Bad Feminist Summary

Bad Feminist is a collection of forty essays by bestselling author and critic Roxane Gay. In the book, Gay covers a broad range of topics, including race, gender, sex, politics, and popular culture. Gay calls herself a "bad feminist" because she doesn't fit the model of what people generally think of as "feminist": she likes pink, she doesn't hate men, and she loves children.

  • In a series of personal essays, Gay recalls her experiences as a first-year professor teaching at a university where there are no other professors of color. She helps her students grow, she vies for tenure, and when she feels lonely she turns to competitive Scrabble for solace.
  • Gay devotes several essays to the topic of violence against women. She analyzes how rape is depicted in the media, criticizing comedians who make rape jokes and noting that TV shows tend to insert rape into the narrative to boost ratings during sweeps week.
  • Gay then analyzes the ways African Americans are depicted in film. In films like The Help, Oscar-winning black actresses play maids while white characters presume to tell the black maids' stories. Meanwhile, black directors are making films like 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station.

Summary

In this collection of thirty-seven essays, author and critic Roxane Gay writes about a wide range of topics, including race, gender, sex, politics, and popular culture. Her essays are sharp, honest, and at times deeply personal, recounting her education as a first-year professor and her experience with first love and sexual violence. Early on, she embraces the label of "bad feminist," writing, "I am human. I am messy. I'm not trying to be an example...I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world." In the introduction, she traces her evolution as a feminist, admitting that, when she was younger, she rejected the label of feminist, mostly because she didn't know what feminism meant. Now that she's older, she understands that feminism is about fighting for women to be treated equally in every way: legally, economically, culturally. Feminism is a choice she made to stand up for her civil rights and for the rights of other women (including those who choose not to embrace the label of feminist).

The collection is broken into five sections: Me; Gender & Sexuality; Race & Entertainment; Politics, Gender & Race; and Back to Me. In the first section, she tells of her experiences attending graduate school, becoming a professor, and building communities, whether on campus or online. Her first job as a professor brought her to a small town, where she was one of few African Americans. In "Peculiar Benefits," Gay explores how her pursuit of higher education afforded her certain privileges (of access, employment, opportunity, status) even as her race, gender, body, and opinions prevented her from enjoying the same privileges of a white male. In "Typical First Year Professor," Gay writes about the joys and frustrations of teaching. Her students didn't know what to make of her at first: physically and intellectually imposing, Gay is a force to be reckoned with and doesn't tolerate laziness in her class. She keeps it fun, however, with games and lessons that are both educational and engaging. She talks with students after class—often about issues of race, gender, and sexuality. She gets tired. She feels invigorated. She strives for tenure. It is difficult to balance her work life and her personal life. Alone and lonely, she turns to Scrabble for entertainment. She plays in the competitive circuit, immersing herself in this strange world, winning on occasion.

In section two, Gay tackles the themes of gender and sexuality. In "How to Be Friends with Another Woman," she offers female readers a list of guidelines for female friendships. Some of the items on the list are obvious (don't have sex with a friend's significant other) and some are drawn from her personal experiences ("Love your friends' kids even if you don't want or like children."). She goes on to discuss the inherent limitations of the HBO show Girls, which is about white girls struggling with the kinds of problems that twentysomething New Yorkers face. Girls rarely tackles issues of race, so the vision of New York City it represents is inaccurate and whitewashed; but there's something to be said about a woman making a show about women. It rarely happens, and that fact alone makes Girls noteworthy, if not good, exactly. In "Garish, Glorious Spectacles" and "Not Here to Make Friends," she talks about issues of likability and performativity as they relate to gender. Performativity theory...

(The entire section is 1644 words.)