Bell Hooks / Montikamoss / Wikimedia Commons
I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t read bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Until recently, neither had I. Whatever wave of feminism we are currently in has not focussed on a deep reading of feminist literature, nor has it focussed on political agitation. It has focussed a lot more intently on Nasty Women t-shirts and Male Tears mugs. And those have their place – in order to be a liveable philosophy, feminism must maintain its sense of fun. But it’s meaningless if it doesn’t also stand for something real.
In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, published in 1984, hooks (yes, always lowercase) writes about the particular struggles of black and working-class women, who she felt were being ignored by Second-Wave Feminism. In particular, she critiques Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique – a lauded feminist work, popular at the time – for its exclusive focus on white, college-educated, married women. Take out the married part, and you have a valid criticism of today’s mainstream, white, girl boss feminism.
A common refrain from modern-day feminists is fuck the patriarchy, but hooks’ coined the rather more wordy white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy. It is a bit harder to chant, but hooks argues that all forms of oppression stem from the “ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels”. And that “individuals who fight for the eradication of sexism without struggles to end racism or classism undermine their own efforts.” While “individuals who fight for the eradication of racism or classism while supporting sexist oppression are helping to maintain the cultural basis of all forms of oppression.” hooks argues that all oppressed peoples are linked by their oppression, and none are freed while the system designed to oppress them continues to function.
Through hooks’ lens, it is the entire system that is corrupt, and equality will never be achieved by simply leaning in (a term that would be popularised decades later, in a text some might consider the working woman’s version of The Feminine Mystique). According to hooks, it would only be through a total transformation of society that equality would ever be possible. Materialist feminism, she argues, must focus on the struggle of those on the margins as much, or more, than it focuses on those in the metaphorical centre.
To say that we are living in strange times is putting it mildly. Much of the country is facing ongoing drought, the political scene is in massive upheaval, events are being cancelled left right and centre, and we’re increasingly self-isolating. The world feels fractured. In times like these it’s easy to become despondent. But we must remember that self-isolation is a communal act: we are alone, but we are doing it for the greater good. We’re doing it for the herd. We’re doing it for the sake of those weaker than us, as much as we are doing it for ourselves.
It’s a good time to watch Charmed from beginning to end. Ditto Gilmore Girls. But it’s also a good time to read up on feminist theory. To remind ourselves of what we truly stand for.
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center can be found at good bookstores and online.Support Villainesse