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Study Notes

bell hooks (1952−2021)

AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 15 Dec 2021

The first thing to note about bell hooks is the absence of capital letters! bell hooks was the pen name for the feminist author and activist born Gloria Watkins, and the nom de plume derived from her maternal great-grandmother whom she greatly admired.

Her work focused upon the intersectionality of race, capitalism and gender. Intersectionality seeks to identify a system of oppression that moves beyond our traditional understanding of oppression. Intersectionality focuses upon how various biological, social, religious and cultural factors interact on multiple levels. This enables us to recognise the multidimensional basis of injustice within society.

According to bell hooks, systems of oppression have the ability to perpetuate themselves over time. In her book entitled ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ bell hooks considered the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women and the devaluation of black womanhood. She identified the role played by the media and within education in the construction of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy. Her work therefore provides an insight that is otherwise lacking amongst liberal feminists with its white, middle-class and college-educated bias.

Several feminists have praised bell hooks for providing the best solution to the problem of defining an ideology as eclectic and diverse as feminism. For her, feminism was “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” More importantly, the solution to the problems facing women (especially black women) within society is a form of communion and community. She argued that the loving communities can overcome inequalities of race, class and gender.

Another important book to consider is ‘Teaching to transgress : Education as the practice of freedom’ in which bell hooks targets the classroom as a source of both constraint and potential liberation. Teachers should encourage their students to transgress rather than conform. Ultimately, education can liberate and well as inform.

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