Bad Feminist:Essays Review

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay


I had to read this book for my Women & Gender Studies class and I found it be both compellingly honest and startling relevant. Because it was an assignment, the chapters and sections are separated and individually speculated.


Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

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.

Introduction] Feminism (n): Plural

Gay immediately sets a serious tone as she acknowledges the obstacles women face daily in society, mentioning misrepresentation and or lack of representation. Following this theme, Gay then questions how to counteract these reoccurring issues. Returning back the word “feminism”, Gay contemplates and comes to the conclusion that feminism is “flawed” yet is also necessary in the grand scheme and framework of finding oneself. Feminism will always be seen as flawed because the people behind it are in retrospect, flawed. 


[Feel me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me]

Gay opens up about previously advising black college students, finding the experience both challenging and rewarding. A child of Haitian immigrants, Gay was always expected to work harder than her peers, so she does not understand her advisee’s unwillingness to learn. She also refers to how black people must always settle for less because of the lack of representation in the media. References BET, Gay expresses how the network does not represent all spectrums of African American livelihood. Portraying stereotypes, BET only feeds to unrealistic and relatable outlooks.

[Peculiar Benefits]

Gay allows us to understand our own privilege as she visits Haiti, stunned by the sight of such dreading poverty. Gay is adamant about us Americans acknowledging and accepting our privilege, also listing steps to accepting it.

[Typical First Year Professor]

Gay recounts her adventures as a first-year professor. Because of the location of the university, Gay was blown away by the fact that she was the only black professor, becoming aware of her considerably “unorthodox appearance.” Through her experience, Gay announces that college students feel like they need to stay in college, believing that a degree is the only way to succeed.

[To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically]

New to town and friendless, Gay finds herself swept up into world of Scrabble and learns how serious people take the board game

[Gender & Sexuality]

[How to be Friends with Another Women]

Gay expresses how society steers away from women from being friends with other woman. An example of internalized oppression, women essentially do the work of men and feed into misogyny by metaphorically tearing women apart. Gay uses the term “mythologizing” female friendships, to demonstrate the types of approved friendships women can have with each other–which are all unhealthy and damaging to the psyche. Gay follows this observation with a list of advice on being friends with women, which is both critical and necessary.

[Girls, Girls, Girls]

Gay is adamant about a girl’s twenties is about finding herself and making mistakes along the way. Going in depth about HBO’s popular show Girls, featuring Lena Dunham, Gay is appreciative that this show shows an unadulterated image not always shone in the media but also criticizes the lack of minority characters. Gay praises how Lena Dunham does not have the “ideal” body type yet she also is disappointed that the characters live in a very whitewashed, unrelatable sphere. In contrast, Gay applauds the show Girlfriends, which had a cast of black women who varied in skin tones, careers, and personalities.

[I Once Was Miss America]

Like many young black women, Gay felt such pride when Vanessa Williams was crowed as the first black women to be Miss America. Gay then talks about a book series she read as a child, called the Sweet Valley High series. Obsessed with the books, Gay recounts how the characters lived in this cookie-cutter, whitewashed, “perfect” town, a life that is the opposite of hers. I had a similar experience while reading the Archie comic series. I cannot recollect if there was a random token character thrown into the mix but I remember being obsessed with the series, especially the two female characters Betty and Veronica. Dissimilar in personalities, they shared a common goal: to win the love of the adorable redhead, Archie. The high school seemed so perfect to me as a young girl and I aspired to have the same experiences as the characters.

[Garish, Glorious Spectacles]

Gay analyzes how women are expected to put on facades in public and how both women and girls must play a predestined role. Expressing how women are always on display, Gay argues that women both need and resent the attention they receive. Relating this to reality television, she reiterates how the women on the shows are literally on display, which then reduces them to societal stereotypes as they preform like “women.”

[Not Here to Make Friends]

Gay expresses how women are expected to be friendly to acquire friendships and when they do not follow these expectations, they are heavily criticized. A woman is tested by her likeability, which is a theme in literature. In novels we read, there are times where female characters are supposed to be well liked and other characters that are supposed to be portrayed as villainous.

[How We All Lose]

Gay argues the separation between men and women, that the two genders are instead similar than dissimilar. Also, Gay mentions how women have become ambitious, which is necessary to our thriving economy and questions the new outlook of sexual violence, and how life has improved globally for women.

[Reaching for Catharsis: Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny]

Recounting her memories of being put into fat camp, Gay parallels this experience of the reading Diana Spechler’s novel Skinny. Gay divulges into the main character’s unhealthy habits as the main character “Gray” becomes obsessed with losing weight. Mentioning the obsession we have as society with our body, Gay is able to relate to the matter more because of her own personal experience.

