PHIL 242 - “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory”
- Bell Hooks
Important Moments in the History ofAmerican Feminism (up to 1984)
- Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) raises political questions about
housework, childcare, and other stereotypically feminine things.
- Consciousness raising groups arise in New York and throughout the country.
- Institution of women’s studies programs inAmerican universities (first accredited
women’s studies course at Cornell in 1969).
- Appearance and rise of feminist celebrities: Gloria Steinem, etc.
- Many feminists in the 1980s saw this as clear, unambiguous progress.
- hooks argues that the story is much much more mixed, and suggests a different way to think
about the goals of feminism.
“ALL WOMEN ARE OPPRESSED,” “SUFFERING CANNOT BE MEASURED”
- Considers these definitions against a simple definition of oppression: “Being oppressed means
the absence of choices.”
- the less amount of choices leads to more oppression
- ...complex definitions of oppression are useful for some purposes, but this simple one is useful
for others: it allows us
- (i) to “set political priorities.”
- (ii) to recognize differences between the situations of a variety of women
- (iii) and ultimately to understand the relationship between sexist oppression and other
forms of oppression—racial, economic, etc.
OPPRESSION DOES NOTAFFECTALLWOMEN THE SAME WAY
- Compare the “women who are most victimized by sexist oppression; women who are daily
beaten down, mentally, physically, and spiritually – women who are powerless to change their
condition in life.”
- ...with the women who led the feminist movement: “It was a mark of race and class privilege,
as well as the expression of freedom from many of the constraints sexism places on working-
class women, that middle-class white women were able to make their interests the primary
focus of the feminist movement... Who was there to demand a change of vocabulary? What
other group of women in the United States had the same access to universities, publishing
houses, mass media, money?”
- the people who were most victimized by sexist oppression were not the ones who led the
- essentially non-white women were the most oppressed, yet it was the middle class white
women who led the movement
- You can’t understand the way gender touches people’s lives without understanding how its
effect is shaped by the ways race also touches th