“The whole is better than the sum of its parts” – Reflecting on Bell Hook’s feminist theory

In Bell Hook’s article titled “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory,” she discloses some insight on why some feminists are not being recognized in the feminist movement at large. Being a refugee and an American citizen is conflicting sometimes, its a conflict most in exile face. At heart, we’re refugees, but we have the privilege of carrying a passport that welcomes our existence. Having lived in four different countries, I’ve been able to gain some knowledge in viewing the differences between different cultures and its traditions, but recognizing that at heart people just want to belong and be respected. In hook’s statements, all feminists unite in categorical ways, but the risk is that the common good of the “majority” will take over the distinctive good of the minor differences that shape how one identifies their self. The very essence of what makes the individual experience is unique.  Hook makes the example of Betty Friedan and the second wave’s movement shaping and defining the feminist movement as a whole – without acknowledging the different social and class distinctions that played a great disadvantage to many silent feminists in the movement – those who did not have the means to speak up.

Democracy, standing in line with the majority in numbers often tend to undermine the minority.  The system itself is set up in a way where you focus more on the quantity instead of the quality. By simply quantifying the majority’s personal beliefs and their opinions will not delete the the minorities of unsatisfied people; in this case, minority women leaders. The main reason why democracy isn’t always what it lives up to be is largely due to the unequal platform upon which it was started to begin with. The wealthy and the powerful, the ones who can afford the time and finances to voice their opinions get heard. All the while, many are simply living  the 9-5, trying to step up in the status quo, and cannot afford the time nor resources to contribute. That should not go to say that their voices will not be heard, they are still very much present in the political debates that weight in on the outcome of this country.

I agree with Hook’s statement that Friedan had not thought about the different American women of that time, the ones that were not college educated because they were doing the domestic work while Friedan was attending school. White women of that time had a head start in entering the academic institutions and were eager to learn.  The “other,” couldn’t fully participate because their focus was survival. They were not able to speak on the oppression in the sexism world of white men having power over white women’s lives, because they were the ones taking care of the white babies while the white mothers fought the ‘good fight’. The oppression felt by White and Black women were outrageously different.

“There is much evidence substantiating the reality that race and class identity creates differences in quality of life, social status, and lifestyle that take precedence over the common experience women share” (Bhavnani, pg 34). In the statement above, Hook points out that even though the shared common experiences of women are a good point; they are not necessarily in the order of precedence for all women and generally never experienced in the same way. The difference in placing importance on the above mentioned versus something such as culture and tradition is not taken into account, and it’s generalized towards all women  without considering their different circumstances and opportunities.

At the same time, this issue of diversity not being acknowledged in the feminist movement is not only of race, class and socio economic back ground, but also one of location, and mainly, colonialism. It is the direct effect of the changing world heading towards being more educated and “civilized” in the western cultural perspective. Many people come to the United States for a better education but do not realize that while living in the west, they themselves are also losing parts of their national and cultural traditions due to assimilation in their new environment.  Patricia Hill Collin’s article titled “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” explains the need for Black women to also emphasize on trying to understand the differences between Black and Afro American because their origins are not the same, thus their experiences are not the same. She points out that it is not good enough to be knowledgable, but just as imperative to know the wisdom in order to make judgments and statements that define all black “African” feminists.

This shows that the problem is not of one simple defining category, but of multiple historical instances that have created a huge divide in the people on such issues of identity. Many women who are also feminists have not even been taken into account because they lack the resources to speak out on the matter. However, the few Black women who have gained some credibility in academia should look into highlighting the  different types of inferiority experienced by Black and African American women all together.

In considering the feminist movement, it is important for the leading feminists who have access to reach the masses to re-consider their notion of what feminism truly is, and what characteristics constitute being a feminist. Most notably, it is important for them to not only know the difference but also understand it before they make statements on behalf of all feminists or even “Black feminists alone.” More writers and leaders in the movement are using terms such as “third world feminism” to distinguish other feminists with diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds.  It’s imperative that we acknowledge the differences amongst feminists world-wide. That would be a step forward towards acknowledging women of all different backgrounds, facing similar struggles of power,  yet working towards finding some common ground in the form of having the choice to have their voices heard.

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