"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, November 12, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Little Conversations Go a Long Way

As I've mentioned before, I came to feminist theory through philosophy, and one of the first explicitly feminist texts I read was bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. We read the book for a class called Democracy and Eduction, and while a lot of the books had a lasting effect on me, Teaching to Transgress is the one I still go back to from time to time. And, like all of hooks' books (at least the one's I've read), it's not just about it's central subject matter--she infuses her ideas about race, class and gender (among other things) throughout the work, even though it is technically a work on pedagogy.

One simple thing that I've taken away from the book is that teaching and learning happen every day, and that, given an approach that opens the minds of others, people tend to be very interested in talking about feminist issues. hooks describes this phenomena early on in Teaching to Transgress:
"I am grateful that I can stand here and testify that if we hold fast to our beliefs that feminist thinking must be shared with everyone, whether through talking or writing, and create theory with this agenda in mind we can advance feminist movement that folks will long--yes, yearn--to be a part of. I share feminist thinking and practice wherever I am. When asked to talk in university settings, I search out other setting or respond to those who search me out so that I can give the riches of feminist thinking to anyone. Sometimes setting emerge spontaneously. At a black-owned restaurant in the South, for instance, I sat for hours with a diverse group of black women and men from various class backgrounds discussing issues of race, gender and class. Some of us were college-educated, others were not. We had a heated discussion of abortion, discussing whether black women should have the right to choose."--pp 72-73, Teaching to Transgress.
The more one gets exposed to the ideas within feminism, the more one sees that lessons to be learned (and taught) are everywhere, and that one has a sort of embarrassment of riches as far as being able to show, for example, that pop culture tends to encourage misogyny. And one has a chance to talk with people about this stuff almost every day.

The other day I was on a conference call with a few of the people I work with often, two men around my age, when one started teasing the other about having worn a pink shirt. I eventually asked the person doing the teasing what colors he though men should wear, and what colors they shouldn't. In high school during the late 80's, we all wore pink shirts for at least a short while, after all, I pointed out. We ended up having a nice little discussion about it, and about how it's ok for men to wear 'salmon' but not 'pink', even if they are the same color. I'm not so naive so as to think that these men are now feminists, having had such a discussion--but we managed to have a discussion about traditional gender roles and their place in society, which I consider a feminist issue. A few days later, I had a conversation with a 5-year old daughter of a friend, who wanted to show me her 'princess' shoes. I told her they were nice, but that I didn't really like princesses. "Why not?" she asked. "They're kind of boring." She looked at me like I was crazy, and I simply said: It's ok for you to like princesses, but not everybody likes princesses. Again, I don't kid myself about countering the massive tide-of-princess-iness that this girl has been inundated with since the time she could consume media--but sometimes one little voice sticks in one's head. So you never know.

Maybe when she's older I can loan her my bell hooks books.
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