Friday, June 7, 2013

Ideology, Revolution, Conformity, Love

I've just read a couple of brief bits from Communion: The Female Search for Love, a book by a woman named Bell Hooks (her affectation is to spell her name "bell hooks", all lower case).  She's a Feminist, apparently African-American, and so on.  A lot of what she says is rational, but even with the little bit I've read, a couple of things emerged that I found hard to approve of.

1.  First off:  Her mission, reiterated as a basis of criticism of mainstream-ish stuff, is that the whole world must be converted to Feminism.  (She even wrote a book called, Feminism is for Everybody.)  To redress injustice, yes, that's Feminism's essential contribution; but to insist that only Feminist ideology should be allowed puts her in the same league as the Republicans, the Baptists, the Communists, or even over-zealous Catholics - the parties of Ideological Purity.  To rephrase an acquaintance's motto, "Beware the woman of a single book."  From the adherents of this or that Christian sect or those of of the Koran, to those of the Communist Manifesto, one-bookers are necessarily myopic - purveyors of Either/Or thinking - and too often violent, although I doubt that that's Bell's angle. 

2.   Second:  The book's subject is love, specifically the search of women for love.  This is what interested me in the book, that persepective.  But ultimately she abuses it:  Male reticence is identified not as a moral failure or as a bad tactic, but as "terrorism".  Because men are often different than women, she claims that when men are remote, incommunicative (or unresponsive in the way a woman wishes them to be) they are guilty of a kind of domestic "terrorism".  (Honestly, the same could be said of some feminine traits.)  In other words, by failing to be susceptible to love on the woman's terms, a man - even a Feminist man - becomes a counter-revolutionary, and anti-woman.  While there's no doubt that actual male violence against women counts as real terrorism, to use that word as she's done is to cheapen its real meaning.  To simply label a man's natural reaction of remoteness as "terrorism" is (a) a failure to understand human nature or to allow for it, and (b) ideological in nature.  It's name-calling and ideological excess. 

But, having said that, and to temper my criticism, let me say that I think she has simply fallen into a rhetorical trap, one that people with an ideological agenda necessarily fall into now and again, one into which I have certainly fallen at times. So I think that, hearing it from an ardent Feminist, we can take it in stride.

3.  Third:  A specific bone to pick:  She rides roughshod all over Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus books - she dismisses them as defending the patriarchy; she finds them counterrevolutionary and incompatible with Feminist theory.  That they do not jive with Feminist Theory I can admit. 

But I am, in fact, a defender (with caveats) of Gray's books.  I find them to be helpful; they are clarifications of - and therapy for - the chaos of normal cross-gender relations.  They are books to help people generally to cope and - hopefully - find and maintain love across the gender line. They are not to be taken as a "one book" meant to explain and define everything - I surely doubt that their author would claim such certainty for himself. 

But for Hook, Gray fails not only to be a Feminist, he fails to be revolutionary, and for a revolutionary like Ms. Hooks, if you're not 100 percent "with us", then you're against us.  She feels that allowing the world to be itself is negligent, that it is simply aiding and abetting patriarchy.  I see the logic, but I don't find it valid:  No one, not even the Feminists, have a monopoly on truth and insight.  Feminist theory is not God.  Women are not the whole story.  Gray, in fact, achieves much success by explaining in simple terms:
  • a great deal about how people presently behave;
  • how to avoid pitfalls - such as a man clamming up or reacting with utter frustration (the domain she labeled as "terrorist") - and
  • how to avoid breakdown of communication, and sets forth some basic techniques that a lot of men and women may not know by default. 
In general, he sets out to explain male and female behavior in our time, something that Feminist Theory - having its own axe to grind - certainly cannot do.  A lot of us had either never accepted or never understood the generalities that Gray harps on - in fact, they had been made strange or taboo to a lot of us.  Gray's work is remedial; it is about coping, and it is sufficiently effective and successful to be redognized for its own merit. 

Phew!  A lot of blather from me.  But I'd like to end with a very good quote from Bell Hooks:

"Justice demands integrity. It's to have a moral universe - not only know what is right or wrong but to put things in perspective, weigh things. Justice is different from violence and retribution; it requires complex accounting."