…well, at least according to bell hooks.
For those of you unfamiliar with bell hooks she is a well published, well respected, and well educated feminist. She has written books on the politics of race, gender, class, and culture. Her first book was Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (1981), which documented varying forms of oppression endured by African American women. More recently she published Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000), which is a quick read about the core beliefs of the feminist movement. I had the pleasure of reading this for a gender studies class during my undergraduate career.
In Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics hooks (2000) touches on everything from equality in the workplace to abortion and body image. However, I found a particular passage especially interesting that focuses on women’s sexual liberation. Hooks states:
Some heterosexual women decided that they would choose celibacy or lesbianism over seeking after unequal relationships with sexist men. Other saw sexual monogamy with men as reinforcing the idea that the female body was property belonging to the individual male she was bonded with. We chose non-monogamous relationships and often refused to marry. We believed living with a male partner without state-sanctioned marriage within patriarchal society helped men maintain a healthy respect for female autonomy. Feminists advocated demanding an end to sexual slavery and called attention to the prevalence of martial rape while at the same time championing the rights of women to express sexual desire, initiate sexual interaction, and be sexually fulfilled (p. 79).
I find hooks’ paradigm of liberation for women to be fascinating. Reacting to an era when women enjoyed half as many privileges as men, women slowly worked to improve their condition. An important component of creating equality for women was addressing interpersonal relationship with men. Feminists in turn completely rejected the traditional relationships between men and women; i.e. marriage and monogamous relationships. I recognize the noble intentions of these women, yet do not share their belief in liberation from oppression by perpetuating what we now call the hook-up culture.
In theory hooks’ assumption may work: make men work to have a relationship with a woman. If she is dissatisfied, she may leave. She is not bound by law and is not bound by her counterpart’s demands.
However, this mentality also encourages hook-ups with no strings attached. As we have discussed before (see the past posts on “Hook-up Culture”) hook-ups do not leave women feeling liberated. Rather, these brief interactions foster negative emotions in women who feel empty and ashamed. Feminists rightly sought an end to “sexual slavery,” yet did they actually achieve it? Or are women now even more dependent on their reproductive parts for relationships with men? Hooks’ also calls for an end to marital rape, but simply removing marriage from the equation does not remove the act of rape. No woman should be forced to endure such a horrendous act, but I do not see how marriage itself can be blamed as a contributor to rape. Marriage should not be the institution attacked in this instance. Hate, sexism, and violence would all be much more reasonable targets.
Many conservatives, including myself, find marriage and monogamy to be liberating. Hooks’ and I agree that women deserve equality, yet find the route to equality substantially different. Women deserve more then sexual freedom, they deserve a loving home, family, and a faithful partner. They deserve love, stability, and emotional support. Women deserve more then simply having their sexual desires met. Merely providing women with an environment where they may pursue such behavior does not liberate women from patriarchy. The sexual liberation objective of the feminist movement simply provided women with a false sense of liberation, shielding them from relationships they may actually find rewarding.
The good-natured intentions of feminists, hoping to create a better world for their daughters by promoting sexual liberation, merely perpetuated the domination of women by men.