Advocating for a Revolutionary Consciousness

02Nov09

This is a guest post by Charles Dickey, who originally posted this at the blog Fiercely In(ter)dependent.

Charles Dickey continues to happily liberate himself from consumerism and corporate capitalism. After suffering through high school, he got a higher education, then worked as bookseller, crisis phone worker, environmental restoration technician, and at various other jobs. Through it all he has listened to and played music, read, written, and drawn as a way of coping and in order to maintain his freedom, intellect, curiosity, individuality, and integrity. He now works as Associate Fool at the upstart publishing start-up and eclectic bookshop Leftunder Books.

 

Twenty-five years ago, bell hooks offered this book to the public, her insights plain on the page and capable of blazing a trail through the minds of those with a capacity for critical consciousness. Perhaps it’s natural that a book like this molders in the public sphere, buried under the millions of volumes of books of every genre and academic discipline and popular trend that our society, bloated on information and entertainment, produces. Or perhaps that’s not what happened to this book at all; a quick search on amazon.com shows that the 2nd edition of this book, published in 2000, is currently ranked “#21,539 in Books”, which is actually quite good, considering amazon’s cataloged rankings reach down to 6 or 7 million. Why then have the critical and incredibly insightful passages of this book not manifested in our shared public life? Where is the “Revolutionary Parenting” called for in chapter 10? How come we have still not rethought the nature of work as a society (chapter 7)? Why do we still think largely of revolutions as critical moments in time or in terms of violence, when in her conclusive chapter 12 hooks has voiced what we all should know to be true:

Revolutions can be and usually are initiated by violent overthrow of an existing political structure. In the United States, women and men committed to feminist struggle know that we are far outpowered by our opponents, that they not only have access to every type of weaponry known to humankind, but they have both the learned consciousness to do and accept violence as well as the skill to perpetuate it. Therefore, this cannot be the basis for feminist revolution in this society. Our emphasis must be on cultural transformation: destroying dualism, eradicating systems of domination. Our struggle will be gradual and protracted. Any effort to make feminist revolution here can be aided by the example of liberation struggles led by oppressed people globally who resist formidable powers.

Our society is as fragmented, competitive, and unable to meet human needs as ever. When we look around us in 2009, we see a variation on the same post-WW II, post-Vietnam theme that plagued us when hooks first published this book in 1984. An overwhelming crunch of information, entertainment, and compulsive consumerism perpetuates the atomization of the individual and works to keep us alienated and isolated from any meaningful sense of community; moreover, it holds us as slaves of a kind to an unjust economic order. hooks wrote the book on countering our alienation, beginning to struggle against that atomization, and working together towards an emancipation of ourselves along with all people–and this is that book. Reading it is not enough. We must act to bring about social change, and before we can act intelligently and strategically, we must communicate meaningfully with each other. To do that, we could take our cues from early feminist consciousness-raising groups.

Yet even in 2009, after all of the gains of the 1970s and the solidification of those gains in our culture, feminist movement remains at the margin of society. The type of feminist movement that hooks advocates in this volume is revolutionary in the sense of that protracted struggle mentioned in the quote above. It is revolutionary in its character of never arriving, but always recognizing that there is more work to do to create a joyful, creative, and just society. In the following passage, hooks offers a perspective on parenting that I think generalizes out to our culture of authority and domination, which whether it includes women in its hierarchies of exploitation and force or not, remains the same:

Many parents teach children that violence is the easiest way (if not the most acceptable way) to end a conflict and assert power. By saying things like “I’m only doing this because I love you” while they are using physical abuse to control children, parents are not only equating violence with love, they are also offering a notion of love synonymous with passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions. In many homes small children and teenagers find their desire to discuss issues with parents sometimes viewed as a challenge to parental authority or power, as an act of “unlove.” Force is used by the parent to meet the perceived challenge or threat. Again, it needs to be emphasized that the idea that it is correct to use abuse to maintain authority is taught to individuals by church, school, and other institutions.”

