Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay

Essays are one of my favourite literary genres and recently I’ve read some amazing essay collections that have introduced me to new ideas and new writing styles so perhaps I put overly high expectations on Roxane Gay’s essay collection. Overall I’d have to say I was disappointed but this might have a lot to do with my high expectations and perhaps that I am not this book’s intended audience.

The book started off quite well. I liked the introduction in which Gay discusses what it means to be a “bad feminist”, an imperfect woman in a world in which women are expected to strive for (unattainable) perfection at all times. I was able to relate to the sentiment a lot of women have of wanting to steer clear of the feminist title because of its often negative connotations, and also because of not understanding what the theory was truly about.

There are a few reasons why this book didn’t do it for me:

1- This book is too heavy on pop culture, which isn’t really for me. I’m probably the wrong audience for this book because, after all I don’t watch reality TV or any of the television shows Gay critiques, I’m not interested in critiques of 50 Shades of Grey, Gone Girl or Twilight at all so it’s not a surprise that I didn’t enjoy those particular essays.

2- I think I was confused by the main thesis of this book. I expected all the essays to be on feminism, an alternative and more uniting (for our diverse, pluralistic society) type of feminism. This book was essentially a mixture of feminist essays, loosely-feminist essays, essays on observations of race, class and pop culture critique, and some memoir-style essays. I’m not even sure whether I can call the majority of them essays as they read like blog posts. Although I’ve learned a lot from reading people’s blogs, a paperback perhaps isn’t the right medium for this type of writing.

3- I wasn’t challenged enough. I felt like Gay was trying to say, look I’m an academic but I’m still cool. I appreciate and admire postmodernist feminist writers when they write in their own styles and don’t feel the need to stick to conventional, dry academic writing styles, but this particular style just didn’t engage me. I read a lot of feminist literature and I guess what I always look for when I finish books like this are new realizations, new ideas and things I didn’t know before, but this was simply a rehash of the last two years of pop culture discussion on Twitter.

4- I was quite frankly uninterested in most of her essays. Some of the essays ended too soon; I had no idea where she was going with some of them and when I had finally figured it out, the essay had ended.

I can definitely see Gay’s appeal, and the idea of her appeals to me as well. This is a world in which women are constantly being silenced or being called histrionic, strident, etc for having an opinion or talking about controversial issues that make people uncomfortable so I always support women who have found their voice and are able to express themselves. Gay does bring up lots of important topics, such as rape, racism,racial stereotypes, and abortion and these topics still need to be discussed and dealt with.

With all that being said, I did like quite a few of the essays. The ones on race were decent. Personally as a black woman in academia I enjoyed her discourse on the lack of black professors in academia and I have to say that it was not until graduate school that I ever had a black professor (or even black classmates for that matter) and that was a big deal for me.

Gay is definitely a passionate and fearless writer, It’s too bad I didn’t enjoy her essays as much as I’d expected to.

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4 thoughts on “Bad Feminist- Roxane Gay

  1. Hey Rowena, Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree with every point, and still liked it. I had no expectations going into it, and actually liked that it was written with a lighter hand. A lot of pop culture which I can see turning you off, but also great for Americans (if you get my drift). Many of the TV/ books/movies I hadn’t seen/read, but a few I had…like Gone Girl. You made a great point with this basically being a rehash of twitter for the last two years, and no, nothing challenging or new here. Great review!

    1. Thanks, Deb! I know so many of my GR friends loved it and I’m glad my review didn’t come across as elitist or too judgmental! I know if I’d read the books she mentioned, or watched the television shows, I would have liked the book more. Thank you!

  2. Funny, I knew you wouldn’t like this one. I did like her take on pop culture because that’s often where we women get hurt the most unfortunately and it sticks. However agreed with quite a lot of what you said though. The thing I liked the most about this book was how she really put herself out there for some difficult topics, which I’m sure wasn’t easy. I enjoyed it but I’m looking forward to finally reading An Untamed State. I read Ayiti over Christmas and thought it was interesting but short. So we’ll see how things go with An Untamed State. Great thorough review as always!

    1. That’s funny that you knew I wouldn’t like this one much, lol. I actually thought I would love it. I agree; although I don’t really watch much television I do see the importance of critiquing shows through a critical race and a feminist lens. I’m sure the women who watch the shows she mentioned have gotten a new outlook on them so I am glad she wrote this. Looking forward to your thoughts on An Untamed State. Thanks, Didi ❤

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