Category Archives: Intersectionality

Discovering an Old Classic Book: “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” by Bell Hooks

Book review by Hameedat Ogunlayi

 

 

As a budding young feminist, I decided to read and review an old classic book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, which was one of the ground-breaking contributions to black feminist scholarship in the 20th century. This was the first book published by Gloria Watkins in 1981, better known by her pen name, Bell Hooks. She is an American author, professor, feminist and social activist with over 30 books published and numerous scholarly articles mainly focused on race, gender, class and capitalism.

During the period that this was written, mainstream feminism was dominated by white middle-class women and the plight of black women was ignored as it did not serve their opportunistic interests. As a result, much of the feminist literature that existed then were both racist and sexist. Hooks described that white feminist scholars “simply ignored the existence of black women or wrote about them using common sexist and racist stereotypes”. White feminists also failed to challenge “the racist-sexist tendency to use the word ‘woman’ to refer solely to white women”. Therefore, Hooks was adamant for black women to take up their rightful space in the feminist discourse.

This book covered a wide range of subjects with key historical context, including the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the feminist movement and the involvement of black women with feminism. In this book, Hooks writes about the extent of the negative tropes used to devalue black womanhood and how this evolved from the 17th century to the 20th century. The most dominant negative stereotype was that black women were “sexually depraved, immoral and loose” which originated from slavery but continued to have lasting impact long after. This trope was used to justify the sexual assault of black women by both white and black men, as they were seen as available and eager.

Hooks also discussed the rift that sexism caused between black men and black women. This became most evident during the civil rights movement, where black women were conditioned to believe that “to cast a vote in favour of women’s liberation, was to cast a vote against black liberation” as written by Hooks.

 

Therefore, the black liberation movement became a movement pushing for the establishment of black patriarchy and a tool for black men to regain their ‘masculinity’, while the suffering of black women was disregarded.

As a relatively novice reader of black feminist literature myself, I found this to be a great introduction into the theory of black feminism. The book provided an in-depth insight into the plight of black women. Although, some beginners may find this to be quite a dense read, so the section I would most recommend is the first chapter on ‘Sexism and the Black Female Slave Experience’. I found this to be the most enlightening, as it explains how the subjugation of black women originated and how they were equally oppressed by sexism and racism.

Despite the fact that this book was published over 40 years ago, I was still able to relate to some key aspects. One part that particularly resonated with me was that notion that majority of black women in the 20th century felt the most oppressive force in their lives was racism not sexism. Mainly because black women were often forced to pick between their race or their gender. To which hooks wrote “the sad irony is of course that black women are often most victimised by the very sexism we refuse to collectively identify as an oppressive force”. This was before the concept of ‘intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, who also acknowledged that black women were often excluded from feminist theory and anti-racist politics, even though they were the most marginalised within these groups.

Personally, as a young black woman, reading this book has empowered me to defy the roles and tropes that have been assigned to black women in society. It has altered my perspective and has made me revaluate the extent to which I view sexism as an oppressive force in my life. Therefore, I implore all black women to read this book to gain further understanding of the origins of our struggles. I also think this is an important read for non-black women and black men who are keen to understand more about intersectionality and how their struggles differ from that of black women’s, who are doubly impacted by racism and sexism.

I believe this is still a very relevant and revolutionary piece of work and I encourage all those who claim to be feminists or advocates of women’s rights to have a read. For those interested in reading more on black feminist literature, an extensive reading list can be found here.

 

Bibliography

Hooks, B., 2014. Ain’t I A Woman: Black women and feminism. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Crenshaw, K., 1989. Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. u. Chi. Legal f., p.139.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Prejudice and hostility experienced/expected as a gay Asian man in western society’

Katsuya Hasegawa

‘no Asians please’ – Tseng (2019)

Unfortunately, this shocking phrase is commonly seen on gay dating apps in Western countries. Although globalization proceeds and the idea of diversity on workplace is spread over the world compared to the last century, hegemonic norm such as White heteronormativity still strongly exists.

This rigid viewpoint tends to distort our sight for considering each subordinated case. In other words, instead of seeing minority issues (like a gay Asian man in Western countries) as a sum of each identity (e.g., a gay AND an Asian man), it leads to the separatable tendency (e.g., a gay OR an Asian man). What will be tackled in this blog is to rethink the hidden bias and help listen to these invisible voices.

A ‘gay’ Asian man – gay’s struggle

In everyday life, gay people’s struggles and efforts are normally invisible. Just imagine a situation where you are talking with your friends at the university campus. Your friends may say (if you are male) ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ If this happens to gay men, they might need to correct them. ‘No, I don’t have a girlfriend. I have a boyfriend instead.’

