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Book Review: Bad Feminist – Essays

Feminist” has become an insult, and the idea of feminism is associated with a specific mold. But the real definition is simpler than most people think. Roxane Gay is committed to equality for women, but she doesn’t always fit in with the traditional idea of feminism. She calls herself a bad feminist. In this book review, you’ll hear a sampling of Gay’s thoughts on everything from The Help to reproductive freedom. You’ll also learn how being a bad feminist is better than being no feminist at all.

Roxane Gay’s thoughts on race, gender, and sexuality.


  • Care about equality for women
  • Want to hear perspectives from a person of color
  • Are committed to social justice and equal representation


Bad Feminist (2014) is a collection of often personal essays examining race, gender and feminism in the United States. The author, Roxane Gay, pays particular attention to the way media, politics and pop culture shape society’s views and champions her own brand of feminism – one that doesn’t always follow the rules.

Book Review: Bad Feminist - Essays

Thanks to the #MeToo movement and women’s marches, feminism has grown to be quite prominent in the media and social discourse over recent years. However, there’s no singular way to be a feminist. Even within the movement, there are many divergent viewpoints. Roxane Gay explains the concept of essential feminism and why she goes against some of its conceptions to champion her unique brand of “bad” feminism. Bad feminism is for anyone who feels like they don’t fit the prescribed version of feminism for whatever reason but still wants to make their voice heard. You’ll find that being a bad feminist is better than not being a feminist at all.

In this summary of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, you’ll discover

  • why bad reality TV can make us feel so good;
  • how a terrorist was selected to be on the cover of Rolling Stone;
  • and that the film The Help is less than helpful when it comes to furthering racial equality

Note: The following book summaries contain strong, offensive language and a racist term is used in regards to stereotypes in films.

Our cultural climate is slowly changing, but the battle hasn’t been won yet. Rape culture persists. Women are still fighting for reproductive freedom. Pop culture continually represents women in broken and damaging ways.

How do we bring attention to this and fight it?

Feminism is an essential way to change the cultural climate, but it is often rejected and ridiculed. The truth is, feminism is flawed because it is a movement led by human beings. People make mistakes.

When she was younger, Roxane Gay rejected feminism for the same reason many women still reject it: The label seems like an insult. It’s associated with angry, man-hating women who hate sex and traditional femininity. But that caricature was intentionally created by the people who stand to lose the most when feminism finally succeeds. It isn’t true feminism.

Gay became a feminist when she realized that the movement is simply about advocating for gender equality. If you believe in equal opportunity, equal rights, and equal representation for all people, then you are a feminist.

When feminism falls short, it’s because people are fallible and not because the movement itself is wrong.

She calls herself a bad feminist because she is human. She doesn’t claim to know everything about the movement, nor is she a perfect example for feminist women. She makes choices and has preferences that don’t fit with the typical idea of feminism, and that’s OK.

Gay is using her voice as a bad feminist to examine race, gender, and equality in our culture. Her essays are flawed, just like feminism. But they are authentic, and they are her attempt to examine how we can all do better.

Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.

Niche dating sites make it easy to connect with someone based on a specific bit of criteria. There are Christian sites, gay sites, and even furry sites. Maybe these sites have become so popular because we are all just searching for someone who will remind us we aren’t alone.

Pop culture makes this difficult for people of color. Most of the representations of black people you see on television, even on networks like BET, fit into stereotypical categories. It seems like black people can only succeed through sports or music. Where are the black professors, CEOs, or writers?

Gay wants to know where she fits — and not just in the entertainment world.

She finds herself going above and beyond to belong. She works hard, spreads herself thin, and generally does everything she can to be accepted. Once, in graduate school, she overheard a classmate call her the affirmative action student. It crushed Gay because she had worked so hard but was still treated like she didn’t deserve to be there.

At every job since then, she’s wondered if she’s the affirmative action hire. When Gay thinks too long about this, she finds it heartbreaking, frustrating, and depressing. She has a doctorate. She’s a good writer. When will she stop questioning herself and her right to belong?

Writing has helped Gay find people to connect with because it bridges the gap between differences. It would be a lot easier if finding your community was like finding a date on a niche site. But race, gender, and identity are simply too complex. They don’t fit in an algorithm or in a single television show.

Gay will keep writing about them and how they intersect. She’s a black woman, a writer, a professor, and a bad feminist. One day these will all make sense.

Peculiar Benefits

Gay is Haitian American, and when she was a child her parents took her to visit Haiti every summer. She was too young to really understand the meaning of privilege but recognized the stark difference between her life in America and the lives in Haiti.

Most people in the developed world hold some kind of privilege, and it’s very important to recognize and acknowledge where you have an advantage. Gay had an upper-middle-class upbringing. Her parents were loving, and she never had to deal with a broken home. She went to nice schools and her degrees were funded.

But it can be equally difficult to admit where you lack privilege. Gay is the child of immigrants. She’s a woman and a person of color. It’s impossible to exist without being reminded of this, whether a random person questions her right to be in the faculty parking lot at her job or a conservative politician tries, once again, to legislate her body.

Privilege does not mean your life is easy. Acknowledging your privilege does not discount your struggles or your suffering. A privileged person is never privileged across the board.

