Feminist Theories: Survival, Public Intellectualism, Feminist Label

In “Theory As Liberatory Practice”, bell hooks spoke about being a theorist at a very young age, even though it wasn’t intentional—it was her way of making sense of a chaotic world that she simply did not fit into. I had a similar experience, of never feeling quite right in my surroundings, and thus constantly searching for either an explanation or an alternative.

Though she is (and was) opposed to her parents’ way of living, she seems at the place of understanding where they were coming from when trying to repress her “theorizing”. She says they must have seen her as trying to “subvert and undermine all that they were seeking to build”. Can patriarchal structures, then, be a form of survival for some? When order is demanded, can a conventional method be the only way to maintain that order? Are there people who go along wholeheartedly with the dominant ideology, solely out of fear? Are they different from those who go along with it out of ignorance, because they (the former) have a sense of what is wrong with the world, and they are screaming inside with the pain of having to go along with it, but they recognize that in order to survive, they must compromise? Or do they just feel stuck? I imagine this can be the case for certain marginalized groups, such as black families (like hooks’), people of a lower socioeconomic class, queer people who know they are queer, know it is wrong that they should have to pass as straight, but do it anyway. In addition to perpetuating the system for all of us, how psychologically damaging is this to the individual?


hooks also hit upon the idea of public intellectualism, though she did not use that term. Her words shed a lot of light about the conflict between so-called higher thinking, practice, and theorizing. Theory often being reserved for highly educated people can cause the “activists” to see theory in a negative light, when it’s not theory that’s the issue, it’s the way it’s handled in many cases by the academy. She calls for theories which can be read and studied as well as discussed in every-day life; this is an idea I am particularly passionate about, especially since much of my political ideas are class-based. Change for the people must be understood by the people; change cannot be understand by anyone unless it’s intentional and well thought-out; therefore, action and theory must be accessible to as many people as possible.


An idea hit upon both by hooks and in Rosalind Delmar’s “What Is Feminism?”: Can something or someone be feminist even if the label feminist is not used or the person does not consider themselves feminist? hooks speaks of it only briefly, stating a positive answer as a given; Delmar questions it more carefully.

Previous to Delmar’s argument, I would have given a positive answer as well. One of the reasons is because I find that people—women—don’t want to call themselves “feminist” because of the stigma attached to the label. People have a lot of weird ideas about what feminism means, and may not want that burden. I try to qualify this when it comes up as considering things “feminist to me; even if they’re calling themselves that”. Can things be feminist to the person they effect? What if something hits upon me a feminist ideal, what would that be considered if not feminist? Delmar’s attempt to distinguish between “feminism” and “women’s movements” led me to question this assumption in myself; now I am somewhere in the middle, and a lot more thought will be necessary for me to come to some conclusion—which is good. Theorizing is good!


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