Book review | Ain’t IA Woman: black women and feminism

Gloria Jean Watkins is a social activist who became one of the first authors to compile the experience of black women through slavery and political emancipation in America. She wrote under the pseudonym bell hooks, a name borrowed from her maternal grandmother to honor female legacies, and wrote in lowercase to draw attention to her post rather than herself.

In his book, ‘Am I not a woman: black women and feminism ‘, bell hooks sheds light on the life of black women in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. We are presented with a figure who starts out as a physically and sexually abused slave, who then becomes an obedient, sexually abused, overworked and further mother in the overworked puppet of capitalism, who continues to be sexually abused most often.

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In her book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, Bell Hooks sheds light on the life of black women in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. We are presented with a figure who starts out as a physically and sexually abused slave, who then becomes an obedient, sexually abused, overworked and further mother in the overworked puppet of capitalism, who continues to be sexually abused most often.

hooks brings out the awkwardness that not only accompanied the infantile stages of feminist ideology, but also spanned two entire centuries of struggle. Almost until the end of its vigor (and more often than not, even today) it was recognized only as a movement of white women. Unfortunately, for black women, active participation in the feminist movement often meant compromising the integrity of the black rights movement and vice versa. Siding with white women meant endorsing their racism while supporting black men strengthened the patriarchal social order. Because the term “black” referred to black men and “women” to white women, black women did not exist on paper or in speech.

Bell Hooks’ book explains how slavery has often been shockingly described as black men emasculation. This notion leaves entirely obscured the aggressiveness of the oppression of black women. bell hooks clarifies that it was not sexual desire that prompted the massive rape of black girls / women by white men, but the need to gain absolute allegiance to the White Imperial Order instead. Terrorism lay in the demoralization and dehumanization of black women. I, a far more privileged 21st century global citizen, continue to hear about or witness the demoralization of women from caste communities oppressed through caste-based sexual violence up close.

“In fundamentalist Christian teaching, the woman was portrayed as an evil sexual temptress, the bearer of sin in the world. The subsequent socialization of white men allowed them to rationalize the rape of female slaves, whether they were 14 or 41 years old. Since every black woman was considered to have loose sexual morals, sexually abusing her was deemed not only justified, but also logical. A sociological study Low-income black male-female relationships had revealed that most boys called black women “that bitch” or “that bitch,” Hooks says. In addition to recognizing how humiliating this is for prostitutes, I have to wonder if such vituperation is so archaic and unheard of today.

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The portrayal of women in today’s media has its roots in how women have historically been identified as sexual temptresses. This is most likely also why the actress is often scantily clad and why the lives of women on television revolve entirely around men and why pornography increasingly presents a male perspective.

“In the 19th century, the growing economic prosperity of white Americans caused them to deviate from the harsh religious teachings that shaped the lives of the early colonizers.” hooks alludes to the fact that women who were once considered sexual savages began to be praised as the “The nobler half of humanity whose duty was to uplift men’s feelings and inspire their higher impulses.” The price women had to pay to transcend this pedestal was to give up all sexual desire altogether lest their “real motives” be exposed. This explains why we are often forced to just respond to romantic advances, but not make any of our own. If we are too frank then we are too bitch. While white women were comparatively authorized To take on these noble roles, black women were heavily stereotyped in the media, either as overweight women with distorted features or as enduring and sacrificed mother figures.

This depiction was used to romanticize the arduous lives of black women, just as our mothers are often revered for managing their children, cooking, housework, and full-time jobs. It is not beautiful or pious, it is abuse, it is unpaid work and it is exploitation.

Read also : Teaching to Transgress: Analyzing the Work of Doorbell Hooks to Critically Reinvent Education

A recurring theme in the book is the theory of the existence of a black matriarchy. Male social scientists had to justify “the independent and decisive role played by black women within the black family structure.” hooks mock them by comparing the girls playing at home / acting as mother with the matriarchs, “because in either case there is no real effective power that allows the women in question to control their own destiny.” “. Today that myth comes to the surface when the bride and groom are jokingly warned of their soon to be lost freedom and independence. It is a worn-out icebreaker at the gatherings of the middle and upper classes. Meanwhile, the tunes of “Zamana toh hai naukar biwi ka” (“The world today is a servant of women”) have motivated many men to dance melodramatically at parties. Black women had to wonder if they still needed a feminist movement after all.

The book was published in 1981 and deals with the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, but the themes covered in the book are very relevant today. hooks explains that it was not feminism that made women work, but capitalism that made women work alongside men to pay the bills. It exposes the capitalist patriarchy which deceives men into punctually accomplishing dehumanizing tasks. They restore their sense of lost power by exercising violence against women. Further, Bell Hooks suggests that feminism then offered women “not liberation but the right to act as surrogate men.”

hooks explains that it wasn’t feminism that made it possible for women to work, but capitalism that asked women to work alongside men to pay the bills. It exposes the capitalist patriarchy which deceives men so that they punctually accomplish dehumanizing tasks.

She ends on a relatively optimistic note by stating that women who have the strength to see beyond rape and massacre must persevere to “no longer be victimized, more ignored, more frightened” so that others can take courage and to follow. The book’s titular speech by Sojourner Truth questions why black women are not treated with respect. She protests the sale of her thirteen children, she opposes the inhumane treatment at the Convention on the Rights of Women in Old Stone Church, Ohio in 1851 and asks: “Am I not a woman? “


Ahsas is a software developer for Morgan Stanley for 8 hours a day (sometimes 13) and cares about the rest. She wants to be a writer and / or teacher and / or sociologist almost every day of the week, that’s a work in progress. She enjoys reading and is currently juggling Sylvia Plath, Rohit De and Swami Vivekananda (still debating ‘Swami’). She’s scared of people and conversations, but if you’re super smart / sensitive / famous / think she should make at least one friend, reach out to her on LinkedIn.

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