Too often privilege is wielded like a weapon, like an accusation and a reason to dismiss someone’s truth. It’s gotten to the point where a person can barely talk about their personal experiences without being lambasted.

We need to start talking about privilege through acknowledgement and observation rather than accusation and dismissal.

At the very least we must all understand that not everyone has the same privileges we do. At our very best we can use our own brand of privilege to even the playing field and fight for social justice.

Girls, Girls, Girls

If there were a television show about Gay’s 20s, the main character would be a lost young woman who cuts off contact with her family and moves across the country to make questionable choices with questionable people. Not every woman would relate to this show, but some would.

It just isn’t possible to package the experiences of girlhood into neat 20- or 40minute episodes. The only solution is representing a variety of girls and girlhood experiences.

But this rarely happens. Most of the time we see the same girls and the same experiences over and over again.

Even shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls, lauded for being the voice of an entire generation, neglects representation. The show does a great job of showing us messy, relatable characters who aren’t perfect, so we get that sliver of authentic life — but only for one kind of girl.

After all, the main characters are all white and upper-middle class.

This is certainly not the first nor the last show to make this mistake, and it’s unfair to expect one show to shoulder the burden of representation. But many women, particularly women of color, are still waiting to see something relatable to them.

Not Here to Make Friends

There is usually a point in reality TV shows when a character will announce that they aren’t there to make friends. They are there to win the rose or get the cash prize, not form relationships.

This proclamation frees them from the expectation of likability.

Gay has thought a lot about likability in literature. As a writer and a person who has often struggled with being liked, she finds herself drawn to the characters who are unlikable — the ones that do and say what they want. These characters feel more human, more nuanced, and more relatable.

Likability is performing in a way that meets expectations. It is often a lie, and it is more often foisted upon women than men. Unlikable men are tormented or interesting, whereas unlikable women have something wrong with them. Critics obsess over these unlikable women, searching for the reason these characters dare to defy expectations. Are they mentally ill? Did they experience some kind of trauma?

What people fail to realize is that unlikable female characters are usually the ones who simply aren’t pretending to be something they are not. They don’t have the energy or the will to put on a show to make others more comfortable.

They are themselves regardless of the consequences — and their stories are far more interesting for it.

The Tale of Three Coming Out Stories

We are in the age of information. New stories, facts, and statistics are just a Google search away. We have become so inundated with information that we now take it for granted. We feel entitled to knowing what we want to know.

This has especially affected public figures, who are treated as if the price of fame or fortune or power is a complete lack of privacy. The world demands information about their relationship status, their sexuality, and their secrets. This is especially troublesome for figures who are not heterosexual.

Many have been outed against their will by people who do not agree with their lifestyle, while others feel pressured to come out because the LGBTQ community needs champions. Some of these people would probably prefer to keep their choices private but are denied that right.

It’s unfair that people who are already marginalized have yet another responsibility laid upon them.

Instead of asking public figures to stand up, to make sacrifices, and to carry the torch, we can ask ourselves how we can shoulder some of the load as well. Do we speak up when someone uses the term “gay” as an insult? Do we vote to support equal rights? Do we support musicians, actors, and authors who diminish the LGBTQ community, or the ones who support it?

The more people demand that public figures relinquish their privacy for the greater good, the more Gay wonders what each of us would be willing to sacrifice. Why is it all on them?

Thoughts on The Help

Gay cannot stand watching historical movies about black experiences. They are usually white interpretations, and few of them get it right.

Take The Help, for instance. It’s supposed to be inspirational, but all Gay saw when she watched it was condescension and racism.

The film is an avid user of the “magical negro” trope. Hollywood loves to create black characters who bestow their wisdom, or “magical powers,” onto a broken white person in order to raise them up and help them find redemption. These characters are usually uneducated and never use their powers to help themselves — only white people.

The Help has a dozen magical negroes in the form of black maids in 1960s Mississippi. They exist to make the white families they work for feel better about themselves, and there is a strong implication that the maids find fulfillment in raising white babies and cleaning white people’s homes.

One character dies from a broken heart after being fired a white family. Another rejoices when her white family promises job security — because serving a white family for terrible pay is a dream come true.

The book is written by a white woman, and the film is written and directed by a white man. One of the beauties of fiction is the endless possibilities, and Gay doesn’t think people should only be boxed in to what they personally know, but writing across race, gender, or sexuality should be handled with extreme care.

Writers don’t have to get these differences right every time, but they have to at least make a conscious effort. The writers of The Help, both the book and the film, didn’t try hard enough. They choose the easy way out via black caricatures and a narrow depictions of history.

Watching The Help made Gay wonder if writers should just stick to what they know.

When Less Is More

According to the internet, Gay should love Orange Is The New Black. After all, some of the characters look like her. Isn’t that enough? It’s as though people of color should be grateful for any scrap of diversity Hollywood deigns to provide.

The show isn’t bad. Gay noticed interesting characters and a fresh, nuanced exploration of sexuality. The story line featuring Laverne Cox as a transgender woman with wife and child was totally original and refreshing, living up to the diversity hype critics keep pushing.

