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Bad Feminist: Essays Paperback – August 5, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2014: "These essays are political and they are personal," Roxanne Gay announces in the introduction of Bad Feminist. "They are, like feminism, flawed, but they come from a genuine place." This place, as displayed throughout the course of her excellent essay collection, is also one of daring intelligence, imagination, and empathy. Gay leads by example. To combat the demeaning stereotype that feminists are humorless, Gay imbues her essays with levity. One of the best pieces comes early in the book when Gay competes in a Scrabble tournament and her success as a beginner angers her male opponents. It's smart and laugh-out-loud funny essay, and in a humbling turn, Gay herself finds a similar unwarranted frustration toward competitors when she begins losing. Bad Feminist represents Gay's body of personal essays and critical work over the past several years, and if the book has a slight misstep, it's that it sometimes feels like these are articles that have been published elsewhere. (For example, Gay's takedown of The Help is extraordinary, but the same arguments return repeatedly in pieces about other films.) Still, this is such a small complaint in a rare collection where each and every piece is vital and the book as a whole feels important. --Kevin Nguyen
“A strikingly fresh cultural critic.” (Ron Charles, Washington Post)
“Arresting and sensitive. . . . An author who filters every observation through her deep sense of the world as fractured, beautiful, and complex.” (Slate)
“[A] touching and crucial essay collection. . . . If you’re interested in critical thinking about culture, this book is a must.” (Newsweek)
“Roxane Gay is the brilliant girl-next-door: your best friend and your sharpest critic. . . . She is by turns provocative, chilling, hilarious; she is also required reading.” (People)
“Roxane Gay applies her discerning eye to everything from Paula Deen to The Bachelor.” (Marie Claire)
“Feisty, whip-smart essays on gender, sexuality, and race.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“One of our sharpest new culture critics plants her flag in topics ranging from trigger warnings to Orange is the New Black in this timely collection of essays.” (O, the Oprah Magazine, 10 Titles to Pick Up Now)
“A trenchant collection. . . . Whatever her topic, Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Toss Roxane Gay’s collection of witty, thoughtful essays, Bad Feminist into your tote bag. With musings on everything from Sweet Valley High to the color pink, Gay explores the idea of being a feminist, even when you’re full of contradictions.” (Self, "Smart beach-read alert")
“Gay’s essays are consistently smart and provocative. . . . Her essay collection will give you dinner-party conversation through September.” (Jennifer Weiner's 10 best beach reads, USA Today)
“An assortment of comical, yet astute essays that touch on Gay’s personal evolution as a woman, popular culture throughout the recent past, and the state of feminism today.” (Harper's Bazaar)
“Roxane Gay may call herself a bad feminist but she is a badass writer. . . . Reading Bad Feminist is like having a fascinating (one-way) conversation with an extremely smart, well-read, funny and thoughtful party guest. Here’s hoping we have another encounter soon.” (Associated Press)
“Roxane Gay is the gift that keeps on giving. . . . An entertaining and thought-provoking essay collection.” (Time)
“Bad Feminist collects the very good essays of ‘It girl’ culture critic Roxane Gay.” (Vanity Fair, Hot Type)
“Fascinating. . . . An important and pioneering contemporary writer . . . Readers will immediately understand the appeal of Gay’s intimate and down-to-earth voice. . . . An important contribution to the complicated terrain of gender politics.” (Boston Globe)
“Alternately friendly and provocative, wry and serious, her takes on everything from Girls to Fifty Shades of Grey help to recontextualize what feminism is--and what it can be.” (Time Out New York)
“Roxane Gay is so great at weaving the intimate and personal with what is most bewildering and upsetting at this moment in culture. She is always looking, always thinking, always passionate, always careful, always right there.” (Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?)
