RE/Search: What do you write?
bell hooks: I started out writing plays and poetry, but then felt I’d received this “message from the spirits”: that I really needed to do feminist work which would challenge the universalized category of “Woman.” Years ago certain ideas were prevalent in the feminist movement, such as, “Women would be liberated if they worked.” And I was thinking, “Gee, every black woman I’ve ever known has worked (outside the home), but this hasn’t necessarily meant liberation.” Obviously, this started me posing questions: “What women are we talking about when we talk about ‘women’?”
So I began doing feminist theory challenging the prevailing construction of womanhood in the feminist movement. I wrote Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, which initially met with tremendous resistance and hostility because it was going against the whole feminist idea that “Women share a common plight.” I was saying that in fact, women don’t share a common plight solely because we’re women–that our experiences are very, very different. Of course, now that’s become such an accepted notion, but 12 years ago people were really pissed.
I remember people being enraged because the book challenged the whole construction of white woman as victim, or white woman as the symbol of the most oppressed. Because I was saying, “Wait a minute. What about class differences between women? What about racial differences that in fact make some women more powerful than others?” So that’s how I started out. I continued to do my plays and my poetry, but my feminist theory and writings became better known.