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FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY Passionate Politics bell hooks South EndPress Cambridge, MA CONTENTS Copyright © 2000 by Gloria Watkins Cover design by Ellen P. Shapiro Cover illustration by Laura DeSantis, © Artville INTRODUCTION Any properly footnoted quotationof up to 500 sequential words Come Closer to Feminism Vll may be used without permission, as long as the total number of 1. FEMINIST POLITICS words quoted does not exceed 2,000. For longer quotations or for a greater number of total words, please write to South End Press for Where We Stand 1 permission. 2. CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING Libraryof Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A Constant Change of Heart 7 3. SISI:ERHOOD IS STILL POWERFUL 13 Hooks, Bell. Feminism is for everybody: passionate politics / Bell Hooks. 4. FEMINIST EDUCATION p.cm. FOR CRITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS 19 Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-89608-629-1 - ISBN 0-89608-628-3 (pbk.) 1. Feminist theory. 2. Feminism - Philosophy. 3. Feminism - 5. OUR BODIES, OURSELVES Reproductive Rights 25 Political aspects. 4. Sex discrimination against w1.Title. HQl190 .H67 2000 6. BEAUTY WITHIN AND WITHOUT 31 305.42'01- dc21 7. FEMINIST CLASS STRUGGLE 00-036589 37 South End Press, 7 Brookline Street, #1, Cambridge, MA 02139 8. GLOBAL FEMINISM 44 06 05 04 7 8 9 Printed in Canada 9. WOMEN AT WORI( 48 55 10. RACE AND GENDER 11. ENDING VIOLENCE 61 12. FEMINIST MASCULINITY 67 13. FEMINIST PARENTING 72 INTRODUCTION 14. LIBERATING MARRIAGE 78 Come Closer to Feminism AND PARTNERSHIP 15. A FEMINIST SEXUAL POLITIC Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am 85 An Ethics of Mutual Freedom and what I do that I am awriter, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analyzing the 16. TOTAL BLISS Lesbianism and Feminism 93 message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances 17. TO LOVE AGAIN through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages The Heart of Feminism 100 they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a culturatocunic, 18. FEMINIST SPIRITUALITY 105 derstand my passion for writingtsof folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory -that's the place where the questions stop. In 19. VISIONARY FEMINISM 110 stead I tend to hear allabout the evilof feminism and the bad femi 119 nists: how "they" hate men; how "they" want to go against nature INDEX and god; how "they" arallesbians;how "they" are takallthe jobs ABOUT SOUTH END PRESS 125 and making the world hard forwhite men, who do not stand achance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist booksmaga zines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it's really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry Vll V1ll FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY INTRODUCTION IX women who want to be like men. They do not even think about would be naive and wrongminded for feminist thinkers to see the feminism as being about rights - about women gaining equal movement as simplistically being for women against men. To end rights. When I talk about the feminism I know - up close and per patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism) we sonal- they willinglylisten, although when our conversations end, need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the "real" feminists until we change our minds and hearts, until we let go of sexist thought and action and replace itwith feminist thought and action. who hate men, who are angry.I assure them I am as a realand as rad icala feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to femi Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should nism they will see it is not how they have imagined it. Each time I leave one of these encounters, I want to have in my rule over us. But those benefits have come with aprice. In return for all the goodies men receive from patriarchy, they are required to hand alittle book so that I can say,read this book, and it will tell you what feminism is,what the movement is about. I want to be holding dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must to keep patriarchy intact. Most men find it difficult to be patri in my hand a concise, fairlyeasy to read and understand book; not a long book, not abook thick with hard to understand jargon and aca archs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this vio demic language, but a straightforward, clear book - easy to read without being simplistic. From the moment feminist thinking, poli lence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriar tics, and practice changed my life, I have wanted this book. I have wanted to giveit to the folk I love so that they can understand better chy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domina this cause, this feminist politics I believe in so deeply, that is the tion even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong. foundation of my political life. Again and again men tell me they have no idea what it is feminists I have wanted them to have an answer to the question "what is want. I believe them. I believe in their capacity to change and grow. feminism?" that is rooted neither in fear or fantasy. I have wanted And I believe that if they knew more about feminism they would no them