“With prodigious bravery and eviscerating humor, Roxane Gay takes on culture and politics in Bad Feminist--and gets it right, time and time again. We should all be lucky enough to be such a bad feminist.” (Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure and Bad Mother)
“Smart readers cannot afford to miss these essays, which range from socially significant art (Girls, Django in Chains) and feminist issues (abortion) to politics (Chris Brown) and why Gay likes pink.” (Library Journal)
“Pre-order it, put it on the library hold list, whatever. Just get ready to read it and quote it and share it and be challenged by it.” (Book Riot)
“There are writers who can show you the excellence of their brains and writers who show you the depths of their souls: I don’t know any writer who does both at the same time as brilliantly as Roxane Gay.” (Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck & Other Stories)
“Praise Roxane Gay for her big-hearted self-examining intelligence, for her inclusive and forgiving stance, for her courage and determination . . . for saying out loud the things we were thinking, for guiding us back to ourselves and returning to us what was ours all along.” (Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted)
“She had me at Sweet Valley High. Gay playfully crosses the borders between pop culture consumer and critic, between serious academic and lighthearted sister-girl, between despair and optimism, between good and bad. . . . How can you help but love her?” (Melissa Harris-Perry, Wake Forest Professor and MSNBC host)
“As Bad Feminist proves, Gay is a necessary and brave voice when it comes to figuring out all the crazy mixed messages in our mixed-up world.” ("20 New Nonfiction Books That Will Make You Smarter," Flavorwire)
“Gay writes with probing intelligence about pop-culture topics from the morality of Tyler Perry to how much the Sweet Valley High books mattered to her.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“Bad Feminist places pop culture under her sharp, often hilarious, always insightful microscope.” (GQ.com)
“A collection of sharp, Sontag-ianly searing pieces on everything from Orange Is the New Black to likability in fiction to abortion legislation. . . . Her pieces manage to be at once conversational and full of pithy aphorisms.” (The L Magazine)
“Gay is poised to hit the big time.” (Nylon Magazine)
“As a feminist who has been around a while I have a message for these girls: it’s okay — you can skip the rigors of Betty Friedan and Andrea Dworkin and go straight to Roxane Gay, where feminism is not just friendly, but more relevant than ever.” (Erika Schickel, Los Angeles Review of Books)
“What’s so special about this collection is its accessibility - Gay is nothing short of a critical genius, yet every essay is approachable and open while still being thorough. Her writing is rare, and at that, not to be missed.” (Bustle)
“I’m pretty sure Gay is incapable of writing anything boring. . . . Even better: It’s an essay collection, so you can parse it out, maybe save a couple for days when the Internet is particularly infuriating.” (Jezebel)
“With trenchant thoughts on Sweet Valley High, The Help, abortion, and Chris Brown, Gay isn’t really a bad feminist, just an uncommonly entertaining one.” (Vulture, "8 Books You Need to Read This August")
“A meaty volume of personal essays and criticism from one of the great storytellers and smartest cultural observers out there. . . . Gay is as critical and as she is admiring. That balance is what actually makes these essays so enjoyable and honest.” (Feministing.com)
“One of the liveliest, most joy-inducing books of the year. . . . Bad Feminist is a tour de force and Roxane Gay is a writer of considerable power, intelligence and moral acuity.” (Huffington Post)
“Bad Feminist is a broad, compelling book. . . . It’s a book that feels like it needed to be out in the world . . . a book that feels vital, alive, and engaged with the world, and we need more writers as passionate as Roxane Gay.” (Flavorwire)
“Powerful, and its winsomeness is due entirely to Gay’s fearless, inclusive and accessible prose.” (Shelf Awareness)
“Read Bad Feminist to feel good about reading Vogue.” (New York Magazine, "Approval Matrix: Highbrow and Brilliant")
“Gay’s writing is thoughtful and funny, compassionate and bold, and she’s just as likely to discuss Sweet Valley High as Django Unchained or Judith Butler.” (Refinery29)
“Gay’s essays expertly weld her personal experiences with broader gender trends occurring politically and in popular culture.” (Huffington Post)
“What makes Bad Feminist such a good read isn’t only Gay’s ability to deftly weave razor-sharp pop cultural analysis and criticism with a voice that is both intimate and relatable. It’s that she’s incapable of blindly accepting any kind of orthodoxy.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Blunt and funny. . . . [Gay acknowledges] ‘I am a mass of contradictions.’ For Gay, though, these contradictions are less a condition to be remedied than a source of greater strength.” (Washington Post)
“A prolific and exceptionally insightful writer. . . . Bad Feminist doesn’t show us how Gay should be, but something much better: how Roxane Gay actually is. . . . Gay unquestionably succeeds at leading us in her way.” (Globe and Mail (Toronto))
