Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist” is a powerful, thought-provoking collection of essays that challenges the notion of a single, definitive version of feminism. Gay’s brand of feminism is intersectional, acknowledging that the struggles faced by women of color, transgender, and queer women are different from those faced by white, cisgender, heterosexual women.

Through her writing, she rejects the idea of essential feminism – a brand of feminism that imposes strict rules and guidelines on what it means to be a “proper” feminist. She calls herself a bad feminist because she understands that as humans, we all make mistakes, and that being a feminist does not mean being perfect.

The book covers a variety of topics, from reality TV and racial stereotypes to rape culture and gender inequality. Gay’s writing is insightful and thought-provoking, challenging readers to think critically about the media they consume and the societal norms that shape their worldview.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Key Insights

Lesson 1: Embrace Imperfect Feminism

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist teaches us that feminism is not a one-size-fits-all concept, and it’s okay not to fit into the traditional feminist mold. Essential feminism, the brand of feminism that excludes women from minority groups and those who enjoy pornography or certain aspects of popular culture, is a form of feminism that Gay does not identify with.

However, Gay acknowledges that being a feminist is crucial, even if it means being a bad feminist. It is better to accept an imperfect form of feminism than not to identify as a feminist at all.

Feminism is a complex movement, and there is no single definitive version of it. Instead of trying to live up to all the demands that come with the feminist label, it’s essential to understand that nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes.

Lesson 2: Entertainment Feeds Rape Culture

The representation of women on reality shows and in news media feeds rape culture. TV shows and news media are obsessed with sexual violence, which has led to desensitization and normalization of rape. The entertainment industry uses rape storylines to boost ratings and inject drama, often going to great lengths to keep audiences engaged.

The depiction of rape on TV is often gruesome and exaggerated, which can make the audience feel smug about their own lives when they see the “bad” choices other people have made in theirs. This normalization of rape on-screen feeds into real-life rape culture, where women almost expect to be sexually assaulted.

News media also plays a role in perpetuating rape culture. The reporting of sexual assaults often focuses on the perpetrator’s life being ruined instead of the victim’s experience. Politicians like former Republican Congressman Todd Akin perpetuate rape culture by spreading misinformation about rape.

The term “legitimate rape” implies that some forms of rape are more valid than others. We must understand that rape is rape, and this fact must be made clear to everyone if there’s any hope of ending rape culture.

Lesson 3: Media Representation and Stereotypes Can Hinder Social Progress

Bad Feminist also highlights the issue of how media representation and stereotypes can hinder social progress. The Help, a popular movie set in segregated Mississippi, was praised by critics and audiences alike, but it exploited certain stereotypes such as the “magical negro” and “white savior narrative.”

The black characters in the movie were portrayed as lucky and grateful, while the white characters were seen as the heroes who could help them. Such movies not only fail to present black characters as deep, well-rounded people but also actively hinder racial equality.

Similarly, when it comes to acts of terrorism, attacks carried out by white men are never labeled acts of terrorism. Rolling Stone magazine featured one of the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings on the cover, with the story inside empathetically trying to understand how and why he had become a mass murderer.

However, when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was murdered by George Zimmerman, he never featured on the cover of a magazine, nor was his story covered with such sympathy.

Gender inequality is also alive and well in America, where women’s bodies are treated as a legislative matter under the control of mostly white men. A woman’s reproductive freedom is still under threat, and it is clear that women are not thought of as equal to men.

We should be aware of the impact of media representation and strive to challenge stereotypes and promote well-rounded, diverse portrayals of all people.

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1. Honest Definition of Feminism

The final chapter of Bad Feminist provides an honest and comprehensive definition of feminism. The author describes herself as a bad feminist, someone who enjoys traditionally feminine activities such as shaving her legs, wearing pretty shoes and purses, and reading Vogue. This peek behind the curtain challenges the notion that feminists must reject all things traditionally feminine. Instead, the author suggests that feminism is about advocating for equality between men and women, regardless of their interests and hobbies.

2. Call for Broader Readership

In one chapter, Gay points out that women’s fiction is undervalued compared to fiction written by men, and proposes a solution that requires men to become better and broader readers. While this proposal may be controversial, it highlights the importance of expanding one’s reading list beyond what is comfortable and familiar. By reading books written by women, men can gain a better understanding of women’s experiences and perspectives.

3. Entertaining Anecdotes

While the book can be heavy at times, Gay’s amusing anecdotes provide some relief and make for an enjoyable read. Her personal experiences, such as accidentally stealing a book and getting into a fight over the Sweet Valley High series, add a relatable and lighthearted touch to the book.


1. Lack of Focus on Feminism

Despite the title of the book, some readers may find that Gay spends too much time discussing race and popular culture rather than feminism. While these topics are certainly important, those who are looking for a book solely dedicated to feminism may be disappointed.

2. Blaming Men for Women’s Issues

In several chapters, Gay places the blame for women’s issues solely on men. For example, she suggests that men are responsible for the undervaluing of women’s fiction and the lack of progress on reproductive rights. While men certainly play a role in these issues, it is not productive to place all the blame on one gender.

3. Biased and Distorted Arguments

In the chapter on reproductive rights and abortion, Gay presents a biased and distorted argument by framing the debate as men versus women. This ignores the fact that many men support women’s reproductive rights and that the issue is not simply about gender, but also about religious and moral beliefs. This lack of nuance can lead to a misrepresentation of the debate and hinder progress on finding common ground.


“Bad Feminist” is a must-read for anyone interested in feminist theory and social justice. Gay’s writing challenges readers to think critically about their own beliefs and biases and to consider the experiences of women from different backgrounds. Her brand of feminism is intersectional, inclusive, and honest, making her writing relevant and accessible to a wide audience.

Gay’s rejection of essential feminism, her critique of racial stereotypes, and her writing on rape culture are particularly insightful and relevant in today’s society. Through her writing, she invites readers to consider the experiences of women from different backgrounds and to work towards a more inclusive and equal society.

One of the strengths of the book is Gay’s honesty and vulnerability. She acknowledges her own imperfections as a feminist and the challenges that come with trying to live up to the demands that come with the label. This honesty and vulnerability make her writing relatable and accessible to readers who may be new to feminist theory.

The book is also well-written and engaging, making it an enjoyable read. Gay’s writing style is both accessible and insightful, and she is able to tackle complex topics in a way that is both approachable and thought-provoking.

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