It has a lot of truths: If there are awards for underlineable books and books that had me nodding yes, that’s it!Bad Feminist would win. One example: in her essay “Girls, Girls, Girls,” which discusses the film Bridesmaids and the TV shows Girls and Girlfriends, Gay neatly dissects why female ensembles are required to carry so much weight in the world — whether it’s in their blockbuster status or in their representation. She gets to the heart of the issue, which is loneliness and an ache to see something on screen, twenty feet high, that reflects your life: “The moment we see a pop artifact offering even a sliver of something different — say, a woman who isn’t a size zero or who doesn’t treat a man as the center of the universe — we cling to it desperately because that representation is all we have.”
It’s political and personal: While Gay’s Bad Feminism shines through with her ability to write about pop culture topics as diverse as Kate Zambreno’s Green Girl and the Real Housewives in the same essay, she also works beyond and through pop culture to quietly devastating effect. “What We Hunger For,” is an essay that starts with The Hunger Games series and the strength of Katniss, the heroine, it is an essay that is lulling you into submission with the radical opinion “Team Peeta,” before it turns into a harrowing, moving story about survival under the most dire circumstances in Gay’s life. When she writes, “sometimes, when you least expect it, you become the girl in the woods,” there is a history of trauma and pain behind that sentence and it’s absolutely devastating. She’s able to take that same precision to a series of essays about race in America, pulling back the curtain on the mega-bestseller The Help to expose the torment and difficult legacy that the story exploits.
Bad Feminist is a broad, compelling book, with essays that range from Gay’s life as a professor to the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s death. It’s a book that feels like it needed to be out in the world, so much so that it’s easy to forgive the meandering form of some essays or the fact that Gay is more compelling responding to and interpreting the world than writing about Scrabble. But that’s a small quibble in a book that feels vital, alive, and engaged with the world, and we need more writers as passionate as Roxane Gay.