Chapter 12: bell hooks on Women, Men, and Feminism

Feminisms: Theories and Practices

In her 1984 book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks (1984) explained that feminist activism shouldn’t be designated solely “women’s work” (p. 68). Defining feminism as “a movement to end sexist oppression,” she wrote, “enables women and men, girls and boys, to participate equally in revolutionary struggle” (p. 68). But, she warned,

So far, contemporary feminist movement has been primarily generated by the efforts of women – men have rarely participated. This lack of participation is not solely a consequence of anti-feminism. By making women’s liberation synonymous with women gaining social equality with men, liberal feminists effectively created a situation in which they, not men, designated the feminist movement, ‘women’s work.’ Even as they were attacking sex role divisions of labor, the institutionalized sexism which assigns unpaid, devalued, ‘dirty’ work to women, they were assigning to women yet another sex role task: making feminist revolution. Women’s liberationists …. argued [men] were all-powerful, misogynist, oppressor – the enemy. Women were the oppressed – the victims. Such rhetoric reinforced sexist ideology by positing in an inverted form the notion of a basic conflict between the sexes, the implication being that the empowerment of women would necessarily be at the expense of men. (p. 68)


bell hooks. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Brooklyn, NY: South End Press.