Existences of straight-acting gay individuals are often invisible in heterosexual discourses. One of the examples is when gay people come out about their sexuality. If their behaviour does not look like a gay stereotype (e.g., feminine), they may be surprised and say something like ‘but you don’t look gay.’

When it comes to dating scene, homosexuals have disadvantages in finding their dates. For example, a classroom or workplace is one of the common situations for heterosexuals to find their dates. However, for homosexuals, it is risky to ask someone to go on a date in these situations because they do not know whether the person is also homosexual. At worst, the person might be anti-gay, spread insidious rumours, and bully you. Because of this, gay people have to use gay mobile apps or visit gay bars to meet their dates.

A gay ‘Asian man’ – Asian man’s struggle

It is often said that ‘Asian men’ are less masculine than other races’ men (Lin and Lundquist, 2013). This stereotype makes living in western society hard for Asian men. As an Asian guy living in the UK, I have experienced this notion. While queuing up for the checkouts, some guys cut in front of me. This only happened to me and I was the only non-white customer.

Another example of this is a heterosexual dating. According to Lin and Lundquist (2013), Asian women receive relatively many messages from almost all races, while it hardly happens to Asian men because of the less masculine image.

In homosexual settings, there is an actual prejudice against Asian men. In Tseng’s work (2019), Anti-Asian or ‘no Asian’ is often seen on gay dating apps. Even though (luckily) someone likes or at least does not mind chatting with an Asian guy, the next bias is ‘I’m for smooth/slim Asian.’ The stereotype of Asian men is non-hairy, slim, and/or subordinate. If a picture sent from the Asian guy to the white guy and it does not match the stereotypical image, the reaction will be something like ‘Oh, you are hairy…’

 

Intersectionality – problems of a ‘gay’ and ‘Asian’ ‘man’

There is a certain attempt to get beyond the existing solution to any bias or prejudice. This concept is called ‘Intersectionality’. Originally this was proposed through a recognition and analysis of black women’s identities (Crenshaw, 1989). Under the orthodox feminism or social norm, matters to black women were dealt with as either ‘race’ matter OR ‘gender’ matter, not as ‘race’ AND ‘gender’. Literally, this approach focuses on the intersection of various scales.

As mentioned above, there are prejudices based on one’s sexuality, nationality, and gender. One dominant element does not guarantee the invariant position when it is with some other element, namely male (as dominant) with Asian (as subordinate). Additionally, the existence of minorities within each minority should be taken into consideration (e.g., gay Asian). The important thing relating to the intersectionality here is that these issues do not separately but simultaneously exist. We cannot reduce one’s problem into either a gay issue, Asian issue, or male issue. All different types should be counted at the same time.

 

For our future

Finally, if you are struggling with any issue which you think is because of bias, don’t hesitate to say it. Remaining in silence cannot change you or the social situation. If you know someone who is suffering from any social issue, please listen to the person’s voice. Ignoring what marginalised people have to say is the same as discriminating them.  Let’s take action to change from a ‘gay or Asian man’ issue to a ‘gay and Asian man’ issue and to make the invisible intersections visible!

 

 

Further readings:

Bader, S. (2017). ‘Asian Men as Targets of Sexual Racism in the Gay Community’, American Cultural Studies Capstone Research Papers. 8.

https://cedar.wwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=fairhaven_acscapstone&httpsredir=1&referer=

Bracho, C. A. and Hayes, C. (2020) ‘Gay voices without intersectionality is White supremacy: narratives of gay and lesbian teachers of color on teaching and learning’, International journal of qualitative studies in education, vol. 33, No. 6, pp. 583-592.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09518398.2020.1751897

Crenshaw, K. (1989) ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 1989, pp. 139-168.

https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/uchclf1989&id=143&men_tab=srchresults

Jones, O. (2016). ‘No Asians, no black people. Why do gay people tolerate blatant racism’, The Guardian, November.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/24/no-asians-no-blacks-gay-people-racism

Lin, KH. and Lundquist, J. (2013) ‘Mate Selection in Cyberspace: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Education 1’, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 119, No. 1, pp. 183-215.

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/673129

Mark, A.L. (ed.) (2018) ‘This Is What It’s Like To Travel As A Gay Asian Man’, Forbes, June.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/loisaltermark/2018/06/06/this-is-what-its-like-to-travel-as-a-gay-asian-man/