The expectation of “passive acceptance, the absence of explanation, and discussions” is on full display in the corporate capitalist culture of America, and it is even further displayed outward through the imposition of that model across the globe as international corporations continue to “develop” the world, profiting as they do so. But I digress.

The point hooks makes with this collection of essays is that, while the gains of feminism may be clear and visible to white, middle- or upper-class professional women who desire to participate in an economics rooted in corporate capitalism, the failures of feminist movement are clear and visible to women of color and lower-class women, and possibly to men of color and lower-class, or otherwise marginalized men. Feminism, as hooks perceived it back in 1984, had largely become a movement whereby privileged white women declared their independence from men in order to self-actualize as individuals striving within a competitive culture–and this remains true today. Feminism, in short, has been stalled; feminism became stunted and has been easily incorporated into the existing economic structures of hierarchy, which it began its career rebelling against.

hooks suggests that feminist movement needs to be rethought and re-engaged, and encourages us to build an inclusive movement in which “revolutionary impulses must freely inform our theory and practice” so that we can come to come together as women and men, and as human beings opposed to classism, racism, sexism, and all forms of violence, “to transform our present reality.”

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8 Responses to “Advocating for a Revolutionary Consciousness”

  1. yes…unfortunately, the critique is still true today, in the year 2009…lately I’ve been bitchslapping white feminists because…well, because they deserve it! I’m talking about even notable feminists who publish in very respected journals and newspapers, whose names right now I’ll just leave by the wayside, because although they SHOULD know better, these individual feminists are not the problem. In fact, I’m trying to figure out exactly what the problem is: why are white women so naive? Yes, naive. Cocooned. And insisting on getting ahead in a way that’s “replicating the wheel,” in the words of yet another smart feminist who said I should attribute that wonderful, new twist of a phrase to myself, not her!!! (She does not yet embrace her Freudian slips, I guess…)

    A very well-known feminist posted a video to Facebook about a 16 year-old girl (of color) who was sentened to life without parole. Said feminist/writer/author adds “When did America get so cruel?”

    Reader, I lost it. I blew my stack. I asked if she had ever read The Hemingses of Monticello, or studied the history of Native Americans or the labor movement…how can a mature, educated, published, respected feminist ask such a white and naive question? Yep. That’s what I said to her: why are you acting so white and naive? Needless to say, my Facebook “friend” didn’t want to discuss it and instead chose to unfriend me. Arrividerci whitey? Plus, she’s Jewish! I mean, Jewish women aren’t even full-blooded whites! Yes, I’m Jewish, and yes, we can pass, but I know where my ancestors couldn’t get a job or a house or avoid getting beaten up…or where they hid in attics in WWII Germany…and, you get the picture…

    White women! Confront yourselves! You are hiding, but I see you. Your unconscious, split-off and denied privilege is showing…

  2. 2 Sally G

    As a white woman and member of Madama’s Yahoo group, I also find it hard to believe the “naïveté”—I’d call it ignorance— in the “when did America get so cruel?” comment she cites. I studied history; I know the cruelty of the powerful over the powerless in so many societies, including our own. That said, I see Jewish women in this country as equally full-blooded “white” as Italian women, Irish women, German women, etc., each of whom have been subject to discrimination over the years (dirty Eyetalians, “No Irish need apply”, Nazis) and each of whom could “pass” to various degrees if they so chose. Catholics and Protestants can each point to places of martyrdom in “the Conflicts”, my atheist mother couldn’t be in her Catholic best friend’s wedding party, and the girl didn’t even have the guts to tell her it was because of a church rule. . . the list goes on.

    • Sally–hey, nobody is white! What a great smackdown lies therein! But maybe we need a new, better word than white…like privileged??????? Like “in crowd?” Are you old enough to remember that song? Circa 1960’s, I think????

