I’ve been reading at a much slower pace this month, partly due a stupid number of headaches and partly because of the books I have been reading. I have been really enjoying taking my time reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which I haven’t read since my late teens- more on this soon. However, the book that has taken me quite some time to get into and digest is bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody. I am just one of the slowest non-fiction readers ever, as I don’t read it very often, I find it hard to keep focused and I choose subject matter that I need time to process.
Feminism is for Everybody is March/April’s book choice for the Feminist Orchestra. This is a book club created by the lovely booktuber Jean, over at Jean Bookish Thoughts and this year Lauren from Reads and Daydreams is hosting too. You can find the Feminist Orchestra here on Goodreads and here is an intro video on Jean’s channel. The idea of this group is to explore feminism and different types of feminist writing within a community environment. The idea of it being like an an orchestra is wonderful; all the ideas and discussions and connection that will be created by members, working together to shape a feminist online community.
Now, I am not new to feminism, far from it, but I am rather new to feminist writing and also reading texts from a focused, specifically feminist angle. So ,this book club is perfect for me and I’m looking forward to making some friends along the way too.
Bell hooks was an influential member of the feminist movement in America in the late 1960s onwards and is still very much politically active today. This book is intended to be a go-to introduction to what she believes feminism was, is and could be in America. It was written back in 2000, something to bear in mind. Find more about bell hooks here.
She tackles racism, classism and gender discrimination head on. She is fierce and passionate and brave.
I learned a lot about the history of feminist movement in the USA; its motivation, its origins, its successes and failures, how it has been perceived, its structure and divisions within. It made me realise that I have never read anything like this about the British movement. I would love your recommendations.
I enjoyed learning a little about Hooks’ own background and experiences. As I struggle with non-fiction, I wish there would have been a bit more of this as it helped me to engage with the text on a more personal level. I know the point of the book is to be a brief exploration and not a memoir, about a movement rather than individuals. But still. Her story made me think how easy it is these days, to forget that not that long ago, being a woman and a woman of colour dropped you to the bottom of the social justice scale and if you added working class to that too, the challenges were horrendous. What an exciting time the feminist movement must have been for women with all that energy and potential, with the opportunity to find your voice. I am fully aware that there were deep divides, conflict and many things that did not in fact change but wow, what a beginning.
I thought the focus on bringing feminism back into the community, making it accessible and relevant for everyday life was brilliant. I also utterly value her belief that language and education has to be accessible beyond academic debate. She makes the point that right wing movements makes their writing a lot more accessible to a wider range of readers. She highlights the need for talking and discussion, for audio tapes and radio and tv so that different ways of learning and communicating reach more people. I think that social media in the present day has such potential to reach out, inform, invite discussion and unite.
In my opinion, hooks writes very perceptively about young women of today. She describes a complacency, a taking for granted, when it comes to equality. I see this so often and if you are complacent, things can change in a heartbeat. She writes that so often young women don’t have the knowledge of the past nor the awareness of how discrimination works. I agree.
A theme running throughout the book, which I agree with whole heartedly, is that criticising a system is vital but it can only have a positive impact if there is something there as a viable alternative otherwise there is nothing fundamental and solid to work with.
I found the discussion on whether the ‘right’ to work really does mean self-actualisation and freedom most interesting and inspiring. There are just so many layers to this and I look forward to reading more on this topic.
The section on how being a woman was and still often is defined by the ability to bear a child was very relevant to me personally. I have chosen not to have children and believe that there is still such stigma attached to this in western society. Who are you when that definition is taken away?
I had problems with…
It is hard to criticise a book that has been so instrumental in feminist writing and which was written by such an incredible woman. But opinions and discussion matter so here we go regardless:
There are lots of sweeping, general statements. This is partly because of its aim to be a short introduction and I understand this. However, it is so often the generalisations voiced in society that cause so much conflict and fear. At times, the generalisation came across as a stereotypical in my opinion, especially when lesbianism was focused on.
I am part of the white privileged class. I am aware that there is a horrific amount of discrimination that I have never faced and most likely won’t face personally in the future. I am aware of racism and classism inherent in society and that I cannot fully understand what I have not experienced myself. I am aware of the ignorance and the injustice and am often overwhelmed by it all. It isn’t the reading and feeling uncomfortable that is my issue because often this is exactly what is needed. What I do have a problem with is, that to me, it sometimes came across like the white privileged class of women were a uniform enemy within, with only the odd exception. In short, I read some bias in content, however natural and true to experience and I’m not sure how constructive that was in including ‘everybody’.
Another problem I had with the book was when hooks wrote of how negative academicisation was and is for feminism. I agree with the point made but this book is marketed as an accessible introduction, yet I found both content and language quite academic at times. It didn’t reach out to me and I have an academic background!
Hooks’ viewpoint is very anti lifestyle-feminism i.e. a feminism that has developed away from the political arena and is very individual in nature. To me the message was that unless you are an activist you are not enough of a feminist, you can’t be a true feminist. I realise I am rather a lifestyle feminist, I compile my own beliefs and access feminism in this way. My feminism is the everyday stuff, it is not political parties and conflict and open declarations. While I want to look at my own approach, I do not see my thoughts and actions as having a negative impact on the feminist movement.
A further issue I had, was that though race and class are tackled head on, sexual orientation or gender does not go beyond general statements. The time context of course plays a factor here but even the section on lesbian women felt dated for the time period of publication. And what about those in society who see themselves as gender fluid or trans? Feminism isn’t just about those that live with clear, socially accepted definitions of man and woman.
To conclude, this is a thought provoking book with so many key areas addressed; it is perfect for discussion. In my opinion, it should be read with a questioning mind and readers need to be aware of the at times sweeping statements. It worries me how much of this book is still very relevant today e.g. the power of conservative fundamentalists. At one point, hooks reminds us how easy it still is to take rights away – it astounds me that this is still so true.
I will leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book: