Thursday, 28 August 2014

Feminism and so much more: Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay Bad Feminist: Essays (24 August 2014) by Roxane Gay
I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain... interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.
I loved Bad Feminist. This is a collection of essays that feels like coming across a particularly brilliant blog and obsessively reading back through pages and pages of posts, elated to have found something so smart and relevant and readable. Throughout this book, the author comes across as so likeable and brilliant I can't imagine how you could read it and not want to be her friend. I was making notes from the introduction onwards; after a few chapters, I'd followed Gay on Twitter and Tumblr; I came away from the book with a reading list. If I could easily find other non-fiction books as engaging as this, I'd read a hell of a lot more non-fiction.

I was originally going to write a review that would link my appreciation of this book with some of my own opinions on modern feminism, online feminism, and the reasons I've become reluctant to participate in online dialogue surrounding feminist issues. But the more I read, the less relevant this seemed. While this collection may be framed as a feminist book, it is actually much broader than that in terms of the subjects covered. True, Gay writes from a feminist standpoint, but a minority of the essays here are actually about feminism. They also take in issues of race, class, culture, politics and education as well as more personal topics.

My favourite pieces in the collection were the pop-culture-focused ones in which Gay examines topics such as the representation of people of colour in film, or 'unlikeable' female characters in contemporary fiction. I like that her references are only occasionally classics: more often she analyses popular novels, blockbuster movies, well-known TV shows. 'Girls, Girls, Girls' discusses, unsurprisingly, the hit US series Girls; in 'I Once Was Miss America', Gay revisits her childhood obsession with the Sweet Valley High, segueing into a hilarious assessment of the recent 'adult' sequel to those books; in 'Garish, Glorious Spectacles' she looks at various representations of women in modern culture, from novels to reality television. One of the best is 'Not Here To Make Friends', an essay on the importance of 'likability' in characters, mainly female characters, in fiction. In this one I highlighted the following passage, not because it makes any especially salient points, but because I could have written it myself, and when I read it I had one of those delightful moments of feeling as if the author had read my mind.
I am often drawn to unlikable characters, to those who behave in socially unacceptable ways, say whatever is on their mind, and do what they want with varying levels of regard for the consequences. I want characters to do bad things and get away with their misdeeds. I want characters to think ugly thoughts and make ugly decisions. I want characters to make mistakes and put themselves first without apologizing for it.
I came away from this essay and 'Garish, Glorious Spectacles' in particular with a reading list made up of novels I either hadn't heard of or had previously dismissed. I loved these essays so much, I know I'll read them again and again, and they made me want to read more pop-culture criticism, and aspire to write this sort of thing myself. She makes it look easy, though it patently isn't.

The downside of a collection like this, including a number of essays previously published elsewhere, is that the quality is inevitably going to be inconsistent to a certain degree. There were a couple I wasn't interested in (mainly the Scrabble one, to be honest), and one or two felt like something had been tacked on to the end of an existing piece to make it more relevant to the feminist theme. There are certainly parts of this book that are worthy of five stars, but I can't quite give the whole of it five stars; but, having said that, there are very few faults I can find with it.

Bad Feminist is a lot of things: funny, moving, thought-provoking, intelligent, relevant, and extremely honest. It's easy to read and amusing and insightful; I hope that means it will be very popular. No doubt, because it has 'feminist' in the title, it will be put under the microscope and pulled apart in certain corners of the internet; but I really like the fact that it is emphatically a personal book, that Gay wears her 'bad feminist' credentials, as outlined in the quote at the start of this review, on her sleeve. The notion of being a 'bad feminist' - a person who is always still learning, who enjoys some things that are deemed problematic, who doesn't care about some things she should care about, and cares too much about others - is something all feminists can surely relate to. And in spite of the prefix 'bad', I, like the author, find it a very positive and freeing concept.

Rating: 8/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Booklikes | Bloglovin' | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Paperback


  1. I can't wait to read this. Thanks for sparking my interest, B!

  2. I'm sold!

    Shanika | | Rants, Reviews and Revelations