to have this simple definition to read again and again so they longer fear it, for they would find in feminist movement the hope of know: "Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, their own release from the bondage of patriarchy. and oppression." I love this definition, which I first offered more It is for these men, young and old, and for all of us, that I have than 10 years ago in my book FeministTheory:FromMargintoCenter.I written this short handbook, the book I have spent more than 20 love it because it so clearlystates that the movement is not about be years longing for. I had to write it because I kept waiting for it to ap ing anti-male.It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that pear, and it did not. And without it there was no way to address the clarityhelps us remember that allof us, female and male, have been hordes of people in this nation who are daily bombarded with socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a anti-feminist backlash, who are being told to hate and resist a move consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that ment that they know very littleabout. There should be so many little feminist primers, easy to read pamphlets and books, telling us all does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it x FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY about feminism, that this book would be just another passionate 1 voice speakingout on behalfof feministpolitics.There should be bill boards; ads in magazines; ads on buses, subways, trains; television commercialsspreading the word, letting the world know more about feminism. We are not there yet. But this iswhat we must do to share feminism, to let the movement into everyone's mind and heart. Feminist change has already touched all our lives in a positive way. FEMINIST POLITICS And yet we lose sight of the positive when allwe hear about femi nism is negative. Where We Stand When I began to resist male domination, to rebel against patri archal thinking (andto oppose the strongest patriarchal voice in my Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploita life- my mother's voice), I was stilla teenager, suicidal, depressed, tion, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in uncertain about how I would find meaning in my life and a place for FeministTheory:FromMargintoCentermore than 10 years ago. Itwas myself. I needed feminism to give me a foundation of equality and my hope at the time that it would become a common definition justiceto stand on. Mama has come around to feminist thinking. She everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply sees me and allher daughters (weare six)livingbetter livesbecause of that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went feminist politics. She sees the promise and hope in feminist move directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which ment. It is that promise and hope that I want to share with you in implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether this book, with everybody. those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutional females and males are not alikeor even alwaysequal, but where a vi ized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand femi sion of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living nism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism. in aworld where we can allbe who we are, aworld of peace and pos As all advocates of feminist politics know, most people do not sibility. Feminist revolution alone will not create such a world; we understand sexism, or if they do, they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about need to end racism,classelitism,imperialism.But itwill make itpossi ble for us to be fullyself-actualized females and males able to create women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these beloved community, to livetogether, realizingour dreams of freedom folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of femi and justice, living the truth that we areall"created equal." Come nist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism closer. Seehow feminism can touch and change your life and allour from patriarchal mass media. The feminism they hear about the lives.Come closer and know firsthand what feminist movement is all most is portrayed bywomen who are primarily committed to gender about. Come closer and you will see: feminism is for everybody. equality - equal pay for equal work, and sometimes women and 1 2 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY FEMINIST POLITICS 3 men sharing household chores and parenting. They see that these women to follow. Participating in these radical freedom struggles women are usuallywhite and materially privileged. They know from awakened the spirit of rebellion and resistance in progressive fe mass media that women's liberation focuses on the freedom to have males and led them towards contemporary women's liberation. abortions, to be lesbians, to challenge rape and domestic violence. As contemporary feminism progressed, as women realized that Among these issues, masses of people agree with the idea of gender males were not the only group in our society who supported sexist equity in the workplace - equal pay for equal work. thinking and behavior - that females could be sexist as well - Since our society continues to be primarily