Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today we are going to discuss one of the most clearly-written, accessible texts on Patriarchy and Feminism that I’ve ever read. It’s called “feminism is for everybody: passionate politics,” and it’s by the iconic author, professor, cultural critic and social activist, bell hooks. It was originally published in the year 2000, and for this episode my reading partner and I read the new edition that came out in 2014. And speaking of my reading partner, I’d like to introduce Gina Haney. Hi, Gina!
Gina and I met during our first week of a Master’s program at Stanford, and we have taken several classes together, including one called “International Women’s Health and Human Rights” and another called “The Civil Rights Movement in History and Memory.” So we’ve had lots of enriching discussions on these topics through the years, and I know the kinds of compelling insights that you bring to texts, Gina. Before we dive into the book, can you tell us a little more about yourself?
As a woman in my fifties raised in rural Virginia, I cherish the diversity the world has to offer
and have spent several years living and working in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
In 2008, I founded Community Consortium and began, with the government of Iraq, a
stakeholder-driven management plan and World Heritage nomination for the site of Babylon.
A mother of two girls, I appreciate the women who worked and are working to establish a more
inclusive and empathetic world, like bell hooks.
I received my undergraduate degree from Mary Washington University and a graduate degree
from the University of Virginia.
As Amy said, I am currently pursuing graduate studies at Stanford University. My research topic is understanding the Power of Place in a township in Zimbabwe. I plan to examine this place through the lens on the colonial government and the contemporary residents. Ultimately, i will understand these two narratives within the story that is being told to tourists about this place today.
I have been a Girl Scout leader for 7 years, I love to knit and preserve food from my garden.
Thanks, Gina. It’s so great to have you here. Let’s now learn a little about the author. Gina, can you tell us about bell hooks?
We are using the biography that bell hooks has chosen to represent herself on the bell hooks institute website. It says:
“bell hooks is an acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer. hooks has authored over three dozen books and has published works that span several genres, including cultural criticism, personal memoirs, poetry collections, and children's books. Her writings cover topics of gender, race, class, spirituality, teaching, and the significance of media in contemporary culture.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, bell hooks adopted the pen name of her maternal great-grandmother, a woman known for speaking her mind. hooks received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her books include
Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,
Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem,
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom,
Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope,
Where We Stand: Class Matters,
We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.”
And Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics--the text we are discussing today. Also interesting to note is that bell hooks does not capitalize her name. On the website of the university where she teaches, Berea College in Kentucky, it explains this choice: “she has chosen the lower case pen name bell hooks, based on the names of her mother and grandmother, to emphasize the importance of the substance of her writing as opposed to who she is.”
In that spirit, we’re going to keep her biography short, and instead spend the whole episode focusing on her work.
“feminism is for everybody: passionate politics” is about 100 pages long, and it’s divided into 19 chapters, plus a preface and an intro. So each chapter is quite short, and it’s a great book to stick in your bag and read when you have little snippets of time between meetings or waiting in a school pick-up line. We have selected just a few chapters to highlight, and will share a couple of main points from each of those chapters. We’ll start with some important points from the Introduction, so Gina, why don’t you start us off there.
Introduction: Come Closer to Feminism
Although this podcast is devoted to “Breaking Down Patriarchy,” the questions
posed by hooks stem from the opposite and, perhaps, more complex end of the spectrum-- how do we build a feminist movement?
From her perspective, to construct a truly feminist movement one must move out of the halls of academia, and patriarchy, to fully and truly engage the larger collective--both women and men; girls and boys around the world.
hooks offers her definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression” (xii) She envisions the building of the movement as twofold. One, by recognizing our participation in perpetuating sexism and two, by striving to replace it with feminist thoughts and action (xiii).
Any thoughts on this definition of feminism, Amy?
“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I love this definition.... Because it clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. ...All of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as males. ...We are all participants in sexism until we change our minds and hearts; until we let go of sexist thought and action. (xiii)
Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. (xiv)
I love that vision! One problem I see is that most defenders of patriarchy who I know would agree with that statement. is that I constantly hear men and women say that there is already no “domination” - they too decry male violence, and they say that aside from those situations, the world already is equitable and women are not oppressed. They think hooks’ “vision of mutuality” is the same as “complementarianism,” where males have certain traits and roles and females have other traits and roles. Where they differ from hooks is that in patriarchy, men are the ones defining and dictating the terms of that “vision of mutuality.”
