"What is feminism? In this short, accessible primer, bell hooks explores the nature of feminism and its positive promise to eliminate sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. With her characteristic clarity and directness, hooks encourages readers to see how feminism can touch and change their lives--to see that feminism is for everybody"--
So is it really the best first book to read on feminism? Well, yes and no. It's certainly the best intro book on theory out there, but a better way in might be reading a feminist critique of something else. For all bell hooks' amazing efforts at easing the way in, jumping straight into the theory can be rough unless you already agree with some of the major premises. Other books—like The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi—systematically lay out the evidence about how sexism still exists today and how poisonous it can be. Sometimes, more specificity is better. Still, a pretty good book and a really quick read.
I picked it up because I thought I could use a little brushing up on some feminist theory, and I always prefer the basic theory stuff as opposed to the thick theory stuff. While I don't find some of hooks' stuff about the battles in Academia all interesting, I do like the points she makes about how many reformist feminists have stopped fighting for the rights of women after they got some money as high level managers, or how many white feminists used white supremacy in achieving gains. Instead, feminist organizers should make alliances with other intertwining causes like race, class, sexuality, since ultimately they all are related.
She also points out that patriarchy, which feeds into capitalism and other forms of oppression, is a system, and not an individual action, and men acting as allies are needed for any real change to happen (though men shouldn't lead it.) If you want a good primer on why feminism is truly a philosophy of liberation, and isn't anti-male or anti-sex or just limited to educated white academics, I would recommend you check this out.
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 entitle them to be economically self-sufficient. Working-class women already knew the wages the received would not liberate them. - p. 38
While visionary feminist thinkers have understood our need for a broad-based feminist movement, one that addresses the needs of girls and boys, women and men, across class, we have not produced a body of visionary feminist theory written in an accessible language or shared through oral communication. Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read. Most people in our society do not have a basic understanding of feminism; they cannot acquire that understanding from a wealth of diverse material, grade school-level primers, and so on, because this material does not exist. We must create it if we are to rebuild feminist movement that is truly for everyone.
Feminist advocates have not organized resources to ensure that we have television stations or consistent spots on existing stations. There is no feminist news hour on any television or radio show. One of the difficulties we faced spreading the word about feminism is that anything having to do with the female gender is seen as covering feminist ground even if it does not contain a feminist perspective. We do have radio shows and a few television shows that highlight gender issues, but that is not that same as highlighting feminism. Ironically one of the achievements of contemporary feminism is that everyone is more open to discussing gender and the concerns of women, but again, not necessarily from a feminist perspective. - p. 112
Hooks talks about things like monogamy, patriarchal society, etc, but without the tones of anger, and takes the approach that I think is very important, the separation of "patriarchy" from "men."
I've heard mixed reviews on this books, perhaps as sounding too lofty, or not academic enough, or too jargon filled. Regardless, I think it's strength is as a launch point into a topic that gets a lot of tangled press these days.
The reason I love this book is that it's short, it's sweet and it's accessible. Anyone (and everyone) should read it. The chapters are short and while it can be a little bit wordy, the concepts she addresses in her book are familiar.
She's critical without making you feel guilty about any transgressions. hooks moves not only to celebrate the feminist movement but to also deconstruct the problems within it and to provide solutions for the future.
If you're not sure where to start with feminist books and you want to read something that looks at a lot of aspects of feminism, this is a good place to start. If you want a book written by a woman of colour who addresses classism and racism and the exclusivity of the feminist movement, this is a good place to start. If you think that feminist books really aren't for you because they're too difficult or too upsetting to read, this is a good place to start.
This book is powerful, bell hooks is powerful, and I certainly plan to read more of her work in the future.
I've identified as a feminist since I know what feminism was (sometime in high school). In a patriarchal society, feminism is not just about women—it is about arriving at a societal dynamic whereby everyone is respected.
The title pretty much sums it up. This is a primer on feminism, and it is for everyone (especially white men). hooks explores the ways in which patriarchy is bad for everyone, even the "winners." I happen to be reading Derrick Jensen's "A Language Older Than Words" simultaneously; in it, Jensen speaks of being molested by his father. It is the sickening illustration of the truth to hooks' words.
There are some elements of the book that were surprising to me. For example, hooks draws links between abortion rights and birth control. I hadn't previously heard abortion described as a standard birth control method.
In our current era, with Trump as president and the Me Too movement, now is a great time to read this book.
As a reader who already considers himself a feminist, I felt as if the book was an introduction: a thorough introduction, sure, but at the end only an introduction. bell hooks leaves the book at just over a hundred pages. Thus, if you aren't interested, it is over within a reasonable time; If you are interested, it ends way too soon. For this reason I will be picking up some other bell hooks books in the near future.