Feminism is Freedom
“Bell hooks’ Feminism is for everybody was written in an attempt to educate the larger population about what feminism is and, as stated in the title, how it is for everybody. Author bell hooks defines feminism as “…a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” (1) hooks explains that she is in favor of this definition because it doesn’t make men seem like the bad guys. Instead, it blatantly states why feminism is necessary. hooks often talks about how the feminist movement constantly fights for women’s freedom. In this essay, I will further explore bell hooks’ views on feminism as it relates to reproductive rights, body image, how women are portrayed in the media, and feminism in relationships and marriage, and how these issues are all rooted in the want for freedom.
Chapter 5 of Feminism is for everybody is titled “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Reproductive Rights.” In this chapter, bell hooks explains the history surrounding women’s reproductive rights. The feminist movement closely followed a period of sexual liberation, which made issues surrounding the female body in regards to their reproductive rights prevalent. Women being seen as sexual beings acted as a catalyst in the feminist movement, since women had a right to say when and with who they would be sexual with. (25) This sexual revolution eventually led to many unwanted pregnancies, which made many question women’s reproductive rights, primarily surrounding abortions. It was clear that women could have to sexual liberation without some form of safe contraceptives.
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Reproductive rights being at the forefront of the feminist movement made it clear that there was a prevalent class struggle. Many underprivileged women not only had no access to safe contraceptives and abortions, but didn’t have simpler things such as sexual education and health care. Since privileged white women struggled most with unwanted pregnancy and abortions, that’s what the feminist movement revolved around. Poor women also struggled with the right to have safe abortions, but that wasn’t the main issue that they faced.
When birth control was created, women were given the option to have sexual liberation without the fear of unwanted pregnancy. bell hooks mentions that with the creation of birth control, many women, such as herself, who were pro-choice but not pro-abortion for themselves were able to become sexually liberated. While many women chose to take the pill, it came with it’s side effects, seeing as it has high levels of estrogen, but having the right to choose is what was important. (27) While the introduction of birth control was widely covered by the media, other reproductive issues caused by the male dominated medical field were often pushed aside by the media, such as cesareans and hysterectomies, since the media is rooted in conservative roots.
When women gained some control over their reproductive rights, they assumed that they would continue to have these rights for years to come, but when radical feminists began to quiet down, the right-wing began to call these reproductive laws into question. hooks mentions that “the anti-abortion platform has most viciously targeted state-funded, inexpensive, and, when need be, free abortions.” With the right-wing attacking women’s reproductive rights, they lose control over their bodies.
Abortion, while not the only issue women face when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, keeps the topic in conversation. If sexual education and contraceptives were easily available for every woman, there would be less of a need for abortions. While many women choose not to have abortions, being pro-choice means that you support the right of women to have control over their own bodies. Just because you have privilege doesn’t make it okay to take away another woman’s rights.
In this chapter, hooks explored the struggle women face when it comes to sexual liberation and reproductive rights. Without access to safe abortions, contraceptives, sexual education, and health care, women lose their freedom. hooks believes that all women and male allies need to understand the importance of having reproductive rights.
Chapter 6, title “Beauty Within and Without” focuses on the beauty standards forced on women by corporate America. hooks starts the chapter by saying “Challenging sexist thinking about the female body was one of the most powerful interventions made by contemporary feminist movement.” The value of women and how desirable or beautiful the are is constantly “decided” by men. Women regaining their self worth and self-love is an issue strongly supported by the feminist movement. With women breaking out of the restrictions of beauty standards, they are free to express themselves and even wear comfortable clothing.
Throughout history, women were always seen in tight, form fitting dresses and skirts that were often hard to move and work in. The feminist movement challenged the fashion industry with the need for more comfortable clothing, and when these industries realized that they would make more money off of women buying said comfortable clothing, they quickly jumped on board. When women are stripped of the strict beauty standards that society presents, they are free to be women. hooks says that, “the clothing and body revolution… let females know that our flesh was worthy of love and adoration in its natural state; nothing had to be added unless a woman chose further adornment.” (32) With the feminist movement being so focused on self-love, corporations whose products relied solely on women started making campaigns that featured feminists as hypermasculine, but hooks explains that feminists come in all shapes and sizes. While the cosmetics industry targeted women by making them feel ugly for not wearing makeup, many women continued to wear makeup because of the power and freedom they had.
Standards for women have become so unrealistic that many women feel the need to achieve these standards through unhealthy means, often eating disorders. With the medical field being male dominated, feminists took it upon themselves to fund research and make organizations that support women and help them regain their self-love. But much like the fashion industry, the medical industry gained respect for women and started taking their issues seriously.
As many feminists became older, they became silent and fell back into the old sexist way of thinking in order to gain the attention of men, and when the media saw this happening, they gladly joined in and showed “true beauty” through blonde and toned models. This is why many women, old and young, still struggle with eating disorders. The magazines they read often have articles on how to overcome one’s eating disorders, yet show the “ideal woman” on every page. Girls will always be critical of their bodies. Feminists try to present alternative magazines promoting positivity, but mass media is not often defeated. When it comes to clothing, many brands have included larger sizes, but these clothes are often expensive and hard to come by.