Bell Hooks is a pseudonym used by Gloria Jean Watkins - born in 1952 in Kentucky, USA. Hooks is an English Professor at City College New York. Aside from teaching, Hooks has engaged herself in feminist courses and in the fight for social rights. Although her writings spun a plethora of topics, her most notable are teaching, race, gender and capitalism wherein she seeks to relate these topics and never treating any as stand-alone one.
“Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black” is a collection of essays by Hooks that address the issue of being a black feminist in America. Hooks starts from her childhood, her schooling years and moves toward her interactions with feminist movements and social activism; all through tackling issues from male supremacy to gender and racial oppression. In the sixth chapter feminist theory: a radical agenda, hooks delves into black feminist theory where she seeks to give a definition of feminist theory, how it has developed, who this theory is intended for and the challenges it faces.
Definition of Feminist Theory
Feminist theory “ should necessarily be directed to masses of women and men I our society, educating us collectively for critical consciousness so that we can explore and understand better the workings of sexism and sexist oppression, the political basis of feminist critique, and be better able to work out strategies for resistance” (p. 35). Like any other theory, the feminist theory aims to set principles that should be used to argue against the discrimination and oppression of women.
Development of Feminist Theory
Consequently, for any theory to hold, it should be founded on principles that can be tested. Towards this point, Hooks believes that for there to be any successful feminist movement-there must not only exist a liberatory feminist theory, but also that this “feminist theory must provide a structure of analysis and thought that synthesizes that which is the most visionary in feminist thinking, talk and discourse” (p.35). Hooks also points out that an understanding of “sexism and sexist oppression” is the core to the “effective eradication of domination” of women in society.
Who is Feminist Theory intended for?
“Without liberatory feminist theory, there can be no effective feminist movement” (p. 35). Hooks also feels that, to curtail female domination, feminist theory should be known by both women and men alike (p. 35). Even though male supremacy has been noted to have been the cause of resistance to women’s suffering, not all men were involved. Some men have been at the fore in advocating women’s right. Martin Luther King Jr. among others fought for the rights of women to vote.
Promoting Feminist Theory
Women both learned and illiterate have faced oppression at one time, or another. Thus, for there to be unity against the fight of oppression, both the illiterate and the educated masses should be informed about feminism. Hooks proponents that education is by far the surest way to achieve this goal. Thus, by starting at the university level (central site), feminist ideologies can trickle down to the masses. Feminists are encouraged to use print media to avail their findings and work towards eradicating any forces that seek to undermine their progress (p. 36). It should however be done in a language understandable to all.
Are New Feminist Theories Required?
As with any theory, there exist pros and cons. Hooks hopes to steer away from the feminist theory that is “euro-centric, linguistically convoluted, and rooted in Western white male sexist and racially biased philosophical frameworks” (p. 36). She desires that new theories, especially those aspiring for experiential first, be considered as the existing ones tend to reinforce the “oppressive hierarchy” through academic-elitism. These new theories should, first and foremost, strive to ensure that feminist ideas are easily accessible.
Hooks proposes that a rethinking of the current academic-based feminist theory. She observes that the existing institutional structures have been prone to exclude feminist scholars who do not produce work that is deemed “theoretically or intellectually rigorous” (p. 37). Thus, a new model that will effectively communicate feminist ideas is warranted. One not based on a miss-match of theoretical works from the oppressors and experiential excerpts from the oppressed.
Deterrents to Creation of Feminist Theory
Among the challenges faced by proponents of feminism is that of anti-intellectual biases, this is more present in situations involving women of color in academic circles. First, their feminist works are considered as non-valuable for either being “non-theoretical or anti-theoretical.” Second, women of color, even those with theoretical works, are less likely to be allowed to teach courses on feminist theory due to racial biases (p. 38).
In addition, theoretical works on feminist theory have also been described as difficult to understand. But rather than set them aside, feminists ought to talk about them to determine “the possible uses it can have, and how it can be interpreted, translated, etc. so that it can be understood” (p. 39). Hooks proposes that the feminist theory should be made more accessible through good abstraction and articulation of everyday experiences. And though feminist must strive to promote literacy, Hooks observes that “what cannot be read can be talked about” and thus information on feminist theory can still be shared even through everyday conversation (p. 40).
In brief, although great strides have been achieved in creating feminist theory by feminist movements, feminists still face a myriad of challenges. In the case of black feminists, low literacy, anti-intellectual biases and racial biases have been at the fore in preventing their involvement in the creation of feminist theory. Although this is the case, new strategies such as encouraging discourse on feminism- both at the academic level and day to day conversation among feminists; and collaboration among feminists of different racial and class backgrounds are bound to promote the spread of feminism and development of feminist theory.
Hooks, Bell. Talking back: thinking feminist, thinking black. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1989.