This review is part of our Goodreads Group, Love Yourshelf, and our ongoing Book Reviews project.
Roxane Gay’s 2014 collection of essays in Bad Feminist, a New York Times bestseller, is full of essays that aren’t just concerned about feminism but deal with racial, gender, and personal topics as well. The Haitian-American author quickly shares what she considers to be a bad feminist: It’s about being a real, not a “professional feminist,” one that is “flawed and human.” Gay says that she has “interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.” So she isn’t a perfect feminist-she’s a bad feminist-but one nonetheless.
Gay proclaims “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.” It is interesting to read this, with cancel culture a prominent fixture of 2020, making one wonder how this line of thinking would uphold today. While both her definition of bad feminist and her embracing the title can be assumed to be the thesis of the collection of essays, Gay seems to have seen it more of a theme that she occasionally writes about throughout the essays. As seen by the sections of the book, Gay discusses a whole range of topics.
These sections are: Me, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Entertainment, Politics, Gender & Race. Obviously, there is a strong theme of the autobiographical “me” and pop culture references are littered throughout the entire collection. The references range from the television show Girls to a whole essay about The Hunger Games, and references to a plethora of songs. She mentions Robin Thicke’s unabashedly misogynistic song, “Blurred Lines,” and “Give It 2 U,” saying that “As much as it pains me to admit, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful confections. But I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music-I have to forget I am a sentient being.” This is what she means by being a “bad feminist.” She enjoys and partakes in things that may not always live up the ideal feminist standard. But, according to Gay, that’s perfectly okay.
The personal essay “To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically,” is one in which any scrabble lover will enjoy. But the question remains if every reader would be a scrabble lover. It is amusing to read but it in no way takes on feminism, which makes one wonder in the decision to include it.
Many of these essays were originally published as blog posts. And it is apparent. This can be seen as either a good thing: it is more accessible and colloquial writing. Or, it can detract from the experience. Gay is an academic, and there is a certain expectation surrounding this book because of her name recognition and her scholarly background. Given that this is a published collection of essays from Harper and Collins, it is surprising that this almost blog-esque tone is prevalent throughout.
What does make it worth reading is that the book is occasionally thought-provoking, and her wit weaves the stories together. Emphasis on through provoking, but the essays rarely, if ever, lead your thoughts to any concrete resolution. There is rarely anything challenging, as Gay introduces topics and discussions and leaves it up to the reader to decide. Which occasionally feels refreshing and indicates that these are ongoing, evolving conversations.
This collection of essays is a good read, but don’t expect it all to be about feminism or to feel enlightened or persuaded by any means. It is important to discuss the topics that Gay presents, but it is up to the reader if it is important to engage in these conversations without any resolution.