“Antipatriarchal thinking, which assumes that both women and men are equally capable of learning how to love, is the only foundation on which to construct sustained, meaningful, mutual love.”
Early in February, I read a book titled Communion: The Female Search for Love, by an indie author Bell Hooks, who is also the author of All About Love: New Visions. Hooks, is an acclaimed cultural critic, feminist scholar, and writer. Hooks through this text, mirrors and critics vast feminist and intersectionalist literature, she writes with a steady transition about her coming of age in understanding feminist movements. Her emphasis with this book is to draw to attention the redemptive and transformative place of love, its power in women’s lives.
Although I haven’t read a lot of feminist text, reading her book has made me approach feminist discussions sensibly- especially within the Nigerian context. Recently, the angst instigated by feminist movements have pushed for attrition to patriarchal norms in Nigeria. The conversations held have resurfaced the demand for dismantling patriarchal notions of morality, taught to women by women, society, family, and religion. For example, women who grow up in Nigeria are often policed by systems and institution, on their choice of clothing, spaces to exist (or be), to protect them from male assault- very little is done to promote similar messaging amongst men.
Patriarchy & Love’s Proper Place
In chapter two, titled Love’s proper place, Bell Hooks explains that in teaching men how to love, they would be less contentious about female’s agency and rebel against the system that has permitted such absurdities. Significantly, through Hooks writing, where she mirrors in on her family structure, one can draw parallels between the gender roles in her family and what is evident in a traditional family setting within Nigeria.
“As a small girl, I knew that my family disapproved of the reversal of traditional gender roles. He (her father) believed that in a proper family, the man would always be the undisputed head of the household. In our home, he was the patriarch. His word was law.” (pg, 18)
In chapter three, Looking for love, finding freedom, she makes a case that “men who oppressed women did not do so because they acted simply from the space of free will; but they were in their own way agents of a system they had not put in place.” (pg, 34) Tweet This
Sadly, not much has changed since the debut of this book in 2002. Hooks tries to address women-social conditions, feminism, man-woman relationships, self-perception in women, and patriarchal morality used to groom women in society.
Chapter seven, Choosing and learning to love, notes that celibacy and being alone can help women confront themselves and examine their relationship with intimacy. She cites the work of John Bradshaw, Creating Love: The Next Great Stage of Growth, which encourages both men and women to reflect extensively (with the best intentions), to what extent our parents confused love with abuse — linking abuse to the “cultural acceptance of patriarchal domination as a founding narrative.”
Sisterhood: Love & Solidarity
She does not absolve the role of women in furthering patriarchal norms. According to her “Mothers are simultaneously abusive and caregiving -that leads us to idealize them and to minimize the traumatic implications of their abusive behavior.” (pg, 99) Most women, according to Hooks, collude with patriarchial norms to inflict verbal shaming and humiliation. She writes, “Women who cling to the notion that if they simply change their behavior, then men will happily learn how to be more caring, are in denial.”
Though feminist rhetoric has supported female sexual liberation, Hooks warns about the slippery slope between women filling the unfulfilled spaces of their lives with sexual voraciousness. In chapter eight, Grow into a woman’s body and love it, Hooks posits that “saying no to any devaluation and debasement of the female body is a loving practice.” (pg, 108)
The idea she explores is critical to current debates questioning the place of love in feminism, the bias in feminist ideologies, cultural perception of feminism, and male allyship in feminist movements. She encourages the open discussion of these questions and the critique of veteran feminist/gender literature, to give room for nuanced ideas that are beneficial to a new generation.
Communion also explores the dimension between gender and sexuality when it comes to love and nurturing. From chapter six, Women who fail at loving, Hooks questions the gender rhetoric in books like John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, where he “reinscribes and overvalues” the same stereotypes that feminist scholarships has toiled to disapprove. According to her “the insistence that there is a naturally biologically based world of sex differences is at heart, patriarchal thinking.”
I appreciated the scholasticism with which Bell Hooks decided to narrate this book. It gave room for ebullient reading and the possibility to weave in vigorous gender and feminist arguments from different acclaimed authors, some of which I have cited above. I read this book slowly to absorb the dense part of the narrative. Her guileless defiance in exploring her identity through books; “I could and would have it all: my ideas, books, writing and love. The only world that affirmed that this was indeed possible was the world of books.” (pg, 22) And her private rebellion, with the decision to further her education at Stanford University, against her fathers wish; “I defied the will of the father. And I did not die. Rebelliously, I announced that I was going to Stanford.” (pg, 29)
I marked almost every chapter of this book. Each word resonated deeply with me from both a cultural, and religious standpoint. Hooks writes with a precise adroit(ness), luring readers into feminist ideas with each turning page, chapter, and quote. She urges females to reflect on their journey, forming a sisterhood bonded by love, and solidarity. This perhaps, is to create a powerful movement where love and communion are visible, and women can freely affirm another woman’s success.
Five Favorite Bell Hook’s Quotes
- “Celibacy is often a liberating self-loving choice among women…”
- “Anti-patriarchal thinking, which assumes that both women and men are equally capable of learning how to love, is the only foundation on which to construct sustained, meaningful, mutual love.”
- “A woman who does not learn how first to fulfill her psychological needs for acceptance will operate from a place of lack.”
- “The more able a woman is to assert agency on behalf of her well-being, the less desirable she may be in the patriarchal culture.”
- “Women who chose to love must be wise, daring, and courageous.”
- “Knowing how to give love, we also recognize the love we want to receive.”
This sixteen chapter, 232-page reading, is a wise call for women to return to love, from a place of self-identity, seeking companionship to share mutual regard and recognition- “a communion of souls that will sustain and abide.”
4.9 with .01 left for whatever human error my brain may have noted, and rated 5.0 stars here on Amazon. What is your favorite feminist author, writing, or book. Let me know in the comment section below. You can read my previous book reviews of writings by Meera Patel, Paul Coelho, Sefi Atta
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