“Feminists are made, not born. One does not become an advocate of feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born female. Like all political positions, one becomes a believer in feminist politics through choice and action.”
‘Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics’ offers a preamble to bell hooks’ work about popular feminist theory and cultural criticism. hooks, a creative and inventive writer, regards herself to be a social activist and a revolutionary feminist, and this book presents an argument from hooks’ perspective that sexism, racism, classism, capitalism and colonialism encourage oppression by glamorizing oppressive morals, values and attributes. She invites and encourages readers to take part in the psychological, intellectual and spiritual progress of women, to help raise awareness about the world that they live in. She encourages readers to find their own voices and helps them to critically reflect on their place, their stand in society. The historical background incorporated in the book offers helpful and useful information in regards to the earlier days of the feminist movement.
Feminism is defined by the author as a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression, this definition first appeared in the book “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre”. The definition directly addresses the heart of the matter and free of the misconception that feminism is anti-men or that men were the enemies. It implies that all sexist thinking and action is the concern, which could be perpetrated by anyone. Early on most (white), feminist activists 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 preaching the world about the importance of freedom while subordinating the women in their ranks. However, the initial notion of feminist movement implied that all-female spaces should look non-patriarchial and non-sexist and masses of people considered that feminism is always about women seeking to be equal to men, this idea reflects the reality that was portrayed by the patriarchal mass media. The patriarchal mass media was successful in picturing this feminist movement as polarized with the vision of representing women as wanting what men had, which got actualised because of the external factors like economic depression, loss of jobs etc., and white men were more willing to consider women’s rights as this serves the interests of sustaining white supremacy. This revolutionary feminism began to cease its vision, once women began to attain economic power within the existing social structure. And revolutionary feminist thinking was embraced in academic circles, the theory progressed but was not made available to the public, the highly literate, well-educated, materially cushioned became the possessors of it. In simple words, “Masses have not rejected its message; they do not know what the message is”. This helped certain women to break free of male domination in the workforce and become self-determining in their lifestyles, maximized their freedom within the existing system and counted on lower-class women to continue with the menial work which these women earlier shared them with.
The consciousness-raising among the revolutionary feminists’ had been about learning the patriarchal system of domination, how it became institutionalised, perpetuated and maintained. Whereas consciousness-raising among the contemporary feminists have been about unleashing pent up hostility and rage about being victimised, with little to no focus on strategies of intervention and transformation. It was therapeutic. This movement was able to reach the wider audience, despite the creation of women’s studies in the academic discipline continued to remain as a site of class privilege.
Though hooks argues that feminism is inclusive, what makes this book more interesting and valuable to readers is her critique of power struggle inside the women’s movement. The struggle between the well educated and highly literate privileged white women and women who do not have access to class power and material privilege. Contemporary feminism highlighted that males were not the only group in our society who supported sexist thinking and behaviour but females as well think and behave on the lines of sexism, they believed that until women don’t confront the sexist thinking within, they could not become sisters in this struggle. As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized. The enemy within must is transformed before we can confront the enemy outside. This was considered as the first step towards creating the powerful sisterhood that would ultimately rock the systems.
Feminist Education for critical consciousness
In its early stages, the primary goal of the formation of feminist theory was to explain to women and men how sexist thinking functioned and how it could be challenged and changed. The institutionalization of women’s studies helped spread the word about feminism, those who attended the classes were politically awakened.
However, this created a new set of difficulties, the development of exclusive jargon received the attention of the academic audience only. It was as if a large body of feminist thinkers banded together to form an elite group writing theory that could be understood only by an “in” crowd. Later, academic politics and careerism overshadowed feminist politics. The theory began to be housed in an academic ghetto with little connection to a world outside. This gap has allowed mainstream patriarchal mass media to remain the primary source to learn about feminism, most of which is negative and with no information on the myriad ways feminism has positively changed lives. Hence one of the goals for the contemporary feminists should be about creating the feminist knowledge which is for everybody.
