Review: Bygone Badass Broads by Mackenzi Lee

Based on Mackenzi Lee’s popular weekly Twitter series of the same name, Bygone Badass Broads features 52 remarkable and forgotten trailblazing women from all over the world. With tales of heroism and cunning, in-depth bios and witty storytelling, Bygone Badass Broads gives new life to these historic female pioneers.

Though I was struggling a bit at the start of this book with the super casual language used for chronicling each historic woman, I realized (rather quickly, thankfully!) that the modern take on these badass broads is exactly what makes this read that more approachable and original.

My issue with previous feminist collections always stemmed from the fact that they came to read like Wikipedia-esque entries and as a result failed to keep me engaged. Which is why I came to like the shorter biography summaries, such as The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont & Bad Girls Throughout History by Ann Shen.

So Mackenzi Lee’s intriguing take on these “badass patriarchy smashers” in Bygone Badass Broads helped keep them in mind long after I continued to the next entry.

So here is a taste of some of the memorable Badass Broads squad members:

  • Queen Arawelo: C. 15 CE, Somalia

The Queen of Gender EqualityBygone Badass Broads 1-- bookspoils

“Arawelo’s new decrees regarding gender roles and government appointments passed the Furiosa Test—meaning they got men’s rights activists riled up. When husbands across the land protested the shake-up, Arawelo and her massive populous of feminist badasses staged a kingdom-wide walkout, leaving their men with nothing but a note on the pillow: Roses are red, gender’s performative, your ideas about women are so hella normative.”

The little poem there had me giggling out loud, which is the last thing I expected from a Nonfiction/History book. Having Lee succeed not only at educating us about the lesser-known women of our times but actually making it enjoyable while doing so is the biggest accomplishment, in my eyes.

“It’s almost like the phrase “yaaaas kweeeen” was invented for her.”

  •  Khutulun: 1260–1306, Mongolia

Wrestling Champion of the Ancient WorldBygone Badass Broads 2-- bookspoils

This particular entry had me giddy with the many pop-culture references*. It’s quite a feat on the author’s part to connect present day to hundreds upon hundreds of years ago, so I will continually applaud her for that.

*Phrases include: TBH, swaggery bro, and the timeless reference at the end of this passage:

“When one particularly swaggery bro bet one thousand horses he’d pin Khutulun, her parents begged her to throw the match because she needed to just settle down with a nice boy already! Khutulun agreed . . . until she heard the bell and looked that smug dude right in his smug dude eyes, at which point animal instinct took over and Khutulun did what she did best: She threw him to the GROUND.”

Cue: The Lonely Island’s Threw It On The Ground.

  • Friederike “Marm” Mandelbaum: 1818–1894, United States

New York’s Queen of ThievesBygone Badass Broads 4-- bookspoils

This unheard of Queen of Thieves who ruled the criminal underworld of Gilded Age New York City was a true surprise for me.

“They call me Marm because I give them money and horses and diamonds,” she said, which are the essentials I, too, expect from my mother.

  • Juliette Gordon Low: 1860–1927, United States

Founder of the Girl ScoutsBygone Badass Broads 3-- bookspoils

This entry screamed for a reference to be made to the Pawnee Goddesses from Parks and Recreation (which I did a whole book tag about). And thankfully Mackenzi Lee delivered at the very end with this closing line: “Hear her womanly roar.”

  • Emmy Noether: 1882–1935, Germany

Theoretically, the Most Important Woman in PhysicsBygone Badass Broads 5-- bookspoils

“When Einstein calls you the most significant and creative woman in the history of mathematics, you can probably call it a day and go home.”

It seems appropriate to note that with this entry I came to see the unshakable commitment to bringing the most color and vibrancy out of these historical women. And it was a delight to discover this time and again in this gorgeously illustrated compendium.

Oh, but before I leave I have to include a few other phrases I got a good laugh at, such as giving Irena Sendler’s dog a WeRateDogs™ worthy rate (“12/10, would pet.”), using the infamous record scratch in Sarah Breedlove’s entry, and comparing Kumander Liwayway’s childhood to that of “a Disney Channel teenager.”

There’s so much more I’d like to share, but calling it a day on this note seems like a fine endpoint.