But there are problems, too. Some of the characters are caricatures, and the diverse cast that people keep shoving down Gay’s throat revolve around the white main character, Piper.

The biggest problem Gay has with the show is that it simply isn’t as good as everyone says it is, but people of color are still supposed to rejoice over it. They are supposed to be thankful that there are black and brown faces on the screen, period.

Gay is tired of feeling like she should be grateful for diversity of any kind, quality aside. She’s tired of the extremes and the caricatures. When will pop culture begin exploring the similarities in humanity instead of the differences?

Orange Is The New Black is wildly popular because the bar is extremely low.

The Politics of Respectability

Journalist and news anchor Don Lemon said that black people could overcome racism if they stopped littering, staying in school, and pulled their pants up.

These assertions are grounded in respectability politics, wherein black people would not suffer from racism if they simply behaved well. They completely ignore institutional racism and the social and justice systems that continually marginalize the black community.

It would be very convenient if fitting into a specific mold would solve the world’s racial problems, but that’s just not how it works. Respectability politics also places the burden of oppression on the oppressed instead of the perpetrators.

Lemon is a black man raised by a single parent who became successful, and he exudes the idea that if he can make it, anyone can. People like Lemon shatter the glass ceiling and then assume everyone is able to do the same without considering the institutional problems that keep others down.

Respectability politics are not the answer. Highlighting the exceptions to the rule doesn’t help the majority. The least among us will only succeed when systematic changes occur.

The responsibility is on all of our shoulders, and we won’t see change until we act like the indivisible nation we claim to be.

The Alienable Rights of Women

As a woman of reproductive age, Gay thinks about reproductive freedom a lot. Especially since this freedom continues to be limited. The United States still debates about birth control and abortion, and these debates are usually led by men.

Politicians who continue to use reproductive freedom as a campaign issue have very short memories. They forget that women have always done what they have to to avoid unwanted pregnancies. From miscarriage-inducing plants in ancient times to back-alley abortions in recent history, women find a way.

The United States is facing real, pressing issues, but instead of solving these they use female bodies as a smokescreen. Conservatives especially love using reproductive rights as a platform to win votes. It’s easy, and it’s despicable.

American women have had the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies since 1973, but they have had to fight for that right from the very beginning. Politicians have continually introduced legislations that, if unable to block abortions, will at least punish the woman seeking one and control the entire experience.

Everything from forced transvaginal ultrasounds to counseling has been suggested — and, in some places, implemented. These are attempts to change the woman’s mind about something that should be her decision alone.

Women’s rights are alienable. Reproductive freedom is a campaign issue — a subject of male debate — when it should be a right. Because the female body is a legislative matter, women’s bodies are not their own.

Even birth control, the very thing that can prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions, is up for debate. Once again, the female body is always the one being controlled, legislated, and debated because men do not share the responsibility of birth control.

Politicians have short memories, but women do not. Women will continue to fight for reproductive freedom because women know that the burden of childrearing largely falls on their backs as well. And if women are backed into a corner again, they will do what they have to do. Just like they’ve always done.

It’s shocking that nothing has changed.

Bad Feminist: Take One

There is a right way to be a woman in the United States: Women are expected to dress a certain way, to only weigh so much, and to walk that fine line between slutty and prudish.

Women should work hard but not complain that they are making 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. They should bear children and raise them without being too demanding of their husbands.

Women who don’t fit this mold are bad women, and feminism falls prey to the same expectations. There seems to be a right way to be a feminist.

Gay often feels like a bad feminist when she doesn’t meet these standards. When she isn’t as committed as she could be and when she isn’t fully educated on the history of feminism, she feels like she’s failing.

But there are also times when she doesn’t want the label of feminist because the word has been twisted to mean aggressive, humourless, and man-hating. This is not the correct definition of feminism, but it’s the widely accepted version.

Actress Melissa Leo and corporate businesswoman Marissa Mayer, both pioneers for women in their fields, have openly rejected feminism. Feminist has become an insult even to the women who embody the real definition of the word.

Gay also takes issue with the fact that feminism is catered to one type of woman. Women of color are largely dismissed from the conversation, and writers like Elizabeth Wurtzel say that feminists have to work outside of the home. For Gay, it’s hard to be eager to wear a title that isn’t granted to all women who care about equality.

Gay’s favorite definition comes from the book DIY Feminism. According to one woman featured in the book, feminists are simply women who don’t want to be treated like shit anymore.

It seems that expanding beyond this definition just leads to trouble.

Bad Feminist: Take Two

Gay does feminism incorrectly a lot of the time — at least, according to the twisted perceptions of feminism that feel inescapable today.

She wants to be independent, good at her job, and a leader. But she also wants to be taken care of and have someone to come home to.

She listens to rap music with lyrics that are degrading and offensive to women. Pink is her favorite color. She reads Vogue, loves dresses, and shaves her legs. She knows nothing about cars and doesn’t care to learn. Surely a strong, independent, feminist woman should know how to fix her own car?

Gay likes men and wishes she didn’t have to call them out so often on Twitter. She’d prefer that a man take out the trash and mow the lawn. She loves babies and wants to have them someday. She’s willing to compromise to make this happen.

