Essays · Feminist · Non-fiction

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

My rating: 5/5 stars

The word feminist has cultivated a reputation for angry, power-hungry, bra-burning women.  I probably would not describe myself as a feminist, and yet I think that I am.  If being a feminist means that I want equality for all, thoughtfulness and compassion, and the ability to make life choices without incurring judgement from others, then I guess I might as well stamp that label in red right in the middle of my forehead.

Roxane Gay’s collection of essays was a breath of fresh air for me.  The book reads like a discussion, a conversation on so many topics and issues that I am stunned at the ambition behind it.  And yet, it leaves me with my own thoughts, questions, and gives me the freedom to consider my own opinions instead of telling me what I should be thinking.  She is humble, perceptive, and contemplative on matters that I am sure have crossed all of our minds at one time or another.  She does not shy away from her flaws and insecurities.  Instead, she faces the struggle head-on and gently encourages the reader to consider themselves and the world around them from different perspectives.

The tone of the book is weary at times and funny and passionate at others.  She seems tired of so many things: casual racism, people finding humour in rape jokes, gender inequality…who can blame her?  She holds out hope that as a society we can improve ourselves and our relationships with our fellow humans one step at a time.  Some chapters are hilarious – I had never considered the humour of an intense Scrabble tournament until I found myself laughing out loud in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, hoping to hell that no one could see me.  Some chapters are tough – she is a sexual assault survivor and talks unabashedly about her experiences and how she has tried to recover.

Bad Feminist is intelligent and illuminating while maintaining its accessibility through humour, plain language, and clear, concise examinations of the human experience.  She covers many facets of our popular culture from the Sweet Valley High series (I knew I’d found a friend when I read that chapter!), movies about racism, music and artists, and so on.  She draws from scholars in many fields, particularly feminist studies, which maintaining her own views and agreeing or disagreeing as the situation calls for.  Many of her views were surprising to me, but I found her arguments so reflective and expansive that I had a good idea of where she was coming from.  And yet, I didn’t feel as if she was forcing her own beliefs on me.  Rather, she’s putting them out there and I have a feeling that she doesn’t give a damn whether you agree with her or not!  My respect for her as a writer was cultivated and grown during these moments.

For me, this book is more about how to be a better human than how to be a feminist.  She talks about privilege – don’t feel guilty about it, just accept it and know that you are seeing the world through that lens.  She talks about growing as a person, accepting the past and making way for your own personal evolutions in the future.  We all change as we age, but if we can live thoughtfully and consider seriously how our thoughts, words and actions affect those around us, then we’re doing something right.  I listened to the audiobook (which is very good by the way – the narrator is fantastic) but I know that I will be adding a physical copy to my personal library soon to revisit these essays again and again.

I truly think that everyone should experience this book.


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