Tag Archives: Bell Hooks

Big Question: For What Are We Responsible?

In the essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women,” bell hooks confronts the problem of disjunction within feminist movements. She discusses how mainstream feminism has alienated women of color because of a perception that aspects of their culture are counter to feminist causes–for instance, that black women’s refusal to self-victimize excluded them from feminism. Different groups face different oppressions; yet, hooks points out, mainstream feminism struggles to realize that feminism looks different for different groups.

Last week, Politico Magazine published an article subtitled “How Michelle Obama became a feminist’s nightmare.” The author charged the First Lady with anti-feminist offenses including “gardening,” “tending to wounded soldiers” and “reading to children.” Michelle Obama, the author argued, should be a politically involved activist, not a “mom-in-chief.” She has an obligation to the women of America; she should represent all that feminism has achieved.

But to what extent is one woman obligated to act on behalf of a nation? Is Michelle Obama single-handedly responsible for defying all norms? The demand for a woman to embody a specified role, without room for choice in what she can accept or reject, is constricting and regressive. As bell hooks argues in “Sisterhood,” feminism must account for the complexity of individual experiences. Michelle Obama’s feminism may not be Hillary Clinton’s feminism, but their experiences are equally valid.

With that in mind, are we responsible for making choices with an eye towards what will most benefit women as a population? Or are we free to pick and choose which paths to follow? How much must we consider our individual choices in the context of society?


hooks, bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” No. 23, Socialist-Feminism: Out of the Blue (Summer, 1986), pp. 125-138.

Cottle, Michelle. “Leaning Out.” Politico Magazine, November 21, 2013. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2013/11/leaning-out-michelle-obama-100244.html?ml=m_a3_1

Big Question: What is Justice?

The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter requires that federally-assisted educational institutions adhere to certain regulations in order to remain compliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Letter mandates that schools use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard to adjudicate cases of sexual violence. The preponderance standard is the lowest standard of evidence by which a judge can make a decision about a case; a judge must deem that the truth of a plaintiff’s contention is more likely than unlikely in order to rule in the plaintiff’s favor.

Last spring, the “Community of the Wrongly Accused” posted an article online arguing that the use of the preponderance standard is damaging to the human dignity of defendants, as it favors the assumption that “exonerations and gray claims” about instances of sexual violence constitute cases of “actual rapes.”

This post shrouds victim-blaming language in the rhetoric of justice, when justice and rape culture are in fact mutually exclusive. There is justice when one understands that the stigma, confusion and social pressure that accompany sexual violence give victims no incentive to falsely report (or report, period). There is justice when one trusts the word of survivors without challenging them to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that their rape was an “actual rape.” The use of the preponderance standard is a move towards justice, towards belief in survivors of sexual violence – a move towards “committing ourselves fully to resisting and eradicating patriarchy” (hooks, 109).

“Community of the Wrongly Accused: At the University of Michigan, Data Is in on the School’s First Year Using the ‘preponderance of the Evidence’ Standard for Sexual Assault: For Most Claims, the School Did Not Disbelieve the Accused.”  15 Mar. 2013. <http://www.cotwa.info/2013/03/at-university-of-michigan-data-is-in-on.html&gt;.

“Dear Colleague Letter” (2011) http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.pdf

hooks, bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge, 1994. 109-113.

Is fairness in representation possible?

In The Oppositional Gaze, Bell Hooks recalls the reaction of black women to their representation in film, “she was not us… We laughed at this black woman who was not us. And we did not even long to be there on the screen. How could we long to be there when our image, visually constructed, was so ugly?” Clearly the tropes and caricatures that populate modern media representation of racial and gender minorities are dehumanizing people to the point that we cannot even recognize ourselves in them. Is it possible, however, for the media to achieve any kind of ideal representation when any given character or cast is going to inevitably leave out characteristics and traits that some members of the viewership identify with? In choosing to represent any single person at all does the media inherently alienate others?
As Samuel Chambers speculates in Heteronormativity and the L Word, if the ideal cast for a group of friends on television included a representative of every race certainly the audience would deride the show for a lack of realism. So how can the media be simultaneously representative, realistic and universal? It’s a question that I believe may be easier to answer than it appears. If the people creating, producing and writing films and television were as diverse as the audience they are attempting to represent then the characters, even those who are very specific, would gain a complexity and depth that comes from viewing them with empathy and humanity that would resonate more universally with any audience.

Chambers, Samuel. Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. New York: TB Tauris, 2006.
Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992.

