Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center is the second book by bell hooks, published in 1984. The book confirmed her importance as a leader in radical feminist thought.

Throughout the book, hooks uses the term white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy as a lens through which to both critique various aspects of American culture and to offer potential solutions to the problems she explores. hooks addresses topics including the goals of feminist movement, the role of men in feminist struggle, the relevance of pacifism, solidarity among women, and the nature of revolution. hooks can be identified in her discussions of these topics as a radical feminist because of her arguments that the system itself is corrupt and that achieving equality in such a system is neither possible nor desirable. She promotes instead a complete transformation of society and all of its institutions as a result of protracted struggle, envisioning a life-affirming, peaceful tomorrow.

A second edition, featuring a new preface, “Seeing the Light: Visionary Feminism,” was published in 2000. In the preface to the first edition, hooks, talking about black Americans in her hometown, discusses the meaning of her title’s “From Margin to Center:”

Living as we did—on the edge—we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked from both the outside in and the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well as the margin. We understood both. This mode of seeing reminded us of the existence of a whole universe, a main body made up of both margin and center.

A distinguishing feature of Feminist Theory is hooks use of what is contemporarily called Intersectionality in her analyses. An analysis of oppression that considers the intersecting nature of race and gender was pioneered by black feminist organizations of the 1970s. Hooks criticizes the “Sisterhood” framework of second-wave feminism, saying that the “emphasis on Sisterhood was often seen as emotional appeal masking the opportunism of bourgeois white women." In “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression,” chapter two, hooks offers a thorough critique of feminism as defined by the feminist movement at the time, citing the racism and classism within it. Hooks proposes defining feminism “as a movement to end sexist oppression.” Additionally, hooks suggests saying “I advocate feminism,” as opposed to “I am a feminist,” in order to avoid the misconception of women’s issues taking precedence over issues of race, class, etc.

Another distinguishing feature of Feminist Theory is hooks’ insistence on the inclusion of men in the feminist movement. Hooks criticizes the anti-male stance of second-wave feminism, asserting that this position “alienated many poor and working-class women, particularly non-white women, from feminist movement.” According to hooks, the second-wave feminists “reinforced sexist ideology by positing in an inverted form the notion of a basic conflict between the sexes, the implication being that the empowerment of women would necessarily be at the expense of men.” Hooks also points out that, by excluding men from the feminist movement, second-wave feminists essentially reinforced the sexual division of labor by making feminism the solely the responsibility of women.

Hooks asserts that, “Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it.” Hooks suggests using the negative effects of sexism on men as a way to motivate them into participation in feminism. According to hooks, women alone cannot achieve the goals of feminism, because, “men are the primary agents maintaining and supporting sexism and sexist oppression, they can only be eradicated if men are compelled to assume responsibility for transforming their consciousness and the consciousness of society as a whole.” Conclusively, hooks assert that, “Men who actively struggle against sexism have a place feminist movement. They are our comrades.”

Hooks also addresses several other issues relevant to feminism. She discusses the importance of black women in the feminist movement. Hooks discusses power as it pertains to women and oppression. Incorporating a critique of capitalism into her critique of second-wave feminism, hooks analyses the nature of work as it applies to women. Hooks stresses the importance of education as a goal of feminism and advocates the development of “the development of an educational methodology that addresses the needs of all women.” Criticizing second-wave feminism for focusing on violence only in the form of male violence against women and defining militarism as an expression of male violence, hooks asserts, “we must acknowledge that men and women have together made the United States a culture of violence and must work together to transform and recreate that culture. Women and men must oppose the use of violence as a means of social control in all its manifestations: war, male violence against women, adult violence against children, teenage violence, racial violence, etc.” Hooks also argues for feminist advocacy of child care, to “emphasize the need for collective parenting.” Regarding sexuality, hooks states,

A shift that will undoubtedly emerge as the struggle to end sexual oppression progresses will be decreased obsession with sexuality…sexuality will no longer have the importance attributed to it in a society that uses sexuality for the express purposes of maintaining gender inequality, male domination, consumerism, and the sexual frustration and unhappiness that deflect attention away from the need to make a social revolution.

Famous quotes containing the words center, margin and/or feminist:

    There is nothing more natural than to consider everything as starting from oneself, chosen as the center of the world; one finds oneself thus capable of condemning the world without even wanting to hear its deceitful chatter.
    Guy Debord (b. 1931)

    Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the center of the human enterprise and women are at the margin “helping” them. Such a world does not exist—never has.
    Gerda Lerner (b. 1920)

    People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.
    Rebecca West [Cicily Isabel Fairfield] (1892–1983)