Title: Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
Author: bell hooks
Publication Date: 2000
LC Classification: HQ1190 .H67
There are so many things about this book that I really love. I love that it’s the book we’re using to start off the second Year of Feminist Classics, because it is a very simple, clear, and inclusive description of feminism. It’s great to start out with a work like this that provides a focus for the whole year. I love the historical perspective that it provides. I love that it was written by bell hooks, who has been very critical of racist and classist elements of mainstream feminism, and continues to be so here. She doesn’t make any excuses for things that are messed up. I love that she presents feminism not as a monolith, but as a series of struggles, some internal and some external. I love the introduction, in which hooks explains that she wanted this book to exist, so she wrote it, and in which she explains why she wanted to write the book, and for whom. I love the way the book is organized—in short, clear chapters with straightforward titles. I love the way each chapter ends with a sentence that drives the point home in a strong, memorable way, like this:
As long as females take up the banner of feminist politics without addressing and transforming their own sexism, ultimately the movement will be undermined. (12)
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)
The goal of global feminism is to reach out and join global struggles to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. (47)
Clearly we need new strategies, new theories, guides that will show us how to create a world where feminist masculinity thrives. (71)
To choose feminist politics, then, is a choice to love. (104)
Many of them are calls to action, and many bring us back around to the overarching idea of the book that feminism should be universally embraced because we (all of us) need it. As I wrote above, I really just want to take it and hand it out to everyone who goes around saying things that betray awful misunderstandings of feminism or internalized sexism and racism. I can’t believe it isn’t in my library and will fix this problem.
Amy asks whether this book would convince someone who didn’t identify with feminism to do so. Well… that’s a really complicated question. For me, identifying with feminism was a very long process; I think I was always feminist really, but there was a long period of education and thinking and reading to really understand what it was all about before I was able to begin thinking of myself as a feminist. After all, it would be rash and foolish to call myself something without a good idea of what it really means, who else is using this label, how people think of it, and so on. And to me, really understanding something requires a long period of engagement with it. There is, of course, a lot I still don’t know. I’m a very cautious person, but I don’t know what I would think of someone who had no engagement with feminism or was even antifeminist, and after reading this book suddenly began to identify with it. That’s a bit too quick and a bit too simple for me, and I think hooks knows that. She describes her mother’s change of heart as a slow process: “Mama has come around to feminist thinking” (x).
But I don’t think the book is meant to be that. Rather, it’s an introduction. It should draw in people who might not have otherwise considered feminism important and relevant to their lives, and if they find it compelling and if they really care, they will read further and find out more, and perhaps eventually become deeply involved in feminism.
So, if I reframe it in those terms, can the book accomplish that? It’s still complicated, because it depends on who the reader is. It’s very persuasive, very accessible, and very honest, which is a huge part of its persuasive potential. If it’s found by the right reader at the right moment, I think it can change lives. In the introduction, hooks gives some idea who the right reader is—the right moment is the moment at which someone is willing to seriously and honestly consider something that person had previously overlooked or avoided. There’s no way to guarantee that everyone hooks is trying to reach will find themselves in such a moment… but if they do, I would love for this book to be there.
As I was reading, I also wondered what hooks thinks about feminist blogging. She writes throughout the book about the loss of spaces where feminists can get together and talk with each other outside of academia; to me, blogs are that space. Of course, blogs can present a barrier to those on the wrong side of the digital divide, and it’s really easy for the internet to forget that (surprise!). On the other hand, it has gone some way toward counteracting the physical distances that separate people, and for many, it can be less intimidating than trying to meet people in person. Of course, the book was published in 2000, which means it was probably written in 1999, when this internet thing, while certainly a cultural force, was very far from being what it is today.