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Articles.

February 11, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been a while between articles posts, let’s get straight into it:

Philosophy Bites – Links to the First 176 Episodes -Edmonds and Warburton.

LCA 2013: distributed democracy, speaking stacks, links -Sky Croeser.

Anti-Muslim hysteria in Australia -Russell Glasser.

We get email: Believers and their security blankets -Martin Wagner.

The Argument from “It Just Makes Sense to Me”

Atheist Arrested for Blasphemy, and How You Can Help

Mail bin: arguing with the FAQ

Good luck in Somalia– Ophelia Benson.

Egyptian atheist facing blasphemy sentence – Jacob Fortin.

Repairs under way -Ophelia Benson.

A fabulous “Manly Meal”-Ophelia Benson.

WL Craig on Morality and Meaning (Series Index) -John Danaher.

My Favourite Posts of 2012 -John Danaher.

Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective -Richard Carrier.

Prototypical Sexist Atheist on Exhibit– Richard Carrier.

Atheism+ : The Name for What’s Happening-Richard Carrier.

Waldron on pornography -Russell Blackford.

Gay Bishop Comes Up With the Worst Argument to Support Same-Sex Marriage– Greta Christina.

My Letter to the Boy Scouts– Greta Christina.

Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Increasingly Desperate and Stupid – Greta Christina.

String of atheism signs vandalized, no real action taken by officials – Jacob Fortin.

Catholic Priest blames women for bringing violence on themselves – Jacob Fortin.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews harass sexually abused girl – Jacob Fortin.

Bill O’Reilly calls David Silverman a Fascist – Jacob Fortin.

Top 10 anti-Christian acts of 2012 -J.T Eberhard.

Most insulting fundraiser ever. – J.T Eberhard.

Don’t Say Gay legislator: being gay is like shooting heroin. -J.T Eberhard.

74 years of female slave labor in the 20th century, courtesy of the Catholic Church. – J.T Eberhard.

How often god’s moral decrees bear no resemblance to justice. -J.T Eberhard.

Gay friends? Me dear? How very dare you! You’re mistaking me for Muhammad – Barry Duke.

Investigation launched over nurse who allegedly told a family to put their trust in Allah – Barry Duke.

Only fools and Christians: ‘Born-again’ Tennessee man quits job over 666 tax code – Barry Duke.

Catholic meddling appears to have delayed Boy Scouts of America’s decision on gay inclusion – Barry Duke.

Danish police on the hunt for a gunman who tried to kill Islam critic Lars Hedegaard – Barry Duke.

Brazilian pastor is behind bars after telling his flock that his penis contained ‘holy milk’ – Barry Duke.

Another devastating week for the RC Church as more of its criminality is exposed – Barry Duke.

Craig’s Argument for God from Intentionality – Philosotroll.

Witch Hunts in Papua New Guinea – Leo Igwe.

Randal Rauser on William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide -Chris Hallquist.

More Powerpoint Slides from a Christian Pastor’s Anti-Gay Sermon – Hermant Mehta.

Woman Brutally Murdered in Papua New Guinea After Being Accused of Sorcery – Hermant Mehta.

Christians in Indiana Unite to Create a Prom That Gay Students Can’t Attend – Hermant Mehta.

Virginia Senate Approves Bill Allowing College Groups to Discriminate Based On Religious Beliefs -Hermant Mehta.

Who Still Thinks the Church Has Any Moral Credibility? -Hermant Mehta.

Christian Pastor: I’d Rather Experience Chinese Water Torture Than Listen to a Woman Argue With Me – Hermant Mehta.

Shells and switches -Deacon Duncan.

God and the PlayStation 3 -Deacon Duncan.

The Gypsy Curse -Deacon Duncan.

Religions will never be satisfied — they will always up the ante until they are in charge -Eric MacDonald.

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My Feminist Journey.

January 29, 2013 2 comments

Huge props go to my editor Skye, without whom this article would have looked like a chimp had been jumping on the keyboard, and eating a banana. She offered me the chance to do this article for a magazine (for the link to the magazine see here), I’m simply re-posting here for my blogger friends.

