Booked All Week

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Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by bell hooks

with 16 comments

Wow. So, after making a quick trip to a cousin’s wedding and having to replace my old computer, it’s been really hard to get back into the rhythm of writing about what I’m reading. It’s been made no less difficult by the amount of school work I need to make up, and by the amount of time I’m spending with my band preparing for SXSW next week. In any case, I woke up early this morning, so let’s see if I can eke out just one post real quick!

Feminism is for Everybody was our first pick for The Year of Feminist Classics 2012. It’s a brief introductory text that covers a number of topics and is both inclusive and honest about the strengths and weaknesses of feminist movement politics. hooks maintains a relaxed tone and seems to speak directly and comfortably to the reader about the relationships between feminism, sexuality, class, race, gender, U.S. history, parenting, love, and more. Short chapters keep the reading brisk and engaged, but remain substantive. In other words, it was a great place to start this year’s project.

hooks wrote this book to be a straightforward primer that would serve to explain some of feminism’s key concepts to the uninitiated or misinformed, and in that sense I’d say she the book is a success. However, it isn’t perfect. I wish she’d done a bit more contextualizing, for example…feminism in the United States didn’t start with the Second Wave in the ’60’s and ’70’s, and this work was very much grounded in a specific era of feminist thought.

On the project discussion page for this month, Amy asked:

do you think this book would convince someone who didn’t identify as a feminist why it is important to do so / that they might want to do so?

I really like what onereadleaf had to say about this. She describes coming to identify personally with feminism as a process, and my experience with it was similar. Many of us have had “click moments”, but for me those had to be followed up by long bouts of introspection and info-seeking before I became comfortable using the term “feminist” to describe myself. So, I don’t know if this book alone would “convert” someone who wasn’t already a feminist or at least interested in feminism, but that’s okay: instead, it works to familiarize the reader with a diverse and conflictual set of related questions and beliefs; to reveal the ways in which the struggle for gender equality is relevant to us all, no matter who we are. It’s a place to start.

But, while I would recommend this to new feminists or people interested in feminism, I would include with it recommendations to more contemporary sources, including blogs. The book is only about ten years old, but as onereadleaf also points out, the internet changed a lot of things for popular feminism and this book predates those changes. The content of the book isn’t outdated because of that, I don’t think, but some of the language marks it as very, very ’80’s to me, which: fair enough! bell hooks is certainly the product of an older time, even if the book is new. I was especially struck by her repeated use of “females” and “males” as nouns, for example, because I only ever see them as adjectives in feminist writing now, IF that. Also, phrases like “white male capitalist patriarchy” are not inaccurate in describing interlinking systems of oppression, but they are just so typically ’80’s (and so typically bell hooks, too). I don’t think these things are a big deal, at all. But they don’t feel entirely current.

And another thing: my recommendations for new feminists or those curious about feminism would need to include specific examples about the ways in which we’re all affected by sexism and the strategies that feminists might use to think about them or act against them, too. hooks is great at introducing feminist sensibility, but she can be very vague about it’s application!

Amy also asks:

hooks defines feminism simply as:

“A movement to end sexist oppression”

What do you think of that…?

I like it. I like that it’s simple and cooperative, rather than individualistic. I like that it’s flexible and open to interpretation. I also like “the struggle toward gender equality”, as it’s more about making something than ending something. I like that hooks argues that feminism is and must always be political, and that she emphasizes activism. I don’t think you have to be an activist to be a feminist, though…unless you consider challenging your own viewpoints, the sexist status quo, and standing up for the gender equality you believe in to be activism 😉

All in all, I trust and respect bell hooks, and agree with her most of the time if not all (she said something about prostitution in one chapter that made me lift an eyebrow). I think it makes a good introduction to certain feminist issues, particularly those first articulated in the ’60’s and ’70’s which have persisted to trouble us in the early twenty-first century. I would gladly pass it along to those who’d like a primer, but it probably wouldn’t be the only thing I’d give them. A list of other recommendations deserves it’s own post, perhaps one day to come…

For now, please excuse the possibility of another lengthy blog silence. I will try to schedule some updates for when I’m out of town the next few weeks, but no guarantees. I’ve been reading some really great stuff, and can’t wait to talk about it with you eventually!

ETA: OH, I forgot. This book also counts toward the Read and Resist Tucson challenge, as it’s one of the books that was banned there in conjunction with ethnic studies!