a "Christian" cul anti-male sentiment no longer shaped the movement's conscious ture, masses of people continue to believe that god has ordained that ness. The focus shifted to an all-out effort to create gender justice. women be subordinate to men in the domestic household. Even But women could not band together to further feminism without though masses of women have entered the workforce, even though confronting our sexist thinking. Sisterhood could not be powerful many families are headed by women who are the sole breadwinners, as long as women were competitively at war with one another. Uto the vision of domestic lifewhich continues to dominate the nation's pian visions of sisterhood based solely on the awareness of the real imagination is one in which the logic of male domination is intact, ity that allwomen were in some way victimized by male domination whether men are present in the home or not. The wrongminded no were disrupted by discussions of class and race. Discussions of class tion of feminist movement which implied it was anti-male carried differences occurred early on in contemporary feminism, preceding with it the wrongminded assumption that all female space would discussions of race. Diana Press published revolutionary insights necessarily be an environment where patriarchy and sexist thinking about class divisions between women as early as the mid-'70s in their would be absent. Many women, even those involved in feminist pol collection of essays Classand Feminism. These discussions did not itics, chose to believe this as well. trivialize the feminist insistence that "sisterhood is powerful," they There was indeed a great deal of anti-male sentiment among simply emphasized that we could only become sisters in struggle by early feminist activists who were responding to male domination confronting the ways women - through sex, class, and race - with anger. It was that anger at injustice that was the impetus for cre dominated and exploited other women, and created a political plat ating a women's liberation movement. Early on most feminist activ form that would address these differences. ists (amajority of whom were white) had their consciousness raised Even though individual black women were active in contempo about the nature of male domination when they were working in rary feminist movement from its inception, they were not the indi anti-classist and anti-racist settings with men who were telling the viduals who became the "stars" of the movement, who attracted the world about the importance of freedom while subordinating the attention of mass media. Often individual black women active in women in their ranks. Whether it was white women working on be feminist movement were revolutionary feminists (like many white half of socialism, black women working on behalf of civil rights and lesbians). They were already at odds with reformist feminists who black liberation, or Native American women working for indige resolutely wanted to project a vision of the movement as being nous rights, it was clear that men wanted to lead, and they wanted solely about women gaining equality with men in the existing sys- 4 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY FEMINIST POLITICS 5 tem. Even before race became atalked about issue in feminist circles olutionary feminist thinking was most accepted and embraced in it was clear to black women (and to their revolutionary allies in academic circles. In those circles the production of revolutionary struggle)that theywere never going to have equalitywithin the exist feminist theory progressed, but more often than not that theory was ing white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. not made available to the public. It became and remains a privileged From its earliest inception feminist movement was polarized. discourse available to those among us who are highly literate, well Reformist thinkers chose to emphasize gender equality. Revolution educated, and usually materially privileged. Works like FeministThe ary thinkers did not want simply to alter the existing system so that ory:FromMarginto Centerthat offer a liberatory vision of feminist women would have more rights. We wanted to transform that sys transformation never receive mainstream attention. Masses of peo tem, to bring an end to patriarchy and sexism. Since patriarchal mass ple have not heard of this book. They have not rejected its message; media was not interested in the more revolutionary vision, it never they do not know what the message is. received attention in mainstream press. The vision of "women's lib While it was in the interest of mainstream white supremacist eration" which captured and still holds the public imagination was capitalist patriarchy to suppress visionary feminist thinking which the one representing women aswanting what men had. And this was was not anti-male or concerned with getting women the right to be the vision that was easier to realize. Changes in our nation's econ like men, reformist feminists were also eager to silence these forces. omy, economic depression, the loss of jobs, etc., made the climate Reformist feminism became their route to class mobility. They ripe for our nation's citizens to accept the notion of gender equality could break free of male domination in the workforce and be more in the workforce. self-determining in their lifestyles. While sexism did not