While bell hooks acknowledges the importance of addressing patriarchy and sexual oppression as one of the earliest forms of domination one comes to encounter, learn and accept within the family as “the most intimate sphere of relations,” (۲۱) her stance on feminism goes beyond asserting the “simplistic notion” of man and woman as the enemy and the victim respectively. (20)
As an African American woman of the working class raised in the white-supremacist United States (20), bell hooks stands to challenge the proposition that the issue of gender inequality – most commonly promoted by the privileged, white women of the middle class – takes precedence over or is the root for other forms of domination, be it classism, racism or the even less visible discrimination on the basis of ability.
She further shines light on the fact that focusing solely “on patriarchal domination [… can become] the means by which women deflect attention from the real conditions and circumstances of our lives […, or] cooperate in suppressing and […] inhibiting our capacity to assume responsibility for transforming ourselves and [our] society.” (۲۰)
As a middle class female and first generation immigrant, I find hooks’ viewpoints on this topic refreshingly authentic and tangible. In fact, I have rarely come across anything I have so intimately identified with. Hooks’ essay states facts that, while quite real, have, for the most part, stayed invisible and in the shadows, perhaps overpowered and itself dominated by what she calls the ‘false consciousness’(۲۰).
Furthermore, pondering over this essay made me recall an old artwork of mine that came about quite naturally a few years back in response to the assigned topic of feminism and ’gender relationships’. I remember my first instinct was a sharp urge to refuse focusing on the gap between the two genders, and I expressed what felt at the time like a barely developed, politically incorrect statement in the form of the artwork I have attached below.
At the beginning of her essay, Bell hooks points to the “insistence on difference […] which becomes the occasion for separation” (۱۹). “To understand domination”, she goes on to say, “we must understand that our capacity as women and men to be either dominated or dominating is a point of connection, of commonality.” (۲۰) It is only with this awareness that we can achieve a higher level of solidarity and of course remain true to the belief that one’s gender does not define his or her capabilities, humanness or moral tendencies. Sharing this underlying belief was perhaps what informed my own choice to pull a piece of the shiny screen aside, perhaps to show the true circumstances surrounding the women holding the gender equality boards.
bell hooks, “feminism: a transformational politic,” Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, (Boston: Between the Lines, 1989), 18-27.