I am a white, able bodied man. I have all the privilege in the world; and it is totally congruent with feminism that I would be ignorant of my vast and often oppressive privilege. Until recently, I only had the most basic understanding of feminist issues (and some may argue that is still the case). Like most people in the cultural sphere, ignorant of feminist theory, I thought it was mostly “equality for women”, particularly in the workplace. I thought the issue of sexism was done, it was racism, or it was religious ideology, these are the things we have to be active about now.  It wasn’t until I came to read about some of these issues that I saw that what feminism and feminists have to say about the world, is a lot more complex than simply trying to get a woman paid as much as a man.  And I realised that even simple equality, is nowhere to be seen in day-to-day life.

Feminism, like any worldview, has its own language, and part of learning about that worldview- is about learning the language. Terms often used- that are further reaching than simple equality, like “oppression”, “patriarchy”, “hegemony”, “domination”,  “white supremacy” and “capitalist”, indicate that feminism is a challenge to the fundamental way we view the world:, it is a political movement to change the way we do things. In fact, some feminists, such as bell hooks have argued that the very idea of equality is problematic, as not all men are equals in a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist society.

It also means that what we come to define as ‘normal’, or ‘equal’ becomes what is white, masculine, able-bodied, and associated with other forms of privilege. Moreover the focus on equality, which may have its merits, is still the goal of white, middle-class, able-bodied feminists, and does not address the concerns of the majority of women. What does this mean exactly? Here ‘equality’ means that (white,-middle-class) women be given the same employment opportunities as men in the workplace, that they might climb corporate ladder. A more thorough feminist critique of this idea would promote a workplace of care, would realise that work does not liberate women from male domination (though economic self-sufficiency does aid women), and would offer a reorganisation of working life so that both men and women can spend more time looking after children and family members. More deeply the feminist critique would show that work can lead to greater self-sufficiency, which may lead to alternative lifestyles counter to the supposed “good life” promoted by capitalist, patriarchal mass media, thereby promoting a life of self-respect and self-esteem.

Feminism becomes, then, a challenge to men and women, as women can be misogynistic too. In the pop culture bastardisation of feminism we often see simple caricatures that ignore this fact; watch a television show, talk to your average person and see that to them feminism means a woman’s power at the expense of a man’s. To be a strong woman, you must supplant a man. The idea of a war of the sexes is not what feminism is about, and alienates men from feminist movement. It also, again, supports the notion of the white middle class “bourgeoisie” setting the tone for feminist movement, at least in the public sphere. This portrayal of feminism is limited, and doesn’t reflect the diversity of feminism in practice.

How has this influenced my day-to-day life?  Do I become involved in activism? Is it enough to write blog posts and raise awareness within my social circle? My moral compass certainly dictates to me that I should be more involved than I have been. There is plenty of work to do in the day-to-day, with issues of class, and race, and gender, and oppression all being lost in the milieu of conversation.  For me, becoming aware of feminist issues, and then going about my day has made things problematic, precisely due to my previous point. I’ve come to realise how much we use the language of subjugation, how often we taunt each other, and oppress each other, with the language of gender roles, with the expectation of gender roles. A man must be a man, must be tough, must be muscular, and must be dominant over women.  Similarly, a woman must be submissive, must be passive, and must be a sexual prude, lest she be labelled a slut. And here I sit in the middle of all this oppression now, awoken from the Matrix so to speak, and wondering which battles I must pick with my clients, with my friends, and with my family. Facebook is a great example of this, the amount of slut shaming, the ‘liking’ of misogynistic pages, and ruthless comments- about women’s application of make-up, or dress sense, or emotional states, often by other women is mind-boggling and clearly represents the misogynistic mindset of people uninformed by feminist praxis.