end, they Given the reality of racism, it made sense that white men were could maximize their freedom within the existing system. And they more willing to consider women's rights when the granting of those could count on there being a lower class of exploited subordinated rights could serve the interestsof maintaining white supremacy. We women to do the dirty work they were refusing to do. By accepting can never forget that white women began to assert their need for and indeed colluding with the subordination of working-class and freedom after civilrights, just at the point when racialdiscrimination poor women, they not only allythemselves with the existing patriar was ending and black people, especially black males, might have at chy and its concomitant sexism, they give themselves the right to lead tained equalityin the workforce with white men. Reformist feminist a double life, one where they are the equals of men in the workforce thinking focusing primarily on equality with men in the workforce and at home when they want to be. If they choose lesbianism they overshadowed the original radical foundations of contemporary have the privilege of being equals with men in the workforce while feminism which called for reform as well as overall restructuring of using class power to create domestic lifestyles where they can society so that our nation would be fundamentally anti-sexist. choose to have little or no contact with men. Most women, especially privileged white women, ceased even Lifestyle feminism ushered in the notion that there could be as to consider revolutionary feminist visions, once they began to gain many versions of feminism as there werewomen. Suddenlythe politics economic power within the existing social structure. Ironically, rev- was being slowly removed from feminism. And the assumption pre- , ! .1 6 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY 2 vailed that no matter what a woman's politics, be she conservative or liberal, she too could fit feminism into her existing lifestyle. Obvi ously this way of thinking has made feminism more acceptable be cause its underlying assumption is that women can be feminists without fundamentally challenging and changing themselves or the culture.For example, let's take the issue of abortion. If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of repro CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING ductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never A Constant Change of Heart choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right Feminists are made, not born. One does not become an advocate of of women to choose and stillbe an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism. Concurrently feminist politics simply by having the privilege of having been born there can be no such thing as "power feminism" if the vision of female. Like allpolitical positions one becomes a believer in feminist politicsthrough choice and action. When women first organized in power evoked is power gained through the exploitation and oppres sion of others. groups to talk together about the issue of sexism and male domina Feminist politicsis losing momentum because feminist move tion, they were clear that females weres socialized to believe sexist ment has lost clear definitions. We have those definitions. Let's re thinking and values as males, the difference being simply that males claim them. Let's share them. Let's start over. Let's have T-shirts benefited from sexism more than females and were as a conse quence less likely toant to surrender patriarchal privilege. Before bumper stickers and postcards and hip-hop music, television and ra dio commercials, ads everywhere and billboards, and all manner of women could change patriarchy we had to change ourselves; we had printed material that tells the world about feminism. We can share the to raise our consciousness. Revolutionary feminist consciousness-raising emphasized the simple yet powerful message that feminism is a movement to end sex ist oppression. Let's start there. Let the movement begin again. importance of learning about patriarchy as a system of domination, how it became institutionalized and how it is perpetuated and main tained. Understanding the way male domination and sexism was ex pressed in everyday life created awareness in women of the ways we were victimized, exploited, and, in worse case scenarios, oppressed. Early on in contemporary feminist movement, consciousness-raising groups often became settings where women simply unleashed pent up hostility and rage about being victimized, with little or no focus on strategies of intervention and transformation. On a basic level 7 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING 8 9 many hurt and exploited women used the consciousness-raising in printed matter so as to reach awider audience, groups dismantled. group therapeutically. It was the site where they uncovered and The creation of women's studies as an academic discipline provided openly revealed the depths of their intimate wounds. This confes another setting where women could be informed about feminist sional aspect served as a healing ritual. Through consciousness thinking and feminist theory. Many of the women who spearheaded raisingwomen gained the strength to challenge patriarchal forces at the introduction of women's studies classes into colleges and uni work and at