bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 2.
Chapter 2- A Movement To End Sexist Oppression
Hooks states that a continuing problem within feminist theory is the inability of feminists to come to a consensus of opinion on what feminism is or to be able to accept definitions that accurately define the movement. Without this agreed-upon definition feminists lack a sound foundation on which to build theory or “engage in overall meaningful praxis.”(Hooks, p. 18, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) This lack of agreement may be taken as an inability of the growing movement that is feminism to find solidarity among women, as it is most people in the U.S think of “women’s lib” as a movement aimed at creating social equals with men, as we see in our last post, this definition is problematic. Even men are not equals in “white supremacist, capitalist, patriachal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to?” (Hooks, p. 19, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) Obviously this view of women’s liberation ignores race and class issues, “that in conjunction with sexism determine the extent to which an individual will be discriminated against, exploited or oppressed.” (p. 19) Hooks states that if the movement had been left to non-white women there would not have been such a focus on women gaining social equality with men, since they are reminded everyday that they do not share the same social status with men. Moreover they see many men in their groups as also not sharing social, political and economic power, they would not see it as liberatory to share their social status with them. Quite simply a movement devoted solely to equality with men, can quite easily be derailed by white women in middle- and upper class groups to serve their desires and would then only marginally affecting the social status of working-class and poor women.
Hooks’ critique in this chapter focuses on liberal feminists, she believes they have let the movement down, by not discussing the “politic of domination” which needs to be abolished. Hooks believes that until a discussion on domination can be given by liberal feminists they will only focus on equality with men of their class, this will ignore the underlying problem of challenging and changing the cultural basis of group oppression. When the definition of feminism moves to include race and class as having relevance with sexism feminists can begin to truly discuss centralized female experience, of all women. By moving away from “men as the enemy” women can look at their own influence and perpetuation of domination. Feminism is not about privileging a certain class of women over another, nor women over men, as Hooks has stated in previous works “feminism is for everybody”, it is not an identity, nor a lifestyle. Moreover she states this kind of thinking takes feminism away from its goals, by making it a counter-culture, a “woman-centred world”. (p.28) This can alienate some women who enjoy their current life, or cannot make contact with this alternative community. Hooks calls for further depersonalization of the movement, asking that instead of labelling yourself as “feminist” that you simply state “I advocate feminism”, her reasons being there has been undue emphasis on identity in feminist movement, which can create stereotypes which will hurt feminist strategy and direction. Hooks states that this language game will allow for more discussion on the nature of feminism to those who are unaware of what it contains, moving away from the dualistic “either/or” thinking that is central to domination in Western society. What Hooks means is, for example, as a black woman she is often asked if being black is more important than being a woman, in terms of feminism. This is an example of dualistic either/or thought, the idea that “the self is formed in opposition to the other” (p.31), that one is feminist because they are not something else. Hooks believes most people are taught to think this way, in terms of opposition, rather in terms of compatibility. Rather than seeing anti-racist work as compatible with those working to end sexist oppression, they often see the two as competing ideologies.
Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press. Pp. 18, 19, 28, 31.
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