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Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Anything with Roxane Gay’s name on it is guaranteed to pique my interest.

Difficult Women is a collection of short stories that cover a wide range of modern women, from a woman pretending not to realize when her husband switches places with his twin brother to a stripper putting herself through college and fending off an obsessed customer.

And a number of the stories had me just floored by the raw emotion and chilling writing.

Here are a few of my favorites pieces:

I Will Follow You:

A fantastic opening to this collection. It follows two close sisters that don’t like to separate their ways. Where Carolina went, her sister followed.

“My sister was the only place that made any sense.”

We find out that the reason why they’re always together is that when the narrator was ten and her sister eleven they were abducted together for six weeks—the kidnapper later dumped them at a hospital near home.

“We were young once and then we weren’t.”

Reading this short story was an overwhelming emotional experience. The flashbacks to Mr. Peter – the kidnapper – was one of the scariest things I could read before going to bed. I had chills for hours after. Just typing in his name makes my stomach twist and my throat contract anew.

“Our parents asked Carolina why she jumped into the van instead of running for help. She said, “I couldn’t leave my sister alone.”

I needed a breather.

North Country:

A black engineer – Kate – moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.

Along the way, she meets plainspoken and honest Magnus and the rest is history.

“I remember the pressure of Magnus’s lips against mine, their texture and the smell of his bedsheets. I am in trouble.”

Literally me when I catch feelings…

I don’t know how Roxane Gay does it, but in a short amount of pages she managed to bring their relationship fully to life and also made me kind of fall for Magnus… he still seems to good to be true. Damn.

“I have a weakness for charming men who make witty comebacks.”

Plus, I really appreciated that Gay took the time to address both sexism and racism in the workplace.

Break All the Way Down:

This follows Natasha’s journey of mourning and grieving her baby boy, who was run over by a car right in front of her and her husband’s eyes.

The way Gay described that horrible moment made everything around me stop for a second.

“Ben and I screamed. Ben Jr. stopped and turned to look at us, was so startled by the pitch of our voices, he cried. The last thing my child did was cry because he was scared. He held his arms higher, the way he does, the way he did, when he wanted to be held. The curves between my thumbs and forefingers throbbed violently.
When the car ran him over, I did not look away. I saw what happened to my boy’s body. I saw everything, all of him, everywhere.”

Natasha way of grieving is to punish herself for not stopping the accident. Her kind but strong husband is patient and eventually tells her that she can’t keep going like this.

“Enough,” he said. “You’ve broken yourself enough. You’re coming home.”

It was such a raw and hauntingly powerful story on dealing with grief and forgiveness. I know for a fact that it’s going to stick in my mind for a very long time.

The Sacrifice of Darkness:

“Pretty isn’t always about what you see. Sometimes pretty is what you feel.”

A beautiful tale on living without light and making the most of a lifetime of darkness. When the narrator was a little girl her husband’s father flew an air machine into the sun. “Since then, the days have been dark, the nights bright.”

I sincerely love how we followed the two main characters from childhood to adulthood and then parenthood together. Such great characterization and I love their love.

“He told me he didn’t mind the silence of others so long as I was there to fill it.”

Roxane Gay has an incredible talent for writing fleshed-out relationships.

I cannot wait for Difficult Women to come out in January of 2017 so more people can read and revel at how utterly dark and fascinating and completely gripping this collection was. It was at times a difficult read but, without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt, worthwhile.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

4/5 stars

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Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

tumblr_nr100wk9cg1u6svllo1_5001I’ve been on the look-out to read more feminist books, but most of the ones I tried reading before focus heavily on either privileged males and/ or sexual assaults, which then leads to me feeling terrified to leave my home…

However, Bad Feminist focuses more on Gay’s opinions about “misogyny, institutional sexism that consistently places women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, the repeated attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and on and on.” And I felt strongly included.
Roxane Gay’s wit is so sharp and on point, I couldn’t help but be instantly swept away into her writing voice. Her essays reached me, made me feel like I was a part of something.

“I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

In Bad Feminist, Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

There were so many great essays that it was simply too tempting not to share my favorites quotes from each and every one of them:

Feel Me. See Me. Hear Me. Reach Me.

“So many of us are reaching out, hoping someone out there will grab our hands and remind us we are not as alone as we fear.”