Written by Emily Jane

February 29, 2012 at 5:36 pm

16 Responses

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  1. Wow! An excellent discussion of Hooks. I agree that her language is more stuck in the 1980s than the content. More importantly I agree that feminists need to address “the ways in which we’re all affected by sexism.”

    Feminism didn’t explode in the 1960s and 1970s because we had such good theories. It grew out of women getting together and talking about their lives and their problems and what needed to change; in consciousness raising groups, in college offices and dorms, in governmental agencies and in the civil rights movement. Theory came later—important but not the initial motivation. I don’t men to knock theory, but I look forward to reading Whipping Girl in hope that book will bring us back to issues. And listening to each other’s problems as women.

    I can’t wait to see what other books you would recommend for someone interested in learning about feminism.


    February 29, 2012 at 11:43 pm

    • Thank you! Yeah, I hear you…experiential knowledge is as important, if not MORE important, than theoretical knowledge and often makes for more compelling reading, too. I’ve read Whipping Girl, and can assure you that it will satisfy your desire for that type of communication 🙂 I loved it so much the when I read it…I look forward to your thoughts!

      Emily Jane

      March 22, 2012 at 3:49 am

  2. Excellent post! I am never not pleased to see people talking about bell hooks, on account of the enormous longstanding girl crush I have on her. :p


    March 1, 2012 at 2:10 am

  3. Thanks so much for your kind words about my post! I definitely agree with a lot of what you’re saying here. The use of language (especially “female” and “male” as nouns and “feminist movement” as an adjective and noun rather than a compound noun) stood out to me too.

    Looking forward to seeing the list of books you’d hand someone along with this! It’s interesting that hooks frames the book as one that she wrote because she wanted it and it didn’t exist–but of course, there are always others.


    March 1, 2012 at 2:17 am

    • You are so welcome! I read it before I’d formulated my own response, and obviously found it very influential.

      Recommendations coming…eventually (seems like I’ll never have the necessary free time again, right now :/)

      Emily Jane

      March 22, 2012 at 3:51 am

  4. I was raising my eyebrows at that prostitution comment as well! Basically, I just want to +1 this whole post 🙂


    March 3, 2012 at 4:37 am

  5. I have been skeptical about feminism and all that. For those women whom I’ve seen call themselves feminist taking on the supposed ‘male oppressive tendencies’. I get the idea that an affirmative action is needed to address that discrimination against women but when it ends up with the oppressed becoming the oppressor… I personally believe in total equality.

    Nana Fredua-Agyeman

    March 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

  6. I have been skeptical about feminism and all that. For those women whom I’ve seen call themselves feminist taking on the supposed ‘male oppressive tendencies’. I get the idea that an affirmative action is needed to address that discrimination against women but when it ends up with the oppressed becoming the oppressor… I personally believe in total equality.

    But what do I know

    Nana Fredua-Agyeman

    March 5, 2012 at 11:16 am

    • I think it would be helpful if you read a book such as this one Nana. It would explain that feminism is about trying to reach equality. Men and women can both behave in sexist ways and oppress others, and we have to consider not only gender but race, class, sexual orientation and all the other ways in which we oppress each other as well. I think you may find you agree more with radical feminism than you think, as you have a different view of what it is 🙂

      (sorry for stealing your comment space Emily!)


      March 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      • No apologies Amy, please. I’ve been neglecting this space for almost a month now! Anyway, you said pretty much exactly what I have to say so…ditto! I would just add that, in my understanding, sexist oppression necessitates both prejudice and institutional power. While individual women or even groups of women could be prejudiced against men, I don’t know of any place in which women hold more institutional power than men or even equal to them and can thus be termed oppressors (at least of men on gendered grounds…as Amy mentioned, they can very well oppress other women and also men on plenty of grounds beside gender). I would be interested to know what you think about a book like this one!

        Emily Jane

        March 22, 2012 at 4:03 am

  7. Woah, didn’t realize this was on the Read and Resist Banned Books list. That kinda shocks me! Love reading your thoughts, good point that the internet provides so much more these days. And the language was kinda 80s wasn’t it. heh.


    March 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    • Yes, it is pretty shocking isn’t it?! Its inclusion really highlights the absurdity of the whole banning endeavor in the first place :/

      Emily Jane

      March 22, 2012 at 4:06 am

  8. oh I may try this I need to read up read womens room years ago ,all the best stu


    March 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    • I would love to hear your thoughts on it, Stu! I haven’t read The Women’s Room yet, but I’ve been meaning to for a while. Oh, if only every day could be spent on nothing but reading…

      Emily Jane

      March 22, 2012 at 4:07 am

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