Book review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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I’ve been hearing about Bad Feminist for years now. I remember when it was a Goodreads Choice nominee way back in 2014.  I thought, hey, I need to get my hands on that asap.  Well, it’s 2017 and I’ve finally gotten my hands on it.  This book was supposed to be groundbreaking. It was advertised as “sharp” and “funny.”

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this.

Quite honestly, reading this book was a chore. And that’s saying something, really, because I am actually interested in the topics of (most of) Gay’s essays. We seem to have a lot of the same views. I think that we’d probably get along if we met in real life. But, unfortunately, when it comes to connecting with a book, there are things more important than a shared worldview.

There’s actually very little about feminism in this book. There are a number of essays about race and multiple open and honest discussions of sexual violence.  Gay writes in-depth critiques of a plethora of books that I’ve never read and movies that I’ve never seen, including one “think piece” about 50 Shades in which she laments the number of “think pieces” that have already been written about it.  She discusses controversial news stories and comments on various celebrities. She mentions Paula Deen in no less than three separate essays.  There is an oddly detailed account of her time playing competitive Scrabble. Some of these topics are related, at least tangentially, to feminism.  But many are not.  This is much more of a memoir than a cohesive collection of essays on feminism.

I was not at all surprised to find that these essays were not written for this book.  They’ve appeared on Gay’s blog and in various online and print media. Some are well-written. Others are sloppy and rushed.  I don’t think an editor ran through the essays to try to tie them together or to make sure there were no glaring errors before this book went to publication.  It may be because I (briefly) worked as an editor, but the inconsistency in Gay’s writing really grated on me. For instance, there’s one sentence where she decides to use the word “whom” and then finishes with a dangling preposition. Yes, I’m nit-picking, and no, it’s not the end of the world, but while errors like that are fine on your personal blog, they don’t belong in a published book.

I remember once, maybe five or so years ago, one of my female acquaintances told me that I couldn’t call myself a feminist if I worked for a male boss in a typically female-driven field. (At the time, I was working as a receptionist for a male physician.) Setting aside any discussion of the sheer level of privilege that her job criteria might require, her overall attitude reminded me of Gay’s. Without a doubt, she has good intentions. But for all of her reading about feminism and her railing against the rigid ideas of feminism that society instills in us, she too has come up with some odd ideas about what exactly a feminist should be.

She seems almost contrite as she admits that she prefers the color pink, that she likes pretty dresses and dreams of a large closet of shoes, that she happily reads Vogue and listens to rap music and devours mindless chick lit.  This, apparently, makes her a bad feminist. I can’t say that I agree.

I’ve read better and more coherent essays on feminism for free on Tumblr.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

#mmdreading: a book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection