Intro – Come Closer to Feminism

I mentioned in my introductory post that I was inspired by the blog where that guy reads Harry Potter for the first time and shares his reactions. I should warn you that, despite finding inspiration in his approach, I won’t be mirroring it. Mainly I’m not sure that making fun of everything I read will be the best way to enter into this topic. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that humour and fun have a place in creating change – more than that, I believe they should be a huge part of creating change. And Bell Hooks actually has one of my favourite quotes on the issue, which I came across when trying to write a workshop on social change.

Working within community, whether it be sharing a project with another person, or with a larger group, we are able to experience joy in struggle. That joy needs to be documented. For if we only focus on the pain, the difficulties which are surely real in any process of transformation, we only show a partial picture.

All that being said, I think these ideas are best approached with compassion, and that we should keep in the back our minds the fact that – Trigger Warning – one in 17 women in Canada is raped in her lifetime. So I’ll be doing my best not to make light of everything I come across.

Where I will follow his example is in sharing my most immediate reactions. As much as possible I will avoid my urges to intensely research everything and only publish a post once it reads like a well-researched essay. I will only make reference to things I was already aware of before starting the reading (with some occasional googling or leafing through books I own to provide a link or a reference). If then, as a result, things I say seem to be missing serious context, background, or if you know of information that would round out my interpretation, PLEASE make me aware of it in the comments. (And here I’m not asking that you do it nicely—though I would prefer it—I accept that it could seem ridiculous to you that I would not consider a particular topic, or idea, or author, and that your instinct may be to let me know aggressively. Whatever your reaction is, it is legitimate).

More than anything I want to invite discussion. From anyone and everyone. I hope it goes without saying that I intend for this blog to be a safe space for women to share, discuss, critique, and engage with ideas. I also hope that people without backgrounds in feminism will find this a helpful entry point and can learn alongside me, and if female, can share their own experiences. I hope men and transgendered people will also feel comfortable sharing here.

With those disclaimers (expect many of these as we continue through this blog), here are my thoughts on the Introduction to “Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics” by Bell Hooks.

It starts with a story many are familiar with. How most people react so strongly against the word feminism.

I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature – and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance.

Hooks goes on to write about these encounters in a tone that is pure compassion. She doesn’t judge those who hold these opinions, she only wishes she could free people of them. She wishes she had a handy little book she could pass them so they’d get simply and clearly what feminism is about.

I have wanted to give it to the folk I love so that they can understand better this cause, this feminist politics I believe in so deeply, that is the foundation of my political life

When you just wish you had a little book on Feminism (Source: Lisa Cyr)

When you just wish you had a little book on Feminism (Source: Lisa Cyr)

(I’m guessing that she hopes this book will be that handy little introduction).

She defines feminism for us –

Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

And I think this definition makes sense to me. I mean it probably isn’t the most simple definition, since you need people to agree on what sexism, exploitation, and oppression mean. (Although I think that’s basically the work of the movement isn’t it? Bringing to light the things in our society that are sexist, exploitative, and oppressive. Hmm, it’s a better definition than I first guessed). It also requires a good understanding of movement in order to be fully appreciated. Lots of people could look at that definition and think that feminists are an organized, coordinated group. That any one feminist speaks for all feminists. I think it’s important to realize that movements are very loose collections of people (and sometimes organizations) that share a goal and challenge authorities in order to bring it about, but who can vary wildly in their preferences in tactics and strategy. I take this fairly simplified definition from Suzanne Staggenborg’s “Social Movements.”

She also points out that this definition highlights that the movement is not anti-men, it is anti-sexism. And we get introduced to another important term in feminism. Patriarchy. This, Hooks tells us, is “institutionalized sexism.” (In trying to write this blog so that anyone might hop on board, I’m already starting to notice how in these kinds of discussions, the language that we use can easily creep away from the most common way of speaking into a more academic style).

Having studied political science, “institutionalized” is familiar enough. But does it really say that much on its own? Problem is, I can’t remember. I can’t remember the first article I read with the word institutionalized, and whether I got it right away or whether it took a professor explaining the term to understand it fully. It’s so hard to imagine how others experience the language we use.

So just to be clear, institutions are an important idea when talking about society, culture, politics, etc. They are basically any set of formalized rules or relationships that are widely accepted. (I am suddenly struck with the idea to build a little glossary of terms as I encounter them). That definition includes things like universities which are institutions, as well as the institution of marriage. Once something becomes institutionalized it becomes a lot more resistant to change, for better or for worse. So, institutionalized sexism is a big deal. It’s sexism that has sunk its talons into the formal structures of our lives.

I can tell already that I will probably enjoy this book and agree with most of its arguments. Hooks is an excellent writer, writing passionately and beautifully of the world that is possible without patriarchy.

Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility. Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we need to end racism, class elitism, imperialism. But it will make it possible for us to be fully self-actualized females and males able to create beloved community, to live together, realizing our dreams of freedom and justice, living the truth that we are all “created equal.”

She makes special mention of how men are also disadvantaged by patriarchy since most men are uncomfortable with the role of dominating women, but are nervous about challenging it.

I can’t honestly say if I believe that most men feel that way. I know I feel that way, but I worry that there are men out there that are perfectly comfortable taking advantage of women and accruing all the benefits of patriarchy.

She mentions that it is often a fear of losing the privileges of patriarchy that silences men from speaking out against it. And I can, with embarrassment, think of times when this was the case. In the moment, I have, on several occasions, let my fear of being teased or ostracized stop me from calling out a friend’s sexist comment. I tell myself they are just joking, and that all that would happen if I spoke up is that I would ruin the mood. Thinking back on it, I’m ashamed that I would place the “mood” above the ongoing abuse women have to face. But that is what privilege is about. From my position I get to prioritize not feeling uncomfortable above taking actions to help slow the torrent of oppression and discrimination women endure. So I let my female friend go home with the word “bitch” ringing in her ears, echoing across the chasm of gender that keeps her at the butt of so many jokes, so that  I don’t have to feel any distance between myself and my other male friends.

You might say that name calling or other similar events are not that big of a deal. They aren’t real sexism, like hiring a man over an equally or better qualified women. But my understanding is that most feminists will point out, and I tend to agree, that small sexist comments are part of continuing sexism. That when my friend says, “she’s a slut” or “shut up and get me a sandwich,” they are helping reinforce a society where women are shamed for being sexual, have their opinions silenced, and are valued only for playing the roles they have been assigned by men throughout history. Since I believe this is the case, I am partly to blame for helping this society continue every time I remain silent. And this is why I’m excited to “come closer” to feminism as Hooks invites me to do.

Next: 1 – Feminist Politics: Where We Stand

Series Guide: Bell Hooks – Feminism Is For Everybody – Series

Bell Hooks

Bell Hooks (Source: andres musta)

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5 responses to “Intro – Come Closer to Feminism

  1. Wow, I’m really commenting up a storm on this blog! I don’t mean to take up all the space in the comments, but your posts always get me thinking and/or seem inviting enough that I feel I can add my perspective. Thanks for that.

    What I wanted to open up was a discussion and/or just a comment on what you mentioned with men’s attitudes towards sexism and speaking up (or not). Your personal feelings aside (because it’s very clear to me, knowing you as I do, that you’re really not interested in oppressing women, loss of privilege or not), you mentioned that perhaps there are men out there who are perfectly happy to reap the benefits of male privilege at the expense of women, because it’s comfortable. And you also mention bell hooks’ idea that men are uncomfortable dominating women but feel nervous about speaking out about it. If I may add my perspective (limited though it may be, as I’m a woman and will always have less insight on how men feel, I wager), based on my experience, I think it’s a combination of both. I get the distinct impression, when speaking to men who very vocally defend the patriarchy, that there is a sense of defensiveness about it. And I might say (though, of course this could be wrong) that it comes from both of these things: they don’t realize that they are, on some level, uncomfortable oppressing women, and that’s too uncomfortable for them to confront, so they focus on the benefits they’re able to reap because of it, becoming attached enough to them that they don’t want to let go of them. This could just come from my super specific ideology, where I like to believe that people are not evil, just doing the best they can (even if their best isn’t great at certain times), and that would translate in this case to men not wanting to oppress women because they’re just bad people, but rather because it has become their way of dealing, their defense mechanism.

    I wonder, does this sound totally crazy, or something that others have also wondered about, in their interactions?

  2. Good call referencing Staggenborg’s Social Movements- that book is an amazing reference for understanding the heterogeneity of movements which I think is super useful to approaching feminist politics!

  3. I won’t lie, Ev, I really like where you’re going with this. Even better, I like -how- you’re going with this.
    I’d like to echo Lia’s thoughts about the relationship between dudes and the lurching, gross concoction of fear and ignorance that allows them to avoid second-guessing their complicity in oppressive acts. I have a feeling (of course, not a direct experience or anything more than a pseudopsychological survey, and thus, only a hunch) that if more men understood, in a more complete way, the visceral sort of damage that little oppressions can do, and also understood how little they would lose by no longer being the top of the top, that we would live in a radically different world.
    (One nitpicky thing I feel like a jerk for pointing out–I don’t think bell hooks capitalizes her name, and I feel like that’s probably a political choice. I think names are pretty important, and I don’t think you intend to rebrand this wonderful woman at all, so I thought I’d put it in your radar.)

  4. Pingback: Feminism Part 2 | What's Going On?·

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