My Feminist Handbook

downloadI was introduced to Bell Hooks’ Feminism Is For Everybody as a required reading for an introductory Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies class. Bell Hooks is the pen name of author, feminist, and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins. Now, I haven’t had the best luck with required readings, especially in entry-level coursework. Whether that makes me a finicky reader or just someone with a short attention span is irrelevant. For every three or so mandatory books I’ve fallen asleep while reading, there’s one that keeps me up at night thinking. In my first ten minutes spent with Feminism Is For Everybody, I knew I’d not be reselling it at semester’s end. In the two years I’ve had the book, I’ve used it as a reference material countless times in conversation with friends new to feminist theory. Early in the prologue, Hooks identifies one of the largest problems with feminism:

Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written back in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read.

Her writing is clear, relatable, and to the point. In my own classes I’ve observed that the voices or the attentions most needed in feminist discussion are those who are most likely to distance themselves from conversations of feminism. Where so many other “introductory” texts fail, Hooks’ succeeds. In a later chapter, she identifies so well another one of the problems preventing feminism from reaching a larger audience. What I find brilliant is that this book was published 15 years ago, yet it’s observations are even more poignant today:

The rise in religious fundamentalism threatens progressive spirituality. Fundamentalism not only encourages folks to believe that inequality is “natural,” it perpetuates the notion that control of the female body is necessary.

Perhaps most importantly, this book has functioned as my compass in constructing and redefining my own brand of masculinity. Not surprisingly, my favorite chapter is titled “Feminist Masculinity.” The strongest message from this chapter reads:

A feminist vision which embraces feminist masculinity, which loves boys and men and demands on their behalf every right that we desire for girls and women, can renew the American male.

Why these lines are so important to me has a lot to do with timing. Feminism Is For Everybody came to me at a stage when I needed it most. I was in my third year of college, my parents had lost their jobs within months of one another, and I made sudden the decision to cross state lines and transfer to a university near home. I was struggling to find the answers to a number of questions. Why had my mother been paid less than an unqualified male counterpart in her previous job? How could I make sense of all this violence in communities not far from my own? Even today, why is it that a boys club of adult men at my father’s workplace continue to threaten and intimidate him? How are they getting away with it? It should be said that the answers to these questions didn’t exactly accompany my study into feminism. I was, however, provided with the tools to better understand their root causes. After months of frustration and burying myself in school and work, my spirit had been revitalized in a way I couldn’t have predicted. My resulting masculinity comes from a place of self-love, embracing of femininity, and a rejection of the violence that is so present in contemporary forms of masculinity. Among other damaging behaviors, Hooks calls into question the push back against feminism:

Tragically, we are witnessing a resurgence of harmful misogynist assumptions that mothers cannot raise healthy sons, that boys “benefit” from patriarchal militaristic notions of masculinity which emphasize discipline and obedience to authority. Boys need healthy self-esteem. They need love. And a wise and loving feminist politics can provide the only foundation to save the lives of male children.

Recently, I spoke to a few classes at my former high school about the world of magazine editing and creative writing. I inadvertently ended up doing a plug for Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Feminism Is For Everybody is just that—for everybody. I can speak forever about what it’s done for me, but the true test is to go out and secure a copy of your own.

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