Reading: bell hooks — Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

A couple of weeks ago I wandered into St. George’s once more and as I always do, perused the stacks. This habit of mine, ah well, it’s about as dangerous as an open block of chocolate, I mean who can say no to a book that’s under five euro, even if they’ve only got twenty for the rest of the week? And here’s another! OK make that three, is how it not infrequently goes. Curiously these pick-ups tend to be ones I enjoy quite a bit, perhaps because they grab me when I’m in the mood for what’s between their covers, or in the case of this one, seemed to fit into my torrent of reading perfectly.

bell hooks. No capitals please. I’ve always like how her name looks written like this. It was probably around the time I unfortunately read Mary Daly that I also picked up bell hooks, so let’s say mid-teens, and having no frame of reference, was entirely convinced of the rightness of the former and disregarded the latter. Why? Because what could a black woman say about the important stuff of feminism, after all I myself wasn’t black, was I? Fucking Margin indeed.

I suppose in the same way the nazi skinheads I knew were not a good influence, neither were the feminists – or Radical Feminist Lesbian Separatists as they preferred to be known. So the older and thankfully slightly more intelligent and educated Frances now decides to read bell hooks, because I never did back then, and once it became impossible to ignore that the vast majority of feminists from that time were anti-trans, anti-sex worker, anti-BDSM, racist and classist (and sadly still alive), I ditched feminism altogether.

Feminist Theory From Margin to Center is so blindingly good, so immediately pertinent to contemporary feminism. I’m sad I didn’t read it earlier, didn’t read it before Daly, was arrogant enough to think it would hold little of value for me. I’m also not a little anxious that hooks, being of that generation despite her unequivocal opposition to so much of that Second Wave dross, might turn out like them to be a nasty transphobic troll. I’ve been bashing at various combinations and besides some stuff she wrote that is questionable on Paris is Burning and Beasts of the Southern Wild … ok just read properly Is Paris Burning? and she calls Venus Extravaganza “she/he” twice, which is shitful, so correction here, sadly bell hooks, like every ‘feminist’ from that era, no matter how what worthy writing they may do at best does not understand transgender issues and that a trans woman is indeed a woman and not a “she/he”, or doesn’t care to understand, or most usually thinks the latter can never be a ‘real woman’, and is “raping women’s bodies”.

Right, that was a disappointment.

Anyway, if we pretend for a moment bell hooks never opened her mouth and spewed Stupid all over my brain when trying to write about trans* people, she’s brilliant, incisive, mostly just what I look for in writers on gender, feminism, identity, oppression and so on. Sadly she did forget to engage brain before driving mouth on a subject she patently knows fuck all about — the ball culture of New York in the ’80s – which once again for me means there are no pre-Third Wave feminists who are not somewhere between problematic and fascist when it comes to trans* and more explicitly, trans* women. I’ll keep reading it though (and then I’ll give up forever on pre-Judith Butler feminists).