  3. Is this where we’re discussing bell hooks? I looked and couldn’t find any thing more substantive than this…

    Although I think I read this book 20 years ago as part of my curriculum in feminist psychotherapy, this books feels fresh and relevant to me. I jumped into her last chapter on Feminist Revolution because I’ve felt very frustrated by where women’s movement is these days. I’ve been saying that we have developed into fiefdoms of feminisms, where women are now busy running their own non-profits, holding conferences, writing books, appearing on TV, etc. This is all good, but it ain’t revolution and it isn’t going to change the power structure. OK, this is what I’ve been saying before jumping into bell hooks’ chapter on Feminist Revolution. These are the conclusions I’ve come to as a result of living online and spending every day roaming the femisphere to find out what people are doing, who they are, what their thoughts are about women’s movement now.

    Then I land in language that so speaks to me it is like water to my thirsty throat. Here is the paragraph that sums up, for me, what is missing in feminist/womanist movement:

    “Feminist consciousness-raising has not significantly pushed women in the direction of revolutionary politics. For the most part, it has not helped women understand capitalism–how it works as a system that exploits female labor and its interconnections with sexist oppression. It has not urged women to learn about different political systems like socialism or encouraged women to invent and envision new political systems. It has not attacked materialism and our society’s addiction to overconsumption. It has not shown women how we benefit from the exploitation and oppression of women and men globally or shown us ways to oppose imperialism. Most importantly, it has not continually confronted women with the understanding that feminist movement to end sexist oppression can be successful only if we are committed to revolution, to the establishment of a new social order.”

    That’s what I’m working on! It sounds daunting, almost grandiose, to say that feminists/womanists should take this on, and yet that’s where my evolving analysis has led me. I’m curious to know how other readers reacted when they read this.

    And here’s another idea from bell hooks that I had to highlight in yellow:

    “Women must begin the work of feminist reorganization with the understanding that we have all (irrespective of our race, sex, or class) acted in complicity with the existing oppressive system. We all need to make a conscious break with the system.”

    Pretty mindblowing statements…and I think I know what she’s talking about…in fact, I think I’m starting to organize around these ideas. I’d really like to know how other readers respond to hooks.

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks much.

    Madama

    • Hey Madama, can I use your comment as a guest post? I think most of us are swamped and haven’t gotten a chance to write about the book yet.

  4. 6 Sally G

    The following is the part of the first quotation that says it best to me:
    It has not attacked materialism and our society’s ADDICTION TO OVERCONSUMPTION. It has not shown women how we benefit from the exploitation and oppression of women AND MEN globally or shown us ways to OPPOSE IMPERIALISM. (emphasis added)
    The past few decades have shown us that women can be as ruthless as men. My own experience (particularly my father) shows me that men can be as gentle as women, without being any less masculine (O.K., he’s more interested in airplanes, cars, and skiing than in aggressive team sports; OTOH, I have a very compassionate male friend who is a huge baseball/football fan).
    Anyone accepting the existing corporate power structure and not challenging our social values is, to me, missing the point. It’s not only women who are oppressed, as this quote points out—”lower-class” laborers of both sexes, child laborers male and female, are targets of the multinational profit-seeking corporations. That’s what gets me angry and makes me want to fight. To me, its the corporatocracy rather than patriarchy that is the greater villain. Not that I particularly approve of patriarchy or matriarchy, but at least they attempt to consider family and humanity, though defining roles too narrowly; corporations too often consider only profit at any cost, human, environmental, or any other.
    A current favorite slogan: Capitalism without heart is evil. (note “without heart”; you can substitute almost any “ism” for capitalism, it’s the “heart”, or humanity, that redeems any “ism”).
    Note to Madama:
    I’ve been swamped recently, also have my left wrist in a cast; I’ll get over to the group site to bring myself up to date!
    S.


  1. 1 Advocating for a Revolutionary Consciousness: bell hooks’ Feminist Theory from margin to center « Fiercely In(ter)dependent
  2. 2 digital playground password

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