More of the Same



CURRENT BOOK: Ain’t I a Woman by Bell Hooks

The remainder of Ain’t I a Woman proved to be more of the same, to the extent that I felt that even at under 200 pages, Hooks belabored her point that black women were historically even further down the social hierarchy than white women or black men.

Most Americans, and that includes black people, acknowledge and accept this hierarchy; they have internalized it either consciously or unconsciously.

One story that struck me was that of a newlywed black husband who was fined and imprisoned for confronting his black bride’s white employer who made advances toward her.

Other things that struck me included:

*Denial of the title “Miss” or “Mrs.” to black women

*Refusal to allow black women to try on clothes before purchase

*Single/shared toilet facilities for both sexes for blacks

Hooks also explores the stereotypes assigned to black women, either as a prostitute and sex object or an overweight, nagging maternal figure.

The images of black women that are seen as positive usually are those that depict the black women as a long-suffering, religious, maternal figure, whose most endearing characteristic is her self-sacrificing self-denial for those she loves.

Efforts by black women to portray themselves in a more positive, family-oriented way led to the “Aunt Jemima” stereotype and the sociological myth of the black matriarch, which was accepted by blacks despite being perpetuated by white men and was not necessarily positive for black women.

If what Hooks suggests is true:

The structure of marriage in patriarchal society is based on a system of exchange, one in which men are traditionally taught to provide economically for women and children in exchange for sexual, housekeeping and nurturing services.

Does this mean I am getting a bum deal if I still do these things for my husband if he does not fully provide for me?  When I think about it, I think this is why I am insistent about asking him for help with chores.  If I am providing for myself, the system of exchange is different!

My husband and I had a good conversation wherein he agreed that, as far as traditional gender roles (and he is fluid regarding these issues), it was acceptable for women to provide for themselves and enjoy professional sports and do other things that are more traditionally “masculine,” before it was acceptable for men to be more in touch with their feminine or nurturing side.  I noted that it has only been within the last year or two that I have seen television commercials showing fathers (without mothers at their side) caring for children.  Especially from a twenty-first century perspective, I think Hooks might agree that there will not be true equality between the sexes unless society does not look down on men for displaying qualities that are more stereotypically female.

I don’t believe as Hooks does that certain practices within society (i.e. the male “code of chivalry”) were part of a conscious effort to indoctrinate society, or that Women’s Lib was purposefully intended to further the interests of more educated and/or upper-class white women as opposed to other women.  Certain things did perpetuate racism and sexism, certainly.  However, I think it was on a much more subconscious level.  I will acknowledge, though, that I am looking at these things through a very different lens than Hooks.

Hooks does reference the quote from Sojourner Truth which lent itself to the title of the book, wherein Truth bared her breasts during a notable speech, but it comes so late in the book that it seems Hooks should have referenced the speech earlier to better lend its significance to her work.

However, I do think Hooks makes an accurate observation about the barrier between women.

Overcoming barriers that separate women from one another would entail confronting the reality of racism, and not just racism as a general evil in society but the race hatred they might harbor in their own psyches.

In my life, through a close friendship with a black co-worker, I have had a wonderful firsthand experience of the things that we have in common as women despite differences of color and religion and other things.  As far as a lot of the “typical man, typical woman” stuff, I often comment that our husbands must have been separated at birth because they do so many of the same things that cause us so many of the same frustrations.  And I think this may have been what Hooks was ultimately getting at.  However, while I think Hooks has an important point, and while I don’t regret stepping out of my comfort zone to read this book, I think Hooks could have made her point much more concisely.


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