Skip to content

Where To Start With bell hooks

Never read bell hooks? Want to re-read her? Here's a book list for you.

bell hooks (née Gloria Jean Watkins, September 25, 1952) died on 15th December, 2021. She has left a great wealth of feminist wisdom behind for us.  Whether you want to revisit her writing or read her books for the first time, here's a list with excerpts you will find useful:

  1. All About Love: New Visions (1999):
All About Love: New Visions. bell hooks (1999)
"One of the most important social myths we must debunk if we are to become a more loving culture is the one that teaches parents that abuse and neglect can coexist with love. Abuse and neglect negate love. Care and affirmation, the opposite of abuse and humiliation, are the foundation of love. No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively. Yet parents do this all the time in our culture. Children are told that they are loved even though they are being abused. It is a testimony to the failure of loving practice that abuse is happening in the first place.
"Usually we imagine that true love will be intensely pleasurable and romantic, full of love and light. In truth, true love is all about work. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wisely observed: 'Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure was more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work...' The essence of true love is mutual recognition-two individuals seeing each other as they really are.... True love is a different story. When it happens, individuals usually feel in touch with each other's core identity. Embarking on such a relationship is frightening precisely because we feel there is no place to hide. We are known. All the ecstacy that we feel emerges as this love nurtures us and challenges us to grow and transform. Describing true love, Eric Butterworth writes: 'True love is a peculiar kind of insight through which we see the wholeness which the person is at the same time totally accepting the level on which he now expresses himself without any delusion that the potential is a present reality. True love accepts the person who now is without qualifications, but with a sincere and unwavering commitment to help him to achieve his goals of self-unfoldment which we may see better than he does.'.... True love is unconditional, but to truly flourish it requires an ongoing commitment to constructive struggle and change. The heartbeat of true love is the willingness to reflect on one's actions, and to process and communicate this reflection with the loved one. As Welwood puts it: 'Two beings who have a soul connection want to engage in a full, free-ranging dialogue and commune with each other as deeply as possible.' Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue. Most of us have not been raised in homes where we have seen two deeply loving grown folks talking together. We do not see this on television or at the movies. And how can any of us communicate with men who have been told all their lives that they should not express what they feel. Men who want to love and do not know how must first come to voice, must learn to let their hearts speak-and then to speak truth. Choosing to be fully honest, to reveal ourselves, is risky. The experience of true love gives us the courage to risk. As long we are afraid to risk we cannot know love."