Exactly how reading this collection felt like!!

“ I learned about how ignorant I am. I am still working to correct this.”

Peculiar Benefits

“Privilege is a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor. There is racial privilege, gender (and identity) privilege, heterosexual privilege, economic privilege, able-bodied privilege, educational privilege, religious privilege, and the list goes on and on. At some point, you have to surrender to the kinds of privilege you hold. Nearly everyone, particularly in the developed world, has something someone else doesn’t, something someone else yearns for.”

Going into these essays, it was very important for me to get educated about certain kinds of privileges, and Roxane Gay did so in the most informative way.

“You could, however, use that privilege for the greater good—to try to level the playing field for everyone, to work for social justice, to bring attention to how those without certain privileges are disenfranchised. We’ve seen what the hoarding of privilege has done, and the results are shameful.”

How to Be Friends with Another Woman

When I read the table of contents, I was so damn excited to get to this essay. And it was just as great as I had hoped it be.

“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses—pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

“If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s just you.”

“Want nothing but the best for your friends because when your friends are happy and successful, it’s probably going to be easier for you to be happy.”

My mother’s favorite saying is “Qui se ressemble s’assemble.” Whenever she didn’t approve of who I was spending time with, she’d say this ominously. It means, essentially, you are whom you surround yourself with.”

This saying, thanks to my mom also educating me about this when I way younger, turned out to be one of my favorite sayings too.

I Once Was Miss America

“Nostalgia is powerful. It is natural, human, to long for the past, particularly when we can remember our histories as better than they were. Life happens faster than I can comprehend. I am nearly forty, but my love of Sweet Valley remains strong and immediate. When I read the books now, I know I’m reading garbage, but I remember what it was like to spend my afternoons in Sweet Valley, hanging out with the Wakefield twins and Enid Rollins and Lila Fowler and Bruce Patman and Todd Wilkins and Winston Egbert. The nostalgia I feel for these books and these people makes my chest ache.”

I’m so glad that Gay captured this feeling because quite a few books make me feel the same.

“Books are often far more than just books.”

And since we’re on the topic, Roxane gave so many great recommendations throughout this collection. I have now, thanks to her, promptly added: Dare Me, by Megan Abbott & Battleborn, by Claire Vaye Watkins. She made them sound so compelling and intricate.

Not Here to Make Friends

“My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.”


This essay talked about “unlikable” women in literature and what likability exactly means. And it completely shifted my worldview.

Gay features a phenomenal quote from a Publishers Weekly interview with Claire Messud about her novel The Woman Upstairs:

“If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “Is this a potential friend for me?” but “Is this character alive?”

And in her own brilliants words, Roxane adds:

“…but the ongoing question of character likability leaves the impression that what we’re looking for in fiction is an ideal world where people behave in ideal ways. The question suggests that characters should be reflections not of us, but of our better selves.”

She has incredible last sentences!

Also, I quickly want to mention that throughout this collection I could actually feel Roxane’s passion for literature and storytelling. I could feel how reading really is her first love, as she mentioned, through her great book recommendations.

Reaching for Catharsis:
Getting Fat Right (or Wrong) and Diana Spechler’s Skinny

I still cannot stop thinking about this essay.

“I don’t think I know any woman who doesn’t hate herself and her body at least a little bit. Bodily obsession is, perhaps, a human condition because of its inescapability.”

It was so deeply personal and detailed that I was moved more than once. And it was, ultimately, honest and breathtakingly alive.

“Sometimes, a bold, sort of callous person will ask me how I got so fat. They want to know the why. “You’re so smart,” they say, as if stupidity is the only explanation for obesity. And of course, there’s that bit about having such a pretty face, what a shame it is to waste it. I never know what to tell these people. There is the truth, certainly. This thing happened and then this other thing happened and it was terrible and I knew I didn’t want either of those things to happen again and eating felt safe. French fries are delicious and I’m naturally lazy too so that didn’t help. I never know what I’m supposed to say, so I mostly say nothing. I don’t share my catharsis with these inquisitors.”

A Tale of Three Coming Out Stories

This piece talked about people with high public profiles and the boundaries they do/ don’t receive.

