Monday, October 29, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Sex and Patriarchy

For those who have read bell hooks' feminist and race theory, but haven't read her autobiographical Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life, I'd point out that it's a lovely book, if difficult to read at times because of some of what she's had to go through in her life. It's also infused with feminist and critical race theory, so much so that it reminds me of reading Beauvoir's memoirs, which are filled with her philosophy in every page.

hooks simply has a way with words (in my opinion), and she's so self aware and not afraid to bring the fullness into her life, including her sexuality, into her theory, even if she does so subtly. Take this passage, for instance:
"I could not imagine having sex with any man in my parents' house. In their house in some way I am always a child. He wanted to do it there, to defy them. I did not understand this desire. One night we stayed awake while everyone else was sleeping, kissing and touching each other with out clothes on. It reminded me of hgh school, of crazed longings when boys would come over and one of my sisters would be sent to stand guard--to watch, so that nothing sexual would happen. This memory excited me. I unzipped his pants there on my knees in the darkness of my parents' house and sucked his dick until he came in my mouth. Pleasure and danger were there in that passion--the memory of boys afraid to come to our house cause Mr. Veodis might kill them. They all knew Mr. Veodis didn't let nobody mess with his girls. Down on my knees in the dark house of my childhood I was no longer Mr. Veodis's girl, I was my own woman, taking desire into my own hands. There were no spies in the house of love that night. It was our ritual marriage. I had broken the allegiance of family to be loyal to him. Love and betrayal were linked then. "

Ok, maybe "taking my desire into my own hands" isn't so subtle. But still.

There's so much here to unpack, but what strikes me the most is her description of consciously moving away from the rule of her father, from the literal patriarchy she had grown up in.

For me, hooks' description here brings back some unpleasant memories of my adolescence, of being afraid of the fathers of girls I was dating. Fearing fathers was the general rule; though there were exceptional fathers I met who didn't treat their girls (or boys) as property, mostly they did, or seemed to. Such is some of the horrible power of traditional masculinity--no father ever threatened me, because no father ever had to. It was simply understood, by everybody involved, that physical harm could come to me if I was 'caught doing things' with some man's daughter--whether the implicit threat of violence would be carried out or not, it was assumed, and that threat helped to shape my relationships, both to the girls I was dating, and to myself, in ways I still have yet to fully recover from.
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