Standing up for feminism, for a view of the world which does not conform to traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, to stand against misogyny, patriarchy, gender roles and other forms of oppression is not easy, and that’s why I cut myself some slack on being an out and out activist. Writing blogs, challenging friends, being challenged by friends and acquaintances, listening to the arguments, changing your positions, and changing others, that is a great first step, and important one. After all, I have people to thank around me, who called me on my misogyny- on my subscription to the rhetoric of oppression that I simply hadn’t even noticed was part of who I was.  You can have that impact too, you just need to speak up.

Categories: Feminism, Philosophy

bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 5.

August 7, 2012 2 comments

Chapter 5- Men: Comrades In Struggle

Hooks believes it was a mistake of women’s liberationists to call upon women to exclusively engage with feminist movement, she believes that men should be encouraged to assume responsibility for the end of sexist oppression. By making man the all-powerful misogynist, oppressor, “the enemy”, that made women the oppressed, “the victim”, this reinforced sexist ideology. As we have seen, this kind of mentality in feminist thought more aptly reflected the race and class background of the proponents, you guessed it, the bourgeoisie. This thinking neglected the fact that men do not share the same social status across all boundaries, that “patriarchy does not negate the existence of class and race privilege or exploitation, that all men do not benefit equally from sexism.” (p. 69) Moreover it also neglected the fact that bourgeois white women, while often victimized by sexist oppression, have more power and privilege and are less likely to be exploited or oppressed than poor, uneducated, non-white males. It is not uncommon states Hooks for black women and men to unite in political struggle against the anti-male stance, which did not mean that they denied the reality of black male sexism, it does mean however that many of “us” as Hooks notes “do not believe we will combat sexism or women-hating by attacking black men or responding to them in kind.” (p. 70) The goals of this line of thought, of alienating men, seems contradictory to Hooks, as the ultimate goal seems to be to replace white male supremacist rule, with white female supremacist rule – it is clear that sexist mentalities are being ignored in the ‘man-hating’ crowd. As Hooks states:

All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another. It is crucial that feminist activists not get bogged down in intensifying our awareness of this fact to the extent that we do not stress the more emphasized point, which is that men can lead life-affirming, meaningful lives without exploiting and oppressing women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. While they need not blame themselves for accepting sexism, they must assume responsiblity for eliminating it.  (Hooks, p. 73, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

Hooks states that it angers some feminists to see discussion in regards to men being victimized by sexism, it is hard to maintain that all men are the enemy when men suffer as a result of it (although Hooks does state that men are unable to be exploited or oppressed by sexism). Moreover Hooks believes that the suffering men can feel as a result of sexism can help to show them that there are patriarchal issues that need addressing. She also believes that struggling men, who are honest about sexism and sexist oppression have a place within feminism, but that they are often isolated and ignored, both by anti-feminist women and men, and by women active in feminist movement.

Reference

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press.  Pp. 69, 70,73.

Categories: Feminism

bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 4.

Chapter 4- Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Among Women

Hook states that sexism, of which women are most affected by, like other forms of oppression are institutionally perpetrated by social structure, by “individuals who dominate, exploit, or oppress; and by the victims themselves who are socialized to behave in ways that make them act in complicity with the status quo.” (Hooks, p. 43, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) Hooks uses some strong language here, continuing that it is male supremacist ideology that encourages women to feel valueless, and further only able to obtain value in relation to, or in bonding with men. Women are taught that other women are “natural enemies”, with a goal to ultimately keep women from forming cohesive bonds with each other. Hook urges women to overcome and create bonds, but states this will be difficult, as women are divided by their own sexist attitudes, racism, class privilege, and many other prejudices, only once they have been faced, can these walls be knocked down. Hooks states that feminist movement must align under a common banner, that “Sisterhood” will strengthen and increase feminist exposure, without this unified front, there can be no movement to end sexist oppression, solidarity Hook states “strengthens resistance struggle.” (p. 44) Moreover, it is upon women that this power of solidarity is ultimately thrust, and must be pushed forward by women, by showing that the aforementioned barriers separating women can be destroyed, this will show society as a whole that women can come together, under the banner of solidarity to transform and change established and oppressive paradigms.

