Book Review: Bad Feminist

Title: Bad Feminist (Essays)

Author: Roxane Gay

I picked up this book while Casey and I were living in Oregon from Powells book store.  It sat on my shelf for several years before ending up in my duffle bag to be read during our travels in New Zealand.  Roxane Gay published these series of essays in 2014 and they explore feminism in the realm of how loving and being true to yourself fit into cultural ideals about being a feminist.

The essays range from pop-culture and political topics to deeply personal experiences.  They are broken down into sections: Me, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Entertainment, Politics, Gender & Race, Back to Me.

Her introduction to the book hints at the subjects to be touched upon in the following essays.  Her tone is bold and strong, and I can feel how torn she is at wanting to live her life in ways that fabricate the respect women deserve, but how deeply flawed she feels in meeting the standards she thinks feminism has placed on women.  Her writing is relatable because I also feel these struggles.

After reading an essay I would take time to contemplate her words.  Sometimes her essays touched me in ways that I had closed myself off from.  Some reminded me of the inequality that is still left in the world, and while I may feel comfortable where I am I cannot deny the fact that there are women who are not as privileged as I have been.

Her essays on race were enlightening.  I have had the privilege of being a white woman living in America.  I know this to be a privilege, and would not deny that if I had been born a different race, or in a different country, I would not be allowed the graces that I had in my current situation. Roxane reminded me of this in her essay Peculiar Benefits and I am thankful for that.

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.” (Peculiar Benefits, pg 17. Bad Feminist)

In her essay What We Hunger For I find a theme that deeply resonates with in me.  I bond with Roxane over our deep love of the ‘Hunger Games’ and the emotional investment we made to the books.  But what hits me hard is the theme of strength in women. Katniss is expected to be strong, and is coerced into an idol of strength.  She does her best to meet the expectations for the people she loves, even when it costs her so much.  I felt this.  I keep feeling this.

This essay, I feel the need to say, turns to Roxane’s past and brings up a darkness that I was not prepared to go through. I cried for her.  I know that trauma never goes away.  I know how women build their walls and force forward strength to protect themselves, to protect those they love.  I have seen this in my mother and my grandmother.  I am doing this myself as well.

Roxane’s essays balance the light and darkness so eloquently.  She touches on such hard topics, ones that make me angry to my core, but at the end she gives me some solace.  I am left with some hope after finishing the book.

I believe there are essays in this book that can guide or teach almost anyone who reads them.  Roxane is funny, and her humor and personality are highlights of her writing.  Her essays are deeply personal at times, and she reveals things about herself that remind me of my own humanity.  How deeply flawed as humans we all are.

I am glad I finally got around to reading her book.  Even though her essays bring up political or cultural scenarios from previous years, the text and meaning of her essays are still relevant.  Though that does make me feel like a pessimist, to think that we all are still so shallow with providing equality for all.  Hopefully though more people will read her book, or books and essays like hers, and can become more mindful of their actions in the world.  Maybe I am not a pessimist after all.  I still have hope.


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