“I don’t like feminism,” my neighbor told me after I showed him my copy of bell hooks’ ‘Feminism is for Everybody.”
He said he was turned off by the feminist organizational structure (I’m assuming that he meant putting only women in charge), and that male opinions and points of view are automatically disregarded.
Good news, my friend – that’s not feminism. Those are people who perpetuate gender inequality and sexism under the banner of feminism. Those people are not feminists.
Feminism, as hooks explains, looks completely different.
The feminist movement may have started out with strong anti-male sentiment, but that was in reaction to men controlling nearly every aspect of women’s lives.
But contemporary feminism has evolved to move away from that short-sighted attitude into something broader: “The threat, the enemy, is sexist thought and behavior,” hooks writes.
‘Feminism is for Everybody’ is a short, concise manual about feminism. What it is and what it isn’t, and answers the question on how can feminism and feminist thinking can bring an end to sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.
The strength of this book lies in hook’s power to expand the definition of feminism, and turning the feminist mirror onto her readers before her readers can turn it to the greater world.
Hook calls the current state of mainstream feminism “lifestyle feminism.”
“Lifestyle feminism ushered in the notion that there could be as many versions of feminism as there were women… 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.”
Up until I read this book, I was a lifestyle feminist. I’m pro-choice and believe in equal pay for equal work, but my feminist thinking stopped there.
And while these are important policies for the feminist movement, hooks helped me understand that the heart of the movement isn’t politics, but raising consciousness.
Hooks argues that it’s impossible to use feminism to combat sexism in the world if you don’t first use it to combat sexism in yourself.
“Females of all ages acted as though concern for or rage at male domination or gender equality was all that was needed to make one a ‘feminist.’ Without confronting internalized sexism women who picked up the feminist banner often betrayed the cause in their interactions with other women,” she writes. “Needless to say such thinking has undermined feminist theory and practice, feminist politics.”
Challenging your own biases is not a comfortable thing to do, and is a monumental effort to undertake alone or in homogenous groups, because you don’t know what you don’t know.
The feminism that I know is very white and privileged. I focus on equal pay for equal work and a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
But feminism doesn’t always look like that.
In lower socio-economic circles, feminism can focus less on abortion rights and more on sex education and access to safe birth control, both things many of my friends and I already have access to or have received,
For blue-collar women who have to work to make a living but are also in charge of taking care of the home, feminism can be less about equal pay and more about evenly splitting household duties like cleaning and child care between them and their partners.
Hooks argues that every aspect of life can have a feminist point of view, from fashion and makeup to literature and education, race and gender to religion and parenting. And it’s up to feminists to cross gender and socio-economic boundaries to learn what’s best for everyone, not just our own individual groups.
So whether you already consider yourself a feminist, or you’re on the fence about feminism, or you want to change how you think about feminism, hooks will certainly have something to say for you.
Because feminism is for everyone.