. For a while, I teetered between three and four stars, but the more I got into the book, and the more worked up I got, the more I realized that a book eliciting such a response really deserves top ratings. Hence, the five stars.

So let’s get right to it.

   How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. 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.
   The problem with movements is that, all too often, they are associated only with the most visible figures, the people with the biggest platforms and the loudest, most provocative voices. p5-6

This drives me insane because I can’t throw a follow up question at her. I feel pretty safe assuming that Gay is a liberal Democrat and the reason I bring it up is because a logical response to this quote is, “Would Gay afford the same consideration to the Republican Party?

I am a proponent of consistency. I believe that one of the big problems of this day and age is that we have lost the ability to intelligently debate and discuss issues without getting personal and villainizing those with whom we disagree. And while I completely agree with this quote, I have a hard time taking her seriously unless I know that she is consistent in her consideration.

For the moment, let’s assume that she is… Actually, it doesn’t even matter. This quote made me look at feminism differently and it regardless of whether or not Gay is consistent with her totally rational observation about movements. I confess that I was one of those women who was quick to distance myself from feminism whenever the subject came up. I did not want to be remotely associated with those loonies.

Then Gay reminded me of what I have argued for many other organizations and movements- the loudest people are the ones who get all the attention but that does not mean they are necessarily representative of the movement as a whole. After I thought of it that way, feminism didn’t seem that bad. Maybe I’ll consider it. Maybe I am also a Bad Feminist.

Sometimes Gay made me so angry that I just wanted to yell and scream at her. More than once I flipped off the book, well, eBook. I’m sure it’s not the first time someone flipped off an electronic device. One of the sections that brought this out was How to Be Friends with Another Woman:

If you are the kind of woman who says, “I’m mostly friend with guys,” and act like you’re proud of that, like that makes you closer to being a man or something and less of a woman is if being a woman is a bad thing, see item 1B. It’s okay if most of your friends are guys, but if you champion this as a commentary on the nature of female friendships, well, soul-search a little. If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s just you. I used to be this kind of woman. I’m sorry to judge. p43

First, she judges and then she apologizes for judging and thinks this is okay because in her own words, she “used to be this kind of woman.” She’s not sorry. If she were, she would have edited this out. I prefer she just own it.

However, “Like most people, I am a mass of contradictions” p170. I respect Gay for this. I think procrastinating writing this review has helped me see the bigger picture with this book. It helps me appreciate and admire her for putting her personal contradictions out there, her personal hypocrisy, the contradictions and hypocrisy that I truly believe are inside everyone.

I’m not going to lie. This book is heavy. It covers feminism, rape, privilege, friendship, television, reality shows, movies, books, gender, race, celebrity, dick culture, trigger warnings, the justice system, privacy, freedom of speech, unrealistic expectations in men, racism and abortion. Whew. I’m sure I missed a few. But don’t despair; there is some humor:

If you want to be with an asshole, get a fresh asshole of your very own. They are abundant. p44

Let me be clear: Team Peeta.

Life, apparently, requires a trigger warning.

Like most people, I gather what legal knowledge I have from a little show called Law & Order. p134

We are all free to be assholes, but we are not free to do so without consequence. p153

Okay, well I thought those were funny.

Anyway, whether you are a Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, male or female, atheist or believer, read the book. Besides the fact that it is so good for debate and discussion, it is just a great read. I screamed at the book. I yelled at the book. I slammed the book down and flipped it off. Good times.

Reviewed by Christina
September 5, 2015

One thought on “REVIEW: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

  1. I really enjoyed this book – although some essays I enjoyed more than others. I loaned it to my mother who struggled through it and found it annoying for some of the reasons you describe. I remember one part where she picks on Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman” (which I also really enjoyed) and remember that rubbing me the wrong way a bit. I can’t even remember the actual point, I just remember thinking, man – now the feminists are picking each other apart – I’m not clear on why that’s a good thing.

    As a woman who has a number of male friends and has struggled at times to bond with women, I also found the “you should soul search” bit a bit much.

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