These, and a million tiny other aspects of her person, don’t fit in with the typical idea of feminism. Gay is outspoken about gender equality, and because of her opinions she often feels pressure to fit a mold.

At some point, Gay bought into the idea that feminism looks one specific way. She isn’t proud of this, and she wants to start rejecting those myths instead of totally rejecting feminism like many women have done.

Regardless of the flaws of feminism, Gay is a feminist and believes in the necessity of the movement.

Bad feminism is better than no feminism at all.

Why Roxane Gay Is A Bad Feminist

No one is perfect: as humans, we all make mistakes and Gay is no exception to that. But as a feminist, she’s under continual pressure to live up to all of the demands that accompany the label. Part of the problem with the pressure is that there’s no single, absolute version of feminism. It’s a complex movement and, in an attempt to represent all women, has surely disappointed many. Traditionally, feminists fought for the equal rights and liberties of white, cisgender, heterosexual women. That particular brand of feminism excludes black, transgender and queer women – failing to acknowledge the different obstacles these women face. As white, cis, heterosexual women are more likely to have an opportunity to advocate for their beliefs in public, it’s this same group of woman that writes the feminist rulebook. Gay refers to their kind of feminism as essential feminism. They handle feminism like a club with strict rules and guidelines that have to be followed to be considered a “proper” feminist, like opposing pornography and renouncing the objectification of women under any circumstances. Yet, women who promote essential feminism are coming from a place of privilege. They don’t have the same experiences as those who also belong to another minority/oppressed group, like women of color or people who fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Accordingly, their opinions on what constitutes a “real” feminist can often alienate those who don’t share their same background. It’s not just the women in minority groups who feel excluded from essential feminism. Simply disagreeing with some of those viewpoints can be enough to leave some women feeling shut out as well. Consider women who like watching or performing in pornography videos or women who enjoy aspects of popular culture where women may be objectified.

The author absolutely doesn’t identify with essential feminism; that’s why she calls herself a bad feminist. She believes in equality for all women and men in every part life. She used to avoid using the label of “feminist”, so she understands why so many women are hesitant to adopt it. The problem is, the word “feminist” is heavily correlated with essential feminism and conjures up the images of women who apply the feminist movement as a method of self-branding. But now, Gay has made peace with her flawed feminism. She’s accepted that she’ll never please everyone and by doing and believing things that contradict essential feminism, her type of feminism is a significant part of the conversation. Being a bad feminist is better than just not being a feminist at all.

Reality TV and the Dehumanization of Women

The term “reality television” is misleading because it doesn’t display real life, but rather a warped version of reality. The same can be said concerning the representation of women on reality shows. Often they’re behaving in an over-the-top, unrealistic stereotype of their gender. There are some common stereotypes about women: they’re desperate to fall in love and get married, that they’re obsessed with their weight and that jealousy keeps them from forming genuine friendships with other women. Reality TV does nothing to help reject these stereotypes. If you watch any reality television show, you’ll see plenty of these types in the cast. The characters in reality television are not exhibited as complex, three-dimensional human beings, but instead reduced to simple, exaggerated clichés. When these characters are marketed to us as “real,” it just reinforces the notion that all women fit into the molding of a few basic stereotypes.

Look at dating game shows such as Rock of Love or Flavor of Love as an example. The women on these programs are displayed at war with each other – fighting for a male’s attention and affirmation. The man they’re competing for, on the other hand, makes it quite clear he doesn’t care for them in the least. He gives empty platitudes about love to the camera with a wink and makes fun of the women clamoring for him. The bachelor’s disdain for the women is particularly clear on Flavor of Love. The aim of the game is to win the affections of Flavor Flav, member of former the hip-hop group Public Enemy. Rather than bothering to at least learn each woman’s name, Flav assigns them a nickname of his own devising, further dehumanizing them. If you’re still not convinced that the women on these shows are viewed as objects, consider the fact that Flav named two of the lucky ladies “Thing 1” and “Thing 2.” Diminishing women as caricatures gives the audience permission to criticize and make fun of them. It makes them “must-watch” television as well. Most reality shows force contestants into being the worst versions of themselves: the worse they behave, the more entertaining it is for us. Why is that? Because it allows us to feel smug about our lives when we see the “bad” choices other people are making in theirs. But when these exaggerated characters are so ubiquitous on television, it can normalize certain behaviors and aesthetics that ultimately keep women from advancing as equals in society. The same can be said of makeover shows and any reality TV that concentrates on people’s appearance. Female bodies that have been surgically enhanced or sculpted by way of harsh weight loss regimens make for great viewing and appeal to superficial males. However, it overlooks women’s internal experiences. These types of shallow programs disregard the wisdom and depth of experiences that women have to offer society.

Desensitization of Sexual Violence Against Women

Rape is a horrific and violent crime that can leave victims physically and emotionally damaged. That’s why many television shows use storylines connected to rape to add to the drama and boost ratings. Some programs are almost exclusively fueled by traumatic accounts of sexual violence toward women. Look at the TV series Law and Order: SVU: it’s incorporated so many rape-related plotlines that each new episode has to go the extra mile to keep the audience engaged – adding increasingly gruesome details and twists.

