bell hooks Memorial
Author(s): Elizabeth J. Fleitz
Elizabeth J. Fleitz is an associate professor of English at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. She graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2009 with a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing. She teaches writing pedagogy, digital humanities, technical writing, grammar, and first-year writing. Her research specializes in the rhetorical practices of cookbooks. She recently published an article about cookbooks and remix literacy in Community Literacy Journal, and about the cookbook author Amelia Simmons in Peitho. She has also published in Harlot, Present Tense, the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s Blog Carnival, and the edited collection Type Matters, among others. She is also part of the editorial collective for the Praxis and Topoi sections of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy.Tags: bell hooks, in memoriam
As I paused in shock, reading the news online of bell hooks’ passing on December 15, 2021, my mind returned to my fondest memory of hooks’ impact: discussing her writing with a group of (white, privileged) first-year college students several years ago. The course was Great Ideas in Feminism (my attempt to turn the largely white, cis-het male-dominated “Great Ideas” curriculum on its head). For our first class meeting that cold, gray January day, I asked students to read an excerpt from hooks’ 2000 text Feminism is for Everybody. I chose the text for its accessibility, knowing this was likely the first in-depth discussion of feminism any of these new college students had experienced. I knew I had misconceptions to clear up before we could truly begin the course. I wanted my students to know, to begin with, that feminism really was for everybody, not just for women. hooks’ message is one of inclusiveness, which is useful to any political argument: to unify rather than to divide.
My students’ reception to the text was more successful than I even expected: students easily accepted hooks’ definition of feminism as being a problem of sexist beliefs and actions, not a problem of sex. Patriarchal culture is the problem, not men themselves (hooks 1). For an author to so plainly and clearly state this fact about feminism was a revelation to my students—and I was so proud to see it happen. Even the students who would regularly play devil’s advocate for other discussion texts during the term—such as questioning the validity of rape statistics in the introduction to Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues—accepted her statements about feminism with no trouble.
hooks’ impact on feminism through this text goes much further than the inclusivity of the title, of course: hooks’ writing style in not only this work but all of her writings live out her philosophy of inclusiveness, of bringing people together. First, her use of plain language, of short, straightforward sentences, of personal pronouns, all help her speak directly to the reader, inviting them in to learn more about feminism. Rather than using the cold, formal language of academia, hooks intends to reach everyone and anyone, not just people like her. It makes sense, then, that hooks adopts Sojourner Truth’s famous words “Ain’t I a Woman?” in the title of her 1981 book about Black women and feminism. Just as Truth used the informal diction of that rhetorical question to be relatable and understandable, hooks adopts not just those words but also that philosophy of plain speech to draw in readers.
In Feminism is for Everybody, as well as all of her works, hooks believes there is strength in unity, not in division. Her writing is an invitation to the reader to learn more, not a dismissal of what they’ve done wrong. It is this inclusivity—this love—that allows her to educate all of us on a truly progressive notion of feminism, one that includes instead of excludes. Gloria Steinem, in her memorial to hooks in the LA Review of Books, notes the importance of this rhetorical move: “Especially in this global era when unity is being imposed by danger, bell’s unifying message of love has come just in time” (Yancy, G. et al). In a time of great division, hooks’ words are needed now more than ever.
Feminism was lucky to have hooks as its advocate. My students were fortunate to have learned from her. All of us were blessed to have known her and her work, because truly, feminism really is for everybody.
hooks, bell. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. South End Press, 2000.
Yancy, George, et al. “A Tribute to bell hooks.” Los Angeles Review of Books, 15 Jan. 2022, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-tribute-to-bell-hooks/.