Great insight Amy! Shall we turn to Chapter 1?
Chapter 1: Feminist Politics: Where We Stand
Hooks was involved in the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1970’s, and she references her work in that movement a lot. This was really helpful for me, because I had never studied 2nd wave feminism before, and a lot of what I’ve heard about it comes from people who are very critical of the movement.
I have three quotes to share from this chapter.
- Utopian visions of sisterhood based solely on the awareness of the reality that all women were in some way victimized by male domination were disrupted by discussions of class and race. ...we could only become sisters in struggle by confronting the ways women - through sex, class, and race - dominated and exploited other women, and created a political platform that would address these differences. (3)
TED talk by Michael Kimmel: Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone, Men Included. Story of “when I look in a mirror I see a woman.”
- Different approaches taken by “reformist” feminism and “radical” feminism.
Most women, especially privileged white women, ceased even to consider revolutionary feminist visions, once they began to gain economic power within the existing social structure. (4) YES!
Reformist feminists were… eager to silence [radical feminism]. Reformist feminism became their route to class mobility. They could break free of male domination in the workforce and be more self-determining in their lifestyles. While sexism did not end, they could maximize their freedom within the existing system. And they could count on there being a lower class of exploited subordinated women to do the dirty work they were refusing to do. (5)
This echoes prior generations of exploited men breaking out of serfdom and other caste systems - reforming the system in order to allow upward mobility for themselves, but not looking around to see who they were leaving out. And leaving the system in place.
3. Lifestyle feminism ushered in the notion that there could be as many versions of feminism as there were women. Suddenly the politics was being slowly removed from feminism. And the assumption prevailed that no matter what a woman’s politics, be she conservative or liberal, she too could fit feminism into her existing lifestyle. Obviously this way of thinking has made feminism more acceptable because its underlying assumption is that women can be feminists without fundamentally challenging and changing themselves or the culture. For example, let’s take the issue of abortion. If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advoate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism. (6)
I get her point of view - it’s consistent with what she said above - we as women shouldn’t benefit from privilege and then deny other women that same privilege. You can choose not to have an abortion, and you might have the privilege of never needing one, but we shouldn’t limit other women’s choices.
In the car this morning I heard a young woman being interviewd on NPR who was praising Amy Coney Barrett as “the ultimate feminist” and I thought “bell hooks would disagree!”
I have come to accept hooks’ veiwpoint (Refer to the episode on Roe v. Wade, where I share my journey regarding abortion/reproductive rights).
I have a few thoughts about this:
I think of my conservative Muslim friends, who are dipping their toes into feminist ideas but are told by some that they can’t be feminists and wear a hijab.
Or I think of Esty Shapiro on Unorthodox when she looks horrified at the thought of abortion. Even aside from the effort to build up the Jewish population after the Holocaust, she has not been raised to think of pregnancy and bearing children as “reproductive rights.” That will be a long process for her.
The conservative community that I know best is my own.
- Uncharitable and inaccurate to describe all women’s awakening as “fitting feminism into her existing lifestyle”
- The women I know who have experienced feminist awakenings have gone through excruciating inner turmoil. Many women I know had to promise obedience to their husbands when they got married. I know women who have experienced emotional, verbal, and physical abuse in their marriages. They are entering the path at a very different place than women who have been raised in liberal environments.
- If they are raised in overtly patriarchal environments, then patriarchy is deeply ingrained in their hearts and minds, entangled with a lot of love and joy as well.
- If you stand at the gate and say “if you believe x,y,z… then you can’t be a feminist,” then you will exclude some of the women who need feminism the very most. And you are keeping them off a path of gradual education and learning that will benefit them and benefit others. People need to be able to grow and learn, wherever they are entering the path.
- I think of my own path, and if someone had kept me out of “feminism” because of the beliefs I had a few years ago. My stepping onto the path allowed my daughters to step onto the path with me, and they have taught me so much!!
Feminism should be a process, a path. We should welcome women onto the path, wherever they enter. She does say that “Feminism is for everybody.”