[Gender & Sexuality II]

[The Smooth Surfaces of Idyll]

In this essay, Gay expresses how difficult it is for her to write a happy ending” in her stories or stay positive. Noticing that she allows struggles to write with more levity, Gay mentions how penning “happy endings” are unpopular for writers. Happiness can make life less hopeless, which she remarks about her novel An Untamed State. The main character is living a fairytale lifestyle until the harshness of reality tests her. Holding on to her happiness and hope allows the main character to stride on.

[The Careless Language of Sexual Violence]

Gay solemnly remembers the case if an eleven year old girl who was gang-raped in Texas and the reactions afterward. Instead of blaming the numerous men who harmed the girl, Gay recollects that a reporter mentioning how the lives of the men were going to be affected. As the news spread, people also made commentary that the victim was “asking for it” because she was dressing provocatively. Vehemently blaming the victim, Gay is still disgusted by the turn of events, adding how because we live in a “rape culture”, we allow men to justify their atrocious actions.

[What We Hunger For]

  • For the theme of this essay, Gay expresses how for a women to be strong and independent, there is a cost. Gay’s prime example is Katniss Everdeen in the critically acclaimed series The Hunger Games. Like millions worldwide, Gay was impressed by the storyline, loving the action and characters, yet she also expresses how strong women must make great sacrifices to remain in power. Switching from her obsession with the young adult series, Gay displays great courage as she recounts her own sexual violence story and the slut-shaming she received.

[The Illusions of Safety/ The Safety of Illusion]

  • Gay continues recounting about the trauma of her past, navigating us through “trigger warnings.” Debating the benefits and fallbacks to “trigger warnings”, Gay does state that it does gives readers who have experienced traumas a choice.

[The Spectacle of Broken Men]

  • Like many states, Nebraska is very big on football, where athletes are seen as gods and have leeway to do whatever they want, totally excused from the consequences. Athletes are revered for their athletic accomplishments yet their crimes and especially crimes against women are overlooked.

[The Tale of Three Coming out Stories]

  • Gay mentions that because we live in an age where information is readily available, we always need and expect answers. Dissimilar to us, people with privilege have more access to privacy, but then Gay remarks how public figures sometimes having to sacrifice their privacy for fame and fortune. IN terms of sexuality, Gay states how heterosexuals take privacy of their sexuality for granted. Mentioning Frank Ocean, who revealed that his chart-topping single “Thinkin Bout You” was about a man. The hip-hop industry is notoriously homophobic so for Frank Ocean, he did receive praise and disdain for his admission.

[Beyond the Measure of Men]

  • Expressing about the backlash women writer receive for writing “women’s fiction”, Gay discusses how “trickle down misogyny” affects women writer’s credibility and the issues they choose to discuss. In consideration to production, Gay does mention how book covers with woman’s backs have become more popular. Instead of an image of woman with her image intact, women are portrayed with dismembered body parts, which then objectifies them, making them seen as objects than human beings.

[Some Jokes Are Funnier than Others]

  • Gay articulates how inappropriate humor is widely accepted and praised yet it also has a tendency to cross lines decency. Childish in his delivery, Gay expresses distaste for comedian Daniel Tosh who is unabashed by his misogynistic comments and “rape jokes.” Because we live in a “rape culture”, rape is widely considered funny and acceptable to causally joke about.

[Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them]

  • I loved this particular essay because it related to me because I once was in love with Chris Brown. I remember in fifth grade, I hung a picture of Chris Brown in my locker–pausing to kiss and sigh over his smiling face. But I also recount how he violently beat Rihanna. Seeing the pictures and hearing the stories, my heart broke. Because my mother is a survivor of domestic violence, his actions were a betrayal to my young psyche. Tearing the photo in half, I threw that picture in the trash and is till continue to harbor a mild distaste for the pop singer. Gay mentions how young women were saying that they would let Chris Brown beat them, which reminded of an interview during that time. A mother was in hysterics; saying how her daughter was saying she did not care of Chris Brown beat her. Gay is disheartened by these comments, saying that we “failed” the young woman. She does not blame the women yet; she blames herself and the women of her generation.

[Blurred Lines, Indeed]

  • Grooving along to the summer hit “Blurred Lines”, Gay weaves through the catchy song and focuses on the sexually aggressive undertone. Disregarding a woman’s consent, the Robin Thicke’s song expresses how men should get whatever they want and that women who object need to lighten up.

