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NNEDV staff LySaundra Campbell
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The Art of Being a Dangerous Woman: Honoring bell hooks and Critical Thinking

July 14, 2016

In 2015, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) re-imagined and re-launched our online store. We worked as a team to develop product ideas that channel the core of the work we do. We decided unanimously to honor pioneering women that have had an impact on our lives through one such product, our “Feminists&Me” tee. In 2016, we are honoring each woman through our “Spotlight on Feminists” series. See the rest of the posts here.

Aunties. Most of us have them. They are the women who give some of the same advice as your parents, but in a manner that is much more receptive. As children we see them as interesting and fun, not rigid and strict like concerned parents. But aunties are also concerned. They have no problem speaking their mind, and acting as surrogate mothers if needed. Growing up, I had plenty of aunties, and not just the ones from my large family. A number of inspirational Black women in the world, who I didn’t know directly but greatly impacted me, were given the endearing title which spans beyond bloodlines. They set an example for me as a young girl, and in many ways I aspired to be like them. My list of aunties includes a number of entertainment figures, scholars, groundbreaking women in STEM careers, and writers; but the one we honor today is bell hooks, one of many women featured on NNEDV’s “Feminists&Me” tee.

Bell Hooks quote: I am passionate about everything in my life- first and foremost, passionate about ideas. And that's a dangerous person to be in society not just because I'm woman, but because it's such a fundamentally, anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking society.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins, bell hooks was one of my early insights into feminism. I read two of her works, Feminism is for Everybody and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center during my earlier years in college, both which forever changed my view on women’s rights, and in particular women of color in the feminist movement. Before reading hooks, I was not aware of what it meant to be Black and feminist outside the stories of some of my favorite fictional authors like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, who was also the focus of hooks’ doctoral thesis. I was under the assumption that I needed to choose an alliance to either race or sex, but it could not be both. However, hooks’ critical literature on the intersectionality of racism and sexism proved to me that it was possible to be both – proudly Black and proudly woman.

Much of bell hooks’ critique radically introduces an ideology that prompts diversity inclusion within the feminist movement. hooks’ ideology was influenced by Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I a Woman” speech inspired hooks’ first book (1981) of the same title. This groundbreaking book, and much of hooks’ work, focuses on the historical impact of sexism and racism on Black women by bringing issues of racism to the forefront of the feminist movement during the second wave. Much of hooks’ work critiques a disregard for issues of class and race within feminism and the ways in which white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy affects Black women through the media’s portrayal of Black women, education injustice, and the devaluation of Black womanhood.

She has authored dozens of books, including memoirs, children’s books, and poetry collections. Through numerous critical analyses, she continues striving to redefine and restructure the cultural framework of power, one that “does not find oppression of others necessary” (Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 1984).

“As long as women are using class or race power to dominate other women, feminist sisterhood cannot be fully realized” –bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody (2000)

Her efforts in the academic world are continued through collegiate residencies and the bell hooks Institute, which was founded in 2014 in Berea, Kentucky. The Institute brings a diverse group of scholars and thinkers into the local community members to study, learn, and engage in critical dialogue. Many activists, including Laverne Cox, Gloria Steinem, Michele Wallace, and Cornel West, have participated in these conversations which cover such topics as spirituality, sexuality, and masculinity.

Aunties have that cool factor. They provide wisdom that we may not want to take from other figures from the generation before us. Sometimes, we may not see eye to eye, but we cannot deny that they possess a bold and inspirational message to us all. Even hooks’ controversial views of pop superstar, Beyoncé, challenge us all to free ourselves in the way we think, stating that “one can critique yet still admire,” a statement that speaks volumes of her work on intersectionality and addressing the complex viewpoints and needs of those in the feminist movement.

One of NNEDV’s missions is to strengthen domestic violence advocacy at every level by providing training and technical assistance, innovative programs, and resources that address the intersections of domestic violence and other issues, including HIV/AIDS, economic justice, technology safety, legal information, and transitional housing. Our goal to create a social, political, and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists, is a direct extension of bell hooks’ ideology of intersectional feminism.

By LySaundra Campbell, Development and Communications Intern

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