For/To what will you or must you re/act? Creating alternative media

Bell hooks writes in “The Oppositional Gaze” that the “cinematic context… constructs our presence as absence” and “denies the ‘body’ of the black female” (118).  Similarly to black women, there is a lack of representation in mainstream media of transgender people – particularly of transgender men, as Tsai’s article “Assimilating the Queers” points out, as well as of nonbinary-identified people. Bell hooks offers several possibilities for resisting mainstream media representations (or lack thereof), one of which is the creation of “alternative texts that are not solely reactions” (128). RoosterTails, I believe, is one such example of a constructive reaction to the lack of trans* representations in mainstream film. In “Comics: Why I Draw Them & Why They’re Important!” (http://www.roostertailscomic.com/?comic=why-comics http://www.roostertailscomic.com/?comic=why-comics-part-two) the creator, Sam, says that he writes comics to “tell the stories [he] want[s] to hear,” “stories that celebrate difference not shun it.” With RoosterTails, Sam has succeeded in “imagin[ing] new transgressive possibilities for the formulation of identity” (hooks 130), contradicting, for example, the mainstream trans* narrative of being “trapped in the wrong body” (http://www.roostertailscomic.com/?comic=trapped). It is interesting to ask why Sam has chosen comics. Is film an inherently more constrictive and less accessible medium? In the first part of “Comics: Why I Draw Them” Sam seems to say so. Yet Dykes to Watch Out For, which appears at least to me much more limiting and exemplary of the kind of shunning of difference that Sam attempts to resist, and unconventional films such as Against a Trans Narrative by Jules Rosskam and Christine in the Cutting Room by Susan Stryker seem to show that the creator’s vision, and perhaps identity, is more important in the opening or closing of possibilities for representations and the challenging of norms than the medium is. What do you think? Are some mediums more constricting of oppositionality than others?

Works Cited

Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992. 115-31. Print.

Orchard, Sam. “Comics: Why I Draw Them & Why They’re Important!” Rooster Tails. N.p., 29 Sept. 2012. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.

Orchard, Sam. “Trapped.” Rooster Tails. N.p., 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.

Tsai, Wan-Hsiu Sunny. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11.1 (2010): n. pag. Muse.jhu.edu. Web. 31 July 2012.

Sexual Assault: To what will you or must you (re)act?

The four-part series, “Surviving Silence,” published throughout this week in The Daily Pennsylvanian and addressing the history of sexual assault here at Penn, seems perfectly timed with the recent readings regarding consent and rape culture.

Although this may just be true for me personally, I feel that there is a tendency to feel a kind of disconnect when reading headlines with phrases such as “Student sexually assaulted…” Perhaps this is just evident proof of how, as Bell Hooks stated, “We live in a culture that condones and celebrates rape” (Hooks 109), and how we have these preconceived notions of when rape or sexual assault happens and to whom. However, sexual assault does not discriminate, and it can happen to anyone. According to RAINN, approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by a known acquaintance of the victim, and 60% of assaults never get reported to the police.

Unfortunately, recently events involving people that I know have given me very real faces to the problem, as well as allowed me to re-evaluate my own attitude and opinions towards rape and sexual assault. Just because it may not directly affected us, does that mean that we should passively let it be? I feel like many people tend to have a similar mindset regarding any type of social issue, in that, though they may see it as horrible, it has not personally affected them yet and thus, they do not have a similar responsibility to act. But if we do not act, who will?

Hooks, Bell. “Seduced by Violence No More.” Outlaw Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994: 109-113.

“Statistics | RAINN.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, n.d. Web. 31 Oct. 2013. <http://www.rainn.org/statistics&gt;.

Jeans and Rape Culture — But Where Are the Jeans?


This ad by Calvin Klein Jeans exemplifies how media perpetuates the objectification of women that leads to violence and even rape. Instead of highlighting the product, the center of the ad focuses on a woman with little to no clothes, with three men around her grabbing her and pulling her hair in an act that suggests gang rape. The red marks on the corners of the ad appear to symbolize blood, which again help to portray the violence associated with the objectification of this woman.

Ads and commercials of this sort condone the very dangerous “rape culture” in which we live. In “Outlaw Culture,” bell hooks argues that “Within a phallocentric patriarchal state, the rape of women by men is a ritual that daily perpetuates and maintains sexist oppression and expoitation”(181). Allowing society to portray women in this fashion then sends the message that this type of violent behavior is acceptable, when it most definitely is not.

This also proves how sexual desire is represented in media, with a passive woman just allowing herself to be used as an object by the men around her. It is also fair to at least mention that men are sexualized too in this ad. Their muscled-bodies and the way in which they are acting around the woman create masculine expectations that again endorse rapist behavior.

What is Oppression in Media Representation?

In her book, “The Second Sex,” Simone de Beauvoir states, “All oppression creates a state of war” (Source here). For the sake of this post, I’m considering oppression in the form of reductive or absent media portrayals, although oppression as a concept can be seen differently in a myriad of institutions today. Regarding representation, bell hooks underlines the absence of black women in television and cinema in “The Oppositional Gaze,” stating that “black female spectators have had to develop looking relations within a cinematic context that constructs our presence as absence” (bell hooks 118). Similarly, Patricia Hill Collins examines objectifying portrayals of black men that reduce them to their body or genitalia in “Booty Call: Sex, Violence, and Images of Black Masculinity” (Hill Collins 152-162). These media representations, or absence of representations, further oppress minorities by limiting viewers’ perceptions of them. If constantly present in the media, these objectifying images work to dehumanize the identities of the portrayed “oppressed group,” both in the eyes of the majority group and the minority groups. I can imagine these forms of oppression enhancing inner conflicts among individuals who feel as though their personal identity does not coincide with inaccurate media imagery. Therefore, in addition to the obvious conflict created between oppressor and the oppressed, I think oppression can create a sort of internal war among individuals that are labeled as oppressed.

Patricia Hill Collins. “Booty Call: Sex, Violence, and Images of Black Masculinity.” 2004.
bell hooks. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” 1992.