Book Review - Feminism is for Everybody

bell hooks, pathbreaking black feminist, as the New York Times named her, left us a few months ago. She did not leave us alone though: her views were and still are a wake-up call for all feminists to be more inclusive, both in terms of race and class. They remind us to stop looking only at ourselves and to use our privilege for the benefit of all. FEL read this book for our book talk and there couldn’t have been a better book to kick off with!

It is for these men, young and old, and for all of us, that I have written this short handbook, the book I have spent more than 20 years longing for. [...] There should be some many little feminist primers, easy to read pamphlets and books, telling us all about feminism that this book would be just another voice speak out on behalf of feminist politics.


Are you sure, bell? I wish you were still among us to answer this question and to start an old-fashioned feminist discussion. Our acquaintance was rather short. Can you believe I didn’t know who you were before we chose Feminism is for Everybody for our book talk? But don’t worry, now that I have added you to my shelf, I will get to know you better.

This pamphlet -as you wanted this book to be - turned out to be a very intense and thought-provoking read. Judging the book from its cover, I genuinely thought this would be an easy read. The more I dived into the pages, the more I realised this wouldn’t be an one-afternoon-read.


At first, a clear introduction and short chapters made me think this book would be quite accessible, especially for someone who's chewed over these topics before. But the chapters turned out to be filled with many hard-to-unpack concepts. An example? You often use the words white suprematist capitalist patriarchy, but you never explain to us readers in simple words what these mean. I think many people would agree that for each of these words and their respective combination, one could write an entire book. I am well aware that these concepts are not easy to explain and that simple definitions too often tend to become simplistic definitions. But wasn’t being too academic, too complicated, too detached from everyone’s reality one of the problems of feminist divulgation?


From a primer, addressed among others to men and to all those who are daily bombarded with anti-feminist backlash, I expected more down to earth definitions and a wide range of examples to back these up. On top of all the meaningful things you have said, I wish you would have told us very clearly that making 77 cents out of a man’s dollar is the result of a white suprematist capitalist patriarchy. That being in a relationship in which each partner embodies either a dominant or a submissive role is the result of a white suprematist capitalist patriarchy. Indeed, you do give us some hints here and there, hidden among the dense feminist theory. And for the record, you are absolutely right: white suprematist capitalist patriarchy captures the problem(s) really well!


Don’t get me wrong, bell, this book is great food for the mind. It gave me a critical, first-hand insight on second generation feminist thinking, and many other points to reflect upon on as a woman and as a feminist. I loved the honesty towards yourself, towards the movement (feminism), and towards women in general. We (women) are also part of the problem when we are compliant with a system of power where one is better than the other, where profit is the only thing that counts, and in which racism plays an important role (so again white suprematist capitalist patriarchy). Though we are socialised to behave in this way, up to the point that we internalise many of these traits, we need someone like you to tell us the truth.


But this is not the only example of honesty in this book. I do not know how many women would have admitted mothers’ complicity in children’s abuse, both physical and mental; I do not know how many women would have admitted so clearly and honestly the mistakes of past generations of feminists without pointing the finger. And perhaps the most important lesson I have taken out of these 80 pages is exactly this: it makes no sense to point the finger at a culprit, when the system overall is the culprit.


But bell, there is something that disappointed me and that I’ve gotta tell you. About sex workers, you write:


They (professional prostitutes) refuse to acknowledge the fact that whenever a woman prostitutes her body because she cannot satisfy material needs in other ways she risks forfeiting that space of sexual integrity where she controls her body.


This is yet another occasion in which I wish I could ask you: what do you mean by sexual integrity? What even is sexual integrity? I wish I could interpret this in a positive way, but I can’t. If someone has an interpretation for this, please leave a comment below. Very curious what you make of this!


Now that I reread this review, it sounds like I did not like the book, but actually I really did. During our book talk, one of the participants opened my eyes with a great interpretation of this book. It was something like: this is a book to go back to because it contains a lot of interesting information and arguments that slowly build up feminist theory in your mind. And whenever you hear about something, e.g., reproductive rights, you know that you can go back there. And that’s why I love this book club. It’s amazing what another perspective can give you.

 

By Alessandra Giliberto