79 pages 2 hours read

Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist

Nonfiction | Essay Collection | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


Bad Feminist is a collection of essays from writer, scholar, and social critic Roxane Gay. Published in 2014 by Harper Perennial, the New York Times best seller draws together an array of topics, from pop culture to literary discourse to political legislation to personal recollections, in an analysis of society, culture, and politics. Gay tackles modern patriarchy and racism in ways that emphasize the humanity of marginalized people and how those systems of oppression deny that humanity. She illustrates that the systems trickle down even into seemingly frivolous aspects of modern life. By the end of the book, it becomes clear that Gay’s advocacy for “bad feminism” and her critique of society, culture, and politics is an embrace of the fullness and complexity of human existence and expression.

Content Warning: The source material features discussions of sexual violence, domestic violence, racial violence, and domestic terrorism.


The text is divided into five parts. In Part 1, “Me,” Gay offers four essays that introduce readers to her identities and interests. The essays ground the rest of the text in the particular perspective that Gay brings to her discussions of entertainment, media, and politics.

Part 2, “Gender and Sexuality,” forms the bulk of the text. Essays 5 through 15 emphasize the ways that gender oppression impacts media representation and women’s real-life experiences, while Essays 16 through 22 widen the discourse on patriarchy to illustrate its impact on men, which in turn has a deleterious impact on all those falling outside of the rigid norms and gendered behavioral guidelines that patriarchy enforces.

In Part 3, “Race and Entertainment,” Gay focuses on racial oppression and how it shows up in media and entertainment, emphasizing film work and the traps that filmmakers fall into as a result of Hollywood’s demand for limited and often stereotyped depictions of Black experience.

Part 4, “Politics, Gender, and Race,” shifts from pop culture and creative work to emphasize current events that underscore Gay’s arguments about artistic renderings of society and culture. The section elaborates on why the discussion of seemingly less serious topics is necessary.

In Part 5, “Back to Me,” Gay offers her understanding of mainstream feminism and proclaims her embrace of “bad feminism.”

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