PQfEW: bell hooks on men and sexism

from Feminist Theory: from margin to center.

All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another.  It is crucial that feminist activists not get bogged down in intensifying our awareness of this fact to the extent that we do not stress the more unemphasized point, which is that men can lead life-affirming, meaningful lives without exploiting and oppressing women.  Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology.  While they need not blame themselves for accepting sexism, they must assume responsibility for eliminating it. [. . .] Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it.  This suffering should not be ignored.

When I first read this paragraph months ago, I wrote in the margins “Wow!  Why is this so revolutionary?”

This is why I love bell hooks.  In one paragraph, she smoothly addresses the issues of male privilege and Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too – and with grace and surety.  Feminist Theory should be required reading for all undergrads, I think – I’ve never read such a plain and accessible yet sharp explanation of intersecting oppressions.


Filed under Gender, PQfEW

6 responses to “PQfEW: bell hooks on men and sexism

  1. She has a way with words; the truth – with love, not anger. Thanks for the post – not too many bloggers out there posting on bell hooks. I agree that feminist theory should be an undergraduate requirement – and for some majors, might already be. As part of my teacher education, I read her classic work – Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom which should be required reading for all future educators.

  2. Swamy

    mmm… the paragraph sounded mostly like platitudes to me. And, I take offence to the first line. It seems to equate being male to be being sexist, which is incendiary, when it is not silly. It is enjoyable as a piece of activist prose, however, for the seeming conviction and the nonchalance diss toward men-babies.

    You need more people who oppose your views on your blog 🙂

  3. Swamy


  4. Ribbie – I asked my program’s weekly reading group to consider including parts of Teaching to Transgress, but the faculty liaison rejected it – he’s partial to French philosophers at the moment. As is too often the case when reading isn’t required for a meeting or assignment, I haven’t gotten around to reading it myself. I will keep it on my list, though, I’m intrigued.

    Swamy – perhaps misunderstandings are inevitable when you quote a paragraph out of context as I have, but it seems pretty clear that hooks does not think all men are sexist. The giveaway is that sentence about men choosing not to exploit or oppress women (those actions being, more or less, what constitutes overt sexism). hooks argues instead that men participate in a culture that is already sexist and that they in some ways cannot help but to reproduce that culture – a theory that I take as a given, and won’t go into further here (but if you’re interested, the male privilege checklist is a good place to start, though a bit Americentric). The part that interested me is hooks’ emphasis on how men have agency in how they interact with this culture, and may choose to minimize the harm they cause to women or themselves. . . sort of the opposite of your interpretation (“man-babies?”).

  5. Sean Murphy

    Women have had many hardships over the years specifically from men, but not all men. Sometimes, as a male, I wonder why some feminists feel it necessary to target our gender and not take the time to specify which type of males within our gender they are targeting. I only bring this up because, again, as a male, I make a constant effort to love and respect everybody and it can be hurtful sometimes to be cast in with a broad stroked conception toward the male gender. Not all Americans are spoiled, not all Christians are Bible thumpers, not all Frat brothers are drunk assholes and not all males have contributed to sexism and especially sexist oppression. The idea is to get to a point in your life, whether male or female, and deny the perpetuated general perspectives that come from our society and peers and gain a broader perspective that can encapsulate the roles people play with respect to our lives, without dragging along any judgment, especially ones that can be harmful to others or our own well being. All that aside, Bell Hooks is a phenomenal writer and i enjoy reading what she has to say.

  6. Wow, you picked an old post for your rant. Happily, bell hooks has got love for you too, Sean Murphy: she says right there in that paragraph that not all men exploit or oppress women. If you need something more specific than that–if, for example, you need someone to say “except you, Sean Murphy!” whenever they are discussing larger patterns patriarchal patterns–then I am sorry, but you will have to learn to do that for yourself.