That means it’s no longer especially shocking for an audience to see a man “just” forceful penetrate a woman. We’re so accustomed to seeing rape victims left disfigured, beaten or subjected to any number of ordeals that the forceful penetration on its own isn’t seen as that serious anymore. It takes a lot more to incite revulsion in an audience numbed by overexposure to those types of stories. Sadly, sexual abuse isn’t only common in fiction. This violation of women is so prevailing in our society that it needed it’s own term – rape culture. Women almost expect sexual assault might be a part of their life. Again, entertainment takes some of the blame here; the obsession with and glamorization of rape on-screen almost encourages real-life rape culture. News media feeds rape culture as well in the way that it reports attacks. Look at the article that appeared in the New York Times in 2011; it recounts the sexual assault of an eleven-year-old girl by 18 men. The journalist chose to focus on how the perpetrators’ lives would be ruined, and how the town had been destroyed by the case. But the victim is hardly mentioned at all, save for a remark about how she looked much older than her actual age. Politicians don’t particularly help the cause, either, as former Republican Congressman Todd Akin proves. He’s the person responsible for the phrase “legitimate rape.” It came about in a discussion concerning a woman’s right to an abortion. Akin implied that if a woman was a victim of “legitimate rape,” her body would reject pregnancy. That isn’t just scientifically incorrect but problematic too. There’s no such thing as illegitimate rape – rape is rape – and that fact has to be made clear to everyone if there’s to be any hope of ending rape culture.

Films That Hinder Progress Toward Racial Equality

The Help was released in movie theaters in 2011. Based in segregated Mississippi during the 1960s, it’s a feel-good story about a couple of African-American maids serving privileged white families. It was praised by critics and popular with audiences, but when it came to promoting racial equality, it was not as successful. The film employed some discriminatory stereotypes, including the “magical negro” and the “white savior narrative.” The magical negro is a black character whose principal qualities include kindness, wisdom and a supernatural element. They always use those traits to assist a white protagonist – not themselves. This trope is popular with white audiences because they feel better watching a positive portrayal of a black person. Although, what they don’t notice is that the stereotype isn’t actually a fully formed character, but instead only a catalyst for the white protagonist’s goals. In The Help, the magical negro cliché surfaces in the characters of Aibileen, Minny and the other of the black maids. They’re incredibly strong but end up applying their power to advance and educate the white characters, rather than help themselves. The Help is also heavily reliant on the usage of the white savior narrative. This is when the black characters have no way to better themselves and end up relying on a kind, white person. The black characters are depicted as lucky and grateful. This narrative is demonstrated prominently in one particular scene of The Help. After John F Kennedy attends the funeral of civil rights activist Medgar Evans, Aibileen – one of the black maids – hangs a picture up on her wall of JFK. She chooses him over Evans or another black civil rights activist to hang next to a photo of her son and one of a white Jesus.

There was other racial stereotyping was implemented in the movie. In one of the scenes, Minny the maid claims “frying chicken tend to make me feel better about life.” The author finds it surprising that such stereotyping went overlooked in both a book and a movie made in the twenty-first century.

The Help is one of several films that fail to display black characters as complex, well-rounded characters. It promotes the concept that black people in real life are nothing more than stereotypes we’ve seen in movies. Those types of stories misuse the civil rights struggle to entertain audiences but actively hinder racial equality.

Systemic Sexism and Racism In The United States

Mass shootings are practically a near-daily occurrence in the United States. Also, far more Americans have died as a result of random acts of violence than at the hands of radicalized terrorists. But attacks carried out by white men – as the mass shootings often are– are never identified as acts of terrorism. It seems that people can always find a reason that a white man who commits a terrorist act is a truly good person deep down inside. The same people can also always find a rationale for why an innocent black boy is dangerous or immoral. Take Rolling Stone magazine for example; following the Boston Marathon bombings, it featured one of the perpetrators of the attack on the cover. The angle was that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – a young white man – looks just like “the boy next door”. The story they published was empathetic. The journalist spoke to people who knew him that described him as a nice, normal guy and tried to comprehend how and why Tsarnev had changed from being a regular boy to a mass murderer.

Compare that coverage to the case of Trayvon Martin. When the unarmed black teenager was murdered by George Zimmerman (who later was acquitted of all charges), Trayvon wasn’t featured on the cover of a magazine, nor was his story covered with such sympathy. If anything, it was quite the opposite. Trayvon did nothing wrong. When he was shot, he had been armed with nothing more than iced tea and a packet of Skittles. However, the account of his death was shaped to match society’s expectations. It’s best demonstrated by when Fox News attempted to explain how the teenager may have used the iced tea and Skittles as weapons against Zimmerman. The state of inequality is also bleak for women. Along with race, gender inequality is still alive in America. Even women’s bodies are treated like legislative subject matter under the control of politicians – most of whom are white men. A woman’s reproductive freedom – her right to access birth control or abortion if she so chooses – still remains under threat today. And it’s evident that women are not considered to be men’s equals.\ As long as we can identify the incongruities with equality, we can work hard to rectify them. That’s what Gay is attempting to do with her queer, black, bad feminism.


