Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay [Audiobook]

Posted 9 October, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 21 Comments

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bad feministTitle: Bad Feminist
Author: Roxane Gay
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Published: 2014 Pages: 336
Audio Duration: 11 hr, 46 min
Genre: Nonfiction/Essays
Rating: Good food for thought

On Amazon | On Indiebound | On Goodreads | On Audible

In Short: A collection of essays on anything and everything (like really–from Sweet Valley High to Trayvon Martin) with a mostly feminist twist.

Why I Listened: Feminism is a hot conversation that I don’t feel adequately aware enough to join. As Gay’s essays are getting a lot of buzz, I figured this would be a good place to start. I listened because it allowed me to get to these essays sooner than if I had read them. Turns out this was a win for me as the narration was awesome.

Thoughts in General: To expand. For some reason the idea of feminism makes me a bit squeamish. What does it really mean to be a feminist? Are feminist all angry, man-hating, bra burning women? Can I be a more conservative-leaning woman and still be a feminist? Can I stay at home part-time and still be a feminist? Do some of my ideas about parenting and home life make me less of a feminist? Can I be a feminist and still refuse things like getting my oil changed and mowing the lawn?

I could continue this back and forth for quite a long time but the bottom line is that I don’t really know what it means to be a feminist and exactly what feminists believe in. A few months ago I saw this question simply answered: If you believe men and women should have equal rights and opportunities then you are a feminist. In this sense, everyone can and should be a feminist. It isn’t a dirty word to uncomfortably shy away from in conversation.

Roxane Gay, in her more brilliant moments, shows that one can be a feminist and still indulge in crappy music, bad TV, wearing pink and heels, and have someone who can hold your hand in tough moments. Feminism can take many different forms but the answer is always the same–equality for men and women. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Why does feminism spark such hostility in both men and women?

Besides feminism, Gay examines gender and sexuality; race and entertainment; politics, gender, and race; and of course herself (these are in fact the specific sections of her book). The further into the book I got, the more complicated and heavy the subjects seemed to be–whereas this book started off a little light and hilarious, the ending was serious and sometimes difficult to listen to. If there was one thing I took away from Bad Feminist, it is how privilege affects our lives in so many ways. At times I felt uncomfortable and other times I felt guilty for my privilege.

As the essays started to get into the more complicated subjects, it was hard for me to not listen without getting a little defensive. Gay brings up all of these problems in society (and yes, they are problems), but what are the solutions to the problems? How can we solve the gender, race, political, socioeconomic problems? Gay rarely offers solutions and sometimes the essays ended without any resolution at all. I found this incredibly frustrating but I think the purpose was to enlighten about the problems, not problem solve. In that way, Gay’s essays are very effective.

Some of my favorite moments? Listening to Bad Feminist while cooking dinner. Ha, just kidding (well, kidding, not kidding…)   I LOVE LOVE LOVE Gay’s 13 Rules for Female Friendships. I love her assessment of Catniss from The Hunger Games in the essay “What We Hunger For” and her discussion of 50 Shades of Grey (which got me very strange looks as I listened to parts of it in the daycare parking lot before I picked up the girls). And then her “Bad Feminist” essays (Take One and Take Two). Yes yes yes! At times Roxane Gay is hilarious and whimsical–she admits her faults and does not excuse them. At other times she is heartbreakingly candid about the things she has experienced and about the injustices that others are suffering. While there are many laugh out loud moments in Bad Feminist, please also understand that many of the essays are angry. This isn’t necessarily the lighthearted book people have been saying it is.

Bottom Line: Listen to it, take what you want, and leave what you don’t. This isn’t a perfect book but it provides a piece to the feminist conversation. Roxane Gay made me uncomfortable, she made me aware, she made me think. While I don’t always agree with all of her sentiments, there were many aspects of Bad Feminist that I greatly appreciated. This was my first listen in a long time that I actively searched for moments to listen and would often sit in my car longer than I needed to just to finish an essay. Thank goodness most of the essays are short!

A Note on the Audio: Fantastic. Bahni Turpin is absolutely fantastic. My only regret in listening is that I wasn’t able to highlight/dogear some of the brilliant passages of Gay’s, but otherwise listening was a homerun. I did speed it up to 1.5x as the narration was a bit slow. Listen! Listen! Listen!

Have you read Bad Feminist? Or any of the other recent essays dealing with feminism that seem to be taking the book world by storm? What are your thoughts?

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21 Responses to “Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay [Audiobook]”

  1. Sounds like a really interesting, thought provoking, book. I like that it makes you think – always good in a book.

  2. I always find it fascinating that young women are hesitant to call themselves feminists … what woman wouldn’t be? But that’s my (old lady) generation. Anyway, I want to read this but am wondering if I’d learn anything I don’t already know or have lived through. I don’t think the women’s movement has changed much in the last 30 years or so.

  3. Bahni Turpin is a great narrator and I think I’d enjoy listening to this one. But I’m also of the “old lady” generation and, like Candace, wonder if I’d learn anything new.

