The need to "love maleness" and think differently about work
Lessons from bell hooks
bell hooks died this week.
She was kind of a WHOLE SCHOOL of feminist thought all to herself.
But she is probably most widely famous for her writing on love:
About how in our current system of gender hierarchy neither men nor women really learn how to love.
Men are taught to distrust the power of love, women are encouraged to keep GIVING LOVE even in the most impossible situations where they don’t get anything back.
We all suffer as a result.
I always found bell hooks understanding of men and masculinity to be very accurate.
Here she is on the need for feminists to “love maleness”:
“To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different from simply being. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.”
She goes on explaining why this is so difficult for most women to do.
“Many women cannot hear male pain about love because it sounds like an indictment of female failure.”
OUCH! That one hits home, doesn’t it?
Okay! That’s enough emotion for one day!
I have a Christmas pudding to make… and I know what you are all asking: What did bell hooks THINK ABOUT ECONOMICS?
I’d recommend checking out this essay on work.
Here bell hooks is critical of the idea that work “will liberate women from male domination”. She positions herself against the whole feminist project that says that if we simply get women out onto the formal labour market (so they can make their own money) we will HAVE FREED THEM.
She points out that this whole narrative rests on the exclusion of women of colour from economic history.
Working class African American women for example were already in the workforce when the feminist movement began. They had to work both within the home and outside of the home out of ECONOMIC NECESSITY. Then the white feminists came around and told them that if they only got themselves a job outside of the home they would be LIBERATED!
bell hooks argues that the feminist project is still shaped by this misunderstanding of the economic reality of most women.
“Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce. Mostly they have found that they work long hours at home and long hours at the job.”
She encourages us to shift our focus from “let’s get more women out into the workforce” to “economic self-sufficiency for women”.
That’s a different economic project.
It’s not about jobs, it’s about good jobs with good wages and flexibility and meaning.
Basically, a whole different kind of economy where care workers in particular are paid a lot more, and those who want to stay at home with their children (both men and women!) are valued and find themselves with options.
Currently “there is no feminist agenda in place offering women a way out – a way to rethink work”, she says.
And unfortunately bell hooks is still right about that.
Right on! "Economic self-sufficiency for women" plus valuing care workers is so important. I'm new to your newsletters but am inspired by your writing. Thank you!