Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Feminism

28. Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

As part of my attempt to fill in the gaps of my education and become a better and better-informed person, I asked a friend to recommend me some books on feminism. She kindly lent me this book and recommended it as the best introductory guide to feminism that she knew of. While I consider myself a feminist in that I support equal rights for women, I admit to knowing next to nothing about the historical and present feminist movement, and I want that to change. I found hooks' book to be a helpful starting point as well as a trigger for starting to change the ways that I think.

hooks defines feminism as "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression." This is not a definition I had heard before, though it certainly makes sense to me. This definition forms the core of the book and what hooks believes feminism is and should be. She focuses on feminist movement to end sexism in education of males and females, in the workplace, in the home, in the world and especially within ourselves. I agree with her thesis that a paradigm of patriarchy, in her words "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy," persists in our society and I agree with her assertion that it is responsible for domestic violence, including that of women against children, eating disorders and female obsession with appearance, violence on our streets, and various other social ills. To be clear, I do not consider myself an enemy of capitalism, although I assume that hooks does and although she does not explicitly state it, from her views in the book, I gather that she is socialist.

I found this book helpful because it covers the most important issues of feminism (reproductive rights, education, class divisions, race divisions, parenting, women at work, violence) and provides a historical perspective and visionary ideal. While I enjoyed most of hooks' proposed ideal feminist solutions to problems (and she does not have solutions for every problem nor complete solutions for any, as is only reasonable), I was not sure whether to attribute these ideas to hooks or to a platform that the majority of feminists, or those whom hooks considers feminists, have agreed to. Since this is supposed to be an introductory guide, it might be safe to assume the latter, but I intend to do more research into the topic in any case. hooks by no means exhausts any of these topics nor does she cover them in extensive detail, but again this makes sense, as it is intended to be a beginner's guide.

hooks does repeatedly malign those whom she calls "reformist" feminists in favor of "revolutionary" feminists, among whom she counts herself, and she also criticizes women who are sexist and in particular class-privileged white women who call themselves feminists, but do not think or act in ways that hooks considers feminist. While I think that hooks makes an excellent case for "revolutionary" feminists being preferable, I tend to think that excluding or chastising women who do consider themselves feminists is counterproductive. However, this is because I myself am probably more "reformist" in nature, in that I tend to want to be inclusive and work within the system. I fear that hooks would not consider me a feminist, as I have never been active in the movement.

hooks posits feminism as the end to all world ills. I disagree that feminism is the end-all and be-all that hooks thinks, but certainly it could be. I just think that there could be many routes to the same ideal solution, a world where men, women, and children do not exist in a paradigm that is focused on power and domination, but instead one focused on mutual learning and benefits. Ending sexism will come when world hunger ends, when the economic and political systems are perfected, when people are willing and motivated to work together and help each other. hooks' feminism is one framework that works toward that goal.

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