Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category

hooksGloria Watkins (1952- ), better known by her pen name of bell hooks (all lower case), is an American professor, a leading black feminist writer and thinker. She wanted to be a poet but made her name as a feminist by showing how white and racist feminism is.

Her catchphrase is “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”: not only is American society built by and for rich white men, built on divisions of race, class and sex, but the losers – blacks, women and the poor – are brainwashed into accepting it through education, television, music and film.

That is why she likes to talk about Madonna and hip hop: they both started out speaking truth to power but then sold out, singing the white man’s song, the old song of women as sex objects and black men as violent brutes. That is what those rap videos are about. Spike Lee, meanwhile, did not sell out but then wound up getting sidelined.

She says America is not so much racist as white supremacist. Racism is about how people think and feel, it is something that comes from living in a white supremacist society, that is, a society built to favour whites over others.

Blacks living in such a society are brainwashed, they have colonized minds. They learn to look down on themselves, to hate themselves. They buy into the “black is ugly” message they hear all the time. They suffer from internalized racism.

The road to freedom is education. That is why she teaches. An education, that is, based on reading books, asking hard questions and thinking for oneself, education that tears apart the lies, that decolonizes your mind. A free society can be built on nothing less.

She grew up in the American South in Jim Crow days, on the black side of a small town in Kentucky. Until she went to high school she lived in a world of home and school that was largely the creation of black women. Her school was black, even her teachers were black. It was the old black Southern world that “offers ways of knowing, habits of being, that can sustain us as a people.”

Then she won a scholarship to Stanford University and found herself thrust into an all-white world.

Even though Stanford was a world of learning and ideas and books, none of the books spoke about what being a black woman in a white world meant – the self-hatred, the injustices, the racism and the sexism both. She looked and looked for a book that would speak to her, for her, but found none. So at age 19 she started writing the book herself in between her studies and her work. In time it became “Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism” (1981).

She expected her ideas to judged, weighed  and even found wanting, but she did not expect them to be crushed under a landslide of angry words. Many white feminists hated the book, but many black women loved it. In any case it made her name.

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male gaze

Male gaze (1975- ) is the idea that women are shown in films not as they are but as men see them. The idea comes from feminist film theory but it applies just as well to television, video games, comic books, advertising and even paintings.

As John Berger put it in “Ways of Seeing”: “Men ‘act’ and women ‘appear’. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

Women are often shown in ways that men rarely are.

You see it in hip hop videos. Why do so many have half-naked women? They do not sing or rap, they are not part of any serious storyline. They are just there for men to look at.

You see it in advertising too, Many ads have a pretty woman, the idea being that if you buy what they are selling you will get the girl – or be the girl who gets her man. “Sex sells”, as they say.

At times you see men presented this way, presumably for female viewers, like when James Bond takes off his shirt. But for the most part men are presented not as something to look at but as those who act and move the story along.

Why is this? Because sex does in fact sell. Because film, television, videos and advertising are largely made by men, not women. It is men for the most part who write the lines, direct the actors and man the cameras. Read the credits and see. And they do it all largely with male viewers in mind.

So what about female viewers? They have a choice: either they watch as if they were men or do what advertisers assume they do: see themselves as the woman being looked at and desired.

And so women unthinkingly take in male ideas of themselves as objects to be looked at, desired and possessed. That idea of womanhood is hardly an invention of television or advertising, but they do help to strengthen it.

Feminists say that the male gaze is an example of how much power men have in society, that it affects everything, even something as simple as how women are shown on television.

So while the video vixens in hip hop videos are there for men to look at, it affects the women and especially the girls who watch it too. For good or ill, it helps to teach them what it is to be a woman and does it through how men look at them.

It also affects women when they compare themselves to these women being gazed at. It helps to make them unhappy with how they look.

In America the male gaze affects white women more than black women since the gaze is largely a white male gaze. In some shows it is clear that the white women are being presented to be gazed at but the black women are not. This may be part of why white women are unhappier with their bodies than black women are.

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