Review: “Bad Feminist: Essays” by Roxane Gay

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Gay’s essays published online have received great acclaim for their incisive commentary on everything from film to politics, and now they have been compiled into an anthology that shows the varied intersections of life that makes us who we are. Her real sense for detail shines through in several pieces as well as her warm humour, leading to more than one laugh out loud moment

As categorised by many critics before me, 2014 has been the year of Roxane Gay. Following on from the release of her critically acclaimed debut novel An Untamed State, Bad Feminist gives Gay the opportunity to demonstrate the essayist skills that have made her a perennial online favourite. The central concept that binds these various pieces together is simple – feminism is important and necessary but it can also be pathetically easy to fall short of one’s own standards. Feminism fights against sexist standards and rape culture in the media but some of us still dance around to Blurred Lines. Gay’s strengths lie in her self-awareness over her own occasional slip-ups as a feminist and how we’re all susceptible to them because we’re all merely human.

With a keen cultural eye and unabashed love of pop culture, she tackles everything from her childhood love of the Sweet Valley High series to the issues with Caitlin Moran’s brand of feminism to a hilarious piece on the oddly serious world of competitive Scrabble and the egos that populate it. Gay does not discriminate between so-called ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’. There’s something to love and understand in everything, and her book reviews offer as much insight into major issues as the essays directly tackling said subjects. There are great jokes to be found in the most peculiar of circumstances, and a few tears to shed as Gay reveals some hard truths with a skilful hand and complete belief in her audience.

Bad Feminist is also a proudly intersectional essay collection. Feminism may not be mentioned directly in every piece but it’s evident throughout discussions of the various intersections we live in – gender, race, sexuality, politics, media, and so on. The amount of ground covered in a relatively short amount of time, and with such searing depth and perspective, is hugely admirable, and offers more to the casual reader than any number of mainstream feminist books published in the past couple of years.

One or two essays do feel like padding, and there’s a somewhat disjointed feel to the collection as some pieces feel less comfortably categorised than others, but that in itself hammers home the inability to simply put such topics into individual boxes. If you haven’t read any of Gay’s work before, or even if you have, you’ll find much worth your time in Bad Feminist, a witty, eclectic and impeccably insightful collection that honestly feels like the modern mainstream feminist writing we’ve been waiting for. Gay may categorise herself as a bad feminist but from here she seems pretty damn good to me.

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