While folks are waiting to get started on The Ethical Slut, I figured I’d take a cue from one of our members on Goodreads and start a general discussion about open relationships.

Please note: If you need to comment under a pseudonym, I completely understand, but please do not use that as an invitation to shame or disrespect anyone.

For those of you who are currently in or interested in trying nonmonogamous relationships, please feel free to share your experience. What led you to that path, what are the advantages and disadvantages you see in your style, what are the common reactions you receive, and so forth?

For those of you who aren’t in an open relationship, please share what you hope to get out of this book. What are the preconceptions you have, what images have you seen (in the media, amongst your peers, etc.), and so forth?

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.


I got my hands on this book in the nick of time (does anyone else in this group borrow from the Queens library?). While it was published in 1984, there are still many points that are relevant to what’s happening today.

The first part of the book delves into how the second wave of feminism in the 1960s excluded important groups of women, focusing solely on white, upper-class heterosexual cis women. Today too, feminists are infighting to make sure disabled women, lesbian women, and trans women, among others, are included in the national discourse. Just as bell hooks stated to her readers that society has to unlearn racism and classism (as it is still very much doing) so too will they have to unlearn the stereotypes that befall these other groups. And while some of us may become frustrated by the infighting (how can we ever move forward as a movement if we’re bickering with each other?), bell hooks has this to offer: “If women always seek to avoid confrontation…we may never experience any revolutionary change” (66-7). So these discrepancies are actually healthy in order for us to grow internally as a movement and proceed with a unified voice.

The second issue that remains pertinent to today (in fact, more pertinent to Wednesday – the National Lobby Day and Rally Against Stupak) is about revolutionizing parenting. Though much of bell hooks’ argument has to do with transforming fatherhood to be just as important and revered in our culture as motherhood, she does say that we need “to make motherhood neither a compulsory experience for women nor an exploitative or oppressive one” (137). This of course upholds the thinking behind Roe v Wade, but also lends to the idea of shaming single mothers, or simply hating on the mommy culture in today’s mostly white, urban upper-class circles.

bell hooks also leaves us with some encouraging words: The revolution isn’t over. In fact, it may be so gradual that we may not even know it’s happening. Health care is just one step. Paid sick days is yet another. All of these are small steps that act to change the cultural landscape, and all collectively will lead to a changed society. So we may not yet be at the center, but we’re moving there, albeit slowly but surely.

This is a guest post by Madama Ambi, who originally posted this at the Feminist Advisory Board for Obama blog.

 

I belong to a feminist book club and we’re reading Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks. This was written in 1984 and is considered a classic feminist text. Last night I read the final chapter on Feminist Revolution.

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.

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.


Voting for the next book club selection has closed and the winner The Ethical Slut.

For anyone who has ever dreamed of love, sex, and companionship beyond the limits of traditional monogamy, this groundbreaking guide navigates the infinite possibilities that open relationships can offer. Experienced ethical sluts Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle–from self-reflection and honest communication to practicing safe sex and raising a family. Individuals and their partners will learn how to discuss and honor boundaries, resolve conflicts, and to define relationships on their own terms. (From Goodreads)

There are two editions for this book (and the second has two titles depending on where you look for it). The first edition is The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt. The second edition is The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, although I’ve also seen it listed as Ethical Slut: A Roadmap for Relationship Pioneers (particularly on UK sites).

For the book club, we will officially be reading The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. However, if all you can get your hands on is the first edition, please do get that copy and follow along. It’s my understanding that the second edition has more resources and exercises, so I don’t think it will greatly affect the reading and discussion experience. (If anybody has read both editions and thinks otherwise, please let us know in the comments.)

So head on out to your libraries and bookstores to pick up a copy. Discussion will start in December and continue through January.


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.”


The poll for our next book club selection is now open — it’s right there on the sidebar –>

Remember that we’re switching up the book club format at least for a bit. That means that you can continue to read Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks through the end of November. We will read the next selection (the one you’re voting for now) December and January. Got it? Good!


Alright folks, let’s switch it up a bit!

When we started the book club a couple of months ago, I think everyone was a lot less busy and a lot more ambitious than we all are now. I’ve received a lot of feedback from folks about how much their schedules have changed — people started jobs or school or their Master’s thesis. I’ve received even more comments about how difficult it is to get your hands on books once they’re selected and complaints that people just can’t keep up. I have experienced this myself so I’m announcing a slight change to the schedule.

Instead of selecting a new book each month, I think it will be best to read one book every other month. That means it will go a little something like this:

Around the 1st of the month, a poll will go up on the blog and the Goodreads group to vote for the next book. Voting will be open for about 5 days and the book selection will be announced at the end of that week. We will continue reading the previous selection until the end of that month, when we’ll begin the next book. Then we repeat. That means that we’ll be voting for a new book halfway through reading the previous book. This will also give us more time for not just reading but discussing.

Got it? Probably not. Okay, an example… We’ve been reading bell hooks’ Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center for October. With the old schedule, right about now we would have picked the book for November. However, with the new plan, we’ll actually be voting on November 1st for December’s book and will keep reading bell hooks until December 1st. We’ll read that book for December and January. We’ll vote for the next book January 1st. We’ll read that book February and March. Got it? Hopefully so.

If not, just ask questions in the comments. Also comment on whether or not you like this new system. I figure we can give it a try for a bit and switch it if it’s still not to our liking. Comment away!