Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Feminism is for Everybody by Bell Hooks

First published:-2000

Read in:- June, 2014

Star rating:-

Not until recently had I emerged out of the rock I was living under and located the @everydaysexism twitter account. Keeping an eye on their retweets for a little less than two weeks enabled me to discover that women are not only forced to endure the lecherous male gaze (often called 'stare rape' these days) on public transportation, made the object of innuendo-laced, denigrating remarks since puberty but also masturbated at in public without their consent (not even women over 60 had been spared) . How blissfully ignorant I was of this last facet of everyday sexual harassment! I went on a kind of mad rampage immediately, flooding my timeline with a deluge of tweets on the subject, appealing to more of my followers to follow the everyday sexism account. A day later when I had checked back in eagerly in the hopes of noticing any visible change - NOTHING. Not even one person among my followers (I have nearly 1600 which maybe just a handful but it's not a very teeny number either) had honored my request apart from the 3 who were already following them - all of them women or women's issues related accounts.

It was then that I realized, 'feminism' in the 21st century is actually like a hip, new item of home decor that you place on a wall cabinet among the other borrowed, trendy opinions you profess as personal philosophy, then forget about. Whenever some horrendous instance of brutality against a woman makes the morning news headlines, everyone's 'tch-tch-ing' fake concern for civilization resurfaces, spills over into the realm of their office lunch hour debates and after a while dies a natural death. Then they go back to the comfort of their tweleb status by posting the same old 'jokes' about dumb blondes, unreasonable wives, sluts, 'cunts', boobs and what have you, each of which are guaranteed to get at least 20+ retweets. 
Lulz just chill, we're all kidding here, getting our kicks out of reinforcing the same old stereotypes that have done considerable damage to society since the dawn of time. No harm done.

It is this same all-pervading reluctance of acknowledging the efficacy of a concept like feminism as a panacea for sexism, violence and all the other concomitant shit women face every single moment of their lives that forms the backbone of Bell Hooks's book.

She merely chooses to use 'white supremacist capitalist patriarchy' as a refrain so as to hammer this information into our brains. Yes the recurrence of this phrase gets dull after a while, yes it is somewhat annoying but no it is not irrelevant. Especially since Bell Hooks seems to support the branch of feminism which brings the concept of equality for everyone (including homosexuals) in all walks of life - sexual, economic, social and religious - under its envelope. 

She summarizes the inception and journey of the feminist movement through the decades - how it made a first appearance in the U.S. in the 60s with the waves of bra-burning (she is not against bra-burning btw), angry women who had major grievances against a domestic arrangement where they held little to no power, how initially they believed 'feminism to be the theory and lesbianism the practice', how it has undergone gradual improvement to evolve into the polished academic discipline that it is today, how it was seen as an anathema in the past and how it continues to face a steadily growing list of challenges - apathy of mass media being a major one. She deftly interweaves feminism with the idea of politics, class struggle, physical beauty, love, religion, marriage, reproductive rights, parenting, masculinity and race to present before us a realistic picture of what truly internalizing its precepts can mean for us and our future. 

But all the conventionally known preachings of the book aside, she makes another very pertinent point about stripping the verbiage of jargon from all the academic work on feminism to make them more accessible to students and laymen alike, and working together to raise awareness of how feminism isn't inherently 'anti-men' or 'anti-religion' or even simply restricted to serving the interests of women in civilization, how feminism is for everybody.

"Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read. Most people in our society do not have a basic understanding of feminism; they cannot acquire that understanding from a wealth of diverse material, grade school-level primers, and so on, because this material does not exist. We must create it if we are to rebuild feminist movement that is truly for everyone."

To come to the negatives, there are almost none except the monotonous drone in which Hooks drives home her points which makes the reading experience little less than enjoyable, the drabness of her prose and the way her repeated references to her own writings reek of self-importance. And to further account for that missing star, I have this teeny niggling doubt about her defining acts of 'domestic violence', even those carried out by women against other women and children, as'patriarchal violence'. She reckons some women have been so rigorously conditioned by the patriarchal world order based on principles of domination through violence and other acts of intimidation, that they re-enact the same in their daily lives while dealing with people inferior in status to themselves. Which I agree with but my limited knowledge of the world and its assorted contradictions tells me it's not just the men. Some primeval inclination towards violence and skewing the power balance in any relationship is embedded in the human psyche in general, irrespective of sex. 

But that aside, the overarching message one gets from Hooks's outlook is that the traditional notions of 'manhood' and'masculinity' have to be flushed down the toilet for feminism to even have a chance at victory. And there's no second guessing it.

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