Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is probably the feminist book I have been waiting for without even realizing I was waiting for it. The further I got into it, the more excited I became. I wish I had read Bad Feminist sooner, if only so I could have already been recommending it to friends for several months already, because that is certainly what I will be doing now. Like any good feminist text (in my opinion), Bad Feminist alternately made me want to laugh, cry, and reevaluate my life choices. Gay’s writing is honest and approachable, but she isn’t afraid to pull punches and be brutally honest when needed. She is constantly reminding us that her reactions and feelings about these topics are hers, and not necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – but they are how she feels, and even if she is a bad feminist, that is better than “no feminist at all.”
In the Introduction to Bad Feminist, Gay explains “feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed,” and yet “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.” It’s the same problem our society has when considering any large group of people – we like to generalize, so we blame Islam for the few terrorists who have acted in its name, or believe all Christians must be homophobes, because those are the ones we hear complaining the loudest. Every identity group has a diversity of people who all fall within it – that’s why intersectionality is so important, and recognizing that just because someone bears one label doesn’t mean they represent everyone else who shares in that identity. Roxane Gay writes: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be an example.” By the end of this book, Gay had me wanting to claim the title of ‘bad feminist’ too, because she’s right – none of us are perfect.
The essays in Bad Feminist cover a wide range of topics, from more personal anecdotes about Gay’s experience growing up, and becoming a professor, to pieces like “Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them.” My margin comments included frequent “Yes!” and stars and hearts by sentiments that I felt were particularly true or powerful. One of the essays I found most heartbreaking was “The Alienable Rights of Women,” which is about recent legislative losses around reproductive freedom, and how women have always had alienable rights, that men in power can take away with the stroke of pen. Women’s bodies are legislated, and have been for centuries, and Gay drives home that no matter what the laws may say around reproductive freedom, “women have historically resorted to any means necessary….[and] will do this again if we are backed into that terrible corner.” If I were to pick one essay in the collection that most felt like a punch in the gut, it would be this one.
But the power and strength of Bad Feminist isn’t just in its ability to really make the issues hit home. Bad Feminist is so powerful because of Gay’s frankness and openness. She’s not afraid to have an unpopular opinion, or openly admit to listening to terrible sexist music just because it’s catchy. And that is why I found Gay’s writing so gripping. She’s just another feminist trying to make sense of the world while trying to keep on top of her credit score. She’s not perfect, and neither am I, but we’re both trying.
What about you, dear readers? Do you think you might identify with the label ‘bad feminist’? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!