Posted by: sgrahampdxedu | November 2, 2007

I advocate feminism!

Holy pushing the limits of the first batwo(man)…

I really felt that Loretta Ross articulated the frustration I have felt the more we read, as many of these authors have important but limited analyses; and seem to be talking across instead of to each other.  The early feminist movement was one centered around and only concerned with the issues of able-bodied-middleclass-straight-white-women.  A backlash was necessary.  However, the way in which many women responded, as both Smith and Ross pointed out, was counter-revolutionary.  Instead of re-imagining the movement, too many feminists have tried simply to displace the central oppression—that of white men over white women—with their “special” oppression (Ross).  This pitting of personal oppressions against each other leads to a stand-off of what Ross termed “competitive victimhoods;” feminists fighting for the supremacy of their oppression over others’ instead of the whys? and who benefits? of their oppression.  The unique views of women whose bodies are the intersections of multiple oppressions are necessary.  But if their analyses are accessible only to those who share their bodies, then they fail to engage in the important work of theoretical border crossing.

The only shortcoming of Loretta Ross’ attempt to de-sectify feminism was that she tried to redefine feminism in an all encompassing way (anyone engaging in sex should call themselves a feminist).  However, in her attempt to redefine the word, Ross fails to address the structure which infers meaning upon the ‘f’ word.  When I say ‘I am a feminist’ as hooks notes, “I engage a linguistic structure designed to refer some personal aspect of identity and self-definition” (hooks 55).  In that statement, I define myself beside a static image of ‘the feminist;’ I define myself beside the symbol feminist held within the American subconscious, and only that symbol.  Which explains the need to redefine that symbol…‘I am’ is absolute. ‘I am’ is concrete.  ‘I am’ is exclusive.  hooks, instead of working on a redefinition, analyzes the way our language structure means I am a feminist.  English is competitive, it is rooted in an either/or mentality: one is either a boy or a girl; a hunter or a gatherer; a feminist or a housewife; a feminist or a mother; a feminist or an environmentalist.  These things should not necessarily negate each other; but English is a language of dominance and in the structure of an either/or, the first always negates the second, and vice-versa.  The statement ‘I am a feminist’ linguistically triggers this exclusive dualistic thinking in order to describe “some personal aspect of [my] identity and self-definition” —thus limiting my self-definition: I am first and foremost a feminist. 

To side-step this linguistic trap, bell hooks suggest replacing “I am a feminist” with “I advocate feminism” (55).  By removing the linguistic structure that implies primacy, this second statement becomes accessible; anybody, everybody can advocate feminism.  One can even advocate feminism while simultaneously advocating environmentalism, and civil rights!  In advocating feminism I align myself beside like-minded political people instead of a symbol.  I engage in a conversation about what feminism is, instead of who a feminist should be.    




  1. I enjoyed this activists presentation very much . I would love to read her stuff because she is so blunt and passionate about what she speaks about. I know many authors are passionate, but I love when you can really see it! You stated that Bell Hooks talks about how our language is defined in an either or setting. It is important to define things on their own, since they are in fact individual things such as male and female. They are different genders that hold different meanings and should be given their own credit.

    I like too that she states that you can identify or adovocate with feminism just as you can with environmentalism etc., this is important because sometimes when you say I am a feminist, people just define you as that one thing, when really we are all complex and there is so much more to us all.

  2. I really liked hearing from the activists too. I was thinking about what Priya said about looking at oneself in relation to things. Hooks’ concept of feminism as action makes sense to me. It is one thing to identify, it is another to act on that identity. If that makes any sense. Instead of trying to identify with women’s experiences that one simply can’t (example: a white women’s experience with oppression is very different from a woman of color’s experiences), a person can acknowledge their place and where they fit in the power structure and in relation to others and the oppression that they experience.

  3. I really like watching the video about the activists because I felt like somehow there was a better understanding there. Ever since I read hooks’ article I really focused in on time when other theorist would mention feminist as an identity. I really like the statement about “engage in a conversation about what feminism is, instead of who a feminist should be.” For me feminism should be a political consciousness because when it becomes an identity, boundaries are set and one can’t really challenge all forms of oppression. Rich’s article examines more the politics of location, the idea that location encompasses more than one identity and when we acknowledge our location we can take responsibility for it. Which I think is what hooks focused on too.
    The part I especially liked in Ross’s speech was when she talked about being careful to avoid movements that seek to silence others. I’ve seen a growing trend of awareness within our texts having to deal with the matrix of locations, and the differences in experience. Popular feminist theory has come a long way from merely speaking about a single unified struggle focusing on sexist oppression.

  4. Yes, I agree as well! I’m inclined with hooks political consciousness because personally, I believe that it is important to be able to describe and see ones reality to understand the self-recovery that we need. “We must now encourage women to develop a keen, comprehensive understanding of women’s political reality. Broader perspectives can only emerge as we examine both the personal that is political, the politics of society as a whole, and global revolutionary politics” (52). Hooks compares feminism as a revolutionary struggle that should not be associated with a lifestyle. It is a political choice, not a safe zone or individual identity but rather a fight. She urges us to state “I advocate feminism” instead of “I am a feminist” to detach from dualistic thinking that comes from western society. Feminism should not be competing for first place but rather take into account multiple political movements and or issues.

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