The key message in this book summary:

Just like no human is perfect, no version of feminism is perfect. But don’t wait for an ideal type of feminism to find you or waste your time trying to fit into an ideal feminist mold – be a bad feminist! Every voice matters. The more so-called bad feminists speak out, the more the feminist movement can evolve and grow to be more inclusive. By starting a conversation about how race, gender identity, and sexual preference interact through the lens of feminism, we can change the way, and the world thinks.

About the author

Roxane Gay is a bestselling author, professor, and cultural commentator. Her writing has appeared in compilations like Best American Mystery Stories 2014 and Best Sex Writing 2012, as well as in publications like The New York Times and Virginia Quarterly. Gay’s other books include An Untamed State, Hunger, and Difficult Women.

Roxane Gay is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She has worked as a professor at Purdue University and has founded the publishing house Tiny Hardcore Press. She is the author of a novel – An Untamed State – and the memoir Hunger.

Roxane Gay is an author and speaker. Her essay collection Bad Feminist was a New York Times bestseller, and her novel An Untamed State was a finalist for the Dayton Peace Prize. Gay actively contributes to The New York Times and her writing has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Rumpus, and Salon. Gay holds a doctorate and previously taught at Eastern Illinois University, Purdue University, and Yale University. Roxane is showing her hunger.

Roxane Gay is the author of the essay collection Bad Feminist, which was a New York Times bestseller; the novel An Untamed State, a finalist for the Dayton Peace Prize; the memoir Hunger, which was a New York Times bestseller and received a National Book Critics Circle citation; and the short story collections Difficult Women and Ayiti. A contributing opinion writer to the New York Times, she has also written for Time, McSweeney’s, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Rumpus, Bookforum, and Salon. Her fiction has also been selected for The Best American Short Stories 2012, The Best American Mystery Stories 2014, and other anthologies. She is the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana, and sometimes Los Angeles.


Personal Memoirs, Biography, Society, Culture, History, Criticism, Literary Criticism and Theory, Feminist Theory, Womens, Race, Politics, Social Justice, Gender

Table of Contents

Introduction. Feminism (n.): Plural
Me :
Feel me, see me, hear me, reach me
Peculiar benefits
Typical first year professor
To scratch, claw or grope clumsily or frantically ;
Gender & sexuality :
How to be friends with another woman
Girls, girls, girls
I once was Miss America
Garish, glorious spectacles
Not here to make friends
How we all lose
Reaching for catharsis : getting fat right (or wrong) and Diana Spechler’s “Skinny”
The smooth surfaces of idyll
The careless language of sexual violence
What we hunger for
The illusion of safety/the safety of illusion
The spectacle of broken men
A tale of three coming out stories
Beyond the measure of men
Some jokes are funnier than others
Dear young ladies who love Chris Brown
So much they would let him beat them
Blurred lines, indeed
The trouble with Prince Charming, or, He who trespassed against us ;
Race & entertainment :
The solace of preparing fried foods and other quaint remembrances from 1960s Mississippi : thoughts on “The help”
Surviving “Django”
Beyond the struggle narrative
The morality of Tyler Perry
The last day of a young black man
When less is more ;
Politics, gender & race :
The politics of respectability
When Twitter does what journalism cannot
The alienable rights of women
Holding out for a hero
A tale of two profiles
The racism we all carry
Tragedy, call, compassion, response ;
Back to me ;
Bad feminist : take one
Bad feminist : take two.


A New York Times Bestseller

Best Book of the Year: NPR • Boston Globe • Newsweek • Time Out New York • • Miami Herald • Book Riot • Buzz Feed • Globe and Mail (Toronto) • The Root • Shelf Awareness

A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched cultural observers of her generation

In these funny and insightful essays, Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). 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, coming from one of our most interesting and important cultural critics.


“A strikingly fresh cultural critic.” — Ron Charles, Washington Post

“It’s no surprise that Roxane Gay—author, essayist and sharp observer of everything in pop culture we’re supposed to be too cool to like—has written such a winning book. . . . This best-selling collection of essays manages to be both a cultural biography and a deeply personal story of identity. At its best, the book offers Gay’s distinctive voice as both shield and a weapon against social norms just begging for examination. Perfectly imperfect, Gay is an unforgettable voice, coming at just the right time.” — NPR, Best Books of 2014

“Arresting and sensitive. . . . An author who filters every observation through her deep sense of the world as fractured, beautiful, and complex.” — Slate

“[A] touching and crucial essay collection. . . . If you’re interested in critical thinking about culture, this book is a must.” — Newsweek

“There has never been a book quite like Bad Feminist—a sometimes funny, sometimes serious pop-culture-literary-nonfiction-social-commentary hybrid written by a black woman in America. A New York Times best-seller, Bad Feminist establishes Gay as one of our foremost cultural critics and feminist thinkers.” — The Root

“Feisty, whip-smart essays on gender, sexuality, and race.” — Entertainment Weekly

“One of our sharpest new culture critics plants her flag in topics ranging from trigger warnings to Orange is the New Black in this timely collection of essays.” — O, the Oprah Magazine, 10 Titles to Pick Up Now

“Roxane Gay is the brilliant girl-next-door: your best friend and your sharpest critic. . . . She is by turns provocative, chilling, hilarious; she is also required reading.” — Time Magazine