Challenging sexist thinking
One of the powerful interventions by the contemporary feminist movement was challenging the sexist thinking especially women of all age groups were socialized in such a way to believe that our value rested solely on appearance. The movement challenged this sexist thinking and realised that females could never be liberated if they do not develop healthy self-esteem and self-love, this led to the critical examination of how women feel and think about their bodies and offer constructive strategies for change. This revolution introduced and made women experience that their flesh was worthy of love and adoration in its natural state.
The changes embraced by the women were not accepted by the capitalist investors in the cosmetic and fashion industry’s fear that feminism would destroy their business made them put their money behind mass-media campaigns which trivialized women’s liberation by portraying images which suggested feminists were big, hypermasculine, and just plain old ugly. In reality, women involved in the feminist movement came in all shapes and sizes.
However, they created space for women to choose and decide in the direction of comfort and ease and examine for the first time the pathological, life-threatening aspects of appearance obsession. Feminist critiques were ignored until they created health centres, positive health care, the medical industry realised that masses of women would take their consumer dollars and move in the direction of those health care facilities which provided the greater care, ease, and respect for women’s bodies. The feminist struggle to end eating disorders has been an ongoing battle because of the obsession with judging females of all ages on the basis of how women look is never completely eliminated.
Media and confusion
Girls today are often just as self-hating when it comes to their bodies as their pre-feminist counterparts were. While the feminist movement produced many types of pro-female magazines, no feminist-oriented fashion magazine appeared to offer all females alternative visions of beauty. To critique sexist images without offering alternatives became an incomplete intervention. Indeed, much feminist critique of beauty has merely left females confused about what a healthy choice is. The need to go back to the beauty industry and create an ongoing sustained revolution to gain the freedom to love the bodies as ourselves had its roots in the ’70s, this long struggle shows the strength of capitalism and sexist thinking’s influence.
Feminism was mostly represented in the media by white women, the women of color became invisible because they are not white, whiteness is a privileged category. Despite belonging to the privileged category, they were in denial of discrimination. Author rightly says that there could be no real sisterhood between white women and women of color if white women were not to be responsible and divest of white supremacy.
This book is very helpful in terms of understanding how the structures have set its spokespersons very systematically around us and how women personalise the mistakes rather than seeing them as flaws in the structures, the internalisation happens at such a deep level that noises from inside become the voice. While reading the text I realised how important it is to understand how the women from ages have fought and struggled to present us this today. Today they can appear trivial to us who have been able to freely choose what we want to wear from childhood on. They fought so hard to make this today so trivial and organic. This reclaiming is momentous.
The book address domestic violence and patriarchal violence, it discusses how initially domestic violence was seen as male violence against women. The author talks of how domestic violence is a direct outcome of sexism and this cannot be addressed unless one reimagines notions of gender. However, this book does not undermine male violence on women, it wishes to address violence in relationships where there is a power difference, wherein women are also held accountable for their violent behavior, where many women exert violence on children. Here, the concept of patriarchal violence is highlighted as something, where power differential is exerted and enforced in terms of violence, and it is seen as a means of social control, to keep hierarchical structures in place.
“ In a culture of domination everyone is socialized to see violence as an acceptable means of social control. Dominant parties maintain power by the threat (acted upon or not) that abusive punishment, physical or psychological, will be used whenever the hierarchical structures in place are threatened, whether that be in male-female relationships, or parent and child bonds”
Feminist masculinity talks of polarities, viewing people in terms of binaries, the oppressor and the oppressed, where in all men are seen as enemy and women as oppressed, this discounts class privilege, cis gendered, religion and caste privilege of those calling upon this binary. It discounts intersectionality and how privilege plays out due to one’s social location.
“ Those 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”.
The author discusses what feminist masculinity might look like and a need to create that space to think over this concept.
“A feminist vision which embraces feminist masculinity, which loves boys and men and demands 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. Clearly we need new strategies, new theories, guides that will show us how to create a world where feminist masculinity thrives.” (Feminist masculinity here refers to keeping in mind the intersectionalities, and rejecting white supremacist capitalist patriarchy/ bhramanical patriarchy).