Chapter 3: Sisterhood is Still Powerful
- Attending an all women’s college for a year before I transferred to Stanford University, I knew from first-hand experience the difference in female self-esteem and self-assertion in same-sex classrooms versus those where males were present. At Stanford males ruled the day in every classroom. Females spoke less, took less initiative, and often when they spoke you could hardly hear what they were saying. Their voices lacked strength and confidence. And to make matters worse we were told time and time again by male professors that we were not as intelligent as the males, that we could not be “great” thinkers, writers, and so on. These attitudes shocked me since I had come from an all-female environment where our intellectual worth and value was constantly affirmed by the standard of academic excellence our mostly female professors set for us and themselves. (13)
Gina, your girls attended an all girls school, right?
Exactly right Amy. Coming from a single-gender high school and watching my daughters move
through single-gender schools, I can attest to the power of sisterhood.
- First and foremost feminist movement urged females to no longer see ourselves and our bodies as the property of men. To demand control of our sexuality, effective birth control and reproductive rights, an end to rape and sexual harassment, we needed to stand in solidarity. In order for women to change job discrimination we needed to lobby as a group to change public policy. Challenging and changing female sexist thinking was the first step towards creating the powerful sisterhood that would ultimately rock our nation. (15)
A couple of years ago I read an article that talked about the primates Bonobos. They are human beings’ closest relatives, and in contrast to other primates, they live in matriarchal societies where the mothers have higher social status and social power, and the males have to ask the older females for permission for food and to mate, etc. I thought this must be because female Bonobos are bigger and stronger than the males. But they’re not!! They’re actually smaller than males - proportionately the same as humans. The difference is that the females band together. If any males are getting aggressive with a female, a band of females will come over together and threaten him, and even bite and hit him if they have to. They have figured out how to work together.
This reminded me of pictures of suffragettes protesting together, and of the women in Liberia bringing an end to a bloody civil war with a peaceful protest called the “Mass Action For Peace,” which I hope to highlight in a future episode.
- As women, particularly previously disenfranchised privileged white women, began to acquire class power without divesting of their internalized sexism, divisions between women intensified. When women of color critiqued the racism within the soiety as a whole and called attention to the ways that racism had shaped and informed feminist theory and practice, many white women simply turned their backs on the vision of sisterhood, closing their minds and their hearts And that was equally true when it came to the issue of classism among women. (16)
I remember when feminist women, mostly white women with class prviliege, debated the issue of whether or not to hire domestic help, trying to come up with a way to not participate in the subordination and dehumanization of less-privileged women. Some of those women successfully created positive bonding between themselves and the women they hired so that there could be mutual advancement in a larger context of inequality. Rather than abandoning the vision of sisterhood, because they could not attain some utopian state, they created a real sisterhood, one that took into account the needs of everyone involved. (16)
Ok, Gina, I believe you have Chapter 8.
Chapter 8: Global Feminism
hooks tackles the issue of global feminism--associating true plurality to this book “feminism is
for everybody” in Chapter 8. I found this examination to differ from other feminist writing I have
hooks sees the worldwide female commitment to Western imperialism and transnational capitalism as detrimental to the broader feminist movement led, for the most part, by white,
Western women (45). According to hooks, “When unenlightened individual feminist thinkers
addressed global issues of gender exploitation and oppression they did and do so from the
perspective of neocolonialism” (46).
She asserts we, as Western women, continue to struggle to decolonize feminist thinking and practice.
A decolonized feminist perspective would examine how sexist practices are linked globally.
As an example, hooks associates female genital mutilation with life-threatening eating disorders
or cosmetic surgery to emphasize “the sexism, the misogony” underlying global and local sexism. (47).
Until challenged, hooks emphasizes, “the tone of global feminism in the West will continue to be set by those with the greatest class power who hold old bias” (47). In other words, feminism as
we know it is challenged by issues of class, race, and inequity.
Any thoughts Amy?
Chapter 10: Race and Gender
The movement from the civil rights struggle into female liberation was a logical transition for
some women, yet the very foundation of civil rights--race--was lost. From the perspective of
hooks, “they (white women)were following in the footsteps of their abolitionist ancestors . . . but,
when faced with the possibility that black males might gain the right to vote” (before white
women) they chose to unite under the umbrella of “white supremacy” (56). White women,
entering the movement of female liberation therefore, “eliminated race from the picture” (56).
This statement harkens back to points made in Chapter 8 about how feminism today is still working to decolonize.