2. Communion: The Female Search for Love (2002):

Communion: The Female Search for Love. bell hooks (2002)
"As long as our culture devalues love, women will remain no more able to love than our male counterparts are. In patriarchal culture, giving care continues to be seen as primarily a female task. The feminist movement did not change this perception. And while women more than men are often great caregivers, this does not translate into knowing how to be loving. Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. Socialized in the art of caring, it is easier for women who desire to love to learn the necessary skills to practice love. And yet women have not chosen to give themselves whole-heartedly over to the art of loving. As long as being loved is seen as a gesture of weakness, one that disempowers, women will remain afraid to love fully, deeply, completely. Women will continue to fail at love, because this failure places females on an equal footing with males who turn away from love. Women who fail at loving need not be disappointed that the men in their lives—fathers, siblings, friends, or lovers-do not give love. Women who learn to love represent the greatest threat to the patriarchal status quo. By failing to love, women make it clear that it is more vital to their existence to have the approval and support of men than it is to love."
"'I've really been fucked over by feminism.' This was a woman who had been in a longtime marriage and, because she had believed in a vision of equality, had paid her own way despite the fact that she made considerably less than her husband, yet she felt in the long run she had nothing to show for her equality—no house, no disposable income. While women agreed that work outside the home could be as much drudgery as work inside the home, almost everyone acknowledged that having a job gave a measure of independence and autonomy, increased self-esteem, and the possibility of new interests. However, only women who made large incomes were truly liberated by work. These were the women who did not have to work 'the second shift' when they returned home, as they could hire caregivers: a cook, a housekeeper, a nanny, and so on. Partnered women who made smaller incomes found that it was the man in the house who benefited most from these changes. He had less economic pressure and less responsibility. Often, women felt so guilty about working outside that they worked even harder to create the 'perfect' home. Also, working outside the home did not mean that women were no longer financially dependent on men. In many cases men who previously contributed income to the household held on to their money, and women's wages were spent for the household, thus eliminating the possibility that her newly gained economic clout would translate into actual freedom and power to demand equality or escape male domination. Among females, to a grave extent, single working women benefited the most from increased opportunities for women in the workforce. Newly working women with husbands and/or families often felt that life had become harder, more difficult. To them, it felt as though the feminist insistence on work as the road to freedom had been a betrayal. Their critique was justified. They directed their rage at the feminist movement. But they also felt and sometimes expressed rage toward male partners and family. To the extent that masses of women entered the workforce without the full support and approval of males in the family, the home became even more a location for tension and conflict. Not only were masses of women entering the workforce, but also they were embracing a newfound psychological independence. This became the foundation for women to demand more from love. Contributing equally to the economic sustenance of the household gave lots of women permission to demand more of men emotionally. Prior to the large-scale entry of women into the workforce, men often claimed that working hard took too much energy, that they were drained and could not be expected to give emotionally when they came home. Now women were working, doing a second shift, and we were still expected to give love. Balancing work and love, doing a fine job at both, many began to expect more from men emotionally. When it came to the realm of heterosexual romance, we wanted to give and receive love rooted in sharing and mutuality. At the end of the day it was infinitely easier for men to make way for women in the workforce, to do some if not an equal portion of the work at home, even to take on a more primary parenting role, than it was for them to give more emotionally."
"Feminist women stopped talking about love because we found that love was harder to get than power. Men, and patriarchal females, were more willing to give us jobs, power, or money than they were to give us love. And many of us wanted and needed money. Bombarded by statistics that talked about how a woman's income dropped to next to nothing when she left a marriage with a man, I wanted to be clear about my economic fate before I left my longtime companion. He was both older than I and more established. Traditional sexist romantic myths had always made the older, more established male seem more desirable. Feminism had taken those myths and showed us all the ways they did not benefit women. We had been shown how an older, more established male, even the most benevolent of patriarchs, invariably exercised power over the less established, less powerful female.... All the women who gained more power and money as a result of the feminist movement who now choose to disassociate themselves from its polities do so in part to win favor with men. The vast majority of men have shown us for some time now that they do not find feminism sexy. While it may give them a thrill to encounter an independent female, that thrill lasts only if they undermine and subordinate her power.... If feminists had continued to talk about love, then we would have needed to speak about the extreme lovelessness that is at the heart of domination. We would not have been able to go forward with our newly acquired equal rights, jobs, money, and power without telling everyone that we had discovered that patriarchy, like any colonizing system, does not create the context for women and men to love one another. We would have needed to remind every one repeatedly that genuine love between females and males could emerge only in a context where the sexes would come together to challenge and change patriarchal thought."

3. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000):

