"I remember when mama wanted to know way back when we first started to live together why aren't you marrying him. I was just nineteen but I had enough sense to say Mama, I don't know who I am really, I can't be marrying nobody. I am over thirty now. I know who I am. And I understand what's happening here. The therapist explained it too. That Mack is engaged in change--back to the way you were behavior. He wants me to be the innocent needy child-woman he fell in love with, not the powerful adult feminist woman. He reminds me more and more of mama and daddy. It just seems that all the time he's trying to break my spirit, not so I will leave him, but so I will become the child-woman he fell in love with."--pp191-192
I love this passage for a couple of reasons. First of all, I love that bell-at-19 knows herself well enough to know that she doesn't want to get married at 19, before (for her) she figures out who she is. I love that she uses that reason with her mother. And then later, when she's 30, she knows, as does her therapist, that who she is at 30 isn't who she was at 19--and who she is at 30 isn't who Mack wants her to be, on some level.
We only know about Mack what hooks tells us about him, but what she tells us about him through the book shows that he's a fairly complex person as well. And, while it would be a gross over generalization to say that men (even feminist men) 'have a problem' with strong, feminist women, it would be equally as absurd to ignore the fact that there are some things going on there, in the friendships and romantic relationships between strong feminist women and the men in their lives...even the men who identify on whatever level as feminists.
I find myself having to be quite conscious of my own reactions during conversations with feminist friends and lovers. Of course, each relationship has its own dynamics, so I'm painting with too broad a brush here (no pun intended), but I notice various ways of interacting that I have to pay attention to--some of my feminist friends like a good argument where voices are raised (the kind of argument I like less and less, actually); some like quiet, reasoned discussion over a period of weeks. Some feel inclined to disagree with me on almost everything--in part because they think I'm wrong, but in part because of some newfound strength and happiness they get having realized that they can disagree. And in all cases, my mode of arguing/discussing needs to shift and flow differently, depending on my own needs and the needs of my friend, and I have to deal with my own internalized difficulties when interacting with strong women--after all, much of what I've been taught as I was growing up suggests that such women aren't worth interacting with (even though strong men are worthwhile), and I still struggle pretty much every day with what I learned growing up.
Reading bell hooks, in a way especially when reading her autobiographical work, helps me to feel less alone in this struggle.