home. versities had been radical activists in civil rights struggles, gay rights, Importantly though, the foundation of this work began with and early feminist movement. Many of them did not have doctor women examining sexist thinking and creating strategies where we ates, which meant that they entered academic institutions receiving would change our attitudes and belief via a conversion to feminist lower pay and working longer hours than their colleagues in other thinking and a commitmentto feminist politics. Fundamentally, the disciplines. By the time younger graduate students joined the effort consciousness-raising (CR) group was a site for conversion. To to legitimize feminist scholarship in the academy we knew that it build a mass-based feminist movement women needed to organize. was important to gain higher degrees. Most of us saw our commit The consciousness-raising session, which usually took place in ment to women's studies as political action; we were prepared to someone's home (rather than public space that had to be rented or sacrifice in order to create an academic base for feminist movement. donated), was the meeting place. Itwas the place where seasoned By the late '70s women's studies was on its way to becoming feminist thinkers and activists could recruit new converts. an accepted academic discipline. This triumph overshadowed the Importantly, communication and dialogue was a central agenda fact that many of the women who had paved the way for the at the consciousness-raising sessions. In many groups a policy was institutionalization of women's studies were fired because they had in place which honored everyone's voice. Women took turns speak master's degrees and not doctorates. While some of us returned to ing to make sure everyone would be heard. This attempt to create a graduate school to get PhDs, some of the best and brightest among non-hierarchal model for discussion positively gave every woman a us did not because they were utterly disillusioned with the university chance to speak but often did not create a context for engaged dia and burnt out from overwork as well as disappointed and enraged logue. However, in most instances discussion and debate occurred, that the radical politics undergirding women's studies was being re usually after everyone had spoken at least once. Argumentative dis placed by liberal reformism. Before too long the women's studies cussion was common in CR groups as it was the way we sought to classroom had replaced the free-for-all consciousness-raising group. clarify our collective understanding of the nature of male domina Whereas women from various backgrounds, those who worked tion. Only through discussion and disagreement could we begin to solely as housewives or in service jobs, and big-time professional find a realistic standpoint on gender exploitation and oppression. women, could be found in diverse consciousness-raising groups, the As feminist thinking, which emerged first in the context of academy was and remains a site of class privilege. Privileged white small groups where individuals often knew each other (they may middle-class women who were a numeric majority though not nec have worked together and/ or were friends), began to be theorized essarily the radical leaders of contemporary feminist movement of- CONSCIOUSNESS-RAISING 11 10 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY ten gained prominence because they were the group mass media one a "feminist." Without confronting internalized sexism women who picked up the feminist banner often betrayed the cause in their focused on as representatives of the struggle. Women with revolu tionary feminist consciousness, many of them lesbian and from interactions with other women. By the early '80s the evocation of a politicized sisterhood, so working-class backgrounds, often lost visibilitys the movement re ceived mainstream attention. Their displacement became complete crucial at the onset of the feminist movement, lost meaning as the terrain of radical feminist politics was overshadowed by a lifestyle once women's studies became entrenched in colleges and universi tieswhich are conservative corporate structures. Once the women's based feminism which suggested anywoman could be a feminist no matter what her political beliefs. Needless to say such thinking has studies classroom replaced the consciousness-raising group as the primary site for the transmission of feminist thinking and strategies undermined feminist theory and practice, feminist politics. When feminist movement renews itself, reinforcing again and again the for social change the movement lost its mass-based potential. Suddenly more and more women began to either call them strategies that willenable amass movement to end sexism and sexist exploitation and oppression for everyone, consciousness-raising selves "feminists" or use the rhetoric of gender discrimination to change their economic status. The institutionalization of feminist will once again attain its original importance. Effectively imitating the model of AA meetings, feminist consciousness-raising groups studies created a body of jobs both in the world of the academy and in the world of publishing. These career-based changes led to forms will take place in communities, offering the message of feminist thinking to everyone irrespective of class, race, or gender. While of career opportunism