We will never know how many millions of women stay in relationships with dominating sexist males simply because they cannot imagine a life where they can be happy without men, whether they are satisfied sexually and emotionally with the men in their life or not. If any female feels she needs anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 95
Anti-male factions within the feminist movement resented the presence of anti-sexist men because their presence served to counter any insistence that all men are oppressors, or that all men hate women. It promoted the interests of feminist women who were seeking greater class mobility and access to forms of power to polarize men and women by putting us in neat of oppressor/oppressed. They portrayed all men as the enemy in order to represent all women as victims. This focus on men deflected attention from the class privilege of individual feminist activists as well as their desire to increase their class power. Those individual activists who called on all women to reject men refused to look at either the caring bonds women shared with men or the economic and emotional ties (however positive or negative) that bind women to men who are sexist.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 68-69
Early on in feminist thinking activists often failed to liken male violence against women to imperialist militarism. This linkage was often not made because those who were against male violence were often accepting and even supportive of militarism. As long as sexist thinking socializes boys to be “killers,” whether in imaginary good guy, bad guy fights or as soldiers in imperialism to maintain coercive power over nations, patriarchal violence against women and children will continue.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 63
Yet even when large numbers of feminist activists adopted a perspective which included race, gender, class, and nationality, the white “power feminists” continued to project an image of feminism that linked and links women’s equality with imperialism. Global women’s issues like forced female circumcision, sex clubs in Thai- land, the veiling of women in Africa, India, the Middle East, and Eu-
rope, the killing of female children in China, remain important concerns. However feminist women in the West are still struggling to decolonize feminist thinking and practice so that these issues can be addressed in a manner that does not reinscribe Western imperialism. Consider the way many Western women, white and black, have confronted the issue of female circumcision in Africa and the Middle East. Usually these countries are depicted as “barbaric and uncivilized,” the sexism there portrayed as more brutal and dangerous to women than the sexism here in the United States.
A decolonized feminist perspective would first and foremost examine how sexist practices in relation to women’s bodies globally are linked. For example: linking circumcision with life-threatening eating disorders (which are the direct consequence of a culture imposing thinness as a beauty ideal) or any life-threatening cosmetic surgery would emphasize that the sexism, the misogyny, underlying these practices globally mirror the sexism here in this country. When Issues are addressed in this manner Western imperialism is not reinscribed and feminism cannot be appropriated by transnational capitalism as yet another luxury product from the West women in other cultures must fight to have the right to consume.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 47
While feminists in the United States were right to call attention to the need for global equality for women, problems arose as those individual feminists with class power projected imperialist fantasies onto women globally, the major fantasy being that women in the United States have more rights than any group of women globally, are “free” if they want to be, and therefore have the right to lead feminist movement and set feminist agendas for all the other women in the world, particularly women in third world countries. Such thinking merely mirrors the imperialist racism and sexism of ruling groups of Western men.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 45
Mainstream patriarchy reinforced the idea that the concerns of women from privileged-class groups were the only ones worthy of receiving attention. Feminist reform aimed to gain social equality for women within the existing structure. Privileged women wanted equality with men of their class. Despite sexism among their class they would not have wanted to have the lot of working class men. Feminist efforts to grant women social equality with men of their
class neatly coincided with white supremacist capitalist patriarchal fears that white power would diminish if nonwhite people gained equal access to economic power and privilege. Supporting what in effect became white power reformist feminism enabled the main- stream white supremacist patriarchy to bolster its power while si- multaneously undermining the radical politics of feminism.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 40-41
Class difference and the way in which it divides women was an issue women in feminist movement talked about long before race. In the mostly white circles of a newly formed women’s liberation movement the most glaring separation between women was that of class. White working-class women recognized that class hierarchies were present in the movement. Conflict arose between the reformist vision of women’s liberation which basically demanded equal rights for women within the existing class structure, and more radical and/or revolutionary models, which called for fundamental change in the existing structure so that models of mutuality and equality could replace the old paradigms. However, as feminist movement progressed and privileged groups of well-educated white women be-gan to achieve equal access to class power with their male counterparts, feminist class struggle was no longer deemed important.
From the onset of the movement women from privileged classes were able to make their concerns “the” issues that should be focused on in part because they were the group of women who received public attention. They attracted mass media. The issues that were most relevant to working women or masses of women were never highlighted by mainstream mass media. Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique identified “the problem that has no name” as the dissatisfaction females felt about being confined and subordinated in the home as housewives. While this issue was presented as a crisis for women it really was only a crisis for a small group of well-educated white women. While they were complaining about the dangers of confinement in the home a huge majority of women in the nation were in the workforce. And many of these working women, who put in long hours for low wages while still doing all the work in the domes- tic household would have seen the right to stay home as “freedom.”
