IT’S SHIT LIKE THIS FEMINISTS: What bell hooks got right and what got right past her

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I picked up a copy of bell hooks’ Feminist Theory since I’ve seen her name come up repeatedly. I’m only about halfway through, but I feel like I’ve seen what I needed to see.

Her own criticisms of “white feminism” are pretty biting, and I have to say it sounds applicable even now, thirty years later. She notes the dogmatism in feminism, the hostility toward men, the lack of definition for the word “feminism”, and so on. I would find her recommendable for that, at least. Hey, she can’t be dismissed as easily as dissident feminists are.

However, this book also establishes her very clearly as a “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too” feminist. It’s kind of funny how some of the issues she has as a black woman relating to white feminists sound a lot like non-feminist men relating to feminists, yet it’s not apparent whether the parallel occurred to her. I mean, I realize explicating that would not go over well today, let alone the mid-eighties, but it still falls short of inspiring.* Oh yeah, and she totally quotes Carol Hanisch’s “Men’s Liberation” with some approval, to the end of suggesting that men do not need or should not have a movement outside feminism. It seems like she basically just wants to recruit men to be feminist foot soldiers who possess no intellectual autonomy.

I also have a copy of Millett’s Sexual Politics, which I haven’t read. Good god, she devotes as many pages (60ish) to D.H. Lawrence as she does to the eponymous subject of the book! This is not promising.

*It reminds me of FC’s Daran once categorizing his interactions with Tigtog of finallyfeminism101 as a “win” insofar as receiving basic courtesy from e-feminists is a coup.

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<span class="dsq-postid" data-dsqidentifier="4522 http://www.genderratic.com/?p=4522">15 comments</span>

  • Agreed, hooks was warning feminism a long time ago to stop pathologizing masculinity, which does not liberate women from traditional roles and is deeply harmful to men, especially the most vulnerable ones like black men (and I’d add poor white guys). Much of feminism proceeded to ignore that, and many other things she said.

  • Its odd that so much of what she said was ignored even though she is a favored go to feminist when someone wants to shut men out or demand that men join feminism or quote “patriarchy hurts men too”.

    Yeah, its almost like they only heard the parts of her work that they liked and agreed with….

  • I know this is wrong but wrt Bell Hooks I can’t get over the adolescent attention-seeking of the whole ‘lower case name’ thing. I just can’t bring myself to take her seriously because of that.

  • “Yeah, its almost like they only heard the parts of her work that they liked and agreed with….”

    That or it’s just plain old tokenism, Danny.

    Adaibat, it was the 70s. It was probably just a gesture of radical chic.

  • “Adaibat, it was the 70s. It was probably just a gesture of radical chic.”

    Well, she did give two reasons why she made that decision: 1) That she didn’t want to get mistaken for her grandmother Bell Hooks and 2) That she wanted to emphasise the content of her writing rather than who wrote it.

    There are a couple of flaws with this explanation: For 1) the first issue is that her grandmother was no-one of note, so the risk of confusion for any readers is zero. The second is the ‘bell hooks’ isn’t her real name, it is a pen name she chose to honour her grandmother. If she didn’t want to confuse anyone she could’ve just chosen a different name.

    For 2) she could’ve published as Anonymous, but by insisting of having her pen name lower-case she is creating the opposite affect; she is drawing attention away from the content and towards her name.

    All of this just gives me the impression that she’s a bit thick, tbh. She’s obviously a poor thinker and she’s given no reason why I should waste time reading what she has to say.

  • “She’s obviously a poor thinker”

    I tend to agree. She spoke some home truths that no one else had said before and that’s the basis of her reputation, but if she had had ay depth as a thinker she would have examined all her positions and attitudes and rejected her tradcon socialization.

  • I’m surprised and flattered! (Even if it’s just luck I brought hooks up.)

    @Harrow:

    I think feminism rests so strongly on the female-victim/male-oppressor dichotomy that feminists generally can’t help but pathologize masculinity. It’s funny because hooks doesn’t reject that dichotomy either, even though she says poor black men don’t benefit from sexism.

    Still, thirty years warning.

    @Danny:

    At least some of that has to be indoctrination, guided study at the university level, rather than a conscious desire to cherry pick. Well, somebody’s cherry picking at some level, sure.

    I’m not sure if she says “patriarchy hurts men too” exactly anywhere, but she hits all the right notes. I suggest page 73 for reference. (fully capable of dumping some quotes)

    “she is a favored go to feminist”

    I’ve seen her touted all over the place, even here at GE. My conclusion is that, like TGMP, she’s pretty much the best feminism has to offer men, with all that implies — without delving into dissidents who are held in contempt.

    @adiabat:

    Her actual writing, at least in Feminist Theory, is not actually that pretentious. She’s also a pretty easy read, but you probably wouldn’t learn any concept you haven’t seen on the internet imo. After reading hooks, you can say “bell hooks said that,” OR “bell hooks disagrees with you.”

    She’s in love with the word “praxis”, though, and refers to “feminist movement”, no article.

    @Ginkgo:

    “if she had had ay depth as a thinker she would have examined all her positions and attitudes and rejected her tradcon socialization.”

    That would have been really radical, but then she’d have been excoriated and ostracized. I think it’s as possible that it never occurred to her as that she just wasn’t interested in rejecting it, for political reasons. I can’t tell from what I read, at least.

  • She’s definitely not an “in depth thinker.” One of these days I’m going to have to find the book where she blamed the Patriarchy for the time she maxed out her credit card to buy shoes.

  • log:
    I’ve seen her touted all over the place, even here at GE. My conclusion is that, like TGMP, she’s pretty much the best feminism has to offer men, with all that implies — without delving into dissidents who are held in contempt.
    Would that make her a, dare I say, token feminist?

  • Abiabat, semi-joking; I’m pretty sure that’s not how she would have worded it. IIRC she made a lot of hypocritical claims about money in particular. For instance she thought it was Patriarchal control over women when it was her father withholding it or her husband spending it recklessly, but when it came to not knowing how to keep a budget herself, it was an issue of poverty and class to be overcome through education. One moment she was writing about how shameful she felt about defaulting on credit cards because of her passion for clothes early on in her marriage and the next moment she described feeling insufficiently feminist, hoodwinked by the Patriarchy when, after divorce, she found herself broke and in debt.

  • Hooks was once presented to me as a high water mark for feminism. Hang on, let me check my…ah!

    http://siryouarebeingmocked.tumblr.com/post/51925894925/bell-hookss-book-killing-rage-begins-with-this
    http://siryouarebeingmocked.tumblr.com/post/44225868767/sir-you-are-being-mocked-ontologicalshakedown
    http://siryouarebeingmocked.tumblr.com/post/68736130103/white-women-and-black-men-have-it-both-ways-they

    Yeah, I find her a mixed bag.

    Of course, the easiest rebuttal to “Feminism helps men too!” is to simply ask them to explain how the term “violence against women” helps male victims of rape and abuse. Better yet, ask them is ignoring victims of rape and abuse is wrong, then ask them about the term. There’s no way they can even try to answer honestly without getting egg on their face, and it’s incredibly easy to find examples of feminists using the term. Heck, if they deny it’s popular, ask them if they’ve ever heard the term in feminist spaces, and if they say yes, ask them what they did about it.

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