Update, 2 April 2011: And but so I obviously still have some work to do on making this CST compliant but I promise I've added a lot more of my own words of explication in an effort to make this less of a cut-and-paste writeup.

1984 bell hooks book about feminist theory (duh) and how it could and should be expanded to address race and class issues as well as gender-based discrimination. A continuation of the discussion in hooks' famous 1981 book, Ain't I A Woman?, Feminist Theory: from margin to center does not shrink away from the complexity of modern race, class, and gender issues. It calls on its readers to acknowledge the ways in which these are intertwined, that any form of exploitation or oppression cannot effectively be dismantled without addressing all others. I looked it up for its chapter "Men: Comrades In Struggle", because I believe men can and should be feminists --- or, if you prefer, can and should support feminism1. I was not disappointed. The rest of the book, which addresses topics such as feminist activism, the role of men in feminist movement, power, work, education, violence, parenting, and revolution in general, is equally well thought-out and thought-provoking. A good read.

Some highlights I could not resist quoting in full:

On intersectionality:

Black men may be victimized by racism, but sexism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of women. White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of black people. Both groups have led liberation movements that favor their interests and support the continued oppression of other groups. Black male sexism has undermined struggles to eradicate racism just as white female racism undermines feminist struggle. As long as these two groups or any group defines liberation as gaining social equality with ruling class white men, they have a vested interest in the continued exploitation and oppression of others. (15)

This passage, from the chapter "Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory", is a good demonstration of Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center as probably one of my earliest readings that analyzed and expressed the idea of intersectionality, albeit without using that term. Likewise, it was one of the first things I read that got me to examine my own privilege, a subject which I will probably never stop over-thinking (can I pretend it's not my attention surfeit disorder but rather my just trying to bring up the average level of thought about it maybe?)

More on privilege:

All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another. It is crucial that feminist activists not get bogged down in intensifying our awareness of this fact to the extent that we do not stress the more unemphasized point which is that men can lead affirming, meaningful lives without exploiting and oppressing women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. While they need not blame themselves for accepting sexism, they must assume responsibility for eliminating it. It angers women activists who push separatism as a goal of feminist movement to hear emphasis placed on men being victimized by sexism; they cling to the 'all men are the enemy' version of reality. Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it. This suffering should not be ignored. While it in no way diminishes the seriousness of male abuse and oppression of women, or negates male responsibility for exploitative actions, the pain men experience can serve as a catalyst calling attention to the need for change. (72)

What I love about this passage, from the chapter "Men: Comrades In Struggle", which again was the first reason I picked up this book, is how it reframes sexism as a problem for everyone, be they persons of gender or members of a more privileged unmarked category. We can rant and rave about how everything sucks all day every day, but at the end I think we won't make any kind of progress unless unless we have a clear vision of what we are working for and how that is a good thing for everyone, pursue Good Thing X instead of Working Against Bad Thing Y or whatever. Along those same lines:

On how maybe "men are the enemy" is a really bad strategy

So far, feminist rhetoric identifying men as the enemy has had few positive implications. Had feminist activists called attention to the relationship between ruling class men and the vast majority of men, who are socialized to perpetuate and maintain sexist oppression even as they reap no life-affirming benefits, these men might have been motivated to examine the impact of sexism in their lives. Often feminist activists talk about male abuse of women as if it is an exercise of privilege rather than an expression of moral bankruptcy, insanity, and dehumanization. (75)

On work:

As more women face the bankruptcy of the present economic system, we must strive to envision new economic programs while working to alleviate women's current economic plight through meaningful reforms. Efforts to create new jobs by shortening the work week should be supported. Women should support the efforts of couples to share one high paying position. Women should work to bring an end to the "family wage" men receive. Women should support welfare and demand welfare reform. On a very basic level, women need to learn to manage whatever money they receive more effectively.... ("Rethinking the Nature of Work", 101)

On nonviolence and noncoercion:

It is essential for continued feminist struggle to end violence against women that this struggle be viewed as a component of an overall movement to end violence. So far feminist movement has primarily focused on male violence and as a consequence lends credibility to sexist stereotypes that suggest men are violent, women are not; men are abusers, women are victims. This type of thinking allows us to ignore the extent to which women (with men) in this society accept and perpetuate the idea that it is acceptable for a dominant party or group to maintain power over the dominated by using coercive force. It allows us to overlook or ignore the extent to which women exert coercive authority over others or act violently. The fact that women may not commit violent acts as often as men does not negate the reality of female violence. We must see both men and women in this society as groups who support the use of violence if we are to eliminate it. ("Feminist Movement to End Violence", 118)

  1. Feminist Theory: from margin to center was perhaps the first book I read that defined feminism in terms of ending sexism, rather than in terms of gender equality, women's rights/liberation, or anything else that could more easily be misinterpreted as anti-male. It also suggested separating feminism from identity politics: "I advocate feminism" instead of "I am a feminist." The latter reduces "feminist" to a label, invites debates about who is entitled to claim that label, and is generally divisive and marginalizing (remember the title of the book?) I really like this idea.

Source: hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: from margin to center. Boston, MA: South End Press. 1984.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.