Readers’ Advisory 1: Bad Feminist: Essays. Roxane Gay

Quick Facts

Author: Roxane Gay

Published 2014 by Harper Perennial

320pp. 9780062282712. $15.99

Popular nonfiction, essays, social science

Available in print, eBook, and Audible

Why I Read It

This book popped up on my Goodreads feed as a book that a friend wanted to read, because she enjoys the author. I took a chance and found it at my library, where I promptly requested it. The back cover of Bad Feminist is filled with blurbs from prominent women in media, including Melissa Harris-Perry, host of The MHP Show on MSNBC. #Nerdland. After reading the introduction, “Feminism (n.): Plural”, I knew I needed the mental and emotional stimulation this book would give me. As someone continuing to reevaluate the state of the world in which I live, my place in it, and my feelings toward it, it felt important for me to read Bad Feminist.

TLL’s Tag

For people who think they don’t need feminism, and those who know they do.

The Rundown

A series of essays on everything  from growing up immigrant in America, first year teaching at a college, Scrabble tournaments, being “the girl in the woods”, and Sweet Valley High to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, the 50 Shades phenomena, The Help, Fruitvale Station, and social media. Gay boldly goes there multiple times, often in the same essay.

Here’s what I think

First, you should know, Gay talks about rape and rape culture multiple times in this book. If that is not your thing, stay away. She also talks about domestic abuse in a frank letter to young women who love Chris Brown. If that is not your thing, stay away. However, if you can face the hard truths and the humourously couched criticisms of the author, this read is well worth it.

The essays are divided into six sections, each titled to set the theme of that section.”Me, Gender & Sexuality, Race & Entertainment, Politics, Gender & Race, Back to Me.” The final section, Back to Me, features the two-part title essays “Bad Feminist:Take One” and “Bad Feminist: Take Two”. “Take One” is Gay’s ruminations on the outward expressions of other females, whether they have claimed or, especially, disavowed the label of ‘feminist’. “Take Two” is Gay’s ruminations on her own feminism, bad as she considers herself to be. She dances to “Blurred Lines” *gasp*.

Gay, a writing professor, is widely read, and brings her unique view to bear on a variety of topics. In addition to some of the essays, which I’ve highlighted below on pop culture references, Gay also includes reviews and criticisms of other fiction and non-fiction works. In fact, her criticisms have inspired me to find and read many of the books she mentions, including Green Girl and Heroines by Kate Zambreno, Privacy by Garret Keizer and Magnificence by Lydia Millet. This essay collection will take you through the full range of human emotions as Gay discusses the world we live in. Some of it will apply to only to her, and some of it will apply universally.

Gay challenges readers to engage with the world in thoughtful ways. In an essay about fairy tales and Prince Charming, Gay skewers the 50 Shades phenomena on more levels than just “THIS IS TERRIBLE AND OFFENSIVE TO THE BDSM CULTURE”, which is often how I feel. She writes about the parallels between 50 Shades and its source the Twilight series, as well as the overwhelming female need to change a man. Seriously women need to change their thinking process on this. If the person you’re with does not want to change, nothing you do will work.

Gay challenges readers to examine and acknowledge their own privilege. In “Peculiar Benefits”, Gay names all of her privileges, including growing up in an upper middle class family, going to college, graduate, and post-graduate school, and being published. At the end of the essay, she says “Privilege is relative and contextual. Few people in the developed world, and particularly in the United States, have no privilege at all…It may be hard to hear that, I know, but if you cannot recognize your privilege, you have a lot of work to do; get started” (p. 19). This is important for so many reasons. The only way we can have meaningful conversations about racial equality and gender equality is to acknowledge that we each have been afforded particular benefits because of our place in the world.

Final decision

Sometimes, especially in the longer essays, it was easy to lose the thesis. However, overall, the collection has a laser focus on one bad feminist’s musings on her world. I wanted to take notes in the margins.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

James Baldwin

Nella Larsen


Outlaw Culture, bell hooks

How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran

The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Appeal Factors

Thought provoking, amusing,

Book talk ideas

Feminism, is it really a bad word. pp ix.

Critical review of pop culture, pp 50, 83, 192, 207, 233

The role of web 2.0 (Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, blogs) in our lives pp 25, 261

Privacy issues pp 161

Book discussion questions

1) Based on the title, back cover blurbs, and a perusal of the table of contents, what did you think this book would be about? Did it defy, fulfill, or exceed expectations?

2) What does feminism mean to you? Do you consider yourself a feminist?

3) Gay is critical of the mythos surrounding female friendships. Do you agree with the rules in “How to be Friends with Another Woman” beginning on page 47?

4) Gay discusses the meaning of privilege, the types of privilege, and even names her own privileges. Did this affect you? If so, how. If not, why not? Discuss in terms of her call for readers to name their own privileges.

5) There are a lot of pop culture references and critiques, from Girls to The Help, Django Unchained to Fruitvale Station, Chris Brown to Robin Thicke and 50 Shades. Pick one that stood out for you and discuss.

6) Page 161 features a series of questions on privacy. Which resonated with you the most? Do you have an answer for it?

Clues to the Future

Feminism, Roxane Gay, pop culture essays, bad feminist

Awards and Lists

New York Times Bestseller

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author Website:

Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review:

Los Angeles Review of Books

The Washington Post Review:

Boston Review:

Interview with Refinery 29

Interview with Time Magazine:

Interview with The New York Times

Interview with Mother Jones:


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