“A trenchant collection. . . . Whatever her topic, Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Toss Roxane Gay’s collection of witty, thoughtful essays, Bad Feminist into your tote bag. With musings on everything from Sweet Valley High to the color pink, Gay explores the idea of being a feminist, even when you’re full of contradictions.” — Self, “Smart beach-read alert”

“Gay’s essays are consistently smart and provocative. . . . Her essay collection will give you dinner-party conversation through September.” — Jennifer Weiner’s 10 best beach reads, USA Today

“An assortment of comical, yet astute essays that touch on Gay’s personal evolution as a woman, popular culture throughout the recent past, and the state of feminism today.” — Harper’s Bazaar

“Roxane Gay may call herself a bad feminist but she is a badass writer. . . . Reading Bad Feminist is like having a fascinating (one-way) conversation with an extremely smart, well-read, funny and thoughtful party guest. Here’s hoping we have another encounter soon.” — Associated Press

“Roxane Gay is the gift that keeps on giving. . . . An entertaining and thought-provoking essay collection.” — Time

“Bad Feminist collects the very good essays of ‘It girl’ culture critic Roxane Gay.” — Vanity Fair, Hot Type

“Fascinating. . . . An important and pioneering contemporary writer . . . Readers will immediately understand the appeal of Gay’s intimate and down-to-earth voice. . . . An important contribution to the complicated terrain of gender politics.” — Boston Globe

“Alternately friendly and provocative, wry and serious, her takes on everything from Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey help to recontextualize what feminism is–and what it can be.” — Time Out New York

“Roxane Gay is so great at weaving the intimate and personal with what is most bewildering and upsetting at this moment in culture. She is always looking, always thinking, always passionate, always careful, always right there.” — Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?

“With prodigious bravery and eviscerating humor, Roxane Gay takes on culture and politics in Bad Feminist–and gets it right, time and time again. We should all be lucky enough to be such a bad feminist.” — Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure and Bad Mother

“Smart readers cannot afford to miss these essays, which range from socially significant art (Girls, Django in Chains) and feminist issues (abortion) to politics (Chris Brown) and why Gay likes pink.” — Library Journal

“Pre-order it, put it on the library hold list, whatever. Just get ready to read it and quote it and share it and be challenged by it.” — Book Riot

“There are writers who can show you the excellence of their brains and writers who show you the depths of their souls: I don’t know any writer who does both at the same time as brilliantly as Roxane Gay.” — Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck & Other Stories

“Trailblazing.” — Salon

“Praise Roxane Gay for her big-hearted self-examining intelligence, for her inclusive and forgiving stance, for her courage and determination . . . for saying out loud the things we were thinking, for guiding us back to ourselves and returning to us what was ours all along.” — Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted

“She had me at Sweet Valley High. Gay playfully crosses the borders between pop culture consumer and critic, between serious academic and lighthearted sister-girl, between despair and optimism, between good and bad. . . . How can you help but love her?” — Melissa Harris-Perry, Wake Forest Professor and MSNBC host

“As Bad Feminist proves, Gay is a necessary and brave voice when it comes to figuring out all the crazy mixed messages in our mixed-up world.” — “20 New Nonfiction Books That Will Make You Smarter,” Flavorwire

“Gay writes with probing intelligence about pop-culture topics from the morality of Tyler Perry to how much the Sweet Valley High books mattered to her.” — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Bad Feminist places pop culture under her sharp, often hilarious, always insightful microscope.” —

“A collection of sharp, Sontag-ianly searing pieces on everything from Orange Is the New Black to likability in fiction to abortion legislation. . . . Her pieces manage to be at once conversational and full of pithy aphorisms.” — The L Magazine

“Gay is poised to hit the big time.” — Nylon Magazine

“As a feminist who has been around a while I have a message for these girls: it’s okay — you can skip the rigors of Betty Friedan and Andrea Dworkin and go straight to Roxane Gay, where feminism is not just friendly, but more relevant than ever.” — Erika Schickel, Los Angeles Review of Books

“What’s so special about this collection is its accessibility – Gay is nothing short of a critical genius, yet every essay is approachable and open while still being thorough. Her writing is rare, and at that, not to be missed.” — Bustle

“I’m pretty sure Gay is incapable of writing anything boring. . . . Even better: It’s an essay collection, so you can parse it out, maybe save a couple for days when the Internet is particularly infuriating.” — Jezebel

“With trenchant thoughts on Sweet Valley High, The Help, abortion, and Chris Brown, Gay isn’t really a bad feminist, just an uncommonly entertaining one.” — Vulture, “8 Books You Need to Read This August”

“A meaty volume of personal essays and criticism from one of the great storytellers and smartest cultural observers out there. . . . Gay is as critical and as she is admiring. That balance is what actually makes these essays so enjoyable and honest.” —

“One of the liveliest, most joy-inducing books of the year. . . . Bad Feminist is a tour de force and Roxane Gay is a writer of considerable power, intelligence and moral acuity.” — Huffington Post

“A broad, compelling book. . . . It’s a book that feels like it needed to be out in the world . . . a book that feels vital, alive, and engaged with the world, and we need more writers as passionate as Roxane Gay.” — Flavorwire

