Review: Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

“I believe feminism is grounded in supporting the choices of women even if we wouldn’t make certain choices for ourselves.”

Image result for bad feminist book


Harper Perennial | 2014

Defining Feminist: “…a word that has, as of late, become a catchall term for ‘woman who does not tolerate bullshit.'”

Main Takeaway: “I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

Plot Feminist-ness: Too much Scrabble, not enough feminist rants.

Omg, she read something that wasn’t about murder! Yes, yes, try not to pass out. I do consider myself a woman who strives to be informed and well-rounded, so when I’m not reading about the dark and twisty I do like to be enlightened or challenged.

That said, this book of essays was a mixed bag for me.

I was expecting a novel of feminist essays to expand my thinking on the topic and enlighten me about things I might not consider as a white female millennial who doesn’t know everything there is to know. I would say 50% of the book did that for me.

Roxane Gay spoke to my particular kind of feminism, which is that I might not be passing any purity tests conducted by the Twitter counsel, but I do my best and am always willing to learn, correct or just find peace in my choices even if they aren’t considered “good feminism.”

Gay presents herself as a bad feminist – someone who doesn’t fit the rigid definition we’ve set and boxed ourselves into. She argues that feminism will always be flawed because people are inherently flawed, and people run this movement. But that’s no reason to throw the whole thing away, to paint the whole thing with one brush or to participate in cancel culture over people’s individual missteps.

“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.”

I’m not a big supporter of cancel culture in general. I find it to be unforgiving and lacking grace. The height of the bar we require people to pass over is just ridiculous in almost all cases. When we’re digging up dirt from 15 years ago and trying to make people pay now, it is like we forget that growth, evolution and actual regret are real things, and we afford people no benefit of the doubt to repent and make up for whatever their sin is/was. I have no interest in engaging in that at all.

If I was held accountable now in my 30s, for things I did as a teenager or even in my early 20s, I would be well and truly fucked. Those years are for learning and growing and changing. No one is born with all the knowledge they require to be perfectly woke and unoffensive. We have to learn to do better through our mistakes.

It doesn’t seem like we make allowances for that anymore.

“It’s hard not to feel humourless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away.”

Further, Gay makes no excuses for the fact that she likes things that are considered “problematic” and I support that. She recognizes the issues with something like 50 Shades but allows herself to enjoy it anyway because it works for her. It doesn’t mean she supports the problematic issues, but that she realizes that nothing is perfect. Things are literal shades of grey.

I do not have the same experiences in life as Gay, but she made it very easy to understand, commiserate and learn from hers. She speaks to black representation and issues of race with a no-nonsense grit and clarity that could teach even the most obtuse of us a thing or two.

Her essays on trigger warnings, birth control, women’s body image and rape-media coverage were highlights for me.

“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.”

However, the other 50% of Gay’s essays didn’t have much to do with feminism and covered broad topics like Scrabble championships, which kind of bored me and made the flow between essays feel a bit uneven.

There’s also the fact that some essays, or parts thereof, didn’t age well despite this only being published 5 years ago.

Something like defending her opinion to like Louis C.K., even though he’s a vulgar comic, just doesn’t come across the same way it originally would have before Masturbation Gate 2018 and the #metoo era.

Gay also has a lot of issues with certain media content – Girls, Orange Is the New Black, Tyler Perry – and links these things back to the overall systemic or deep-rooted issues in our society. And while I understood the points, there was something darkly humorous to me about being concerned by these things now in 2019.

While it’s certainly not Gay’s fault that she wrote these essays well before the rise of Comrade Trump, it did cloud my reading experience of the pop-cultural essays because everything has changed so much. Tyler Perry is problematic for the black community she argues, while the news explodes with Trump’s latest racist or deranged remarks.

We live in a completely fucking different multi-verse since this book was published and the issues of then seem so small in comparison of what is happening today. Again, no fault of the author’s, but this did affect my enjoyment of this book.

“We don’t all have to believe in the same feminism. Feminism can be pluralistic so long as we respect the different feminisms we carry with us, so long as we give enough of a damn to try to minimize the fractures among us.”

The essays that are strictly about feminism and feminist issues, which stir clear of pop culture dissection, are the strongest in this book. And her overall message of accepting feminists in all their forms and choices resonated loudly for me. But, in 2019, large chunks of this book are already outdated because of how drastically North America has changed since the 2016 election.

Some essays are excellent, some are good. Some are outdated and some are not what I wanted to have included in a collection apparently about feminism. But Gay is a voice I will continue to follow, and her opinions are ones I’m happy to have influence my thinking.


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.

2 thoughts on “Review: Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay

  1. I agree with this assessment, and I think it’s the risk that comes with writing about cultural things while they are still unfolding, especially in something as long-lasting as a book. I think there is opportunity to revise these issues too.

    For example, Orange Is The New Black. The story of a white woman and our initial impression of people of colour through her perspective was a red herring, and what followed was a series that brutally explored the black lives matter movement, the stories of this incredibly diverse group of women (humanising them all), and the treatment and injustice experienced at the hands of a broken system. Then in the final season, the fate of many Hispanic women at the hands of ICE, and the ones that disappear when sent back “home”. So I would love to read a revised opinion of that!

    I do still think her assessment of other topics hold up (PTSD in the Hunger Games resonated with me). And I also feel her writing is strongest when she is talking about broad political issues, mostly because these hold up and remain relevant.

    Here is hoping this madness ends in 2020.

    (And for a tv show that captures the madness of this Trump era honestly, checkbout The Good Fight. It’s a spin off from the Good Wife which I loved too, however the writers now have free reign and no restrictions in content, and they really capture our zeitgeist perfectly right now, tackling all sorts of difficult questions).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to see a revised opinion on the OITNB, as well! I thought the book was awfully tone deaf in a lot of ways, but I always thought the show was really striking to the heart of a lot of issues that otherwise don’t get coverage.

      And I LOVED the Good Wife, so I’ll see if I can find the Good Fight. Being in Canada, sometimes the US exclusive streaming shows are hard to find.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s