wherein women who had never been politi callycommitted to mass-based feminist struggle adopted the stance specific groups based on shared identities might emerge, at the end of every month individuals would be in mixed groups. and jargon of feminism when it enhanced their class mobility. The dismantling of consciousness-raising groups allbut erased the notion Feminist consciousness-raising for males is as essential to revo lutionary movement as female groups. Had there been an emphasis that one had to learn about feminism and make an informed choice about embracing feminist politics to become a feminist advocate. on groups for males that taught boys and men about what sexism is and how it can be transformed, it would have been impossible for Without the consciousness-raising group as a sitewhere women confronted their own sexism towards other women, the direction of mass media to portray the movement as anti-male. It would also have preempted the formation of an anti-feminist men's movement. feminist movement could shift to a focus on equality in the work force and confronting male domination. With heightened focus on Often men's groups were formed in the wake of contemporary fem inism that in no way addressed the issues of sexism and male domi the construction of woman as a "victim" of gender equality deserv ing of reparations (whether through changes in discriminatory laws nation. Like the lifestyle-based feminism aimed at women these groups often became therapeutic settings for men to confront their or affirmative action policies) the idea that women needed to first confront their internalized sexism as part of becoming feminist lost wounds without a critique of patriarchy or a platform of resistance to male domination. Future feminist movement will not make this currency. Females of allages acted as though concern for or rage at male domination or gender equality was allthat was needed to make mistake. Males of allages need settings where their resistance to sex- 12 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY 3 ism is affirmed and valued. Without males as alliesin struggle femi nist movement will not progress. As it is we have to do so much work to correct the assumption deeply embedded in the cultural psyche that feminism is anti-male. Feminism is anti-sexism. A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to femi nism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and SISTERHOOD IS STILL POWERFUL behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat. Sig nificantly, the most powerful intervention made by consciousness raisinggroups was the demand that all females confront their inter When the slogan "Sisterhood is powerful" was first used, it was awe nalized sexism, their allegiance to patriarchal thinking and action, and their commitment to feminist conversion. That intervention is some. I began my full-fledged participation in feminist movement my sophomore year in college. Attending an allwomen's college for stillneeded.It remains the necessary step for anyone choosing femi nist politics. The enemy within must be transformed before we can a year before I transferred to Stanford University, I knew from first hand experiencethe differencein femaleself-esteemand self-assertion confront theenemy outside. The threat, the enemy, is sexist thought and behavior. As long as females take up the banner of feminist poli in same-sex classrooms versus those where males were present. At Stanford males ruled the dayin every classroom. Females spoke less, tics without addressing and transforming their own sexism, ulti mately the movement will be undermined. took less initiative, and often when they spoke you could hardly hear what they were saying.Their voices lacked strength and confidence. And to make matters worse we were told time and time again by male professors that we were not as intelligent as the males, that we could not be "great" thinkers, writers, and so on. These attitudes shocked me since I had come from an all-female environment where our intellectual worth and value was constantly affirmed by the standard of academic excellence our mostly female professors set for us and themselves. Indeed, Iwas indebted tomy favorite white female English pro fessor who thought I was not getting the academic guidance I needed at our women's college because they did not have an intensi fied writing program. She encouraged me to attend Stanford. She believed that I would someday be an important thinker and writer. 13 14 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY SISTERHOOD IS STILL POWERFUL 15 At Stanford my abilitywas constantly questioned. I began to doubt movement created the context for female bonding. We did not myself. Then feminist movement rocked the campus. Female stu bond against men, we bonded to protect our interests as women. dents and professors demanded an end to discrimination based on When we challenged professors who taught no books by women, it gender inside and outside the classroom. Wow, it was an intense and was not because we did not like those professors (we often did); awesome time. There I took my first women's studies class with the rightly, we wanted an end to gender biases in the classroom and in the curriculum. writer Tillie Olsen, who compelled her students to think first and foremost about the fate of women from working-class backgrounds. The feminist transformations that