Yet hooks, with her years of experience, ends the chapter with a note of hope and, perhaps, a call
to action. She states, “ . . . I witnessed the revolution in consciousness that occurred as individual
women began to break free of denial, to break free of white supremacist thinking. These awesome changes restore my faith in feminist movement and strengthen the solidarity I feel
towards all women” (58)
Chapter 12: Feminist Masculinity
- When contemporary feminist movement first began there was a fierce anti-male faction. Individual heterosexual women came to the movement from relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, unfaithful. Many of these men were radical thinkers who participated in movements for social justice, speaking out on behalf of the workers, the poor, speaking out on racial justice. But when it came to the issue of gender they were as sexist as their conservative cohorts. Individual women came from these relationships angry. And they used that anger as a catalyst for women’s liberation. As the movement progressed, as feminist thinking advanced, enlightened feminist activists saw that men were not the problem, that the problem was patriarchy, sexism, and male domination. It was difficult to face the reality that the problem did not just lie with men. Facing that reality required more complex theorizing; it required acknowledging the role women play in maintaining and perpetuating sexism. (67)
- Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.
This takes us all the way back to our first episode, The Chalice and the Blade, where we talked about “dominator cultures.”
- To a grave extent feminist movement failed to attract a large body of females and males because our theory did not effectively address the issue of not just what males might do to be antisexist but also what an alternative masculinity might look like. (70)
How can you become what you cannot imagine? And that vision has yet to be made fully clear by feminist thinkers, male or female.
As is often the case in revolutionary movements for social justice we are better at naming the problem than we are at envisioning the solution. We do know that patriarchal masculinity encourages men to be pathologically narcissistic, infantile, and psychologically dependent on the privileges (however relative) that they receive simply for having been born male. Many men feel that their lives are being threatened if these privileges are taken away, as they have structured no meaningful core identity. (70)
Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love, And a wise and loving feminist politics can provide the only foundation to save the lives of male children. Patriarchy will not heal them. If that were so they would all be well. (71)
A feminist vision which embraces feminist masculinity, which loves boys and men and demadns on their behalf every right that we desire for girls and women, can renew the American male. Feminist thinking teaches us all, especially, how to love justice and freedom in ways that foster and affirm life. (71)
I don’t know that many guys would go for the term “Feminist masculinity,” but I agree with her point! :) Men need to come up with a term for themselves. Some actors are making a big impact talking about healthy, non-patriarchal visions of masculinity. Justin Baldoni’s TED talk “Why I’m Done Trying to Be ‘Man Enough” is awesome.
Chapter 19: Visionary Feminism
This concluding chapter on Visionary Feminism gets to the heart of “feminism is for everyone.”
It makes the case from moving beyond the equal rights agenda to embrace basic human issues such as literacy, an example highlighted by hooks, and includes ALL women, especially those of marginalized groups. A broad-based feminist movement would not only be inclusive but accessible through oral tradition, language, children’s books, and books on tape to name a few examples given by hooks.
Such inclusion and accessibility allows for creative strategies for feminist change. Visionary
feminism, from the standpoint of gender, race, and class, allows us to “accurately understand our
position within the imperialist white supremacist capitalist paytriarchy” (116). Gender is not the
only role determining this status, we must be more inclusive.
Renewal of the feminist movement is paramount to hooks in this book. Inclusivity and
accessibility remain at its foundation. “To ensure the continued relevance of feminist movement
in our lives visisonary feminist theory must be constantly made and re-made so that is addresses
us where we live, in our present” (117).
Wonderful discussion, Gina! Is there anything else you want to say before we wrap up?
This, in an edited nutshell, is bell hooks and “feminism is for everybody.” First published
twenty years ago, it is both introspective and outward looking,
full of condemnation and hope, a look backward to create the path forward—a plan for rebuilding amidst a breaking down.
One of the most helpful things I gained from this book is a history of The Women’s Lib movement of the 60’s and 70’s. The second wave of feminism had not reached my community, apparently, because as I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, I never really heard the word “feminism.” So later in life, when I began hearing the accusations that hooks writes about - that feminists are man-haters, anti-family, raging angry bra-burners, I thought “Why?” I didn’t have any baggage associated with the word, or with the movement, and I’ve wondered why it got such a bad rap, especially in some circles. And hooks is really honest about the radicalism of the second wave of feminism, and why there was such a backlash afterward. She is so wise in her assessment of where the movement was then and where it has gone afterward, and I love her grounding in LOVE and the desire to see everyone thrive.
