Spring 2011

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talkback. To start, what do you think about the revolutions in Africa and the Middle East, and women’s roles in those uprisings? bell hooks: It is vital that so many of these movements have been called forth and women are active in them, because a resurgence of patriarchal domination is part of why the resistance on the part of women in many cultures has gotten greater. Women are being wrongly blamed for a lot of social ills. Ms.: OK, how do you feel about gay marriage? bell hooks: I think marriage in general is not a healthy institution in our society. If people want civil rights, then that’s what I feel we should be fighting for. Couples, peo- ple who are each other’s kin or primary intimacies, a friend who takes care of a friend for 30 years in the same household—all should have basic civil rights. To bring that whole movement for social justice under the rubric of “gay marriage” seems to me just to reinforce patriarchal notions of who is worthy of care and support. It also lets down the gay people who don’t want to be married. The movement for gay marriage has had a strong push among very class-privileged people, because they are the people with trusts and with property and with health care. If you’re gay, black, poor and you don’t have any access to insurance, the question of whether your partner can be in- cluded on your insurance is just not relevant to the health needs of your life. What would be more relevant is nation- al health care! Ms.: While we’re on health and medical issues, what do you think about the recent attack on women’s reproductive rights? bell hooks: On one hand we’re being told that feminism failed, but if it failed why do people want to go back and take away some basic successes of the movement? I think it’s because having choice empowers women who have unwant- ed pregnancies. There’s no way we can surrender the strug- gle to maintain reproductive rights because it’s so tied to the future of what females of all ages can do. I think we forget about the level of bondage many women felt prior to birth control, prior to so many reproductive freedoms, of just feeling like your body was an agent of your destruction. Reproductive rights are also tied to women having sex- ual self-esteem. I look at Sex and the City and I think about how much damage is done by a film like that which trivi- alizes women’s efforts to be sexually self-actualized and free, and makes it a parody of the worst kind of patriarchal pornographic sexuality. Ms.: Speaking of women’s sexuality and popular culture, what do you think about Lady Gaga? ‘‘ I think we forget about the level of bondage many women felt prior to birth control...just feeling like your body was an agent of your destruction.” bell hooks: Lady Gaga to me is emblematic of the normal- ization of patriarchal pornography in our culture. Lady Gaga made how many millions—$20-some million or even more last year? It reinforces the idea that the avenue through which a young woman can really make the bucks is through a kind of sexual resubjugation via pornograph- ic representation. I don’t know any women who see Lady Gaga as a figure of liberation, but she is a figure of fame, celebrity, money. Fame is fun, money is useful, celebrity can be exciting, but finally life is about optimal well-being and how we achieve that in a dominator culture, in a greedy culture, in a culture that uses so much of the world’s resources. How do men and women, girls and boys, live lives of compas- sion, justice, love? And I think that’s the visionary chal- lenge for feminism and all other progressive movements for social change. Ms.: Have we gotten it? Where is feminism today? bell hooks: Overall, the theory and practice of feminism can transform your life in so many positive ways, starting with calling forth healthy self-esteem and self-love. Feminism offers young women and men incredible tools that can allow them to live well in an unwell society. Many of us over-50 women who’ve found our lives so enhanced and our capacity to love, to think, to act so fueled by feminist thinking and practice stand by and watch young people think this is a worthless movement. And it’s sad because it’s been part of the energizing catalyst for us to have incredible lives. Gloria Steinem and I were on the cover of Ms. maga- zine some years ago with Urvashi Vaid and Naomi Wolf, and we look back on that and think about where our lives are now, that we’ve all just grown more powerful, stronger and even richer. I just want young Ms. readers to know that power and that joy, the joy in struggle. n JENNIFER WILLIAMS is an assistant professor of English at New York University. She is writing a collection of essays on feminism, race and culture in the 21st century. SPRING 2011 | 43

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