were taking place in our coed There the scholar and one-day biographer of Anne Sexton, Diane college in the early '70s were taking place as well in the world of Middlebrook, passed out one of my poems in our class on contem home and work. First and foremost feminist movement urged fe porary poetry with no name on it and asked us to identify whether males to no longer see ourselves and our bodies as the property of the writer was male or female, an experiment that made us think crit men. To demand control of our sexuality,effective birth control and icallyabout judging the value of writing on the basis of gender bi reproductive rights, an end to rape and sexualharassment, we needed ases. There I began to write my first book at the age of 19, Ain't I a to stand in solidarity. In order for women to change job discrimina Woman:BlackWomenandFeminism.None of these incredible trans tion we needed to lobby as a group to change public policy. Chal formations would have happened without feminist movement cre lenging and changing female sexist thinking was the first step ating a foundation for solidarity between women. towards creating the powerful sisterhood that would ultimately rock That foundation rested on our critique of what we then called our nation. "the enemy within," referring to our internalized sexism. We all Following in the wake of civil rights revolution feminist move knew firsthand that we had been socialized as females by patriarchal ment in the '70sand '80schanged the face of our nation. The femi thinking to see ourselves as inferior to men, to see ourselves as al nist activists who made these changes possible cared for the ways and only in competition with one another for patriarchal ap well-being of all females. We understood that political solidarity be proval, to look upon each other with jealousy, fear, and hatred. tween females expressed in sisterhood goes beyond positive recog Sexist thinking made us judge each other without compassion and nition of the experiences of women and even shared sympathy for punish one another harshly. Feminist thinking helped us unlearn fe common suffering. Feminist sisterhood is rooted in shared commit male self-hatred. It enabled us to break free of the hold patriarchal ment to struggle against patriarchal injustice, no matter the form thinking had on our consciousness. that injustice takes. Political solidarity between women always un Male bonding was an accepted and affirmed aspect of patriar dermines sexism and sets the stage for the overthrow of patriarchy. chal culture. It was simply assumed that men in groups would stick Significantly, sisterhood could never have been possible across the together, support one another, be team players, place the good of boundaries of raceand classifindividualwomen had not been willing the group over individual gain and recognition. Female bonding was to divest of their power to dominate and exploit subordinated groups not possible within patriarchy; it was an act of treason. Feminist 16 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY SISTERHOOD IS STILL POWERFUL 17 of women. As long aswomen are using class or race power to domi triarchy re-aligned themselves with sexist men. Radical women who nate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized. felt betrayed by the fierce negative competition between women As more women begin to opportunistically lay claim to femi often simply retreated. And at this point feminist movement, nism in the '80s without undergoing the feminist consciousness which was aimed at positively transforming the lives of all females, raising that would have enabled them to divest of their sexism, the became more stratified. The vision of sisterhood that had been the patriarchal assumption that the powerful should rule over the weak rallying cry of the movement seemed to many women to no longer informed their relations to other women. As women, particularly matter. Political solidarity between women which had been the force previously disenfranchised privileged white women, began to ac putting in place positive change has been and is now consistently un quire classpower without divesting of their internalized sexism, divi dermined and threatened. As a consequence we are as in need of a sions between women intensified. When women of color critiqued renewed commitment to political solidarity between women as we the racism within the society as a whole and called attention to the were when contemporary feminist movement first began. waysthat racism had shaped and informed feminist theory and prac When contemporary feminist movement first began we had a tice, many white women simply turned their backs on the vision of vision of sisterhood with no concrete understanding of the actual sisterhood, closing their minds and their hearts. And that was work we would need to do to make political solidarity a reality. equally true when it came to the issue of classism among women. Through experience and hard work, and, yes, by learning from our I remember when feminist women, mostly white women with failures and mistakes, we now have in place a body of theory and class privilege, debated the issue of whether or not to hire domestic shared practice that can teach new converts to feminist politics what help, trying to come up with away to not participate in the subordi must be done to create, sustain, and protect our