On our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing the book Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, published in 2014. I see Roxane Gay in many ways as continuing in the tradition of bell hooks - she’s a brilliant scholar, but her critiques are accessible to everyone. Bad Feminist takes on academic topics, but also rap music and Disney princesses, and the whole thing is written in a style that anyone can understand, which means that everyone can benefit from it! I loved this book, so read it or listen to it if you have the time this week, and then join us for the discussion next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.
Academic settings...have become the primary settings for the dissemination of feminist thought. This trend has had positive impact for ecollege students as it provides greater opportunity for folks to learn the power and significance of feminist thinking adn practic,e but it has impacted negatively on the work of broadeing the engagement of a large public in feminist movement. (vii)
This is one of the main reasons I’m doing this project! (Story of meeting with PhD program at UCSC)
Chapter 2: Consciousness Raising: A Constant Change of Heart
Females were (are) as socialized to believe sexist thinking and values as males, the difference being simply that males benefited from sexism more than females and were as a consequence less likely to want to surrender patriarchal privilege. Before women could change patriarchy we had to change ourselves; we had to raise our consciousness. (7)
Once the women’s sudies classroom replaced the consciousness-raising group as the primary site for the transmission of feminist thinking and strategies for social change the movement lost its mass-based potential. (10)
Feminist consciousness-raising for males is as essential to revolutionary movement as female groups. ...Without males as allies in struggle feminist movement will not progress. ...Feminism is anti-sexism. A male who has divasted of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behaviro infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat. (12)
What are some real-life examples of how a male divests of male privilege? My husband often asks “What can I do?”
Chapter 4: Feminist Education for Critical Consciousness
In its earliest inception feminist theory had as its primary goal explaining to women and men how sexist thinking worked and how we could challenge and change it. In those days most of us had been socialized by parents and society to accept sexist thinking. (19)
“In those days” = RIGHT NOW for many, many people. Not much has changed for women in religious communities, and for women in some other countries with very patriarchal leadership and culture.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, professors in women’s sstudies classes did not and do not trahs work by men; we intervene on sexist thinking by showing that women’s work is often jaust as good, as interesting, if not more so, as work by men. So-called great literature by men is critiqued only to show the biases present in the assessment of aesthetic value. I have never taken a women’s studies course or heard about one where works by men were deemed unimporant or irrelevant. (20)
I had come to feminist thinking by challenegin male domination in our patriarchal household. But simply being the victim of an exploitative or oppressive system and even resisting it does not mean we understand why it’s in place or how to change it.
Me too! And I would add, it’s easier to see the injustice of patriarchy if one encounters it violently, but even if your dad is nice and doesn’t abuse your mom, but he controls her finances or she’s not allowed to do certain things because a group of men tells her she can’t, then your environment is still patriarchal, and that’s unjust. And even if those things aren’t true in your family, and you don’t notice any particular oppression, the structure of our entire society is still patriarchal, and many people are being held back by it. You might be too, in ways you don’t notice.
While academic legitimation was crucial to the advancemnet of feminist htought, it created a new set of difficulties. Suddenly the feminist thinking that had emerged directly from theory and practice received less attention than theory that was metalinguistic, creating exclusive jargon; it was written solely for an academic audience. It was as it a large body of feminist thinkers banded together to form an elite group writing theory that could be understood only by an “in” crowd. (22)
Imagine a mass-based feminist movement where forks go door to door passing out literature, taking the time (as do religious groups) to explain to people what feminism is all about.
Children’s literature is one of the most crucial sites for feminist education for critical consciousness precisely because beliefs and identities are still being formed.
By failing to create a mass-based educational movement to teach everyone about feminism we allow mainstream patriarchal mass media to remain the primary place where folks learn about feminism, and most of what they learn is negative. (23)
Chapter 5: Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights--I think emphasis on this point is important as it seems to come up throughout the book see page 114 for quote
When the so-called sexual revolution was at its peak the issue of free love (which usually meant having as much sex as one wanted with whomever one desired) brought females face to face with the issue of unwanted pregnancy. Before there could be any gender equity aroudn the issue of free love women needed access to safe, effective contraceptives and abortions. (25)
Men had enjoyed pregnancy-free sex (if they chose to walk away) all along. Not fair.
