Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Lauren Fox
Art & Entertainment

Feminism is still a loaded word in our culture. It is often used as an insult or in place of calling someone a “man hater.” Many women disown the label of being a feminist despite the fact that they enjoy many freedoms because of the feminist movement. I have always proudly called myself a feminist. However, with embracing that label I have felt the tensions that Roxane Gay writes about in her book of essays, Bad Feminist. This book helped me to find ease in those tensions and start to accept them as a beautiful part of being a feminist.

The essays cover a variety of topics from Sweet Valley High and the Hunger Games to reproductive freedom and body image. In each essay she explores how the many parts of who we are intersect and form the way we experience and interpret the world. She is constantly exploring her intersectional identity as a black, feminist, professional woman. She tells us that feminism is actually easy to embrace when you realize it is about “advocating for gender equality in all realms, while also making the effort to be intersectional, to consider all the factors that influence who we are and how we move through the world. “ (xiii) 

Throughout most of the essays she weaves the idea that feminism cannot be perfect and represent all women at all times. “Feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.”(x) I really connected with this because this message is almost as empowering as feminism itself! It speaks to the importance of the values and principals of feminism but acknowledges that no one can get it right all of the time. It helped me to see that other feminist women feel the same strain that I have experienced. It gave me permission to occasionally watch bad reality TV and dance in my kitchen to Robin Thicke’s song “You Know You Want It” and not be racked with guilt because, darn, that is a catchy dance tune. Feminism is not perfect, I am not a perfect feminist and that is okay! I must stop holding myself to a Feminist Ideal that does not really exist. Gay summarizes the pull of being a feminist so well: “Like most people I am full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like sh**t for being a woman.” (p.318)

But being a feminist is very hard work, and Gay shows us the importance of continuing the feminist analysis of culture and society. “We have come so far but we refuse to settle, we refuse to relish the comforts we have at the expense of the women who are still seeking comfort.” (102) Inequality is still deeply entrenched in our world and women are still experiencing that inequality every day. We cannot abandon feminism because sometimes it does not always represent our experiences or beliefs – because at that moment it is likely representing another woman’s experiences and beliefs. In each essay, Gay makes the significance of feminism very clear regardless of whether you agree with everything she is saying or not.

Although at times you might not like Gay’s opinions on the state of the world or may find her book to be a bit preachy, she offers a poignant analysis on the importance of feminism in our society. Gay wants us to understand that feminism is not perfect and neither are we. She wants us to give ourselves permission to be bad feminists sometimes because that is life. What she does not want is for us to give up on the power and force behind feminism because it is still a critical social movement. She sums it up so well in her final essay when she says, “I am a bad feminist. But I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” (318)