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. bell hooks (2000)
"Without the consciousness-raising group as a site where women confronted their own sexism towards other women, the direction of feminist movement could shift to a focus on equality in the workforce and confronting male domination. With heightened focus on the construction of woman as a 'victim' of gender equality deserving of reparations (whether through changes in discriminatory laws or affirmative action policies) the idea that women needed to first confront their internalized sexism as part of becoming feminist lost currency. Females of all ages acted as though concern for or rage at male domination or gender equality was all that was needed to make one a 'feminist'. Without confronting internalized sexism women who picked up the feminist banner often betrayed the cause in their interactions with other women."
"When women of color critiqued the racism within the society as a whole and called attention to the ways that racism had shaped and informed feminist theory and practice, many white women simply turned their backs on the vision of sisterhood, closing their minds and their hearts. And that was equally true when it came to the issue of classism among women. I remember when feminist women, mostly white women with class privilege, debated the issue of whether or not to hire domestic help, trying to come up with a way to not participate in the subordination and dehumanization of less-privileged women. Some of those women successfully created positive bonding between themselves and the women they hired so that there could be mutual advancement in a larger context of inequality. Rather than abandoning the vision of sisterhood, because they could not attain some utopian state, they created a real sisterhood, one that took into account the needs of everyone involved. This was the hard work of feminist solidarity between women. Sadly, as opportunism within feminism intensified, as feminist gains became commonplace and were therefore taken for granted, many women did not want to work hard to create and sustain solidarity. A large body of women simply abandoned the notion of sisterhood. Individual women who had once critiqued and challenged patriarchy re-aligned themselves with sexist men. Radical women who felt betrayed by the fierce negative competition between women often simply retreated. And at this point feminist movement, which was aimed at positively transforming the lives of all females, became more stratified. The vision of sisterhood that had been the rallying cry of the movement seemed to many women to no longer matter. Political solidarity between women which had been the force putting in place positive change has been and is now consistently undermined and threatened. As a consequence we are as in need of a renewed commitment to political solidarity between women as we were when contemporary feminist movement first began."
"Challenging sexist thinking about the female body was one of the most powerful interventions made by contemporary feminist movement. Before women's liberation all females young and old were socialized by sexist thinking to believe that our value rested solely on appearance and whether or not we were perceived to be good looking, especially by men. Understanding that females could never be liberated if we did not develop healthy self-esteem and self-love feminist thinkers went directly to the heart of the matter—critically examining how we feel and think about our bodies and offering constructive strategies for change. Looking back after years of feeling comfortable choosing whether or not to wear a bra, I can remember what a momentous decision this was 30 years ago. Women stripping their bodies of unhealthy and uncomfortable, restrictive clothing—bras, girdles, corsets, garter belts, etc.—was a ritualistic, radical reclaiming of the health and glory of the female body. Females today who have never known such restrictions can only trust us when we say that this reclaiming was momentous."
"Privileged-class white women swiftly declared their 'ownership' of the movement, placing working-class white women, poor white women, and all women of color in the position of followers. It did not matter how many working-class white women or individual black women spearheaded the women's movement in radical directions. At the end of the day white women with class power declared that they owned the movement, that they were the leaders and the rest of merely followers. Parasitic class relations have overshadowed issues of race, nation, and gender in contemporary neocolonialism. And feminism did not remain aloof from that dynamic."

4. The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (2004):

The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. bell hooks (2004)
"Feminism changed the intimate lives of women and men by offering to everyone a vision of relationships rooted in mutuality, a vision of partnerships without domination. This seductive promise can be fulfilled only as patriarchal thinking ceases to dominate the consciousness of women and men, girls and boys. Seeking to heal the wounds inflicted by patriarchy, we have to go to the source. We have to look at males directly, eye to eye, and speak the truth that the time has come for males to have a revolution of values. We cannot turn our hearts away from boys and men, then ponder why the politics of war continues to shape our national policy and our intimate romantic lives."
"Work is often the space where men detach from feelings. Zukav and Francis describe workaholism as a flight from emotions: 'It is a drug that is as effective as the most powerful anesthetic…. Workaholism is a deep sleep. It is a self-induced trance that temporarily keeps painful emotions away from your awareness.'
"Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles. No matter how many modern-day seers assure us that power struggles are not an effective model for human relations, imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture continues to insist that domination must be the organizing principle of today’s civilization."

5. Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995):

Killing Rage: Ending Racism. bell hooks (1995)
"In talking about race and gender recently, the question most often asked by white women has to do with white women's response to black women or women of color insisting that they are not willing to teach them about their racism to show the way. They want to know: What should a white person do who is attempting to resist racism? It is problematic to assert that black people and other people of color who are sincerely committed to struggling against white supremacy should be unwilling to help or teach white people. Challenging black folks in the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass made the crucial point that 'power accedes nothing without demand.' For the racially oppressed to demand of white people, of black people, of all people that we eradicate white supremacy, that those who benefit materially by exercising white supremacist power, either actively or passively, willingly give up that privilege in response to that demand, and then to refuse to show the way, is to undermine our own cause. We must show the way. There must exist a paradigm, a practical model for social change that includes an understanding of ways to transform consciousness that are linked to efforts to transform structures. Fundamentally, it is our collective responsibility as radical black people and people of color, and as white people, to construct models for social change. To abdicate that responsibility, to suggest that change is just something an individual can do on his or her own or in isolation with other racist white people, is utterly misleading. If as a black person I say to a white person who shows a willingness to commit herself or himself to the struggle to end white supremacy that I refuse to affirm or help in that endeavor, it is a gesture that undermines my commitment to that struggle. Many black people have essentially responded in this way because we do not want to do the work for white people, and most importantly we cannot do the work, yet this often seems to be what is asked of us. Rejecting the work does not mean that we cannot and do not show the way by our actions, by the information we share. Those white people who want to continue the dominant-subordinate relationship so endemic to racist exploitation by insisting that we 'serve' them—that we do the work of challenging and changing their consciousness—are acting in had faith. In his work Pedagogy in Progress: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau Paulo Freire reminds us: 'Authentic help means that all who are invoked help each other mutually, growing together in the common effort to understand the reality which they seek to transform.' It is our collective responsibility as people of color and as white people who are committed to ending white supremacy to help one another. It is our collective responsibility to educate for critical consciousness."
"To be anti-capitalist does not mean that black people should not strive for economic self-sufficiency or material well-being. It is a critique of excess. Committing ourselves to living simply does not mean the absence of material privilege or luxury; it means that we are not hedonistically addicted to forms of consumerism, and hoarding of wealth, that require the exploitation of others."
"Now, after more than twenty years of active engagement with feminist movement, it is more evident to me than it was years ago that there are many barriers preventing black females and white fem ales from forming close ties in white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. A major barrier has consistently been the fact that individual white women tend to be more unaware than their black female counterparts of the way the history of racism in the United States has institutionalized structures of racial apartheid that were meant to keep these two groups apart. First, there was the race/class understanding that the role of black females was to be that of servant and of white females that of the served. That servant/served paradigm continued as black women entered all arenas of the workforce since white women were usually positioned higher. Second, there was the racist/sexist division of sexual competition for men that deemed white women more desirable, more worthy of respect and regard than black women. These two major differences in positionality have had profound impact on interracial relationships between the two groups. To begin with they destroy the grounding of trust that is needed for bonding. They create fear on the part of black females that white females only want to assert power over us. Concurrently, white females often fear that black females are more capable, stronger, and if given equal opportunity will surpass them and vengefully assert power over them. Struggle for power within the existing white supremacist capitalist patriarchal structure makes it difficult for black and white females who have not made a profound commitment to solidarity to forge constructive, mutually satisfying bonds. Within feminist movement, many of us approached the barriers between the two groups by engaging a process of education for critical consciousness that aimed to teach all of us how institutionalized racism overdetermines patterns of social relations. Many white women did not understand how white supremacist privilege allowed them to act in the role of oppressor and/or exploiter in relation to black females. To grow in awareness they had to interrogate the ways they use white privilege, the racist/sexist ways their perceptions of black females shape their interactions. While black females were more willing to express the legacy of hostility and rage we hold towards white women due to their complicity with white supremacy and with acts of racial assault and aggression towards us, it was hard for many of us to let those feelings go and establish within ourselves a space for trust. Many black females active in feminist movement felt that the moment they allowed themselves to open up, white females betrayed their confidence. White females often felt that they could not 'please' black females and were unable to see that the point of bonding in sisterhood was not to 'please' us—a desire which conjures up sexist/racist fantasies of subordination wherein the more 'feminine' subject works to gain the favor of the dominant, more masculine subject—but to relate to us from a position of awareness and respect."