“I know there are still four and a half months left, but I’m calling it now: 2014 is the year of Roxane Gay. I just devoured her book, Bad Feminist . . . Amazing.” (Rookie)
“Incisive, self-aware, risky, and often funny, the author’s writing is reminiscent of Nora Ephron’s 1975 collection of feminist essays, Crazy Salad. . . . Gay possesses a distinct perspective and singular voice.” (Library Journal)
“A thoughtful and often hilarious new collection of essays.” (Chicago Tribune)
“”[Gay’s] energetic and thought-provoking first essay collection will become as widely read as other generation-defining works, like Nora Ephron’s Crazy Salad and Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost.” (Essence)
“Roxane Gay delivers sermons that read like easy conversations. Bad Feminist is an important collection of prose—prose that matters to those still trying to find their voice.” (Ebony)
“Honest and warm. She takes a close, scathing look at modern music and film. . . . I believe her essay collection will open a lot of eyes and inspire women of all ages to stand and speak up.” (SheKnows.com)
“It’s no surprise that Roxane Gay - author, essayist and sharp observer of everything in pop culture we’re supposed to be too cool to like - has written such a winning book. . . . Perfectly imperfect, Gay is an unforgettable voice, coming at just the right time.” (NPR, Best Books of 2014)
“As a culture critic, Gay has X-ray eyes. Her writing is smart and trenchant . . . She’s disarming and one of us, only smarter. She has a tumblr and she writes about Internet dating. We love her, you know?” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“Above all, Gay disabuses the stereotype of a humorless feminist, writing in a voice that’s fresh, funny and always accessible.” (Sacramento News Review)
“Roxane Gay offers an unique (and often biting) perspective on pop culture.” (Miami Herald)
“Gay offers a complex and multifarious feminism to answer the movement’s ongoing PR issues, its flaws and its failures. . . . Bad Feminist surveys culture and politics from the perspective of one of the most astute critics writing today.” (Boston Review)
“Rip-roaringly funny and insightful essays.” (PureWow.com)
“Roxane Gay and her new book Bad Feminist are here to save us all. . . . It’s a swift read with some serious substance. . . . GET TO KNOW HER ALREADY.” (xoJane.com)
“Roxane Gay’s ability to write so clearly about complex issues is truly impressive. Her essays about feminism, race, and class are hilarious, moving, and yes, educational, but never in a way that feels tired or boring.” (Cosmopolitan, "28 Life-Changing Books Every Woman Should Read")
“The book is powerful, and its winsomeness is due entirely to Gay’s fearless, inclusive and accessible prose.” (Shelf Awareness, Best Books of the Year)
“Gay’s writing is as accessible as it is sharp. . . . In the volume of essays, Gay mixes the personal, the political and the pop cultural with unashamed acknowledgement that the three are interrelated and often inseparable.” (Indianapolis Business Journal)
“[Gay is] hilarious. But she also confronts more difficult issues of race, sexual assault, body image, and the immigrant experience. She makes herself vulnerable and it’s refreshing.” (Tanvi Misra, Atlantic, "The Best Book I Read This Year")
“Bad Feminist is often LOL funny but continuously ruthless.” (San Antonio Express-News)
“Gay’s insightful exploration of this topic makes readers worry less about their occasional shortcomings and more comfortable with being human.” (BookPage)
“Entertaining and enlightening. . . . Bad Feminist is an outtake of her wisdom, and we would all do well to take heed.” (Bitch Magazine)
“There has never been a book quite like Bad Feminist—a sometimes funny, sometimes serious pop-culture-literary-nonfiction-social-commentary hybrid written by a black woman in America.” (The Root)
“Gay, who has become one of our most provocative essayists, leaves nothing off the table in her debut collection . . . Taken in whole, Bad Feminist is a brave affirmation of selfhood: I am a woman, this is my story, and there is power in its telling.” (Gawker, "The Best Books to Give This Holiday Season: A Bookseller's Guide")
“Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist hardly needs more praise, but no other book speaks more eloquently, or more directly, about today’s most crucial issues. . . . Gay’s essays are intimate and accessible, but broad in scope and deep in insight.” (Celeste Ng, "Writers’ favorite books of 2014," San Francisco Gate)
“If you’re in the mood to read wonderful, thought-provoking essays that feel like they’re written by your best friend, check out Bad Feminist. . . . Gay puts you at ease as she shakes the foundations of what you believe.” (Buzzfeed, Sami Main, "28 Best Books by Women in 2014")
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In a world where people think increasingly in absolutist claims, such as We versus Them, and use increasingly simplified and stunted language that can hardly do justice to the many ways life is lived, Gay’s writing forces the reader to consider the infinite shades of gray that exist in the world beyond the black and white, and demands through her logic that people be allowed to thrive in a variety of lifestyles, modes, and cultures and be respected and loved—despite religion, skin color, gender, chosen life paths, and level of so-called femininity.
