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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
“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)
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062282719
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062282712
- Dimensions : 0.76 x 5.31 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; 1st edition (August 5, 2014)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #14,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
The more Roxane Gay I read the more Roxane Gay I want to read. Not because we're so much alike, but because we're so different. 'Because we took such different paths, I being a fifty-something privileged white man, to reach the same conclusions. As I consumed Bad Feminist I found myself literally nodding in agreement, raising eyebrows in occasional astonishment, laughing out loud at her jokes and shedding a tear or twenty in painful empathy.
Gay, much like Lindy West, gifts me a perspective I would not otherwise have had. Each essay, each bit, becomes a piece of the mosaic of my worldview.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
I've known for a long time that I was a feminist, albeit a bit of a bad one too, which is why I was drawn to this book. What I did not realise is that unbeknownst to myself, I'm actually quite racist. I'm not racist in any way I could previously control, but in the way that was embedded into me by growing up in a white middle class neighbourhood. I was aware of my privilege, but now it's like I can see it. Books and films that I thought served justice and were a great representation to black people, such as 'The Help' and '12 Years A Slave' are really not, and how could I not have noticed this before? Ideas such as the 'magical black person' will stick with me forever, and I realised that however far women still have to go for equality, black people of either sex are still trailing ridiculously behind, sometimes with a white man touting a gun not far behind them.
As for the feminist aspect of the book, you'll find that you agree with everything. I too have often sang along to 'Blurred Lines', I have referred to fellow women in derogatory terms, I have judged a fellow woman by the way she looks. Gay does her bit, where she can, with complete honesty, and this is so refreshing to see. She lays herself bare on the pages of this book, divulging her secrets, her flaws, and her loves and hates. 'Bad Feminist' is in places hilarious, sad, and sometimes brutal. As many of the discussions are around popular culture, films and books, I've now a massive reading list, which may or may not include Sweet Valley High. This book encourages you to do your homework.
I can't wait to read more of Roxane's work, and hope that through her teachings I can actually become the better person than I always thought I was. Everyone should read this book. You will learn things about yourself.
The self-given title ‘Bad Feminist’ is only necessary because today’s culture makes it so and I find that interesting. We do have to switch off our morals to enjoy popular music these days, for as long as they degrade us. We do feel some shame in being a feminist or in not being a good enough feminist. It’s all relative to privilege but Roxane lets us forget that so we can talk about some real topics and not think they’re fundamentally flawed by privilege. It’s just a really great book and we should all read it.