belle hooks: comments and questions
I like bell hooks. I agree with almost all of her statements, including her definition of feminism. But she is repetitive and she seldom excites or inspires me.
I agree with hooks’ insistance that we must change how society works rather than simply, as women, achieve the same power that some men have within it. I agree that those of us who are white and relatively priviledged by our race and class must not seek personal advantages in claiming to speak for all women. I agree with her criticism of women who consider themselves feminists who act this way. I am compfortable with her claim that feminism must be the struggle to overthrow our sexual oppression by the Patriarchy—the over-arching structure of power that priviledges white men and has done so for centuries.
But I do not think her description of feminism would be convincing to non-feminists. I think, in real ways, she is writing primarily for other feminists, trying to shape the movement away from the direction that women like Judith Butler would take it. The concepts of oppression and patriarchy which shapes hooks’ thought are simply no longer as relevant for large swaths of the population, as they were when she first wrote about them in the 1980s.
I was not able to get a copy of Feminism is for Everybody (meaning that I was unwilling to break my pledge not to spend more than $5 on any one book and that I had used up my ration of interlibrary loan requests.) Instead I re-read hooks’ first two books, Ain’t I a Woman and Feminist Theory. I came away my reading with a couple of questions that bothered me. Maybe hooks has addressed these in her laest book, although the reviews from those of you who have read it don’t indicate she did. I am curious about how she or you would respond to them.
1. Given that racism and sexism are as important as feminism, what is there unique and compelling about feminism?
2. Not enough has changed since hooks published her first book in 1981. One thing that has changed is that our understanding of history has expanded to include women generally and black women in particular. This change has occurred because women have earned respect within the history profession. Otherwise, books like Tera Hunter’s T’Joy My Freedom, or others in the Real Help list would not be possible. Does this change suggest that working within patriarchal institutions like academia may not be as inadmissible as hooks claims?