Isn’t this book about being a bad feminist? Yes, but Gay’s views of herself, what feminism means for her and what she thinks it should mean today are intertwined with her ruminations on literature and culture. There’s not just one right way to be a feminist; there’s the way of being who you are, plus feminism, and then you can be both, even if it doesn’t quite fit in the lines of what the perceived perfect feminist might be (for instance, Gay likes the color pink). As if sighing at the end of a lengthy conversation, she says in her last essay: “I am a mess of contradictions.” We are all; yet few of us are strong enough to admit it.
This book significantly impacted my perspective on feminism. In particular, the challenges of advocating feminism in our world. We all have different experiences and perspectives which drive our expectations. Gay has spent a lot of time and brain power deciphering exactly what feminism means to her, especially as compared to the feminist stereotype.
"I disavowed feminism because I had no rational understanding of the movement. I was called a feminist, and what I heard was, 'You are an angry, sex-hating, man-hating victim lady person.' "
Precisely because she doesn’t feel as though she fits the stereotype nor does she react to every scenario as she views a feminist should, she describes herself as a bad feminist. Gay uses these essays to empower herself and the reader to embrace her/their imperfections while still being a feminist.
How did this book affect me? It opened my eyes in ways I didn’t expect.
Like so many others in this world, after my parents divorced I was raised primarily by a single mother. That experience ingrained in me a sense of feminism that I didn’t even realize was there for many years. While I have always respected women, appreciated them for who they are, treated them fairly, and supported equality at every opportunity I was aware of, I never really thought of myself as a feminist.
Perhaps it’s a larger hurdle to leap because I’m a man. I’m supposed to adhere to idiotic and outdated rules of masculinity if I want to keep my man card. In a way, labeling myself a feminist is the antithesis of the societal norms I experienced growing up in rural Illinois and the urban yet deeply-southern-in-beliefs Houston, Texas. Not all, but most of the men around me upheld those expectations while the boys strived to meet them. I suppose that makes for a long journey to embracing yourself as a man and a feminist.
Gay’s descriptions gave me a better understanding of a woman’s experiences, as well as those of a black woman. For her, it’s a double whammy. Her life is filled with peoples’ reactions to her both as a woman and a woman of color. Bias is present in our society and government, without a doubt, meanwhile, her essays provided a personal frame of reference to the subject. Her view on current movies and books that deal with racism were eye-opening. They often exposed the narrow scope and hypocritical story of enlightenment that the public embraced. Her analysis made me question why I enjoyed the movies she ridiculed. I don’t have a definitive answer yet.
While not all of the essays resonated with me, the collection is well worth reading. Especially for those who are looking to understand feminism from a slightly different angle than the stereotypical one. The takeaway from Roxane is that your view of being a feminist can be your own and still be valid.
See more of my thoughts at todhilton[dot]com/reads.
I think that this limited worldview is best seen in her essay where she juxtaposes Trayvon Martin and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It's pretty much a saint vs devil situation, and I share her resentment for
it, but the lack of nuance is so disturbing. Gay completely glosses over the fact that Tsarnaev, even though enjoying the public'a fascination and will to redeem, is a Muslim person, a minority as dangerously disenfranchised as the black male in the states. He is also of Chechen origin: hailing from a country painfully colonized and broken. To make him the entitled white man who still gets sympathy after performing a terrorist act is incredibly blindsided.