Tuesday, March 30, 2010

bell hooks comes to Utah (from Emily)

I kid you not - the bell hooks came to Utah yesterday. It was her first time speaking in this state, and as you can imagine,  she did not come to my own BYU, a campus that recently published an article bragging about how BYU students in the 70s were too responsible to protest things like wars that seemed unjust to them. Instead, she went to Utah Valley University.

But the entire hour and a half that she spoke was fantastic. My only regret was that I didn't bring anything with which to record notes. I don't think UVU understood quite how big she is because they had her speaking in a relatively small room, which led to many sitting downstairs in an overflow room where they were able to watch her on a screen.

I don't feel like I can do justice to any of what she covered, because there was so much of it. But she made a couple points that I thought were just plain excellent. First of all, she said that we have got to move away from blame, and instead move toward accountability. This shouldn't be new - contrary to what pop culture portrayals of feminism may say, feminism is not about blaming men and has in fact been pushing very hard toward accountability without blame for a very long time. According to bell, many studies have found that countries that blame other countries after disasters have a much more difficult time recovering because the sense of victimhood boxes them in. Instead, we should hold others accountable for their behavior - and of course we should hold ourselves accountable for our behavior and for doing whatever is necessary to rebuild after devastation.

Another pair of terms she worked with were "equality" and "mutuality." Although she may have misjudged her LDS-influenced audience when she said that Patriarchy used to be taught at churches but that now it had made its way into homes  and was being taught there and that it should be eradicated, I think she got at principles that most people could agree with who ascribe to belief systems where the term "patriarchy" is used. She said that equality is not possible to do - but that we can attain mutuality and benefit from it more. Her example was that she hates taking out the trash, so she agreed with a former partner that she would make up for not taking the trash out in other ways. While it's not necessarily "equal" for her to clean toilets instead of taking out trash, it made both of them happier since they were able to avoid the work they most detested. I was very happy that she discussed this topic since I hate it when people assume that feminism is all about equality and that therefore I should want women pulled down to the same level that men are at in some areas (such as by signing up for the draft) in order for it to be fair for me to want women elevated in other areas. Didn't we all learn as little kids that two wrongs don't make a right? Well, two oppressions don't make liberty.

And this leads into the crux of her comments - the philosophies that drive white male supremacy hurt us in subtle ways that we don't always recognize. These philosophies operate on an us-and-them binary the requires blame above all else. If there is someone we can blame, then we can motivate groups of people to act... and yet, according to bell hooks, blame movements do not sustain themselves over time. Plus, I'd add that they blind us to our own bad behavior. She said that too often we think people are all good or all bad, but that people can be doing one thing fantastically while doing another thing horribly.

And now I'm taking off, so I can't blog about this as much right now as I'd like to! Darn! But I'll definitely get back to you on more of what bell hooks talked about.  I'd love to hear our thoughts on what I've related so far.


  1. I'm so jealous! She's a phenomenal writer and a great public speaker, it sounds like.

  2. Why is it that UVU gets way cooler people to speak than BYU? (with the exception of general authorities, of course)

  3. I don't understand how the example in paragraph 4 brings one from patriarchy to mutuality. Can you explain more?

    Just a comment, not a contradiction. I imagine my experience growing up has jaded my understandings of the term patriarch. I imagine, like so many other things in this world, that outside of my family there are many cases of abusive, misguided, and pained patriarchal families. I have always looked up to my father as a patriarch and leader of my family but my mother has never been the subservient house wife that I feel most people would expect in that kind of a house hold. She is my mother matriarch. She is the matriarchal leader in my family and has molded my character in ways that my father never could. I don't feel it's impossible to have both a patriarch and a matriarch sans discord. Maybe that is the point but I was confused by paragraph 4. Again I would never generalize my isolated experience. Is that what I'm doing with this comment? (0:

  4. Jon - you're not generalizing your example, but I think you're confusing two different meanings of the term "patriarch." In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, patriarchy is taught as a responsibility, a service, and an obligation. The idea is that a man leads his family with love, and that he and his wife are equal partners. Outside of the church, though, "patriarchy" usually means something very different. Even the etymology of the term points toward something dark: patri - archy means father-power. And that is what bell hooks was saying to avoid. bell hooks was responding to a history of men being seen as better, smarter, and stronger than women, and men being given the right to control and push around their families. I didn't have time to go into the difference between her conception of patriarchy and what the LDS church means when it refers to "patriarchy," so instead I was trying to explain that no matter what terms we all like or don't like, most people would agree with bell hooks that we don't need to divide every chore, responsibility, and privilege into equal parts in our families. Instead, we can read what she calls "mutuality" by being flexible and serving one another.

  5. *reach, not read. We can reach mutuality

  6. I understand the word well enough to understand the obvious. (0; I would like to consider myself somewhat of an intellectual, possessing the capacity to separate in my mind cultural understandings of a word and the denotative. (Don't worry, I am not assuming you are questioning my smartness, only my utter lack to constructive communication).

    Although, what you said towards the end sheds light on my answer. "most people would agree with bell hooks that we don't need to divide every chore, responsibility, and privilege into equal parts in our families. Instead, we can read what she calls "mutuality" by being flexible and serving one another." Flexibility, trust, mutuality, team, together, work, play, and love. All of that takes time and most importantly another person. From her example I only saw the devision of tasks but you are right to say that it is the flexibility of that division that makes things appropriate.

    P.S. I would have enjoyed being there. And I would have agreed and probably have taken many more of these principles for granted!