bell hooks, an influential feminist activist and author, passed away on December 15, 2021. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she published over 40 books under the name bell hooks. She took this name to honor her grandmother and spelled it in lowercase in order to encourage people to focus on the content of her work, rather than her identity or personhood. Her writing, which was mostly published in the ‘90s and ‘00s, addressed issues that were still not widely acknowledged at the time, such as societal injustices and the power structures within race, gender, class, and sexuality. Her work emphasized what would be later known as intersectional feminism. hooks believed that “as long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized.”
We all have our identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and class, that coexist within us and shape the way we see and are seen by society. For example, as a woman of color, my experiences and the way I interact with the world are heavily influenced by both of these identities. I am unable to separate them or see social issues exclusively through the lens of a woman or a person of color. In 1989, Columbia professor Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe that everyone has their own unique identities and experiences with marginalization. People’s identities do not live in a vacuum. Rather, they are interconnected and people’s experiences with discrimination often occur at the intersection of their identities. These differences must be considered when fighting for social change.
Historically, feminism in America has catered to white, straight, cisgender women. From what is often regarded as the beginning of American feminism, the Seneca Falls Convention, white women spearheaded the movement and catered it to their own needs. They were outspokenly against Black suffrage and fought exclusively for the white woman’s right to vote, leaving behind all Black women and women of color in America at the time. There was a lack of intersectionality and acknowledgement that their struggles and experiences as white women were extremely different than those of Black women. Even now, new wave feminism at times ignores the unique struggles that LGBT+ women and women of color face.
hooks discusses this in her book, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, encouraging women who feel left out of the “white, bourgeois, hegemonic dominance of feminist movement” not to “trash, reject, or dismiss feminism.” Instead, she advises them to develop their own ideas about the movement and work toward expanding it. With this, the feminist movement can create more of an impact and become more inclusive with diverse and unique women and ideas being the backbone of it.
Notably, hooks’ work avoided verbosity and was instead written in easily understandable prose. She did this so that women of all social classes and educational backgrounds could easily understand and engage with her work. She ensured that her work was not exclusive to elite academics and that it was accessible to the people who needed to read it most. In this way, her populist writing style encouraged intersectionality on the axis of class.
hooks’ legacy has had a tremendous influence on feminist theory. As a queer Black woman, she fought for the inclusion of all patriarchy-affected individuals in feminism. She defined feminism as “the struggle to end sexist oppression,” and went on to say that “its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all our lives.” hooks was able to influence not only one specific type of woman, but use intersectionality to make a true impact on a diverse group of women.
hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.
hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. , 2000. Print.