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a feminist assessment of patriarchal masculinity
on January 2, 2004
bell hooks states that feminists have not discussed how to improve the lives of men and this is her attempt. In 11 chapters, she details her ideas that men must be open to feminism and feminists must be open to men, that patriarchal masculinity is the problem, not males, and that much harm comes to the life of boys.
Professional critics have called this book that non-race-based equivalent to "We Real Cool." However, I'd say it's the male counterpart to hooks' "Communion." This book is an ideal tool for feminist women raising sons. It also may be a good introduction to feminism for progressive men or men who want to be progressive. hooks cites many canonical men's studies texts and progressive books on boys and men that many readers will find useful. (Again, it's a shame that this book lacks a bibliography, just like most of her most recent works.)
While this book discusses romantic love, that type of relationship is not the main issue here. Readers that have already heard enough about hooks' views on love from her autobiographies and recent works will find this refreshing. Many loving dynamics are detailed here. Most importantly, hooks discusses the troubles faced by little boys. I'm impressed that a childless writer is so devoted to children. This almost reminded me of Rosie O'Donnell's autobiography the way a grown woman is so concerned about minors.
I would say that I have three major complaints/critiques of her book. First, as much as she constantly assesses and promotes feminism, what comes through is that anti-oppression books can help men. Her gender analysis just happens to be her angle. A civil rights activist could have said that organizing could help men or a Communist discussing anti-classism could make the same argument that hooks makes here. Thinking about justice, breaking out of boundaries, and imagining utopias has never been the work of just feminists.
Second, hooks critiques feminist self-help books for not discussing politics and the larger superstructure. However, the majority of self-help books, even ones that she cites, are apolitical. She needs to critique the whole genre if she is going to find so many individual examples unsatisfying. People who feel that hooks was too hard on Naomi Wolf will be equally surprised at how she goes after Susan Faludi here.
Third, recently, everytime bell hooks mentions sexual orientation issues, she starts off with "Lesbians and gay men can be as conservative as anyone else, but here's one bit of info that I find useful from their activism......" If a white person started every comment on race with "People of color can be just as conservative as anyone else, but...." or a class-privileged person said, "Some poor people deserve the barrel they are in, but here's what I find useful on class-based activism....", etc., hooks would be livid, yet she does it with gays. I understand hooks' point that gays are just people just like straights. However, her statements are somewhat course and insensitive. I think this flaw still highlights how bell hooks has continually marginalized issues of sexual orientation while she champions issues of race, class, and gender. Her recent ability to add imperialism to the mix shows she can build on her theorizing, so her stance on gay rights is incredibly problematic. There's a great chapter in Carbrado's "Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality" that discusses hooks' shortcoming.
At the end of almost every chapter, hooks presents cultural criticism. Her subjects are broad including the Harry Potter series, the film "Life as a House," and other popular works. I am curious as to whether she is trying to satisfy her fans that are most familiar with her cultural studies work. I wonder if she is trying to prove that her new march toward self-help writing is not meant to show she has lost her cult crit skills. Coming from an African-American woman who almost always discusses black issues, this book was pretty light on race matters. African-American readers, like myself, looking for that topic will find that the only chapter that is the exception is "Popular Culture: Media Masculinity." I applaud hooks for pointing out and proving that black authors have an array of writing interests.
Like always, this book is annoyingly repetitive. hooks comes close to admitting this in her introduction. If I remember correctly, she seemed reluctant to discuss domestic violence and war in her classic text "Talking Back." Now, she has taken those problems as a centerpiece of her work. The cover of this book shows that Renaissance painting where God's finger points down toward Man's (this was the basis for the cover to "E.T.," btw). The cover has a pretty shade of blue. I think readers will find the cover quite inviting.