bell hooks: Outlaw Culture

When reading Feminist texts, it is usually unlikely that you will agree with 100% of what they write. It’s hard to be right about everything, and Feminists are human and it’s natural to disagree. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a pretty impossible feat to solve the world’s problems. But, you know, we try. And when it comes to bell hooks, she gets pretty close to that 100% for me. This notion of a perfect kind of Feminism is also something bell hooks addresses.

In conversation with Caitlin Moran, Bridget Christie and Shazia Mirza at Southbank Centre, they asserted that there’s no such thing as a perfect Feminist, and that they shouldn’t have to face a backlash for saying things others had issues with. Whilst I agree that the vile abuse that can come out of this through such “Twitterstorms” is bad (goodbye sisterhood), I think it’s important to be critical and create a dialogue rather than stick your fingers in your ears and say ‘la la la, I’m not listening’. bell hooks states her books ‘rigorously critique and interrogate aspects of feminist thoughts, they also insist on the primacy of a fierce feminist commitment to ending sexism and sexist oppression.’ She goes on to say that ‘a progressive, revolutionary feminist movement must welcome and create a context for constructive conflict, confrontation, and dissent. Through that dialectical exchange of ideas, thought, and visions, we affirm the transformative power of power politics.’ Maybe a utopian vision, but something we do have the power to achieve.

I have a copy of ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ still on my shelf, and bought my boyfriend a copy of ‘The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love’ after a recommendation from a male colleague, but I started with ‘Outlaw Culture’. It’s a collection of essays and interviews which focuses on pop culture, weaving in perfectly placed profanities within an academic discourse that gives legitimacy to engage critically with the kinds of things that surround a majority of people’s everyday lives.

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I have folded down SO MANY CORNERS. I cannot recommend this book enough, even if it isn’t the one that most people would typically go for. Although bell hooks has been questioned on her academic style, I still think it’s somewhat accessible. Coming from an academic background myself, it may be hard to assess that concern properly, but I was actually gripped when reading it. And to get that from a non-fiction feminist text is pretty impressive.

One of the big things I liked about the book, is the amount of times the ‘white supremacist capitalist, patriarchy’ is referenced, as well as comments on heteronormativity and imperialism. I think it’s so important to see the ways these systems of power intersect and to find strength in that, as well to see what part you have to play in the struggle against these multiple oppressions. Although there are some references to films I’d not seen, it made me want to watch and re-read, and these were just as interesting as those I was familiar with, or the more broad essays, such as the fantastic ‘Gangsta Culture – Sexism and Misogyny: Who will take the rap?’ This was the one that made me rush to my bag in a debate with my Dad to slam the book down at the table, opened at one of the turned-down corners.

Published in 2006, Outlaw Culture is available from Routledge Classics and you can buy it here.