“This is, in part, a matter of privacy. What information do we have the right to keep to ourselves? What boundaries are we allowed to maintain in our personal lives? What do we have a right to know about the lives of others? When do we have a right to breach the boundaries others have set for themselves?
People with high public profiles are allowed very few boundaries. In exchange for the erosion of privacy, they receive fame and/or fortune and/or power. Is this a fair price? Are famous people aware of how they are sacrificing privacy when they ascend to a position of cultural prominence?”

“We tend to forget that culturally prominent figures are as sacred to those they love as the people closest to us. We tend to forget that they are flesh and blood. We assume that as they rise to prominence, they shed their inalienable rights. We do this without question.”

“Heterosexuals take the privacy of their sexuality for granted. They can date, marry, and love whom they choose without needing to disclose much of anything. If they do choose to disclose, there are rarely negative consequences.”

“The world we live in is not as progressive as we need it to be.”

“For every step forward, there is some asshole shoving progress back.”

“There are injustices great and small, and even if we can only fight the small ones, at least we are fighting.”

The Trouble with Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us

As the title might suggest, this essay confronts the trouble with prince charming in fairy tales and literature.

“I enjoy fairy tales because I need to believe, despite my cynicism, that there is a happy ending for everyone, especially me. The older I get, though, the more I realize how fairy tales demand a great deal from the woman. The man in most fairy tales, Prince Charming in all his iterations, really isn’t that interesting. In most fairy tales, he is blandly attractive and rarely seems to demonstrate much personality, taste, or intelligence. We’re supposed to believe this is totally fine because he is Prince Charming. His charm is supposedly enough.”

Then she offers a detailed view on the Disney princes, and I was living for this!!

“In The Little Mermaid, Prince Eric has a great woman right in front of him but is so obsessed with this pretty voice he once heard he can’t appreciate what he has. In Snow White, the prince doesn’t even find Snow White until she is comatose, and he is so lacking in imagination he simply falls in love with her seemingly lifeless body. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is given away by her father to the Beast himself, and then must endure the attentions of a man who essentially views her as chattel. Only through sacrificing herself, and loving a beast of a man, can she finally learn that he is, in fact, a handsome prince.”

“The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice.”

Holding Out for a Hero

“There’s a great deal about our culture that is aspirational—from how we educate ourselves, to the cars we drive, to where we work and live and socialize. We want to be the best. We want the best of everything. All too often, we are aware of the gaping distance between who we are and whom we aspire to be and we desperately try to close that distance.” 

So much YES to the last sentence!!

“In theory, justice should be simple. Justice should be blind. You are innocent until proven guilty. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. You have the right to be judged by a jury of your peers. The principles on which our justice system was founded clearly outline how our judicial system should function.
Few things work in practice as well as they do in theory. Justice is anything but blind. All too often, the people who most need justice benefit the least. The statistics about who is incarcerated and how incarceration affects their future prospects are bleak.”

“Trayvon Martin is neither the first nor the last young black man who will be murdered because of the color of his skin. If there is such a thing as justice for a young man whose life was taken too soon, I hope justice comes from all of us learning from what happened. I hope we can rise to the occasion of greatness, where greatness is nothing more than trying to overcome our lesser selves by seeing a young man like Trayvon Martin for what he is: a young man, a boy without a cape, one who couldn’t even walk home from the store unharmed, let alone fly.”

One of the most important essays.

Bad Feminist: Take Two

“I am supposed to be a good feminist who is having it all, doing it all. Really, though, I’m a woman in her thirties struggling to accept herself and her credit score. For so long I told myself I was not this woman—utterly human and flawed. I worked overtime to be anything but this woman, and it was exhausting and unsustainable and even harder than simply embracing who I am.”

Simply put, Bad Feminist completely captivated me.

I enjoyed the fact that as I read this collection, I didn’t feel like I was really reading. I felt like Roxane Gay was talking and discussing with me. Her voice is distinct throughout this collection.
And while some essays left a profound mark on me, others were simply entertaining to read in the moment. There is, indeed, something to admire in each piece.

And it all comes down to this: Roxane Gay brings intelligence, gravitas, and heart to her words, so that even reading about her winning tournaments in competitive Scrabble read like the most fascinating piece of writing. She’s talented and powerful beyond measure in my eyes.

4.5/5 stars

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