Bell Hooks’ Views on Feminist Theory
Bell Hooks’ views on feminism may not be in line with some of the feminist theorists and activists. She notes that there have been differences in the definition of feminism, which has contributed to the lack of foundation on which to construct a theory (Hooks, 2000). Bruce and Yealey (2006) suggest that the meaning of feminism can include women’s oppression by men; a practice aimed at liberating women from male exploitation; a social movement promoting specific changes in the legal, social, economic, political and cultural conditions of women and an ideology that opposes all misogynist ideas and behavior.
Liberal feminist theory copies the principles of justice, liberty and equality to women. Radical feminists advocate for strategies to create an exclusively female sexuality through celibacy, autoeroticism or lesbianism and they oppose all traditional roles of women. They believe that it is only through biological revolution and technology that women can be fully liberated. Cultural feminism recognizes the differences between men and women and seeks to celebrate the qualities of women. Even Gage, a cultural feminist believes that motherhood is a divine element, which should be recognized (Tandon, 2008). Hooks argues that not all women are motherly since they are not all caring and some can be violent. According to Hooks, male and female parents have an equal responsibility of bringing up children (Hooks, 2000).
Feminism entails, speaking, acting and writing about women’s issues. Feminists fight for injustices such as inequality, discrimination and lack of opportunities. Bell defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression (Hooks, 2000).” Patricia Collins (2000) defines oppression as any unjust situation where, systematically and over a long period, one group denies another group access to the resources of society. Different cultures have different views on how they handle women and feminine issues. In some cultures, the woman has been subjected to such oppression and exploitation to the point of silence. As Jayita Senguota (2006) notes, feminism has among its other concerns, the urge to break the silence and the taboos on the woman’s body and on her pleasures, to disintegrate the male version of the woman and repair the psychic damage in the society. Feminism goes beyond being anti-male and as she points out, for the oppression to end, men have to be involved. They cannot do this if they do not know what entails feminism. She mentions sexism, racism, classism, capitalism and colonialism as some of the oppressors in the society.
Oppression can be resisted on the levels of personal biography, community or group level of cultural contexts that has been created by class, race and gender; and social institutions (Adams & Sydie, 2002). Tandon notes that feminists hate patriarchy as it is often equated with war, racism and capitalism. She adds that feminism is equated with socialism, pacifism, multiculturalism and anything that is considered progressive (2008). According to Hooks, feminism is not all about careers and female domination in the work place. Hooks challenges the women who say they want to be equal with the men since men are not the same. According to Tandon (2008), male perceive oppression is a way of obtaining satisfaction, strength, self-esteem and psychological ego. She notes that females can also be sexists, and therefore oppressors, which is something that contradicts her definition of feminism.
Some people think that matters of racism and sexism do not exist in this modern age. Nevertheless, as Hooks (2004) notes in the book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, most people would rather be male and white. They believe that white male are more successful and live a better life than any other category. White women are particularly racist in their discussion about feminism. Bell observes that they make the black women the objects of their discussion, and as objects, they remain inferior. She observes that it is easier for women who do not experience oppression such as racism and classism to focus on gender. Racism enables white women to act as exploiters and oppressors of black males and females. On the other hand, sexism enables black men to be oppressors and exploiters of black women. This leaves the black woman in a tight spot since she is facing oppression from both male and female whether black or white. Hooks is of the opinion that there should be solidarity among the women since feminism is more of a political movement (Hooks, 2000).
Most feminists have concentrated their efforts on fighting for the rights of women sexuality. The feeling of being oppressed in a white male dominated world has made the black female to work and fight harder for her rights and for what she believes in. This has been made worse by the white female who thinks that she can relate to what the black female is going through. As Hooks has noted, issues such as race and classism are not in the primary agenda of the white female and so it would be impractical for her to assume to understand the oppression faced by the African American female. Some women understood feminism to be all about female power and a dislike towards men. Some were acting because of their life experiences with men and they were vocal in their campaigns against the male dominated society. This led to the general misunderstanding of the term feminism, a term that has remained to this day (Henry, 2004).
Many women and some men consider feminism as a fight of oppression but they do not have a clear understanding on what constitutes oppression. However, as time has elapsed, women rights become recognized but they still feel that they have to fight for more. Abortion, lesbian rights and reproductive rights are some of the issues that women have fought for. Those who have advocated for the rights of women on these issues can disagree with Hooks on feminism because they cannot be considered as oppressors. Women now have equal rights in all aspects of the society, at least in most countries.
Feminism was blamed for not doing enough for women and sometimes for doing too much (Henry, 2004). The society expects women to behave in a certain way and one who deviates from this expectation is seen as being rebellious. The oppression and exploitation of years back may not exist in the modern world. In the book, Feminism: A Paradigm Shift, Tandon (2008) notes that the oppression of women is not only a material reality originating in economic conditions, but also a psychological phenomenon-how man and woman perceive one another. She explains that feminism means the independence of the body, mind and spirit and thus any woman who feels subjugated to do anything that is contrary to her will, will find the need to fight for her rights.
Tandon notes that women are portrayed as objects of pleasure while the male is the dominant owner. William Du Bois noted, “The soul longest in slavery and still in the most disgusting and indefensible slavery is the soul of womanhood.” He saw the fight for women liberation as important as the one for racial equality and peace (Du Bois & Zuckerman, 2004). Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel were also instrumental in advocating for women’s rights during their time (Donovan, 2000). Engel observed that the women were often treated as men’s property, which could be used and disposed. They believed that women ought to have economic freedom and they should have access to the area of public production. This was in line with Marx’s idea and thesis that the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production (Marx, 2007).
Some people take feminists to mean females who hate men, those who are career-minded and will do anything to achieve their goals and negligent mothers among other like terms (Paludi, 2010). Bell notes that, through dialog, people have a chance of asking questions and raising their concerns about women issues. Women movement has been relegated to the lecture halls and this has made it a preserve for the few. The movements had begun on the streets and they were aimed at mobilizing women to fight for their rights. A lot of money does not have to be spent on conferences yet the average woman on the streets still lacks a clear understanding on the whole idea of feminism.
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