Review: Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks
Title: Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism
Author: hooks, bell
Length: 205 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Race, Gender
Publisher / Year: South End Press / 1981
Source: Purchased in 2010.
Why I Read It: Our October read for the Year of Feminist Classics group – yes, I am a bit behind.
Date Read: 20/11/11
This book should really be required reading for all. It tackles the intersection of race and gender at a time when doing so was not as common or accepted as it is today. In this book hooks argues that the black power movement was sexist and the feminist movement was racist and so black women suffer in both and have a tough choice in deciding how to devote their time and energies.
In most literature, especially feminist literature, hooks argues, men is used to mean only white men, woman is used to mean only white women and blacks or Negroes is used to mean only males. In this way we can get histories of black men or histories of white women but in both cases black women are all but ignored. (As an aside, The Real Help Project I’m running with Amanda is also showing this gap, which hooks discusses in this book.)
Hooks makes clear throughout the book why we have to be careful in choosing our reading list for projects such as the Feminist Classics one – we at first had no authors of color until it was pointed out to us. And many reviewers have been noting again and again how little the authors of other feminist classics talk about race or class and how their concerns are really often only the concerns of the well-off or upper-middle class white women.
The discussion on power and marriage when it comes to interracial relationships was fascinating. Hooks talks about why it is seen as more acceptable for white women and black men to marry than black women and white men – and how the power structures of patriarchal society plays into this. She also talks a lot about the myths and stereotypes that we have inherited and how powerful they still truly are.
Another subject that was so powerfully discussed was that of the matriarch myth. There are a number of stereotypes as I mentioned, but one which does the most harm, hooks argues, is that of the matriarch. When women have no power at all it is simply scapegoating them to call them a matriarch. They are hardly responsible for troubles befalling black families, but society is pinning it on them anyway by pretending that these women have any kind of power besides money making in jobs available to no one else. Racist society keeps black men out of power and then pushes the blame to black females – clever, no? And also scary.
I noted almost every page or few pages in this book for some idea or another that I wanted to come back to and I can share but a couple of them here, so instead I have to urge you to read this book. Hooks is creating, in this book, accountability to all of us to find true history and to ensure that we look at all oppression instead of focusing on only one. She was one of the first in a line of scholars working on the intersectionality of oppressions and for that this work should be read by all.