Home > Feminism > bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 3.

bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 3.

Chapter 3- The Significance of Feminist Movement

Hooks explains in this chapter the role of contemporary feminist movement and how it has been used to highlight the plight of women globally, but in focusing on the role of male domination it has made the movement look as if it is a war on men, rather than a struggle against sexist oppression.  The difference being, and coming from the fact that this would require a change in both women and men. Some “militant” or “radical” feminist groups had indeed tried to portray all men as the enemy of all women, even going so far as to propose a utopian state for women or the extermination of men, and Hooks believes this may have caused some women to bond, and some of the movement to grow, but ultimately it did not strengthen public opinion of feminism. The significance of feminist movement, at least insofar as Hooks believes:

is that it offers new ideological meeting ground for the sexes, a space for criticism, struggle, transformation. Feminist movement can end the war between the sexes. It can transform relationships so that alienation, competition, and dehumanization that characterize human interaction can be replaced with feelings of intimacy mutuality, and camaraderie. (Hooks, p. 34, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

Hooks states that the positives just mentioned have often been ignored by liberal, white, bourgeois women who insisted that women repudiate the role of servitude to others, they were not interested in changing gender roles or sexual paradigms and showing how inclusive the movement could be. This very internal conflict helped feminism to be marginalized by the mainstream, by making it appeal to a certain type, race and class of woman.

Hooks critiques the argument made by many contemporary feminists that a hierarchy of oppression exists with sexism at the first place, that racism and class structure stem from this oppression. Hooks believes this to be creating  “a sense of competing concerns that is unnecessary” (p. 36), that although we know sex-role divisions existed in early civilization, not enough is known about these societies to effectively catalogue a system of sexist or race based oppression. For example, early civilizations in early black-Africa did not presumably have a race or class problem (as we understand them today). To Hooks the sexism, racism and classism experienced today is a product of domination present in and informed by Western philosophy, best understood in a Western context and not by biological determinism. According to Hooks in Western society all forms of oppression are supported by traditional Western religion and philosophical thought, such as that of the “superior should control the inferior” (p. 36).  Sexist oppression is important, not because it is the basis of all other oppression, but because it is the practice of domination most people experience, usually expressed in a dualist fashion i.e exploiter/exploited, discriminator/discriminated etc.

Because there is a top down problem of domination supported by institutions and social structures in Western society we can not effectively remove or critique one without doing so to the rest, this includes the family setting. In the family setting we tend to experience dualistic values of hierarchy presented as parent-child, husband-wife, and it is generally not until we enter the world for ourselves do we experience/witness racism or classism. It is the authoritarian rule presented in the traditional family setting, that of male-rule or parent-rule, that while we are taught love is important in this setting we are taught that domination over others is more important. This power struggle, brutal assertion and domination can make the family setting incredibly painful, sometimes causing individuals to flee from said setting, leading to familial disintegration. It is important to note that Hooks does not wish to see the family setting abolished, as she states many black women find empowerment. dignity, humanization and self-worth in such a setting, we should seek however, to remove sexist oppression from that setting, without devaluing it.

Hooks states that feminists need to affirm the importance of family as a kinship structure that can be used to sustain and nurture people. Feminism can be used to critique the institution of family, but to also give examples, both practical and visionary of how the way family life can and should be when unjust authoritarianism is replaced with communalism, shared responsibility and mutuality.


Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press.  Pp. 34, 36.

Categories: Feminism
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