Hooks states that women are enriched when they bond with each other, but the model of sisterhood created by bourgeois white women, cannot be used to create sustaining ties, or political solidarity. Hook states that such women used victimization as a basis for shared bonding, and common oppression which Hooks believes to be a male supremacist concept, which teaches women to be the victim. This method alienated strong, assertive women from feminist movement, and does not address what Hooks calls “the enemy within”, namely privilege. This prevented the bourgeois white feminists from the first, most important part of a political feminist movement, honest critique and open evaluation of ones social status, values, political beliefs etc. Moreover Hooks states that these women’s idea of sisterhood were informed by racist, classist assumptions about “white womanhood”, that:

the white “lady” (that is to say bourgeois woman) should be protected from all that might upset or discomfort her and shielded from negative realities that might lead to confrontation. (Hooks, p. 46, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

Hooks states “their” version of sisterhood required they unconditionally love each other, avoid conflict and minimise disagreement, which Hooks believe did create an illusion of unity for a short time, but through negative means (suppression, hostility, abusive criticism etc).  This is necessarily divisive though, and antithetical to the positive message Hooks believes feminist movement to be about, and reflects the kind of competitive in-fighting seen most often in women’s groups operating under patriarchy. Hooks wants to set herself apart:

To develop political solidarity among women, feminist activists cannot bond on the terms set by the dominant ideology of the culture. We must define our own terms. Rather than bond on the basis of shared victimization or in response to a false sense of a common enemy, we can bond on the basis of political commitment to a feminist movement that aims to end sexist oppression. (Hooks, p. 47, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

Hooks states that to resist male domination women must address, and remove their own attachment to sexism, this must be done by examining, exposing and eliminating sexist socialization within themselves. Sexism is most often expressed as male domination, says Hooks, which leads to discrimination, exploitation and oppression;  male supremacist values are presented as suspicion, defensiveness and competition. This leads women to feel threatened by one another; sexism teaches women that they need to be sex objects for men, while simultaneously creating an air of superiority in women who have understood this to be the case. Sexism also leads to a devaluing of parenting work, while accentuating the importance of career, and can lead to a passing on of sexism to children by teaching them that there are only two possible behavioral patterns: domination or submission. Hooks states that build a politicised feminist movement women must overcome the alienation that exists due to sexist socialization (usually expressed as homophobia, judging by appearance, conflicts between women with diverse sexual practices).

Racism, Hooks believes, is another barrier in the way of women’s political solidarity, that historically many black women have seen white women as the dominant authority over them, that although in white supremacist, patriarchal rule, many black woman have a white woman as their immediate superior. Because of this many black women haven’t been interested in supporting feminist movement, as they saw it as a movement to support bourgeois white women, and although racism has become more prevalent in feminist discussion it has only done so because white women have allowed and encouraged it, which Hooks states to be “a process which is indicative of how racism works.” (p. 52) Racism becomes feminisms problem when we realise that it is so interconnected with sexist oppression (and indeed, western philosophical foundations), it teaches an inflated sense of self-importance and value, particularly when coupled with class privilege. Hooks states that the U.S has always had an interest in maintaining white supremacist, sex-role divisions, but when “white women attack white supremacy they are simultaneously participating in the struggle to end sexist oppression.” (p. 54) The raising of awareness is needed to make white women aware of the daily race privilege they experience, as they may not even be consciously aware of their behaviour and attitudes, which is dangerous because we can not change attitudes if we are unaware of them.  Hooks does not believe, however only white women need to change their attitudes, she also believes that women of colour must confront their absorption of white supremacist beliefs, their “internalized racism” (p. 57), which may lead them to feel:

“self-hate, to vent anger and rage at injustice at one another, rather than at oppressive forces, to hurt and abuse one another, or to lead one ethnic group to make no effort to communicate with another. (Hooks, p. 57, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

Finally for this chapter Hooks discusses poverty and wealth, she pushes for a redistribution of wealth and resources in America, in an effort to remove class privilege:

… it is evident that large numbers of individual white women (especially those from middle-class backgrounds) have made economic strides in the wake of feminist movement support of careerism and affirmative-action programs in many professions. However, the masses of women are as poor as ever, or poorer. (Hooks, p. 61, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000)

