Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Feminism is for Everybody is the February selection over at the 2012 Classic Feminist Literature Challenge.

I am a big fan of bell hooks, and have read Feminism is for Everybody a number of times over the last several years. It's one of those books that gets assigned a lot in undergraduate women's studies classes, which is why I've read it three times (at least). It's easy to see why it's so popular: it is clear, succinct, and no-nonsense. It lacks the fuzzy-wuzzy woo woo aspect of what I refer to as Cosmopolitan Feminism as well as the dense, twenty-five-cent-word-laden academic prose you find in Intentionally Obtuse, Missing-the-Point Feminism-- both of which, I'll argue, is what makes feminism unattractive (if not unreachable) to poor women, women of color, and a lot of men.

There's a lot to like about Feminism is for Everybody:

  1. bell hooks' definition of feminism: "A movement to end sexist oppression," is by far my favorite. I actually don't care for the dictionary definition of feminism, which merely requires people to theoretically support social, political, and economic equity with no expectation of action on their part. I'm not a fan of passive acceptance of an idea; I think that if you really believe in something, you should be out there doing something about it. 
  2. In a similar vein, I think it is important that bell hooks focuses on justice rather than equality on paper (which is, in my opinion, the downfall of liberal feminism and why I don't identify as one). It plays into the schism between ideology and action: just because we say or think things are equal, or have laws to that effect, doesn't mean they are. In many cases, equality on paper furthers oppression and discrimination (to wit: laws that treat pregnancy and childbirth as a medical disability. Little good has come of that).
  3. Flowing from that argument is the concept of intersectionality: that social oppressions do not exist in a vacuum and therefore cannot be disentangled from one another. Sexism feeds into racism, which feeds back into sexism, which feeds into classism and so on and so forth. Therefore, in order to really end sexism, we also have to end racism, classism, and homophobia. 
  4. Lastly, bell hooks takes a number of feminists to task over the previous item, pointing out that the movement has historically only served the interests of women who are affluent and white, often to the detriment of lesbians, poor women, and women of color. The notion that individuals are accountable for the effect their choices and priorities have on others is a bitter pill for a lot of those who subscribe to liberal feminism (or the Yay sisterhood! Feminism is about choice!  types) to swallow, but I still think it's important. Making a movement unaccountable to its followers and the behavior of its supporters above reproof doesn't lead to anything good. 
I maintain everyone should read this. It's short, easy-to-read, and a great introduction to why I hate men so damn much am a feminist. 5 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. LOL love your review! Great points to pick out. I always drool over books that talk about intersectionality. It is so my favorite thing!