Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

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Bell Hooks

A friend recommended bell hooks to me when I asked her if she had any favorite feminist literature. She said that she wasn’t a fan of mainstream feminist authors, and that she preferred black feminists. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but after reading Feminism is for Everybody I’m starting to get it.

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Bell’s definition is brief and highlights the title of the book. Sexism affects everyone, men are not exempt from it simply because we occupy the dominant position. The US’ frequent mass shootings demonstrate just how disastrous modern “masculinity” and sexist gender norms are for men (and the people they shoot).

My biggest take away was how mainstream feminism mainly serves wealthy, straight, white women. “Initially when feminist leaders in the United States proclaimed the need for gender equality here they did not seek to find out if corresponding movements were taking place among women around the world. Instead they declared themselves liberated and therefore in the position to liberate their less fortunate sisters, especially those in the ‘third world.’ This neocolonial paternalism had already been enacted to keep women of color in the background so that only conservative/liberal white women would be the authentic representatives of feminism. Radical white women tend not to be ‘represented,’ and, if represented at all, they are depicted as a fringe freak element. No wonder then that the ‘power feminism’ of the ’90s offers wealthy white heterosexual women as the examples of feminist success.” Mainstream feminism, for the most part, has sought equality with men rather than a restructuring of a broken system. Instead of leveling the playing field, this strengthens a patriarchal system that relies on the cheap labor and exploitation of women all over the world. As Mary Barfoot said in The Coming of Black Genocide,  “If we’re Dick’s sister and want what he has gotten, then in the end we support that system that he got it all from.”

Bell’s lesson has given me a much better understanding of the outrage that follows “feminist” tweets or quotes from Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and the like. Put bluntly, “White feminists seem to be more interested in freeing their nipples than a black woman’s right to inquire why she is being arrested. As a collective unit, mainstream feminists don’t vocally advocate for the right for black girls to live. Instead, they seem to be in a frenzy over the release of Amy Schumer’s new movie.” Damn.

Her thoughts on the abortion debate as it relates to feminism were also clarifying and only strengthened my position on it. “Advancing the notion that there can be many ‘feminisms’ has served the conservative and liberal political interests of women seeking status and privileged class power who were among the first group to use the term ‘power feminists.’ They also were the group that began to suggest that one could be feminist and be anti-abortion. This is another misguided notion. Granting women the civil right to have control over our bodies is a basic feminist principle. Whether an individual female should have an abortion is purely a matter of choice. It is not anti-feminist for us to choose not to have abortions. But it is a feminist principle that women should have the right to choose.”

Feminism is for Everybody showed me just how little I know about the movement. It’s a small book but it contains so much insight and perspective that I dog-eared about a fifth of it. I could go on and on about this book but I’ve got others to read!

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