“Come closer to feminism,” bell hooks beckons us in her Introduction to . In other words, let go any presumptions who feminists are or what feminism is. Just sit for a minute and contemplate this: Feminism is anti-sexism in all of its forms. This is what we feminists ask of our students, colleagues, coworkers, friends, family and acquaintances. You might say we are quite religious about it.
In fact, a commitment to feminist activism is very much like a religion. People “come” to feminism just as they do to religion. hooks herself describes a low point in her life in which she “needed feminism to give [her] a foundation of equality and justice to stand on.” Where some turn to a god during hard times, others turn to feminism.
In our lives as feminists, we have a set of behaviors and beliefs that we practice on faith, knowing full well that we may not live to see the fruits of our labors. We do it anyway. We speak out against sexism, racism, homophobia and oppression in as many was as we are able. We are purposeful in maintaining equity in our spousal relationships. Do we still do more laundry and child care? Probably, but we do less of other stuff to balance it out, in the hopes that our kids and others around us will see a house run by those who live in it, not by gendered expectations.
We raise our children in as non-sexist an environment as possible and confront the sexism they encounter. Will our daughters and sons see a world without sexual violence? Probably not, but we fight the fight anyway. We use every element of our privilege to affect as much feminist social change as we can. We relate to everyone around us with an open feminist consciousness, much like the religiously devout. All we need is the pamphlet hooks imagines in Feminism is for Everybody, and we could go door-to-door like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses! (Which may be what we need to do.) If we had the unity of a religion, we could be huge!
So in this moment of honoring the brilliance of bell hooks, we feminists need to take a serious look at our commitment to movement. How far are we willing to go in advancing our message? Door to door? Are we embracing the feminist message as our religion and fully living our truth? Are we still keeping quiet in certain circles about sexism/racism/homophobia? Do we keep it within our comfort zone with self-righteousness or do we go forth and spread the word? Are we finding safety in our feminist circles and being cautious in taking on our opponents?
At the same time, this religious quality of feminist commitment is one of the most difficult parts of embracing feminism. Just as the non-religious shy away from “Born Agains” as fanatic, so do the not-yet-feminists from us.
In the Women’s Studies classes I teach, though there is a huge spike in the hands that go up when I ask “So, who’s a feminist in here?” on the last day compared to the first day of class, the overall picture is (sadly) just as hooks painted it 10 years ago: There is a huge lack of awareness in regards to what feminism is and who feminists really are. Still. In 2010.
What am I getting at? Let’s not get too comfortable in our successes. Keep moving. This is what hooks is arguing; “being feminist” is a way of life, and we may need to adopt some of the tactics of organized religion to promote our message of peaceful social justice and save more souls.
A solution for the moment? Be the change you want to see in the world. Walk the feminist walk, no matter how hard it may seem. Talk the feminist talk to as many people as you can. And when you get a chance, go back and re-read any of bell hooks’ fabulous work or pass it on to another; you may find yourself and others converted!