[The Trouble with Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us]

  • Once again reiterating how women need to make scarifies to find a happy ending, Gay recounts when finding your “prince”, women are the ones who must face hardships while men do not. Mentioning two critically acclaimed books, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, Gay dissects the characters Bella and Ana’s difficulties as they find their princes. Bella endures Edward’s stalker qualities and his need for control to find love and as Ana finds a way to change Christian, she learns that to love is to be controlled by and to be at the mercy of men.

[Race & Entertainment]

  • Gay takes the time to discuss and criticize the matter of race in films and the fascination Hollywood has with screening the suffering of African Americans. In this segment of the novel, she extensively examines the films: Rosewood, The Help, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, Temptations, Fruitvale Station, and Orange is the New Black.

[“The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi. Thoughts on The Help.”]

  • Gay introduces us to this topic with the film Rosewood, where an innocent black man is falsely accused of rape. The black man becomes victim to many atrocities as well as the community he lives in. In her grief, Gay went to her white friend who did not understand her ire. Introducing us to the term “magical negro”, Gay describes this as a black character whose soul purpose in a film is to selflessly aid the protagonist. Later discussing the Oscar dominated The Help, Gay scoffs at the great reviews it received. African Americans have suffered from caricatures since slavery. In this movie, there are 13 mammies whose lives and ambitions are centered on their employers. Also, Mammies “don’t” get raped apparently, because both white and black men are rarely shown in the film.

[“Surviving Django”]

  • Gay is also very critical of the film Django Unchained, immediately zeroing in on the beginning scene. A group of slaves are being brought in, the camera capturing the multiple scars on their backs. Gay claims that directors feel the need to show the physical evidence of slavery like scars to prove to the audience how horrible slavery was. While watching the movie, Gay cannot help but notice how she was the only black person in the theater. This matter only became more obvious when Gay mentions how the white audience was laughing at the “wrong” times and became sullenly silent when the film showed a white person acting cruelly. Gay dissects this situation, claiming that people should interpret films any way that pertains to them, even if they make you “uncomfortable.” Finishing up this critique, Gay also remarks about the controversy of the N-word, claiming she hates the word and would cringe whenever it was heavily mentioned in the film.

[“Beyond the Struggle Narrative”]

  • Gay criticizes how black films are built on the altar of black suffering or subjugation. Claiming that we retell the same “brutal legacy” of slavery, Gay questions why we do not follow a different narrative and try something new. Also, Gay mentions how Hollywood has a “fetish” for black flesh, arguing that there are always scenes of whipping and abuse of black people.

[“The Morality of Tyler Perry”]

  • Gay debates Tyler Perry’s movies and how they are both positive and negative for the black community. Reiterating the same theme, Gay recognizes that Perry revolves around a good “morality tale.” Tyler Perry is a black man who has made himself known and successful in a predominantly white male field yet, Gay argues how Perry uses black women and working class people as fodder for his films. Black women are constantly punished, cannot be trusted, and abuse drugs and alcohol. A prime example that Gay mentions is the movie Temptations, where a “good girl” gets what she deserves when she cheats on her “working class hero” husband.

[“The Last Days of a Young Black Man”]

  • In this section, Gay discusses the movie Fruitvale Station, where it recounts the last few hours before Oscar Grant, an innocent black man, is murdered. The movie artfully builds up to the Oscar’s death, allowing us to connect with character before we have to mourn him. Gay recounts how the movie follows along Oscar, who has had a rough start in life and is trying to do right. Gay is both surprised and pleased by how well the movie preformed and mourns the statics of how many black men are in jail.

[“”When Less is More”]

  • I connected to this essay a lot because I have religiously watched the show she mentions: Orange is the New Black. Like me, Gay does recognize the sexual and racial diversity in the show but after close speculation, there are stereotypes that are used which minorities are expected to appreciate. Because of the lack of appropriation for minorities, Gay has mentioned how we must “be thankful for the scarps.” Also, I like how Gay mentions that because we follow the story through Piper, we must contend with her “white girl problems.” Because Piper grew up privileged and white, she is understandably uncomfortable in jail yet she is also new to diversity. I would obviously be uncomfortable about being incarcerated but diversity has never been an alien concept to me because I am biracial. I do agree that it would be interested if we followed a minority character going through the same events–whenever the camera follows the various other eccentric characters, I must admit, I find their stories more compelling.

