American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Am I a Bad Feminist? Moments of Reflection and Negotiation in Contemporary Feminist Identity

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Sandra L. Faulkner (Advisor)

Second Advisor

George Bullerjahn (Other)

Third Advisor

Susana Peña (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jolie A. Sheffer (Committee Member)


In 2014 Roxane Gay published Bad Feminist, a collection of personal essays written from her position as a Haitian American feminist academic. This work quickly skyrocketed in popularity across both academic and nonacademic audiences. Representative of the increasingly public-facing authoethnographic scholarship of feminist academic women, Gay's work is a product of its time. For this dissertation, I examine Bad Feminist along with two other also wildly popular autoethnographic works produced in the same decade, Tressie McMillan Cotton’s Thick: And Other Essays and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. I examine these texts as public-facing, accessible works that communicate their academic feminist authors'; feelings of feminist inadequacy in order to address larger issues of feminist practice and theory. Utilizing Sara Ahmed's theory of becoming feminist, I analyze the "bad feminist moments" expressed in these texts as moments of feminist crisis to identify what causes them and what functions they might serve.

Using qualitative methodological triangulation, better known as mixed-methods research, I employ topic modeling and content analysis across all three texts to identify patterns that reveal not only why and how academic feminists might feel like they are bad feminists, but how and why they choose to share the moments in which they feel like bad feminists with others. Fighting to maintain their feminist identities in a world rife with gendered and raced violence, neoliberal ideals of self sufficiency and individual perfection, rapidly evolving technologies, and intersecting historical structures of oppression, these authors utilize moments of feminist imperfection to create space and time to disarticulate and rearticulate their relationships to feminism, their relationships to other people, and their relationships to academia. In this project, I conclude that bad feminist moments might be reactions to the pressures of both historical and contemporary structures of oppression, but the choice to reflect on them and share with others is based in feminist principles of reflexivity and collective inspiration to resist perpetuating ongoing structures of oppression inside and outside of the academy.