In retrospect, it is evident that highlighting abortion rahter than reproductive rights as a whole reflected the class biases of the women who were at the forefront of the movement. While the issue of abortion was and remains relevant to all women, there were other reproductive issues that were just as vital which needed attention and might have served to galvanize masses. These issues ranged from basic sex education, prenatal care, preventive health care that would help females understand how their bodies worked, to forced sterilization, unnecessary cesareans and/or hysterectomies, adn the medical complications they left in their wake. Of all these issues individual white women with class privilege identified most intimately with the pain of unwanted pregnancy. And they highlighted the abortion issue. …The right to have an abortion was not a white-women-only issue; it was simply not the only or even teh most important reproductive concern for masses of American women. (26)
The development of effective though not totally safe birth control pills (created by male scientists, most of whom were not antisexist) truly paved the way for female sexual liberation more so than abortion rights. ...Responsible birth control liberated many women life myself who were pro-choice but not necessarily pro-abortion ofr ourselves from having to personally confront the issue. (27)
The abortion issue captured the attention of mass media because it really challenged the fundamentalist thinking of Christiantiy. It directly challenged the notion that woman’s reason for existence was to bear children. ...Later all the other reproductive issues that feminist thinkers called attention to were often ignored by mass media. (27)
Sadly the anti-abortion platorm has most viciously targeted state-funded, inexpensive, and when need by, free abortions. AS a consequence women of all races who have class privilege continue to have access to safe abortions- continue to have the right to choose - while materially disadvantaged women suffer. (28)
If sex education, preventive health care, and easy access to contraceptives are offered to every female, fewer of us will have unwanted pregnancies. As a consequence, the need for abortions would diminish. (29)
The data bears this out (I could talk about my project in Anne’s class)
...females who have always had access to effective contraception - who have never witnessed the tragedies caused by illegal abortions - have no firsthand experience of the powerlessness and vulnerability to exploitation that will always be the outcome if females do not have reproductive rights.
Watching “Call the Midwife” opened my eyes. Gina, I remember that you have a family story of an aunt (or great aunt?) who died from a back-alley abortion.
Chapter 6: Beauty Within and Without
Before women’s liberation [and again I have to add that the movement did not reach many women, so there are whole communities that are still “before women’s liberation”] all females young and old were socialized by sexist thinking to believe that our value rested solely on appearance and whether or not we were perceived to be good looking, especially by men.
Women stripping their bodies of unhealthy and uncomfortable, restrictive clothing - bras, girdles, corsets, garter belts, etc. - was a ritualistic, radical reclaiming of the health and glory of the female body. … Just to be able to wear pants to work was awesome to many women, whose jobs had required them to be constantly bending and stooping over. (31)
There was a period in the early days of feminism when many activists abdicated all interest in fashion and appearance. These individuals often harshly critiqued any woman who showed an interest in frilly feminine attire or make-up. Most of us were excited to have options. ...It has never been a simple matter for women to unite a love of beauty and style with comfort and ease. Women had to demand that the fashion industry (which was totally male-dominated in those days) create diverse styles of clothing. For the first time in our nation’s history women were compelled to acknowledge the strength of our consumer dollars, using that power to create positive change.(32)
All the positive changes in the medical establishment’s attitudes towards the female body, towards female health care, are the direct outcome of feminist struggle. ...This is one of the few places where feminist struggle garners mass support from women, whether they are or are not committed to feminist politics. We see the collective powers of women when it comes to gynecological matters, to those forms of cancer (especially breast cancer) that threaten females more than males, and more recently in the area of heart disease. (33)
...facing the reality of aging in a patriarchal society… led many women to adopt anew the old sexist notions of feminine beauty. (34)
In movies on television, and in public advertisements images of reed-thin, dyed-blonde women looking as though they would kill for a good meal have become the norm. ...but no dire warnings work to deter females who believe their worth, beauty, and intrinsic value will be determined by whether or not they are thin. Today’s fashion magazines may carry an article about the dangers of anorexia while bombarding its readers with images of emaciated young bodies representing the height of beauty and desirability. (34)
Yet there are recent feminist interventions aimed at renewing our efforts to affirm the natural beauty of female bodies. (35)
To critique sexist images without offering alternatives is an incomplete intervention. ...As a middle-aged woman gaining more weight than ever before in my life, I want to work at shedding pounds without deploying sexist body self-hatred to do so. ...all females no matter their age are being socialized either consciously or unconsciously to have anxiety about their body, to see flesh as problematic. (35)
Young girls and adolescents will not know that feminist hinkers acknowledge both the value of beauty and adornment if we continue to allow patriarhcal sensibilities to inform the beauty industry. In all spheres. Rigid feminist dismissal of female longings for beauty has undermined feminist politics. While this sensibility is more uncommon, it is often presented by mass media as the way feminists think. Until feminists go back to the beauty industry, go back to fashion, and create an ongoing, sustained revolution, we will not be free. We will not know how to love our bodies as ourselves. (36)
Chapter 7: Feminist Class Struggle
Conflict arose between the reformist vision of women’s liberation which basically demanded equal rights for women within the existing class structure, and more radical and/or revolutionary models, which called for fundamental change in the existing structure sot that models of mutuality and equality could replace the old paradigm. However, as fminist movement progressed and privileged groups of well-educated white women began to achieve equal access to class power with their male counterparts [not all well-educated white women!], feminist class struggle was no longer deemed important. (37)
Remember Olympe de Gouge’s frustration when French men wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and she thought, what about the women and enslaved people??!! It doesn’t feel good to be forgotten.
Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique identified “the problem that has no name” as the dissatisfaction females felt about being confined and subordinated in the home as housewives. While this issue was presented as a crisis for women it really was only a crisis for a small group of well-educated white women. While they were complaining about the dangers of confinement in the home a huge majority of women in the nation were in the workforce. And many of these working women, who put in long hours for low wages while still doing all the work in the domestic household would have seen the right to stay home as “freedom.” [Further, hooks says] Elite groups of highly educated females stayed at home rather than do the type of work large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class women were doing. (38)
Only privileged women had the luxury to imagine working outside the home would actaully provide them with an income which would enable them to be economically self-sufficient. Working women already knew that the wages they received would not liberate them. (39)
REformist efforts on the part of privileged groups of women to change the workforce so that women workers would be paid more and face less gender-based discrimination and harassment on the job had positive impact on the lives of all women. (39)
A rising tides lifts all boats
Lesbian feminists… were a group of women who had not imagined they could depend on husbands to support them. (39)
Black females were clearly at the bottom of the economic totem pole. Initially, well-educated white women from working-class backgrounds were more visible than black females of all classes in feminist movement. ...Between them and their privileged-class comerades there were ongoing conflicts over appropriate behavior, over the issues that would be presented as fundamental feminist concerns. ...Despite constructe intervention many privileged white women continued to act as though feminism belonged to them, as though they were in charge. (40)
Privileged women wanted equality with men of their class. Despite sexism among their class they would not have wanted to have the lot of working class men. (40)
Supporting what in effect became white power reformist feminism enabeld the mainstream white supremacist patriarchy to bolster its power while simultaneously undermining the radical politics of feminism. (41)
This is exactly what happened in the 19th Century
Since privileged men did not become equal caretakers in the domestic household, the freedom of privileged class women of all races has required the sustained subordination of working-class and poor women. (41)
When women acquired greater class status and power without conducting themselves differently from males feminist politics were undermind. Lots of women felt betrayed. Middle- and lower-middle-class women who were suddenly compelled by the ethos of feminism to enter the workforce did not feel liberated once they faced the hard truth that working outside the home did not mean work in the home would be equally shared with male partners. (42)
Being true to feminist politics, our goals were and are to become economically self-sufficient and to find ways to assist other women in their efforts to better themselves economically. (42)
According to hooks the early feminist movement was polarized by class and race which became blurred by the goal of gender equity for white women. As women became more equitable they also conducted themselves more like the patriarchy. According to hooks, this undermined feminist politics and began to cater more to priviledged, white women. hooks maintains, “The only genuine hope of feminist liberation lies with a vision of social change which challenges class elitism. Western women have gained class power and greater gender inequality because a global white supremacist patriarchy enslaves and/or subordinates masses of third-word women.” (43)
Chapter 9: Women At Work
When contemporary feminist movement first began the workforce was already more than one-third female. Coming from a working-class, African-American background where most women I knew were in the workforce, I was among the harshest critics of the vision of feminism put forth by reformist thinkers when the movement began, which suggested that work would liberate women from male domination. More than 10 years ago I wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “The emphasis on work as the key to women’s liberation led many white feminist activists to suggest women who worked were “already liberated.” They were in effect saying to the majority of working women, “Feminist movement is not for you.” Most importantly I knew firsthand that working for low wages did not liberate poor and working-calss women from male domination.
