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Bad Feminist


By Roxane Gay
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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist (2014) is a collection of often personal essays examining race, gender and feminism in the United States. The author, Roxane Gay, pays particular attention to the way media, politics and pop culture shape society’s views and champions her own brand of feminism – one that doesn’t always follow the rules.

Key idea 1 of 6

Roxane Gay refers to herself as a bad feminist.

Nobody’s perfect. As humans, we all make mistakes, and Gay is no exception. But as a feminist, she is under constant pressure to live up to all the demands that come with the label.

Part of the problem is that there is no single definitive version of feminism. It’s a complex movement and, in trying to represent all women, it has inevitably disappointed many.

Traditionally, feminists have fought for the rights and liberties of white, cisgender, heterosexual women. This brand of feminism excludes black, transgender and queer women – failing to acknowledge the very different obstacles that these women face.

As white, cis, heterosexual women are more likely to have the opportunity to espouse their views in public, it is this group that writes the feminist rulebook. Gay calls their brand of feminism essential feminism. They treat feminism as a club with strict rules and guidelines that must be followed to be a "proper” feminist, such as opposing pornography and rejecting the objectification of women under any circumstance.

But women who champion essential feminism come from a position of privilege. They don't have the same experience as those who also belong to another minority/oppressed group, such as women of color or those under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, and so their opinions on what makes a real feminist can alienate those who don’t share the same background.

And it’s not only women from minority groups who feel excluded from essential feminism. Just disagreeing with some of these views can be enough to leave some women feeling shut out. Take women who enjoy watching or acting in pornography or women who enjoy certain aspects of popular culture in which women are objectified.

The author certainly doesn’t identify with essential feminism. That’s why she calls herself a bad feminist. She believes in equality for all women and men in all areas of life.

She used to avoid the "feminist” label, so she can understand why so many women are hesitant to adopt it. The problem is that the word "feminist” is strongly associated with essential feminism and conjures up images of the women who use the feminist movement as a way to brand themselves. But Gay has made peace with her imperfect feminism. She’s accepted that she’ll never please everyone and that by doing and believing things that contradict essential feminism, her form of feminism is a crucial part of the conversation. After all, being a bad feminist is better than not being a feminist at all.

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