A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Feminism is for Everybody: Further Discussion

Feminism is for Everybody cover

I’m  not sure about anyone else but I’ve been slowly working my way through the book and while finding it a bit repetitive in parts, am still finding it interesting. It’s not quite what I was expecting, but am still happy that we chose it as our first read. I thought I’d post a few discussion questions today that I’ve been thinking about.

First off I want to ask – do you think this book would convince someone who didn’t identify as a feminist why it is important to do so / that they might want to do so?

hooks defines feminism simply as:

“A movement to end sexist oppression”

What do you think of that definitely? Personally I love the definition, especially when we get into her supporting ideas behind it, but I want to know what others think of it. Does it work? Why or why not?

25 responses to “Feminism is for Everybody: Further Discussion

  1. SilverSeason February 8, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I’m not able to read the book this month, but I have a comment on the definition of feminism: “A movement to end sexist oppression”

    My private definition is something like this:
    Actions and attitudes in support of the concept that women are fully members of the human race.

    I say this because so much of what you read in support of women’s needs seems to suggest we have to accept the notion that we are a deviant from the standard, which is male. A good example is pregnancy. Is is an illness and thus protected for that reason? Is it a “natural condition” in which case it may not need to be protected at all? What! Pregnancy is what half of human being are designed to do (whether they choose to do it or not) and can be recognized in its own terms for what it is, not a pale apology for something that is not male.

    • amymckie February 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      That is a really interesting definition SilverSeason, and great reasons for it as well. The pregnancy example is a really great one. I think your definition works for what hooks says too. She says that women can be sexist as well and that not only men need to stop being oppressors, but that some women also do – Your definition would still allow for that room too I think!

  2. mdbrady February 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I like bell hooks. I am comfortable with her definition of feminism, but it is not my own. I really like what Silver Season said in the comment above.
    I do not think hooks arguements would be convincing to non-feminists.
    These ideas are developed on my discussion of hooks and my definition of feminism that I am putting up on my blog. http://mdbrady.wordpress.com/

    • amymckie February 8, 2012 at 11:57 pm

      Thanks for the link mdbrady. What would you use as your own personal definition, if you don’t mind me asking? And yeah, I’m wondering how convincing it would be for someone without a bit of background as well… but love hearing what others think!

      • mdbrady February 9, 2012 at 12:14 am

        My definition: Feminism proclaims that women matter. Although gender definitions are human creations, we live in societies where the lives of women and men differ. Women’s particular experiences and voices must be included in determining our shared norms and knowledge. Women’s needs must be addressed, not simply assumed to have been addressed when the needs of men, of children or of the nation are met. [See the rest of my definition on my blog http://mdbrady.wordpress.com/%5D
        Feminism attracted me because it impowered me and helped me make sense of the world around me. I’d love to know what has attracted some of you.

  3. MJ February 9, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I like hooks’s definition, especially when sexism is further defined. I’ve been to a couple Dismantling Racism Works workshops, where they define racism as “individual prejudice plus institutional power.” I think the same definition works for sexism, and is one in line with what I’ve read so far from hooks.

    Now, would this book convince someone who’s not a feminist to become one? I don’t think so. Of course, I don’t know that there’s any one book or one argument or one anything that would convince someone to be a feminist. I think at the least, you have to have some inclination that some thing just isn’t right with how women are viewed and treated. Only then will you seek out books or blogs or whatever that can help you formulate your new way of viewing the world.

    For me, The Feminine Mystique was the first book I reached for. I don’t think it made me a feminist, but it did open my eyes in a lot of ways. Of course, that book is not perfect, by any means. If I had been a lesbian or woman or color it may very well have done more to turn me away from feminism than towards it.

    I think that Feminism is for Everybody could serve a similar role for other people. However, they first would need to be open to the ideas contained within. Then, hopefully they’d move on to more substantive, advanced reading. As much as I’m enjoying the book, it is repetitive, short on details, and doesn’t fully articulate the myriad ways that women continue to be oppressed.

  4. A Year of Reading My Own Books Blog February 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Hi: I don’t think her book would convince someone who isn’t a feminist already – I guess she intended this somewhat, but I remember her focusing more on someone who wanted to learn more about it, not someone who needed convincing per se. I do think that it provides a fairly short overview of the history and focus of the movement.

    I don’t think it would convince someone who isn’t a feminist because it is too vague – it doesn’t really attempt to show what problems exist for women today and what feminism could do to solve them. It doesn’t provide particulars or examples or evidence of real problems. I’m not criticizing it – just saying that I don’t think she really set out to prove they exist, show how feminism could correct them, or convince non-believers. I see her as writing to young students who are already inclined toward the movement, share some of its concerns, but don’t have a clue as to what it is about.

    I remain puzzled as to why sexism is equivalent to patriarchy (in essence) – isn’t sexism equivalent to judging someone – especially their abilities – based on their gender? And so if women judge men in the way that we don’t like men or other women judging us, aren’t we being sexist? Granted, patriarchy is generally a much more predominant and powerful force in the world today than matriarchy, but isn’t matriarchy equally problematic… Ruby

    • MJ February 9, 2012 at 5:43 pm


      I don’t think that women judging men is equally problematic, because while individual women may have prejudices, there is not institutional power behind those prejudices.

      In another context, a Latina woman might think that white women are weak and get sick easily. Well, so what? There isn’t an infrastructure that reinforces and lends legitimacy to that belief. So while it might be hurtful or upsetting to hear, it’s not damaging in the way that institutional oppression of people of color is.

      • amymckie February 10, 2012 at 1:17 am

        Good point MJ. What about women who absorb sexist teachings though and reinforce sexist oppression against other women? Then they are just continuing to prop up patriarchal systems, which is what hooks says is an issue.

    • amymckie February 10, 2012 at 1:19 am

      Yes I felt like you Ruby – that it was more an issues primer on remaining issues and what needs to be done and what we can do as opposed to a primer for beginners.

      I agreed with the sexist oppression and patriarchy link because I didn’t see it so much as sexism in general but instead the full sexist oppression which props up patriarchy, if that makes more sense. So while judging may always be an issue, it’s the oppression behind it that requires power that is the main issue? Possibly? Just thinking out loud here!

  5. mdbrady February 10, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    I really like MJ’s quote “individual prejudice plus institutional power.” Individuals can be sexist, and are a problem, but it is patriarchy that causes the social, legal, and institutional oppression of women and especially of women of color. I think many of us given up some of our personal biases, but what must we do to change or dismantle the institutional oppressions? Or the minds of those who seek to maintain oppression?

    • MJ February 12, 2012 at 1:27 am

      I certainly don’t want to take credit for that definition, although I did want to share it. It really resonated with me and seems to bring systems of oppression into sharp focus.

  6. Michael February 11, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    What I think the definition captures is a variety of ways sexual oppression occurs, and this can be lost in a more specific and rigid notion of sexism. hooks gives the following kinds of examples of sexism:

    1. Self-sexism, hooks mentions that the greatest patriach she faced was her own mother
    2. Institutional sexism, which may favour some women but not others such as in the issue of birth control
    3. Inequality of sex by virtue of economic deprivation, class divisions exist among everyone, including the set of women
    4. Inequality of sex by virtue of cultural and historic circumstances. hooks notes how non-white people have a different experience of the feminist narrative.

    The user titled “A Year of Reading My Own Books Blog ” says that hooks definition is problematic because its too vague. I would reply to that, by saying the success of such a definition is that it allows for such a wide variety of cases construed under the aegis of ‘sexist oppression’. There are so many people who say things like ‘I’m not a feminist, but’… because they are afraid of the association of being labelled a man-hater or such, which hooks points out early on in the book.

    If you asked someone whether they believed it was wrong that women in the workplace were more likely to be judged by their appearance than their performance compared to men; or asked whether they believed it was right for women to have the same pay than a man if they did the same work, then I would think a lot of people would agree to these ideals, I suspect fewer people however, would call themselves feminists.

    On a semi-related note. I am trying to work out if I am a feminist. I am committed to the ideals stated, and I agree that its horrific that women have a raw deal on many issues in society, but I’m a man, and I’m not much of an activist, I also feel that being a man it’s not right for me to be in this fight. I’m still trying to work this out in my own mind. However, I note that hooks says that in her notion of feminism (am I going too far ahead in this book read?), there needs to be both a grounding in the theoretical concepts as well as a basis in praxis/activism. If we follow hooks more along the book, she has a really specific kind of feminism in mind, she says (if I read correctly), that all feminists must be pro-choice, even if they are anti-abortion.

    • MJ February 12, 2012 at 1:26 am

      Hi Michael,

      I wholeheartedly believe that men can be feminist. I think that hooks believes this too (I mean, she says feminism is for everybody, after all!). And I don’t think that you have to be an activist to be a feminist – I certainly don’t consider myself an activist. Even if hooks does posit that you have to be somewhere along the activist axis, I don’t think that means you have to be out in the street raising banners, It can be as simple as not laughing or responding to sexist jokes, or those that prop up rape culture. It can be actively examining your language and purging it of gendered slurs or idioms.

      I do also believe that it’s right for men to be in this fight. Patriarchal oppression has sold men a set of expectations that it just doesn’t deliver. As one example, men are pressured to fit into an acceptable range of expressing their personhood – one that cannot fall outside the proscribed boundaries. If they are not performing their masculinity correctly, they may be ridiculed until they conform. Feminism gets us away from that dynamic.

      I don’t really want to respond to the pro-choice comment at this time, as I think that’s something that will take a lot of unpacking, possibly in a future post. I will acknowledge that this is something that I’ve struggled with in the past, due to a super conservative upbringing. I understand that it’s a difficult topic. I do hope it’s one that we can all have a civil discussion about, though!

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  8. sshaver February 21, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I like it because it puts the focus on the enemy.

    We need that focus. Look at what’s happening, state by state, to reproductive rights.

  9. Nymeth February 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    For once I got around to posting about the book before the end of the month. Some of your comments inspired me, so thank you for that. (MJ, i hope you don’t mind that I quoted one of yours.)

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