When reformist feminist thinkers from privileged class backgrounds whose primary agenda was achieving social equality with men of their class equated work with liberation they meant high-paying careers.
Not always. I wanted to be a teacher. :)
In many college classrooms today students both female and male will argue that feminist movement is no longer relevant since women now have equaltiy. They do not even know that on the average most women still do not get equal pay for equal work, that we are more likely to make seventy-three cents for every dollar a male makes. (49)
We know now that work does not liberate women from male domination. Indeed, there are many high-paid professional women, many rich women, who remain in relationships with men where male domination is the norm. Positively we do know that if a woman has access to economic self-sufficiency she is more likely to leave a relationship where male domination is the norm when she chooses liberation. She leaves because she can. Lots of women engage feminist thinking, choose, liberation, but are economcially tied to patriarchal males in ways that make leaving difficult if not downright impossible. (49)
Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce. Mostly they have found that they work long hours at home adn long hours at the job. (49)
Feminist scholarship has documented that th epositive benefits masses of women have gained by entering the workforced have more to do with increased sel-festeem and postiive participation in community. No matter her class the woman who stayed at home working as a housewife was often isolated, lonely, and depressed. (50)
I talked about this on the Second Sex episode. I LOVE nurturing, teaching, playing with, having a relationship with my kids. I love exercising my mind too. I don’t mind, and even like, domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning. Males and females, dads and moms, should all have the opportunity to do both: be engaged, loving, affectionate, involved parents, and learn and grow and contribute in a professional field of their choosing, and contribute to doing “human stuff” to keep the household running at home. Fully-actualized human beings.
I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. (x)
Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us. But those benefits have come with a price. In return for all the goodies men receive from patriarchy, they are required to dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must to keep patriarchy intact. Most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, evern the men who perpetrate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. (xiii)
There was indeed a great deal of anti-male sentiment among early feminist activists who were responding to male domination with anger. It was that anger at injustice that was the impetus for creating a women’s liberation movement. Early on most feminist activists (a majority of whom were white) had their consciousness raised about the nature of male domination when they were working in anti-classist and anti-racist settings with men who were telling the world about the importance of freedom while subordinating the women in their ranks. Whether it was white women working on behalf of socialism, black women working on behalf of civil rights and black liberation, or Native American women working for indigenous rights, it was clear that men wanted to lead, and they wanted women to follow. (3)
Since our society continues to be primarily a “Christian culture, masses of people continue to believe that god has ordained that women be subordinate to men in the domestic household. (2)
Conservative mass media constantly represented feminist women as man-haters. And when there was an anti-male faction or sentiment in the movement, they highlighted it as a way of discrediting feminism. Embedded in the portrayal of feminists as man-hating was the assumption that all feminists were lesbians. Appealing to homophobia, mass media intensified anti-feminist sentiment among men. (68)
Anti-male factions within the feminist movement resented the presence of anti-sexist men because their presence served to counter any insistence that all men are oppressors, or that all men hate women. It promoted the interests of feminist women who were seeking greater class mobility and access to forms of patriarchal power to polarize men and women by putting us in neat categories of oppressor/oppressed. They portrayed all men as the enemy in order to represent all women as victims. ...This individual activists who called on all women to reject men refused to look at either the caring bonds women shared with men or the economic and emotional ties (however positive or negative) that bind women to men who are sexist. (69)
Lack of jobs, the unrewarding nature of paid labor, and the increased class power of women, has made it difficult for men who are not rich and powerful to know where they stand. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy is not able to provide all it has promised. Many men are anguished because they do not engage the liberating critiques that could enable them to face that these promises were rooted in injustice and domination and even when fulfilled have never led men to glory. Bashing liberation while reinscribing the white supremacist capitalist patriarhcal ways of thinking that have murdered their souls in the first place, they are just as lost as many boys. (71)
On our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be reading Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, published in 2014. I first heard of Roxane Gay when I watched her TED talk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist,” several years ago, and I absolutley loved it. Her book, Bad Feminist, is a collection of essays, and it’s brilliant and relateable and eye-opening and heartbreaking and hilarious. I highly recommend reading or listening to it, and then join us for the conversation, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.