  4. I have to agree with BethFishReads–what woman wouldn’t consider herself a feminist (unless you think women don’t deserve equal rights and opportunities to men, which seems strange)? Feminists get a bad rap in the same way that other groups do when it’s only the extremists who get attention, but the movement is still vitally important, particularly in parts of the world where women don’t enjoy the same rights and opportunities that we do in the Western world. This definitely sounds like an interesting read. Thanks for the review. :)

  5. Wow, it sounds like we had a very similar experience with Bad Feminist. I also listened to it by audio book and loved when Roxane/voice actor would give an enthusiastic, “Grrrirl!” I enjoyed the essays because they were thoughtful and well researched, but it seemed she had an objection to everything she discussed. It was a bit depressing towards the end and I agree, she didn’t seem have any solutions.

  6. I think that even those well-versed in feminism will find quite a bit to dig into with the collection – like you said, there’s much more than just feminism itself. I think the biggest takeaway for me was not necessarily guilt over my privilege, but a greater awareness of it. I loved her comments about it being something that shifts depending on context and the idea that we need to stop policing privilege instead of discussing it.

  7. I will have to see if I can get this through Audible. It sounds like it’s well worth listening to.

    I agree with both Beths. Both my husband and I consider ourselves feminists, and I am always surprised (although I shouldn’t be) when I hear a woman say she doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist. My first thought is always to wonder if the person really knows what being a feminist means. There are so many myths and misunderstandings out there, especially based on the extremes. I do think there are extremes, just like for any other group–and just like for any group, there are varying opinions within that group. A conservative woman can be just as much a feminist as a liberal woman. You can be a stay at home mom, love to cook, and prefer your husband to mow the lawn or kill the spiders for you and still be a feminist. It’s about choice and opportunity to make those choices. That’s why I hate it when I hear a so called feminist put down someone who makes more traditional gender role choices. Anyway, I could go on, but I won’t. :-)

  8. I had all these same questions about feminism a couple years ago, Trish. I ended up taking a Women’s Studies class and reading “Feminism Is For Everybody” by Bell Hooks — alongside a lot of academic articles. I learned that a lot of the hard work that is being done in feminism these days is locked away in Women’s Studies classes in universities and lost to academic jargon. And unfortunately, a lot of what people hear about when it comes to feminism is what makes it to the media, which is often the loud, and sometimes the ill-informed. I’m quiet and love domesticity and am definitely a feminist. It’s about having a choice.

    • I meant to add: it’s good to see writers like Roxane Gay are trying to put the academic jargon of women’s studies classes into layman’s terms! The book sounds great! :)

  9. I love your first paragraph (under “Thoughts in General”)…I’m one of those people that feels like the word feminist has a little bit of a bad connotation…and in no way think of myself as one (I mean – I’m a full-time stay at home mom…how could I possibly be a feminist?!).
    But, I love your more accessible definition of it and am totally on board with that type of feminist! And – I’m also on board with women having the choice of pursuing a high powered career or staying home with the kids or something in between…I believe it should be a personal and family decision and women should be free to choose what works best for them and their specific situations.
    I hadn’t really considered reading this because bra-burning isn’t really my thing, but you’ve started to change my mind :)

  10. As a stay-at-home mom of 10 years and now a working mom (a title I’m not 100% comfortable with because it’s ALL work), I am definitely a feminist. I didn’t wake up the day I became a stay-at-home mom and say, “I’m not a feminist anymore.” You can totally be a stay-at-home mom and be a feminist. There are whole blogs dedicated to it. My point is if you think men and women are equal, you are a feminist. There are different variations of feminism but they all hold true to that one idea.

    There was some dude recently that wrote a whole opinion piece on how Beyonce can’t be a feminist because she’s married and a mom and takes her husband’s name and it made me ragey! If Beyonce says she’s a feminist, she’s a feminist. You can be all those things and still be a feminist. Like me! I love my husband. I like men. And still I’m a feminist.

    If more regular women (not the extremists) stand up and say they’re feminists and still do all the things they do (like cook), I think the attitudes about feminism will change.

    Anyway, I still haven’t read this and am on the fence because it’s essays. From your review and others, I think I’ll feel a lot like you about it.

  11. I’m with BethFish – how can you NOT be a feminist? All it means is that you believe women should have equal rights to men – that’s it. I’m really looking forward to this book but I think I’ll do the print because I tend to get more out of print than audio when it’s on a really thinky, heavy topic.

  12. Trish, this was such a thoughtful review for this book. You really mad me want to experience this one for myself on audio….and this isn’t a book that I would normally seek out. Great post!

  13. You just bumped this up my TBR list. I get so frustrated with the whole concept of feminism. We’ve turned it into a bad word, but it really means anyone who wants men and women to be treated equally. It doesn’t mean you hate men. Anyway, I think this one sounds great!

  14. I was wondering about this one as a book club choice but I am concerned that it spark discussion that could upset someone. Prefer to avoid that in book club. Not sure yet if this is one I’ll pick up or not.