Literary and Cultural References
Much of Bad Feminist is devoted to essays about popular culture. Gay analyzes dozens of different pop culture artifacts, including Kristin Wiig's film Bridesmaids, Lena Dunham's Girls, Scrabble, the Miss America pageant, the Sweet Valley High books, Judith Butler's seminal work Gender Trouble, Joan Didion's novel Play It as It Lays, Gillian Flynn's massive bestseller Gone Girl, Caitlin Moran's semi-autobiographical How to Be a Woman, Diana Spechler's novel Skinny, Thornton Dial's exhibit Hard Truths at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Hunger Games, Anderson Cooper's coming out letter, Tosh's rape jokes, Steve McQueen's Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, the film adaptation of The Help, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, Chris Brown's music, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," Fifty Shades of Grey, filmmaker Tyler Perry's oeuvre, Orange Is the New Black, and various examples of journalism and reportage, including that appearing on Twitter. Each cultural artifact is a chance for Gay to expand on and analyze an aspect of society, whether it be racism, sexism, or violence.
Structurally, Bad Feminist is a collection of thirty-seven essays broken up into five sections, plus an introduction. Each section is devoted to a specific topic: Me [Roxane Gay]; Gender & Sexuality; Race & Entertainment; Politics, Gender & Race; and Back to Me. "Me" consists of four essays that focus on the beginning of Gay's career as a teacher and her love of competitive Scrabble. "Gender & Sexuality" collects eighteen essays covering a broad range of topics, including rape, coming out, the abusive lyrics of singers like Chris Brown and Robin Thicke, and "broken men" like Jerry Sandusky whose lives have been destroyed by public revelations of years of criminal activity, including sexual abuse toward minors. "Race & Entertainment" is a series of six essays about the portrayal of African Americans in films like The Help, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, and those directed by filmmaker Tyler Perry. "Politics, Gender & Race" focuses on the intersection of politics, racism, and sexism, tackling important issues like abortion, terrorism, respectability politics, and the death penalty. "Back to Me" consists of two personal essays defining what a "bad feminist" is.
Roxane Gay's prose is approachable, intelligent, and often funny. Her essays are alternately critical, personal, and humorous, sometimes all three at the same time. Gay approaches topics from the point of view of a feminist and woman of color who is able to enjoy popular culture but, at the same time, point out the various ways in which it is problematic. Her essays are by design not rigidly academic, and though Gay does discuss Judith Butler's seminal work of philosophy Gender Trouble and James Wood's influential How Fiction Works, she does not assume that her audience is solely made up of academics. She writes to a broader audience, hoping to reach as many people as she can.