“Powerful, and its winsomeness is due entirely to Gay’s fearless, inclusive and accessible prose.” — Shelf Awareness

“Read Bad Feminist to feel good about reading Vogue.” — New York Magazine, “Approval Matrix: Highbrow and Brilliant”

“Gay’s writing is thoughtful and funny, compassionate and bold, and she’s just as likely to discuss Sweet Valley High as Django Unchained or Judith Butler.” — Refinery29

“Gay’s essays expertly weld her personal experiences with broader gender trends occurring politically and in popular culture.” — Huffington Post

“What makes Bad Feminist such a good read isn’t only Gay’s ability to deftly weave razor-sharp pop cultural analysis and criticism with a voice that is both intimate and relatable. It’s that she’s incapable of blindly accepting any kind of orthodoxy.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Blunt and funny. . . . [Gay acknowledges] ‘I am a mass of contradictions.’ For Gay, though, these contradictions are less a condition to be remedied than a source of greater strength.” — Washington Post

“A prolific and exceptionally insightful writer. . . . Bad Feminist doesn’t show us how Gay should be, but something much better: how Roxane Gay actually is. . . . Gay unquestionably succeeds at leading us in her way.” — Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“I know there are still four and a half months left, but I’m calling it now: 2014 is the year of Roxane Gay. I just devoured her book, Bad Feminist . . . Amazing.” — Rookie

“Incisive, self-aware, risky, and often funny, the author’s writing is reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s 1975 collection of feminist essays, Crazy Salad. . . . Gay possesses a distinct perspective and singular voice.” — Library Journal

“A thoughtful and often hilarious new collection of essays.” — Chicago Tribune

“”[Gay’s] energetic and thought-provoking first essay collection will become as widely read as other generation-defining works, like Nora Ephron’s Crazy Salad and Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.” — Essence

“Roxane Gay delivers sermons that read like easy conversations. Bad Feminist is an important collection of prose—prose that matters to those still trying to find their voice.” — Ebony

“Bad Feminist is often LOL funny but continuously ruthless. Its 41 essays range from book and movie reviews to political issues and, in some of the most charming pieces, Gay’s accounts of a few of her personal passions, like tournament Scrabble and the color pink and The Hunger Games.” — San Antonio Express-News

“As a culture critic, Gay has X-ray eyes. Her writing is smart and trenchant . . . She’s disarming and one of us, only smarter. She has a tumblr and she writes about Internet dating. We love her, you know?” — Philadelphia Inquirer

“Roxane Gay offers an unique (and often biting) perspective on pop culture.” — Miami Herald

“Gay offers a complex and multifarious feminism to answer the movement’s ongoing PR issues, its flaws and its failures. . . . Bad Feminist surveys culture and politics from the perspective of one of the most astute critics writing today.” — Boston Review

“Rip-roaringly funny and insightful essays.” —

“Roxane Gay and her new book Bad Feminist are here to save us all. . . . It’s a swift read with some serious substance. . . . GET TO KNOW HER ALREADY.” —

“Roxane Gay’s ability to write so clearly about complex issues is truly impressive. Her essays about feminism, race, and class are hilarious, moving, and yes, educational, but never in a way that feels tired or boring.” — Cosmopolitan, “28 Life-Changing Books Every Woman Should Read”

“The book is powerful, and its winsomeness is due entirely to Gay’s fearless, inclusive and accessible prose.” — Shelf Awareness, Best Books of the Year

“Gay’s writing is as accessible as it is sharp. . . . In the volume of essays, Gay mixes the personal, the political and the pop cultural with unashamed acknowledgement that the three are interrelated and often inseparable.” — Indianapolis Business Journal

“[Gay is] hilarious. But she also confronts more difficult issues of race, sexual assault, body image, and the immigrant experience. She makes herself vulnerable and it’s refreshing.” — Tanvi Misra, Atlantic, “The Best Book I Read This Year”

“Gay’s insightful exploration of this topic makes readers worry less about their occasional shortcomings and more comfortable with being human.” — BookPage

“Entertaining and enlightening. . . . Bad Feminist is an outtake of her wisdom, and we would all do well to take heed.” — Bitch Magazine

“There has never been a book quite like Bad Feminist—a sometimes funny, sometimes serious pop-culture-literary-nonfiction-social-commentary hybrid written by a black woman in America.” — The Root

“Gay, who has become one of our most provocative essayists, leaves nothing off the table in her debut collection . . . Taken in whole, Bad Feminist is a brave affirmation of selfhood: I am a woman, this is my story, and there is power in its telling.” — Gawker, “The Best Books to Give This Holiday Season: A Bookseller’s Guide”

“Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist hardly needs more praise, but no other book speaks more eloquently, or more directly, about today’s most crucial issues. . . . Gay’s essays are intimate and accessible, but broad in scope and deep in insight.” — Celeste Ng, “Writers’ favorite books of 2014,” San Francisco Gate

“If you’re in the mood to read wonderful, thought-provoking essays that feel like they’re written by your best friend, check out Bad Feminist. . . . Gay puts you at ease as she shakes the foundations of what you believe.” — Buzzfeed, Sami Main, “28 Best Books by Women in 2014”

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