On the Shelf: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This book was a lucky find and Goodwill.  Normally when I buy books secondhand, they sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.  I picked this one up right away and am very glad I did!

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: 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.

My Thoughts:

This is not a perfect book.  The cover says it’s a collection of essays and, in a way, it is.  Each chapter gives Gay’s thoughts on different subjects.  If you’re looking defining essays by formal, academic standards however… this book falls short.  But falling short of academia does not mean that it has no value.

I loved this book.  My time within its pages felt less like reading a book and more like having a conversation with Gay over a cup of tea.  Her voice is informal and engaging.  She covers a wide variety of topics in this book, some relating to feminism and others not relating to it at all.

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” Roxane Gay

I love the honesty of this book.  Gay openly acknowledges her contradictions because that’s part of being human.   She’s not consistent at many points, loving aspects of pop culture that directly oppose everything feminists stand for.  But she doesn’t shy away from her contradictions.  She embraces them.

I didn’t always agree with everything Gay said.  At times, she even had me squirming in my seat with discomfort.  But this isn’t a bad thing.  I’ve learned to see challenges to my opinion as extremely valuable.  They teach me to see things from a perspective may not be my own, but is still valid.

Many of the chapters in this book are dedicated to culturally relevant topics like race and privilege.  As a protestant white woman, I’m privy to all kinds of cultural privileges that, most of the time, I’m completely blind to.  Reading Gay’s words about her life, her various experiences, and her responses to certain pop-cultural icons, it hit me for the first time just how deeply the issues of race go.  Which is ridiculous because I’m not uninformed about the shootings in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Charleston shooting, or the Confederate flag debates.  I gave my senior seminar presentation about racial issues regarding the figure of the artist in Barbara Chaise-Riboud’s Sally Hemmings.  But what I’ve got is all head knowledge.  Gay’s words pushed through whatever barrier exists within my consciousness between what’s in my head and what I feel.  I know that I will never truly understand these issues because of my privilege, but this book brought me closer.  Gay writes:

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

This is what this book did for me.

This book was, at points, incredibly serious.  But, at other points, it was fun.  I appreciated the chapter about Gay’s time playing competitive Scrabble.  I also liked her discussion of The Hunger Games, even if it was relatively shallow.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bad Feminist.  It took several weeks to read, but was well worth the time.  This book challenged and pushed me to see the world from an individual who is very different from myself.  But it also had me nodding, agreeing, and even laughing at points.

You Will Like If You Enjoy: cultural discussions, racial issues, feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, GLBT rights

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