I was excited to be assigned the three chapters of bell hooks’ book that deal with education, parenthood and ending violence as these are three subjects near to my heart. I am a parent, work in education and support tougher penalties for domestic violence.
Hooks opens chapter 8 describing that feminism is often the domain of college-educated women and points out that there are those in society that are unable to read or write. The National Center for Education Statistics states roughly 20% of Americans are illiterate1. As much of the feminist ideals were first shared via written communication, those unable to read were left out and notes there are places in the US where people have never heard the word “feminist”. Hooks makes a strong case that teaching illiterate people to read and write should be a focus of the feminist movement. This article on the characteristics of white supremacy culture lists “worship of the written words” as a barrier to equity which supports hooks’ theory.
Hooks states that feminism is often treated as theory in college instead of being a way of life for the average household. Long-held traditional sex roles are not challenged since people do not know they can or should be challenged. Two easy positive ways for feminist ideals to be disseminated would be as simple as feminists getting out and talking to people about the issues and making educational seminars available to the general public. A more complex way to communicate ideas is to make sure the scholarly writings are accessible and easily understood by those with less than an advanced degree.
An issue that feminists have to overcome is the separation of “thinking” (theory) and “doing” (praxis). Theorists have made some ideals so lofty that they cannot be put into practice and are put down by the activists (doers). The activists can be so anti-intellectual that they ignore all theories and the critical thinking that requires a plan to effect real change. Both theory and practice are needed. The theorists must make their ideas accessible to the common person and the activists must take the time to consider the ramifications of their work. Both of these issues would be helped by being able to read, write and communicate effectively but also clearly.
Chapter 9 delves deep into the feminist ideals of ending violence against women as part of ending all violence. Because this movement has focused on men as abusers and women as victims the argument does not fully encompass how both sexes can be abusive and how both sexes allow the abuse. The person causing the harm often has tacit approval to commit the harm especially in a home setting where the father figure is abusive to the woman and children in the home. Hooks maintains that women are more likely to use “coercive authority” (threats) than men while men are more likely to use physical violence than women but both need to be stopped. Hooks points out that in lesbian relationships there can also be violence or coercion and believes this is due to one partner having power over the other which proves all violence is connected. Male violence against women is a way that men extert control over women and helps them maintain their dominance. This type of violence is often the most accepted and unpunished type of violence. In the US’s past, the male dominance extended to fathers telling their daughters what (if any) type of education the girl could get, who and when they were to marry and if they were allowed to work and I believe it happens in other parts of the world currently. As the US became more capitalist and less agricultural, men lost the complete control over their wives and children but home violence did not cease. As women entered the workforce, men lost their power of being the sole wage earner and began to assert more violence to retain their power.
Hooks states that black men perpetuate a cycle of violence. This starts with the man being humiliated at work due to racism but unable to “fight back” because he needs the job. The man goes home and abuses his female partner. He gets relief from the anger and humiliation and due to male dominance he will not face any retribution from the female. Some women see the violence as a sign of love. Parents teach children that violence is acceptable by spanking a child and allowing a child to witness physical violence in the home. Entertainment glories violence especially when the woman has any kind of power (hooks uses the word “uppity” on page 124). Hooks believes that black women see physical abuse as another type of oppression they have no control over. Hooks believes militarism is linked to male dominance but is careful to point out that women can support the military and use of military force.
The part I found most interesting was “dualist thinking” which is thinking men are strong and violent and women are weak and gentle. This sets up an abuser/victim situation that supports sexism because women are treated as objects that are incapable of making decisions. This idea is a common theme in the book.
To end violence both sexes must stop thinking violence is part of a loving relationship, learn how to resolve disagreements calmly, and reject male domination over women. Feminists need to work to make these ideals commonplace.
Chapter 10 opens with hooks again asserting that feminism only discussed white, middle-class, college-educated views on parenthood being an oppressive obstacle. In black culture motherhood was less of a problem than oppressions such as racism, lack of education, skills and jobs. Hooks states white women and black women are often directly opposed to needs-white women want to work outside the home for pay and black women want to be home nurturing their family without the need for paid employment.
Feminist interest in motherhood is both positive and negeative. A positive aspect is more research is being done to promote and support parenthood. A negative aspect is if motherhood is romanticized it can fall prey to male supremacy-that a woman’s value is only motherhood. To combat these issues motherhood must be recognized as significant and valuable but not obligatory or oppressive.
For equality to exist, men must share in parenting. Hooks makes the point that men can/will not share in parenting until they are taught from birth that fatherhood is as important as motherhood. Fathers that do participate fully in childcare are considered extraordinary and/or a poor copy of mothers. This is detrimental because it denies the child access to both parents and puts the entire burden of childcare on the woman.
Some feminists do not want women to give up control that motherhood can bring. Feminists need to help society realize that equal parenting gives children more male role models, reduces the stigma that parenthood is solely a woman’s domain, reduces sexism and male dominance and helps men be more responsible. Couples considering having children need to discuss these issues before they have children.
Hooks states that tax funded public child care with both male and female teachers is needed and believes this should be a future platform for feminists. In addition, community child care is needed-where adults look out for all children whether they are related to the child or not. This is similar to the “It takes a village to raise a child”. Hooks notes she does not have children but does spend time with children.
These chapters were interesting and I learned about a different perspective.
1Adult Literacy in the United States, nces.ed.gov/datapoints/2019179.asp. https://nces.ed.gov/datapoints/2019179.asp