Smart, fierce, scathing, and revelatory, Bad Feminist is one of those rare books that manages to be fun, funny and serious all at the same time.
What I loved most was Gay’s examination of contradictions–in herself and what she loves, and in the world at large. She gives herself permission to be a complicated, contradictory, whole, imperfect human, and it’s so refreshing. She writes about being a black woman and a feminist, and also about all the things she can’t help loving even though she knows they don’t always live up to her feminist ideals.
She critiques pop culture from a feminist standpoint, but her love of pop culture is also evident. She’s deeply aware of the contradictions in herself, of the times she “falls short” as a feminist. She writes eloquently about the problematic ways women and people of color are often represented in popular media and the cultural imagination and about the importance of authentic representation. She makes a smart, articulate case for how and why we must hold art and media to a more humane standard.
She also writes about loving rap music with misogynist lyrics. It’s her willingness to accept and discuss these contradictions that makes this book so powerful. She’s not writing as someone on the outside looking in and passing judgment, but as a lover, consumer, and maker of pop culture. Her critique and examination is both personal and universal, and it comes from a place of love, connection, and experience.
Though some of these essays are delightful funny and wry, the central questions running through the book are big ones: can we be feminists even when we love things that demean us? What happens when we continually fall short of our own ideals? How do we live up to the best versions of ourselves? Perhaps more importantly, how do we hold space in ourselves and others for compassion and understanding when we don’t?
Gay does not answer these questions. But her thorough exploration of them, and her willingness to both expose and celebrate complexity, makes this book a must-read for anyone navigating how to live a feminist life in 21st century America.