"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, October 08, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Changing the System from Within the System

"Radical and/or revolutionary feminists who created feminist theory but lacked doctorates recognized that our work would be comletely ignored if we did not enter more fully into the existing patriarchal academic system. For some of us, that meant working to get Ph.D.'s even though we were not that interested in academic careers.

To succeed within that system we had to develop strategies enabling us to do our work without compromising our feminist politics and values. This was not an easy task, yet we accomplished it. Some of us from working-class backgrounds changed our class status and entered the ranks of class privilege. We understood economic self-sufficiency to be a crucial goal of feminist movement. However, we also believed, a belief now affirmed by experience, that it was possible for us to gain class power without betraying our solidarity toward those without class privilege. One way that we achieved this end was by living simply, sharing our resources, and refusing to engage in hedonistic consumerism and the politics of greed. Our goals were not to become wealthy but to become economically self-sufficient. Our experiences counter the assumption that women could only gain economically by colluding with the existing capitalist patriarchy.--bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters, p108."

As usual, bell hooks gives us a practical perspective--this time on fighting classism and sexism while at the same time living in a patriarchal and sexist world. This is one of the things that I have begun to struggle with more and more, as I rapidly go from being in my thirties to being what was once, to my mind, very, very old. Practical considerations seem to be more and more important as I get older, especially financial considerations. I find myself with impulses to keep what I have to myself, to perhaps give up more and more freedoms in my day-to-day life so that I can amass some wealth to keep me safe and sound in my old(er) age. Not that I have much to worry about, even these days--I still basically live paycheck to paycheck; but still, I have a bit more breathing room than I had before, and I have watched myself begin to shy away from some of my more stringent stands on class--or at least I fear that I might.

One example of this: At my job, we have a 'cleaning service' come in twice a month to dust, sweep and clean up in general. There's one guy who's been doing it for years now, and he and I always chit-chat just a bit when he comes in, then we both go about our respective work. When he first started, I was still new at my job, and it felt really, really weird that he was there, doing more manual labor, and I was sitting at my desk, checking email or the news (and, of course, doing some work, too). I couldn't do it for a long time, because it made me feel uncomfortable. It felt wrong that somebody else was there, a stranger, to clean the space I worked in day-to-day. As the months rolled on, however, it has gotten less strange, to the point that I'm pretty much just used to it, and I sometimes forget that he's there until it's time for him to go. I tune him out. It's the sort of thing that I had always hated from other people when I was working retail.

In relationship to what hooks is saying, above, I think what I sometimes need to refocus on is the day-to-day solidarity with people without (as much) class privilege as I sometimes have--hooks gives me hope that one can (and must?) to some degree work to change the system even as one participates in it. This is important to everybody who wants to change the world, probably, but I find it particularly important to being a feminist ally who is a man, because there is no way that I can't gain from my male privilege, no matter what else I strive to do.
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