“I have come to believe that whenever women gather to talk about our lives, to share resources and to make merry we claim ourselves. We create a culture we were never intended to have. Marilyn French said ‘pleasure enlarges the spirit and–like power–it is contagious’”. – Kay Leigh Hagan, Fugitive Information
Gloria Steinem visited Berea, Kentucky in November. She came to boost the visibility of the bell hooks Institute—to give her support. She came even though she was exhausted from days and days of travel. She came because she is always willing to advocate feminist politics. She came because she is a long time friend.
About twenty-years younger than Gloria, I vividly remember all our early conversations, especially those that took place when my country-girl self moved to New York City from a small town in Ohio. Gloria did everything she could to ease my transition from country to city—her generosity was endless. Her willingness to have intense heartfelt conversations was ongoing. To this day, we are still talking and disagreeing.
Recently, the reminders of the beginning of our friendship surfaced when I journeyed to New York City to meet with Emma Watson. I am way more than twenty-years older than Emma. However, our age differences did not stand in the way of forging feminist solidarity, respect, and, dare I say it, love. My friendship with Gloria that began all those years ago has never meant that we always agree on much feminist thinking and politics. I was not happy when she declared, in a recent interview, that she “is not a theorist, or even much interested in theory.” I called her right away to say, “But theory is what I do. I am passionate about theory and theory-making. I can’t sleep at night because I’m so busy thinking theory.”
Even though our differences and gaps were not so extreme, I was aware talking with Emma of the myriad ways we approach feminism from diverse standpoints. Yet our differences were utterly overshadowed by passionate desire to listen and learn on both our parts. Talking with Emma about the issue of “feminist identity” I was reminded of my early years of theory making when I tried to shift all of our theoretical discourses away from any notion of identity.
I didn’t want folks to declare, “I am a feminist” for it seemed that declaration allowed this powerful movement to be subsumed under lifestyle choice. I wanted us all, women and men, to focus on politics. I wanted us to say, “I advocate feminist politics.” Back then I was fond of saying that if I were at a party and declared myself a feminist everyone in the room assumed knowledge of what I meant by the label—especially those folks who never read, studied, or conversed intelligently about the issue.
When I boldly affirmed that I advocate feminist politics, folks wanted to know just what I meant by that. Their questions, their interrogations gave me the opportunity to challenge notions of feminism as being about women against men. It gave me the opportunity to share the definition of feminism that was for me clear and simple: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Feminist politics aims to challenge and change patriarchy.
Today one of my favorite bell hooks declarations is: “Patriarchy knows no gender.” Hopefully, I have encouraged Emma and our allies in struggle to work together to teach that feminism is a politic and not a lifestyle choice or an identity.