[Politics, Gender & Race]

[The Politics of Respectability]

In this essay, Gay discusses how there are expectations for black people to upkeep, which also makes them feel pressured to “prove” their authenticity. Amongst the African American community, Gay argues that there are “unspoken” rules on how they should be and act to avoid be labeled by stereotypes. Gay claims that these standards held against black people are unreasonable and impossible. Gay does use the CNN anchor Don Lemon as an example, noting how he had once offered advice for the black community, yet his advice was skewed by his own experiences. Because Don Lemon worked extremely hard to reach to his point of excuse, he does not understand how others cannot do the same. Finishing up this essay, Gay mentions how racism does not care about your “respectability” or success, while mentioning how even Oprah Winfrey has experienced racism herself.

[When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot]

This essay argues the benefits of Twitter politically despite its fallbacks. Gay refers to finding out about Wendy Davis’s rebellious and tenacious stand to prevent a bill in Texas from being passed. Gay admirably notes how Wendy Davis stood for 13 hours against the legislative that would have closed 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas. The video was being streamed on YouTube but was not being aired on major networks. Gay sheepishly admits that she found out about it because of Twitter, which she then does mention how she finds out everything that is going on in the world through Twitter. An example Gay gives is during Hurricane Sandy, public officials notified the public about safety procedures through Twitter. I can agree with this because I do get all my news from Twitter and Facebook. The news is easily accessible, fast, and there are multiple sources at the click of a button. My grandpa still uses the newspaper to get his information but I feel like social media is fashioned for Millennial’s who like to get their news immediately.

[The Alienable Rights of Women]

Gay remarks how, when there are debates about abortion, mostly men are leading the debate. Gay also refers to the fact that women have been taking measures to prevent pregnancies forever. History will repeat itself, Gay warns, also mentioning the witch-hunts and finding a common similarity. Despite the common belief, pregnancy is the least private experience of a woman’s life, people always want to touch a pregnant woman’s people and or give her high-handed advice. Since 1973, women in the United States have had the right to terminate a pregnant yet have been constricted in many ways. There are restrictions with abortions–some states requiring counseling before decision as they attempt to sway women’s choices. The brutal lengths women have gone to terminate pregnancies and their tenacity proves that women will always go to the extremities.

[Holding Out for a Hero]

In this essay, Gay beings with mention our enamoration with heroes and how we also look to find “the best versions of ourselves.” Heroism has become idealized despite the burdens, suffering, and sacrifices the heroes must go through. But Gay argues the strife’s shape heroes heroism. Gay then talks about Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black youth who was killed by George Zimmerman–who was wanted to protect his community and claimed that it was self-defense. Weary, Gay refers to how young black men are often suspected of criminality and that justice is skewed when it comes to race.

[A Tale of Two Profiles]

Similar to the previous essay, Gay argues the societal concept of who “looks” dangerous. Gay discuses Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was described as the “boy next door” despite being one of the suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing. Reporter’s claimed he was a “normal American teenager” and Gay then contrasts to how Trayvon Martin was demonized and seen as a criminal. Again, Tsarnaev–was described as sweet” and “superchill” and because of white privilege, people were shocked he had the capability to do it because we paint a portrait of what dangerous looks like.

[The Racism We All Carry]

Gay gets the name of this essay from Broadway musical Avenune Q–where the most popular song is “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Gay then argues how that there are varying degrees of racism because we are all imperfect. As an example, Gay mentions Paula Deen, a proud southern cook who is indifferent towards her acknowledged racism. Gay finds it comical that an older white woman from the Deep South being racist surprises the media. But then Gay does mention how the surprise is garnered by the fact that Paula Deen broke the “rules” of being a racist because of her lack of shame.

[Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response]

In this particular essay, Gay laments the tragedies of the world and the frequency of it, mentioning how that there are scales of tragedy. To get her point across, Gay uses Anders Behring Breivik as an example; the man in charge of the bombing in Utoya and Oslo, Norway. Breivik is a blonde man with blue eyes, which is not what people expect a terrorist to look like. Gay claims that we want to believe that there is only one brand of extremism. Also, in regards to Breivik, we have more information about him then his victims, which seems to always be the case.


[Bad Feminist: Take One]

In her final chapters, Gay self-reflects her choices as she expresses how she feels pressured to live up to feminist ideals. Gay remarks she sometimes does not like to be labeled a feminist because people few it as an insult. Gay also mentions her favorite quote about feminist, who are “just women who don’t want to be treated like shit.”

[Bad Feminist: Take Two]

Gay announces why she is a “bad feminist”, while listing the things and choices that separates her from being a “good feminist.” Also, Gay remarks how she always put an image in her head what a feminist should look like and the rights they should uphold.




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