Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thoughts on Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

Okay so, this was a read for A Year of Feminist Classics. In February. I finished it in March. It's May now, and I'm just now writing about it. I have probably forgotten 75% of my gut reactions, thoughts, and feelings to this book, but alas, I will attempt this anyway.

This was the first time I participated in AYOFC. I chose this one, because I've heard a lot about bell hooks and also because my own knowledge and background in feminism is limited. This is where I talk about my background! I grew up in an evangelical Christian home where I guess a complementarian view was held. Men and women are equal, just created for different roles is what it boils down to, basically. This is a theological issue primarily because those roles are mostly in the church and family and are based on some passages in the Bible. For the most part, this didn't really affect me except that I knew I couldn't be a pastor and if I ever got married my husband would be the spiritual authority in our house. I never really questioned it. Feminism was kind of a dirty word, and feminists were painted as being rather radical. And then I went to a small conservative Christian college in the south which had the same ideas. And I loved my college, I loved my experience there, I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I think it created a developmental delay for me because I was cocooned with people who all thought the same way for the most part. (even so big huge fundamental questions were raised for me during this time that I just sort of ignored) I remember sitting in a lecture in one of my theology classes and my professor, someone I loved and respected so much more than I can probably explain, was talking about the verse in I Timothy 2:12, where Paul says he does not permit a woman to teach over a man. And he was like, this is really the verse that it comes down, the reason women can't teach theology in church, etc. And went on to say some of the usual stuff about this, if you believe one thing in the Bible is true you have to believe it's all true, etc. (it is so weird for me to think about this now. I haven't thought about this in awhile, but I really really looked up to this professor so it kind of makes sense, especially if you know me!, why it took so long for me to embrace a different way of thinking.) So anyway, that's kind of where I started out. It was teaching in Japan + the internet that eventually challenged everything I thought about everything!

I'm saying all of this because sometimes I feel a little guilty for being behind or failing to understand all of the ideas around feminism. And to be honest, if you just sort of stumble into it like I did in an internet space it can be really intimidating. And this book made me feel a little bit better about that actually, because apparently there actually used to be educational groups or something for the purpose of actually teaching women about feminism. (this reminds me of church so much you have no idea!) I wish those still existed, because not only do I like the idea, but they sound like they'd be great for building really great friendships.

The definition of feminism that bell hooks uses is, "A movement to end sexist oppression" This is a nice pared down definition for me, those of you who have spent more time thinking about this may have issues with it. The book is basically a history of the feminist movement which I found really fascinating. It was both a history and a pointing out of where things went wrong. When AYOFC discussed this book, they discussed whether or not it's a book for a beginner or someone you want to convert. While it may not be the right book to start out with, I think that it's okay because it really gives a good overview of the things feminism has achieved, where it fell apart, and why it's important. But I do agree with the idea that a book that discusses what feminism actually is might be more important to start with.

It was beneficial for me, though, to learn about how women achieving more equality in the workplace derailed the overall objectives of feminism. This was completely educational for me. Also educational was the discussion on intersectionality and how this all worked together--once women of a certain class achieved a measure of equality in the workplace, they abandoned the sisterhood. Also the stuff about how American/Western women try to control the discussion on feminism and act like we got it all together was humbling and rang really true. And all the discussion of how single mothers have been treated, how women have felt in marriages, the role lesbians have played in feminism, all of this was just super interesting.

Of course hooks makes it clear that women can be just as sexist as men, which I find to be true. Ever since I've become more aware, I'm often shocked and saddened by how women talk about other women and even men.

But the section that resonated with me perhaps the most was the one on spirituality. This is my biggest problem. I have described my upbringing above, but maybe what I didn't explain well enough is that I am still a person of faith. I loved many things about my churches growing up. I can't imagine not having had the experiences I had, the tight knit groups of people that became like a second family, the very many painful and difficult trials we endured together, sometimes caused each other. I miss that so much now, as an adult. I've periodically found churches that came close, but I'm at the point now where I can't get past the outer wrapping of a church to get there. I feel like in attending a church and entering into the fellowship, you engage a kind of contract that you agree and believe the same things, and I feel like at this point I think too many different things. My grandma visited recently and I attended some traditional services with her. And part of it was so lovely, like achingly lovely, but then the sermon assumed so many things. I wanted to pose so many questions and punch so many holes in the message. I can't deal with sermons that function as pep talks. Anyway! I say all of this to say that the question of feminism remains. The kind of church I love and am comfortable with is usually also quite sexist. And I just don't think I can bear that anymore. I read some blog posts on some Christian blogs at the beginning of the year--women who were single at 30 or so and in so much pain. Why hadn't God sent them a husband? And I thought, the problem here is the church culture. The message women are sent, over and over, is that their highest calling is to be a wife and mother. It is romanticized and idealized and families are the most sought after members of any congregation. Single women (and men) are often overlooked and exist on the fringes. Instead of being supported and celebrated and encouraged. And while there may be some singles ministries, what happens in singles ministry cannot and will not override what the overall church culture/message is. I attended a Christmas Eve service a few years ago and the message focused entirely on young parents. And I thought...WHAT? This is Christmas Eve!! The day of the year when we're reminded that we're not alone, that God loves us and remembers us, and this message excludes so many people! And that's the problem, even if there's a great ministry for singles, the church is still saying in a thousand ways, sure you can be single, but it's like settling for a second best kind of life. There's no message that it's okay not to get married, that you can find fulfillment in other ways, and that's not a burden, that can be GREAT. And so the result is that so many people are hurting, deeply hurting because they think God is withholding from them his true blessings. I don't know it just makes me really sad. (and I've wanted to blog about this forever, so ha, here was my excuse)

Hooks says we need role models, and I do agree with this. I think there are some women who have really blazed a trail, but there is still so much work to be done. And I think there are some great bloggers I love to read now, like Rachel Held Evans, etc. But it must be so lonely, and there's so much hate. I recently saw a Christian fiction author (male) write about something..oh I can't even remember what now. But he has a pretty consistent misogynist tone on his blog and the comments were terrible. I was so angry. I wrote so many comments in my head I never left. But when some women said they were feminists and he tried to tell them they basically couldn't be Christians and feminists, I almost lost it. But there were so many people (and women :() agreeing with him, I just cannot imagine what it's like for someone like Rachel. And Julie Clawson has written about this as well. It just makes me so sad. But this is the problem I have, and part of why finding a church has been difficult. I know eventually I'm going to just have to go outside my comfort zone.

Anyway, I feel like I got off track, I just wanted to say that's an area I long to see real concrete change, an area where I feel extremely lonely. Even when I was reading this book I was emailing a friend about it and saying how/why I was reading it and she proceeded to tell me how submission to one's husband isn't anti-feminist. I totally respect her right to believe that for her family, but if I don't I feel like that shouldn't be a threat to anyone. Part of the problem, of course, is what I mentioned above about biblical interpretation.

Overall, I really liked this book. It was educational for me. I wish I had written about it earlier, because I think I had so many more thoughts about it while reading, but this is long as it is. Recommended for anyone interested in a brief history of feminism and how it relates to certain subject matters.

Rating: 4.5/5
Publisher: South End Press
Source: Bought it


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