BY NICHOLAS NEAL
The most important point in Bell Hooks' chapters 11-15 of Feminism is for Everybody is the connection between violence and patriarchy. The reason why this is more important than, say, her attempts to set a distinction between sexual liberation and sexual promiscuity, is that she references violence's connection to patriarchy both in her chapter about ending violence and in her chapter about parenting. This is also important because it is the issue in which she is most critical of her fellow feminists, yet Hooks' own accusation of inconsistency can be used against her as well as the entire Left/Right paradigm.
Hooks supports her argument by explaining that the philosophic justification used for "domestic violence" (she prefers to call it "patriarchal violence") is the patriarchal idea that those who have more strength have the right to initiate violence against those who are physically weaker than them (61). Thus the roots of violence are sexist power structures within families (Hooks 66). Hooks however makes it clear that patriarchal violence is not limited to male-on-female violence. She goes on to explain that the phenomenon of female violence against children is another example of patriarchal violence, in which someone initiates violence against another human simply because the victim is physically weaker than the oppressor (62). Hooks even condemns what would be considered minor corporal punishments of children, like pinching (74). She claims that violence against children is just as wrong as violence against women, and it is on this point that Hooks is rather critical of her fellow feminists. She states that historically feminists have not placed female violence against children on equal footing with male violence against women (63).
I agree with Hooks that ending violence is crucial to equality. This is because the attempted justification for violence is almost always couched in dehumanization of our fellow human beings. Dead foreigners are considered "collateral damage." Dead prisoners are considered "monsters" (even when there is evidence of his or her innocence). Dead preborn children are considered "parasites," "trash" and "unwanted."
It is in regard to the last sentence, however, where Hooks falls prey to the same inconsistency that she criticizes her fellow feminists of. In her 15th chapter titled "A Feminist Sexual Politic," Hooks bemoans the fact that in discussions over abortion, the "question" of whether or not abortion is homicide takes precedence over the question of abortion's effect on female sexuality. Now Hooks never gives an answer to the question of whether or not abortion is homicide. She implies, however, that the question isn't crucial to the abortion debate. She certainly wouldn't say it's overridingly crucial. The contradiction is that if, as Hooks says, "it is crucial for feminist movement to have as an overriding agenda ending all forms of violence" (62) then the question of whether or not abortion is homicide must also be overridingly crucial (emphasis added).
Now I can't read Hooks' mind, but I think that the reason why she doesn't want to discuss whether abortion is homicide is that as an intellectual, she probably knows what virtually every embryologist agrees to: that since the fetus is an offspring of two human parents with a human genetic code, it is scientifically impossible for him or her to be anything else but a human being.
When we recognize the humanity of our own offspring, we can look at Hooks' writing and actually see that abortion fits under her own definition of patriarchal violence. It involves initiating violence (usually by dismemberment or poisoning) against a victim simply because the victim is weaker than the aggressor (Hooks 61). It makes children "property of their parents to do with as they will" (Hooks 73). These preborn children "have no organized collective voice to speak the reality of how often they are the objects of female violence" (Hooks 63). Most pointedly of all, feminists have failed at "placing it on equal footing with male violence against women" (Hooks 63). The lethal ageism that Roe v. Wade institutionalized is simply not compatible with the ideas of nonviolence and children's rights that Hooks claims to uphold. If female violence against children is patriarchal violence, then why should it not still be patriarchal violence when the child is smaller, younger and in a different location?
Photo courtesy of A. Bedoy.
I don't want to give the impression that Bell Hooks and the feminist movement are the only ones with these types of inconsistencies. Unfortunately most of the mainstream pro-life movement also contradict themselves when they claim to uphold the sanctity of human life while at the same time supporting unjust wars of aggression as well as citizen assassination, torture, and the death penalty. Our entire Left/Right paradigm is plagued by this contradictory thinking in regard to legalized homicide. The only solution to this inconsistency is to embrace a "consistent life ethic" that values the lives of all human beings and rejects abortion, war, capital punishment, euthanasia, assassination and all other forms of patriarchal violence.
Hooks, Bell. Feminism is for Everybody. South End Press. Copyright 2000.