It was not gender discrimination or sexist oppression that kept privileged women of all races from working outside the home, it was the fact that the jobs that would have been available to them would have been the same low-paying unskilled labor open to all working women. Elite groups of highly educated females stayed at home rather than do the type of work large numbers of lower-middle-class and working-class women were doing. Occasionally, a few of these women defied convention and worked outside the home perform- ing tasks way below their educational skills and facing resistance from husbands and family. It was this resistance that turned the is- sue of their working outside the home into an issue of gender dis- crimination and made opposing patriarchy and seeking equal rights with men of their class the political platform that chose feminism rather than class struggle.
From the outset, reformist white women with class privilege were well aware that the power and freedom they wanted was the freedom they perceived men of their class enjoying. Their resistance to patriarchal male domination in the domestic household provided them with a connection they could use to unite across class with other women who were weary of male domination. But only privileged women had the luxury to imagine working outside the home would actually provide them with an income which would enable them to be economically self-sufficient. Working-class women already knew that the wages they received would not liberate them. Reformist efforts on the part of privileged groups of women to change the workforce so that women workers would be paid more and face less gender-based discrimination and harassment on the job had positive impact on the lives of all women. And these gains are important. Yet the fact that the privileged gained in class power while masses of women still do not receive wage equity with men is an indication of the way in which class interests superceded feminist efforts to change the workforce so that women would receive equal pay for equal work.
bell hooks, Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics, South End Press, 2000, p. 37-39
S’il est vrai que nous avons beaucoup à gagner à nous unir, nous ne pouvons pourtant pas développer de liens durables ni de véritable solidarité politique à partir du modèle de sororité créé par la tendance bourgeoise du féminisme. Pour ce courant, l’union des femmes se fonde sur une expérience collective de la victimisation, d’où l’importance de la notion d’oppression commune. Cette conception du lien entre les femmes reflète directement la pensée de la suprématie masculine blanche. L’idéologie sexiste enseigne aux femmes que la féminité implique d’être une victime. Au lieu de rejeter cette équation (qui ne rend pas compte de l’expérience féminine, car dans leur vie quotidienne la plupart des femmes ne sont pas constamment des “victimes” passives et vulnérables), les féministes y ont souscrit, faisant de la condition de victime le dénominateur commun qui permet aux femmes de s’unir : les femmes devaient se concevoir comme des “victimes” pour se sentir concernées par le mouvement féministe. L’union des femmes-victimes semblait impliquer que les femmes sûres d’elles-mêmes et indépendantes n’avaient pas leur place dans le mouvement féministe. C’est cette logique qui a amené plus d’une militante blanche (aux côtés des hommes noirs) à suggérer que les femmes noires étaient si “fortes” qu’elles n’avaient pas besoin de s’impliquer dans le mouvement féministe. Et c’est pour cela que beaucoup de femmes blanches ont quitté le mouvement quand elles ont cessé de se représenter comme des victimes. L’ironie est que les femmes qui ont le plus revendiqué le statut de “victimes” étaient le plus souvent privilégiées et avaient plus de pouvoir que la grande majorité des femmes de notre société. Les travaux faits sur les violences faites aux femmes permettent d’éclairer ce paradoxe. Les femmes qui subissent quotidiennement l’exploitation et l’oppression ne peuvent se permettre de renoncer au sentiment qu’elles exercent un tant soit peu de contrôle sur leur vie. Elles ne peuvent se permettre de se penser simplement comme des “victimes” car leur survie dépend de leur capacité à exercer sans relâche le peu de pouvoir personnel dont elles disposent. Ces femmes compromettraient leur équilibre si elles s’associaient à d’autres femmes sur la base d’une condition victimaire commune. C’est sur la base de forces et de ressources communes qu’elles s’associent à d’autres femmes : tel est le type de lien qui constitue l’essence de la sororité.
A partir du moment où les féministes se définissaient comme une association de “victimes”, elles n’étaient pas tenues de se confronter à la complexité de leur propre expérience. Elles ne se sentaient pas obligées de se remettre en question, de s’interroger sur l’influence du sexisme, du racisme et des privilèges de classe dans leur perception des femmes qui ne faisaient pas partie de leur groupe racial et social. Le fait de s’identifier comme “victimes” leur permettait d’abdiquer toute responsabilité dans la construction et la perpétuation du sexisme, du racisme, et de l’exclusion sociale, ce qu’elles firent en insistant pour que seuls les hommes soient considérés comme des ennemis. Elles évitaient ainsi de reconnaitre l’ennemi intérieur et de s’y confronter […] La sororité a donc fini par devenir un nouveau moyen de fuir la réalité. Cette conception de la solidarité entre femmes était déterminée par une certaine représentation de la féminité blanche, fondée sur des préjugés de classe et de race : il fallait protéger la lady blanche, la bourgeoise, de tout de tout ce qui aurait pu la déranger ou la déstabiliser en la mettant à l’abri des réalités négatives susceptibles de conduire à la confrontation.
bell hooks, “sororité : la solidarité politique entre les femmes”, in Black feminism – Anthologie du féminisme africain-américain 1975-2000, p. 117-119; traduction Anne Robatel