solidarity. Since nation and dehumanization of less-privileged women. Some of masses of young females know little about feminism and many those women successfully created positive bonding between them falselyassume that sexism is no longer the problem, feminist educa selves and the women they hired so that there could be mutual ad tion for critical consciousness must be continuous. Older feminist vancement in a larger context of inequality. Rather than abandoning thinkers cannot assume that young females will just acquire knowl the vision of sisterhood, because they could not attain some utopian edge of feminism along the way to adulthood. They require guid state, they created a real sisterhood, one that took into account the ance. Overall women in our society are forgetting the value and needs of everyone involved. This was the hard work of feminist power of sisterhood. Renewed feminist movement must once again solidarity between women. Sadly, as opportunism within feminism raise the banner high to proclaim anew "Sisterhood is powerful." intensified, as feminist gains became commonplace and were there Radical groups of women continue our commitment to build fore taken for granted, many women did not want to work hard to ing sisterhood, to making feminist political solidarity between create and sustain solidarity. women an ongoing reality.We continue the work of bonding across A large body of women simply abandoned the notion of sister race and class. We continue to put in place the anti-sexist thinking hood. Individual women who had once critiqued and challenged pa- and practice which affirms the reality that females can achieve 18 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY 4 self-actualization and success without dominating one another. And we have the good fortune to know everyday of our lives that sister hood is concretely possible, that sisterhood is still powerful. FEMINIST EDUCATION FOR CRITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS Before women's studies classes, before feminist literature, individ ual women learned about feminism in groups. The women in those groups were the first to begin to create feminist theory which in cluded both an analysis of sexism, strategies for challenging patriar chy, and new models of socialinteraction. Everything we do in lifeis rooted in theory. Whether we consciously explore the reasons we have a particular perspective or take a particular action there is also an underlying system shaping thought and practice. In its earliest in ception feminist theory had as its primary goal explaining to women i II and men how sexist thinking worked and how we could challenge and change it. In those days most of us had been socialized by parents and so ciety to accept sexist thinking. We had not taken time to figure out the roots of our perceptions. Feminist thinking and feminist theory urged us to do that. At first feminist theory was made available by word of mouth or in cheaply put together newsletters and pam phlets. The development of women's publishing (where women wrote, printed, and controlled production on all levels, including marketing) became the site for the dissemination of feminist think- 19 20 FEMINISM IS FOR EVERYBODY FEMINIST EDUCATION FOR CRITICAL CONSCIOUSNESS 21 ing.While my first book, Ain't I a Woman:BlackWomenandFeminism, in their academic explorations. When I was a graduate student pre written in the '70sand published in 1981, was produced by a small paring to write a dissertation, feminist thinking allowed me to socialist collective, South End Press, at least half of its members choose towrite about a black woman writer who was not widely were feminist women, and alits members were anti-sexist. read at the time, Toni Morrison. Very little serious literary scholar Producing a body of feminist literature coupled with the de ship had been done on works by black women writers prior to femi mand for the recovery of women's history was one of the most pow nist movement. When Alice Walker acquired fame, she participated erful and successful interventions of contemporary feminism. In all in the recovery of the work of writer Zora Neale Hurston, who spheres of literary writing and academic scholarship works by shortly became the most canonized black woman writer in Ameri women had historically received little or no attention as a conse can literature. Feminist movement created a revolution when it de quence of gender discrimination. Remarkably, when feminist move manded respect for women's academic work, recognition of that ment exposed biases in curriculum, much of this forgotten and work past and present, and an end to gender biases in curriculum ignored work was rediscovered. The formation of women's studies and pedagogy. programs in colleges and universities provided institutionallegitima The institutionalization of women's studies helped spread the tion for academic focus on work by women. Following in the wake word about feminism. Itoffered a legitimate site for conversion by of black studies, women's studies became the place where one could providing a sustained body of open minds. Students who attended learn about gender, about women, from a non-biased perspective. women's studies classes were there to learn. They wanted to know Contrary topopular stereotypes, professors in women's studies more about fem
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