High salaries became the ‘success-story’ to bourgeois white women, but to the many other women, working below the poverty line, it meant continued class exploitation, which class privilege is based on. The people who suffer most by this are poor, and underprivileged women and children. Hooks states it can be dehumanizing, painful and/or threatening enough to be a woman, but to also be poor and concerned with basic modes of existence (food/shelter) and unable to obtain medical care is almost unimaginable. If poor women had been able to set the agenda of feminist thought, class struggle might have received more prominent focus, but instead bourgeois white women were never shown how class privilege is linked to sexist oppression and hence under the purview of feminist movement. Hooks believes this left feminism to be focused on the white male left, in discussing connections between Marxism and feminism or explaining that socialist methods are the best for feminist struggle.

Reference

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press.  Pp. 43, 44,  46, 47, 52, 54, 57, 61 .

Categories: Feminism

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

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Reference

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

Categories: Feminism

bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 2.

June 18, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Reference

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press.  Pp. 18, 19, 28, 31.


bell hooks’ “Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center”: Chapter 1.

June 3, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been meaning to do a review and discussion of Hook’s views on feminism for a while, but due to uni, and general laziness I have not as yet engaged with her work. Let us look at her book chapter by chapter.

Chapter 1- Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory

Hooks states that Feminism in the U.S. did not arise as a result of victimized women who are so by sexist oppression, standing up. She states they are the silent, beaten down (physically, mentally, spiritually) majority, that the “mark of their victimization is their acceptance of their lot in life, without visible question, without organized protest, without collective anger or rage.” (Hooks, p. 1, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) Hooks states feminist movement arose from what she will come to call “bourgeois white women” (this means generally “college-educated, middle- and upper-class, married white women, housewives bored with leisure, with home, with children, with buying products, who wanted more out of life”, p. 1). She begins her scathing analysis of this sub-group with Betty Friedan’s classic The Feminine Mystique, Hooks states this book is heralded as paving the way for contemporary feminist movement but was written as if the aforementioned women did not exist. It was written for women who wanted careers, nevermind the small problem of who would bear the burden of taking care of the children, and maintain the home if said women were freed from house labour. Hooks states Friedan ignored the plight and indeed existence of non-white, and poor women. Friedan’s problem, Hooks states is she erroneously assumed her concerns were congruent with those of all American women, in doing so she deflected attention from her own classism, racism and sexist attitudes toward those American women. To Friedan women’s struggles were limited to college-educated white women who were compelled by sexist conditioning to stay in the home.

It is here Hooks points out, lest she be brandished uncharitable that the specific problems of the “leisure-class white housewives” Friedan discussed were real problems that merited consideration, but were simply not the pressing concerns for the majority of women. Their concerns were for economic survival, ethnic and racial discrimination etc. It was Friedan’s lack of self-awareness on this issue that seems to balk Hooks, and it is Friedan’s perspective which is still largely held in feminist thought today. White women in feminist movement Hooks states rarely question their privilege, or whether they have the best handle on the collective suffering of women, racism abounds in the writings of said feminists, which reinforces white supremacy negating the possibility of a political bond across ethnic and racial boundaries. Hooks goes further though, stating the root of class structure in American society has been “shaped by the racial politic of white supremacy; it is only by analysing racism and its function in capitalist society that a thorough understanding of class relationships can emerge.” (Hooks, p. 3, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) It is clear early on she means to challenge the status quo, she might consider herself a radical, a reformer.

