Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Feminism has gained considerable visibility in recent years, thanks to the #MeToo movement and the women’s marches that followed. Being a feminist, however, can take many forms. Even among the movement’s adherents, there are wide-ranging disagreements.

Roxane Gay defends her own brand of “bad” feminism, which she defines for those who for some reason don’t fit into the prescribed version of feminism but still want to make their voices heard, by explaining the concept of essential feminism and why it violates some of its ideals.

You’ll find that any feminist stance is better than none at all.

You may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

At the end of this book review, I’ll also tell you the best way to get rich by reading and writing

Without further ado, let’s get started. 

Lesson 1: Women in reality TV are devalued.

The term “reality television” is misleading because it usually represents an exaggerated and unrealistic caricature of real life. This is especially true of the portrayal of women in these shows.

Watch any reality show and you will see many of the types that contribute to the stereotypes perpetuated by the medium: Women who are desperate to fall in love and get married; women who are obsessed with their weight; and women who can not form real friendships with other women because of their jealousy.

When reality show characters TV are sold to us as “real,” they reinforce the idea that all women are similar and conform to a small number of stereotypes, rather than being portrayed as complex, three-dimensional individuals.

Watch any dating show like “Rock of Love” or “Flavor of Love” where the women compete for the attention and validation of the same man while the man makes it clear that he is not interested in them by winking at the camera and spouting empty platitudes about love.

In Flavor of Love, the goal is to win the affections of Flavor Flav, a member of the hip-hop group Public Enemy. Instead of learning each woman’s name, Flav assigns her a number, further dehumanizing her.

In most reality shows, contestants are made to be the worst versions of themselves, and the worse they act, the more entertaining it is for us. The worse they behave, the more entertaining it is for us because we feel superior about our own lives when we see the miserable existence of the contestants and the “bad” choices of others in their own lives.

However, the ubiquity of these over-the-top characters normalizes actions and appearances that prevent women from achieving equality in society.

The same is true of makeover shows and other reality shows that focus on appearance. While the outward beauty of women whose bodies have been enhanced by surgery or sculpted by tough weight loss programs may appeal to superficial men, this beauty often comes at the expense of the women themselves and their inner experience.

In these shows, women are not given the credit they deserve for their extensive knowledge and experience.

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Lesson 2: All too often, we no longer react with shock or horror when we hear of sexual assaults on women.

A rape victim can suffer psychological and physical damage. This is why rape scenes are used in so many TV shows: They add drama and draw viewers in.

Almost the entire content of some shows is based on women’s accounts of sexual assault and violence. Look at the popular series TV Law and Order: SVU, which has dealt with so many rape cases that it has to get creative with each new episode to keep viewers interested. We are so used to seeing rape victims disfigured, beaten, or subjected to a variety of other ordeals that forcible penetration in itself is no longer considered so bad.

Women almost expect to be sexually assaulted, and unfortunately, rape is not only common in fiction; sexual assault on women is so ubiquitous in our society that it required its own term: rape culture.

Once again, the entertainment industry bears some responsibility, as its fixation on rape and its glorification in the media has a direct impact on the prevalence of rape in real life.

An example of this is a 2011 New York Times article that described the rape of an eleven-year-old girl by eighteen men. The journalist focused on how the lives of the poor perpetrators were ruined and how the city was torn apart by the case, but barely mentioned the victim herself, other than noting that she looked much older than her age.

As the example of former Republican Congressman Todd Akin shows, politicians are not helping the cause either. Akin coined the term “legitimate rape” in a debate over abortion, suggesting that a woman’s body would reject a pregnancy if she had been the victim of rape. This is both problematic and scientifically incorrect.

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Lesson 3: Movies like “The Help” hinder racial equality efforts.

The film adaptation of the book The Help was released in 2011. It was a feel-good story about a group of African American maids working for wealthy white families in segregated Mississippi in the 1960s. Although the film was well received by critics and seen by many viewers, it did nothing to advance efforts to overcome racism.

Both the “white savior narrative” and the “magic Negro” stereotype, in which a black character possesses positive qualities such as kindness, wisdom, and the supernatural, were used for comedic purposes in the film. She never benefits from her own strengths, but uses them to help the white protagonist.

White viewers enjoy the trope of the magical Negro because it makes them feel better about witnessing an accurate and positive portrayal of a black character. What they do not realize is that this stereotypical figure is merely a tool to help the white protagonist achieve his goals.

The way Aibileen, Minny, and the other black maids are portrayed in The Help, the stereotype of the magical Negro is present. They have superhuman powers, but instead of using them for their own benefit, they use them to help the white characters and further their own education.

Similarly, the trophy of the white savior is crucial to the plot of The Help. This is the story in which the black protagonists are completely helpless and must rely on a white savior. Characters of African descent are portrayed as happy and grateful people.

There is one scene that makes this point particularly clear. Aibileen, a black maid, decides to hang a picture of President John F. Kennedy after he pays his respects at the funeral of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. She prefers him to other black civil rights leaders like Evans and plans to hang a picture of him in her home, alongside pictures of her son and a white Jesus.

Other forms of racial stereotypes are also present in the film. The author is shocked that such stereotypes can be in a 21st century book and film, and especially that Minny, the maid, says, “Frying chicken makes me feel better about life.

It’s not just The Help; there are many films that fail to portray black characters as complex and layered. In this way, the idea that all black people resemble the caricatures we see in the media is reinforced. These stories use the civil rights movement for their own entertainment value, which is harmful to the cause of racial equality.

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Lesson 4: Systemic sexism and racism against African Americans persist in the United States.

Mass shootings occur almost daily in the United States. Attacks perpetrated by white males are never labeled as acts of terrorism, even though they have killed far more Americans than radicalized terrorists.

Just as people always find a reason why an innocent black boy is evil, they always find a reason why a white man who commits a terrorist attack is basically a good person.

Consider Rolling Stone magazine. A suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing was featured on the cover. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the prime suspect, is a young white man, and the premise of the story was that he might be the boy next door. The attached narrative is rich in sentimentality. The reporter tries to figure out how and why Tsarnaev went from an ordinary boy to a mass murderer by talking to people who knew him in the past and describe him as a nice, normal guy.

In contrast, think about the situation of Trayvon Martin. In the case of Trayvon Martin, there was no magazine cover or sympathetic coverage of the unarmed black teenager killed by George Zimmerman (who was later acquitted of all charges).

Trayvon was completely innocent. He was carrying only a cup of iced tea and a bag of Skittles when he was shot, but the story about his death was spun to fit popular mythology. Fox News’ explanation of how the teenager could have used the iced tea and Skittles as weapons is the best example of this.

Women are in as dire a position as men. Gender inequality persists in the United States today, as does racial inequality. Politicians, the vast majority of whom are white men, treat women’s bodies as if they are a matter of legislation subject to their control.

Reproductive rights, including a woman’s ability to obtain contraceptives and to have an abortion if she so chooses, continue to be violated today. It is also abundantly clear that women are not accorded the same value as men.

As long as we are able to name specific instances of inequality, we can actively seek solutions. This is exactly what Gay hopes to achieve with her brand of queer, black, wicked feminism.

About The Author

Her extensive publication list includes Harper’s Bazaar, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the Best American Mystery Stories 2014 anthology, and she regularly shares her thoughts with New York Times readers.

She is the author of Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestseller Bad Feminist, the national bestseller Difficult Women, and the New York Times bestseller Hunger: A Memoir of My Body. She also wrote Marvel’s World of Wakanda.

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