Title: Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
Author: bell hooks
Dates Read: March 29 – April 7, 2018
Synopsis: hooks applies her critical analysis to the most contentious and challenging issues facing feminists today, including reproductive rights, violence, race, class, and work. With her customary insight and unsparing honesty, hooks calls for a feminism free from divisive barriers but rich with rigorous debate. In language both eye-opening and optimistic, hooks encourages us to demand alternatives to patriarchal, racist, and homophobic culture, and to imagine a different future. (x)
Review: I wanted to like this book more than I did. Unfortunately, I do have a few issues with it. Hooks sets out to give a sort of introduction to feminism with this book, but she doesn’t. She says that people need a simple primer that is accessible to anyone. While that’s true, this isn’t that book. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read feminist theory before. I’d go with one of Adichie’s (either Dear Ijeawele or We Should All Be Feminists) instead. Aside from being a bit dense for an introduction, at times the author seems to be arguing more about the in-fighting and exclusion of others within feminism than she is about the productive qualities of feminism. She does, however, point out problems with race and imperialism that have been present in the waves of feminism:
While feminists in the United States were right to call attention to the need for global equality for women, problems arose as those individual feminists with class power projected imperialist fantasies onto women globally, the major fantasy being that women in the United States have more rights than any group of women globally, are “free” if they want to be, and therefore have the right to lead feminist movement and set feminist agendas for all the other women in the world, particularly women in third world countries. Such thinking merely mirrors the imperialist racism and sexism of ruling groups of Western men. (45)
She makes one point in her book that I took issue with:
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. (5)
This is true…but only to some extent. How far can women go into conservatism before they find that their rights are not viewed to be as valuable as their male counterparts’? Yes, they benefit from the efforts of feminists, but do they not perpetuate an imbalance in areas like health care? Hooks states that a woman could choose not to have an abortion herself while supporting a woman’s right to choose to, but if women vote and advocate for men who devalue the importance of women’s health and decry their voices and opinions, how aligned can they be with feminist thought? She writes, “Masses of poor and working-class women lose access to abortion when there is no government funding available for reproductive rights health care (28).” Again, if women align with conservative views that support privatized health care, they align with those who believe that women shouldn’t always have access to proper care. If they can afford it, sure, but if not, are they supposed to go without? Because they aren’t lucky enough to be able to afford it? She goes on: “While it is possible for women to individually choose never to have an abortion, allegiance to feminist politics means that they still are pro-choice, that they support the right of females who need abortions to choose whether or not to have them (29).” To be anti-choice is to be anti-feminist. If you are pro-life or vote for someone who is, at some level you are rejecting a woman’s right to choose.
In regards to health care, she tackles an issue present with women on welfare:
The most profound betrayal of feminist issues has been the lack of mass-based feminist protest challenging the government’s assault on single mothers and the dismantling of the welfare system […] Ending welfare will create a new underclass of women and children to be abused and exploited by the existing structures of domination. (42-43)
Women have always been the ones to suffer the most in bad situations. But again, there are women who support the dismantling of welfare. Can those women still be feminists if their political beliefs harm masses of women?
She talks a lot about race in the book. But I noticed that, except for maybe one or two references, she narrows the issues down to black and white. It would have been nice if she had included the issues faced by women of other races, cultures, and ethnicities as well, even if just for context, because the experiences of black women in the U.S. are different from those of Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern, or Indian women, for example.
I do like how she mentions that the popular and often toxic idea of masculinity should be changed:
Often the only alternative to patriarchal masculinity presented by feminist movement or the men’s movement was a vision of men becoming more “feminine.” The idea of the feminine that was evoked emerged from sexist thinking and did not represent an alternative to it…What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where selfesteem (sic) and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity. (70)
She also mentions how no one talks about heterosexual men becoming full-time parents while their wives work (83), but I do see how that has changed in the eighteen years since this book was published. It is now more common for men to leave work if their wives earn more or if their family dynamic simply works better that way, which is good for today’s families.
On another note, though, at one point she states that the stigma attached to not being a virgin has been taken away by feminism, which simply isn’t true: “By challenging the notion that a woman’s virtue was determined by her sexual practice feminist thinkers not only took away the stigma attached to not being a virgin; they placed female sexual well-being on a equal (sic) par with that of men (79).” I’ve been in multiple environments where there is a stigma attached to both being a virgin and not being one. This is true for anyone, but especially for women. Often women are viewed as either prudes or sluts, while men are more likely to be shamed for being virgins than for being promiscuous.
Another thing I had a problem with was the notion of choice in sexuality. More than once she makes a point of many women in the second wave of feminism choosing lesbianism or bisexuality as a lifestyle, rather than simply being lesbian or bisexual and accepting or embracing that fact.
She makes one point that I appreciated: “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).” This is better than it was in 2000, when the book was published, but it is still a problem. At least more people are talking about it now and calling people, magazines, and corporations out on how twisted their standards for women’s beauty and bodies are.
On a more technical note, she self-references more than necessary. If she already made points in previous books, does she really need to repeat them? And so often? There are also quite a few spelling and grammar issues in the book. I usually overlook that if it’s minimal, but it became distracting at times.
Overall, hooks presents interesting ideas but sometimes falls short and doesn’t always give evidence to back up her claims.
- When feminist thinkers and activists provide children with educational arenas where anti-sexist biases are not the standards used to judge behavior, boys and girls are able to develop healthy self-esteem. (75)
- When feminist thinkers and activists provide children with educational arenas where anti-sexist biases are not the standards used to judge behavior, boys and girls are able to develop healthy self-esteem. (91)
- In a world where positive expressions of sexual longing connect us we will all be free to choose those sexual practices which affirm and nurture our growth. Those practices may range from choosing promiscuity or celibacy, from embracing one specific sexual identity and preference or choosing a roaming uncharted desire that is kindled only by interaction and engagement with specific individuals with whom we feel the spark of erotic recognition no matter their sex, race, class, or even their sexual preference. (92)
- Being a member of an exploited group does not make anyone more inclined to resist. (93)
- Whenever any woman acts as though lesbians must always follow rigid moral standards to be deemed acceptable or to make straight people feel comfortable, they are perpetuating homophobia. (98)