It is on race and classism that Hooks wants to focus for now, as these two things have been demonstrated to create differences in quality of life, social status, and lifestyle, she does this by discussing “oppression”.  She defines oppression as the “absence of choices” (p. 5), and is the primary contact between oppressor and oppressed. She is quick to state however that many women in the U.S do possess choice, as inadequate as that may be so the terms “exploitation and “discrimination” perhaps more aptly describe their plight. It is this wiggle room in definition that Hooks believes may be the cause for a lack of organised, collective effort from many women;  sexism has not left them with no choice, only limited choice. Hooks states, importantly, that under capitalism, patriarchy is structured so that sexism restricts women’s behaviors in some avenues while liberating them in others, this is what makes it so tricky a prison, in the absence of extreme restrictions many women “ignore the areas in which they are exploited or discriminated against; it may even lead them to imagine that no women are oppressed.” (Hooks, p. 5, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center, 2000) Hooks wants to stress that it is within a strict political framework that she feels oppression, and indeed feminism should be discussed, and that the white women who shaped feminist thought were doing so to cater to their own class interests. They possessed different social status than poor or middle class black women, they were in universities, had access to mass media and money which they could use to shape their message; in creating a rallying cry around oppression they made their experience seem as if it was the only game of oppression in town. Hooks believes that if poor, or middle class black women had come out vocally stating their oppression they would not have been taken seriously (one would wonder how they would have been able to get said message out, given their social and class disadvantage). White bourgeois women legitimately wanted equal pay with their male counterparts, social equality with men of their class, or an alternative lifestyle, but even this would only seek to promote domination via patriarchal, capitalism. Radicalism in feminist thought needed to move beyond simply capitalistic notions, it needed to move beyond supporting the very system that oppresses women (and men), because by doing so feminism could become a political power for change, a challenge to the status quo. Hooks states that feminists can resist hegemonic dominance of feminist thought by insisting that it is a theory in the making, that criticism, re-examination and exploration of new possibilities are essential to the movement.

Hooks elaborates on her experiences coming up in feminist movement and how condescending white women were toward her and other non-white participants. This was done so to remind her and others that feminist movement belonged to “them”, that participation by members outside their class, and race was only because they allowed it. Equality was nowhere to be seen. Black women were called upon for their experiences, to help validate the movement, but it was white women who would deem which experiences were authentic. If black women did not fit their essentialism, their preconceived notions (that being: uneducated, poor, streetwise etc), or if they attempted to criticise, or assume responsiblity for shaping feminist ideas, they were dismissed, or silenced, which Hooks states is the dark, unspoken reality of feminist movement.  In fact Hooks states the racism prevalent in feminist movement has discouraged many black women from regularly attending meetings, and groups, and although there has been discourse on the problem lately, Hooks states it has not had an effect on white women’s treatment toward black women. To Hooks this is not surprising as white women, generally promote white feminism, for a white audience. To Hooks this has limited the reach of feminist movement, privileged feminists are unable to speak to or with diverse groups of women because they do not possess, or understand the interrelatedness of sex, race and class oppression or refuse to take said interrelatedness seriously. There has been too high a focus on gender in women’s liberation movement which is not, according to Hooks, a solid basis for constructing feminist theory. Unfortunately Hooks states, this analysis tends to reflect Western patriarchal thought and mystifies women’s reality by suggesting gender is the sole determinant of women’s fate.

Hooks closes this chapter by stating the voice of black women in feminist movement is important because they are at the bottom of the occupational ladder, and whose social status is lower than any other group, thus they bear the brunt of sexist, racist and classist oppression. Black women are not in a position to be allowed an “institutionalized other”, they can not assume the role of “exploiter/oppressor” for who could they exploit or oppress? White women and black men have it both ways, they can act as oppressor or be oppressed, black men may be victimized by racism, but sexism allows them to exploit and oppress women. White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism allows them to be exploiters of black people. Hooks states both parties have led liberation movements that have promoted self interests and acted as oppressor to other groups. The failure of both of these groups lies in them defining liberation as social equality with ruling-class white men, which means, by proxy, they have an interest in the continued exploitation and oppression of others. Black women have no “institutionalized other” that they may discriminate against, exploit or oppress, which means they possess a lived experience that challenges the racist, classist, sexist social structure prevalent in Western society. From this marginalised vantage point black women have a unique perspective with which to criticize the dominant hegemony and to create a counter-hegemony.

Reference

Hooks, B. (2000). Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center (Second edition).Cambridge MA. South End Press.  Pp. 1, 3, 5.

Categories: Book Review, Feminism
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