Liberating Marriage And Partnership
The book addresses marriage and relationships as one between equals. It addresses the disrupting and challenging notion that the female body belongs to men, imagining a world where men and women have more satisfying sexual relationships. It addresses mothering and the magnified role-attribution to the mother, challenges it and also talks of how white supremacist capitalist culture is becoming a challenge for women in parenting.
“The world of work within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy has made it harder for women to parent fully. Indeed, this reality is leading women who might choose a career to stay home. Rather than sexist thinking about male domination becoming the factor which takes women out of the workforce and puts them back in the home, it is the fear that we are raising a society of “parentless” children. Many women find competitive careerism leaves little time for nurturing loving relationships. The fact that no one talks about men leaving work to be full-time parents shows the extent to which sexist thinking about roles prevails. Most people in our society still believe women are better at raising children than men”.
“Female sexual freedom requires dependable, safe birth control. Without it females cannot exercise full control of the outcome of sexual activity. But female sexual freedom also requires knowledge of one’s body, an understanding of the meaning o f sexual integrity. Early feminist activism around sexuality focused so much attention on just the politics of granting females the right to be sexual whenever we wanted to be, with whomever we wanted to be sexual with, that there was little feminist education for critical consciousness teaching us how to respect our bodies in an anti-sexist way, teaching us what liberatory sex might look like.
Ultimately feminist interrogations of sexuality were all tied to a question of power. No matter how much feminist thinkers talked about equality, when it came to sexual desire and the enactment of sexual passion the dynamics of power and powerlessness evoked in the sexual arena disrupted simplistic notions of oppressor and oppressed. Nothing challenged the grounds of feminist critique of heterosexual practice more than the revelation that feminist lesbians engaged in sexual sadomasochism, a world of tops and bottoms, wherein positions of powerful and powerless were deemed acceptable. Visionary feminist discourse on sexual passion and pleasure has been pushed into the background, ignored by almost everyone. In its place females and males continue to rely on patriarchal models of sexual freedom”.
Lesbianism And Feminism
The author critques the media representation of straight women as feminists and putting them on pedestal, she also addresses the contribution of queer people to the feminist movement, and how they have opened up possibilities of wellbeing and happiness for women.
“Challenging homophobia will always be a dimension of feminist movement. For there can be no sustained sisterhood between women when there is ongoing disrespect and subordination of lesbian females by straight women. In visionary feminist movement the work of activists who are lesbians is fully acknowledged. Without radical lesbian input feminist theory and practice would never have dared to push against the boundaries of heterosexism to create spaces where women, all women, irrespective of their sexual identity and/or preference, could and can be as free as they want to be. This legacy should be continually acknowledged and cherished”.
“The academization of feminism reinscribed heterosexist hierarchies where straight women with fancy credentials were often given more respect and higher regard even if they had spent no time being involved in a women’s movement outside the academy. When it came to issues of difference, of expanding feminist theory and practice to include race and class, visionary lesbian thinkers were among those women most willing to change their perspectives”.
TO LOVE AGAIN: HEART OF FEMINISM
“Within patriarchy, heterosexist bonds were formed on the basis that women being the gender in touch with caring emotions would give men love, and in return men, being in touch with power and aggression, would provide and protect. Yet in so many cases in heterosexual families men did not respond to care: instead they were tyrants who used their power unjustly to coerce and control. From the start heterosexual women came to women’s liberation to stop the heartache — to break the bonds of love”.
Feminist thinking emphasizes at its core mutual growth and self actualization in parenting and in partnerships, an envisioning of relationships where everyone has rights , is respected ajd noone fears abuse otr subordination and is a resistance to everything that patriarchy upholds in the structure of relationships.
This book addresses power differential, binaries of oppressed and oppressor and puts at forefront intersectionalities, it talks of mutual partnership as foundation of love, and how feminist practice fosters a society where mutuality is nurutreed, where love is rooted in acceptance, recognition, care, responsibility, knowledge and commitment; and it puts forth the concept that “there can be no love without justice”
“To choose feminist politics, then, is a choice to love”.