Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
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Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  3,483 ratings  ·  79 reviews
A groundbreaking work of feminst history and theory analyzing the complex relations between various forms of oppression. Ain't I a Woman examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the recent women's movement, and black women's involvement with feminsim.
Paperback, 205 pages
Published July 1st 1999 by South End Press (first published 1981)
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Elliot
Ain't I a Woman looks to be the first of many (I hope!) future visits to bell hooks' body of work. Written while hooks was still an undergraduate (though not published until 1981), Ain't I a Woman has many distracting flaws, but is dead-on in its overarching arguments.

hooks makes a number of excellent arguments, exposing the misogyny of Black Power, and suggesting the blindness of the feminist movement to both black and/or lower class women. She also explores the latent racism in analyses of th...more
Miranda
A while back I read an article in the Washington Post about the new domesticity among women. But it only identified the lives of white women living in urban cities. After that I read another article about how the sustainable food movement and "bike to work" movement often appeared white and for people of priveledge. Later on a show called Girls made its debut on HBO and there was quite an uproar about class and race because there appeared to be so much left out from a show that was supposed to b...more
Amanda
This book made me think Alice Paul was not so great. That those iron jawed angels were not so great. Bell Hooks speaks to the idea that all the women are white and all the blacks are men. And that black woman have been consistently devalued, overlooked, omitted. She talks about the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's. How the women's movement was the white women's movement. A desire for white woman to get on even ground with white men. She talks about the problems of movment's that exist with...more
Jarrah
This was a great companion read to Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider. Ain't I A Woman provides a comprehensive historical and social analysis of the ways black women have been marginalized by both white feminist movements and civil rights movements run by black men.

hooks brings forward numerous examples of racist actions and statements by first and second-wave feminists, such as white women suffragettes excluding black women from their organizations and conferences. Most feminists have heard of Sojo...more
David Spencer
I am blown away. bell hooks wrote this all when she was 19 (and probably started a lot of the research for this earlier than that), and I am filled with awe, humility and un-ending respect for that young woman who completely blows away 99% of white feminists prior to 1981, when this was originally released. It is in large part thanks to her and the black feminists that she marshals and focuses so urgently in these essays that the conversation is as far along as it is, where it is (and unfortunat...more
Dusty
Bell hooks's primary opponent in this book is the white feminist movement -- what's typically called the "second wave" -- of the 1960s and 70s. Her point is that the white women involved in the movement are racist and sexist and have routinely alienated and antagonized the black women who should be standing at their sides, but in order to develop that point, she retraces the history of black women in the United States since slavery. The book was groundbreaking upon its publication in 1981, and i...more
Nikhil
I cannot stress enough how important this book is; a molotov cocktail into the cultural necropolis that is America. bell hooks wields her pen like a sledgehammer, dismantling the pillars of a sexist, racist, and classist society. She illustrates how these three insidious ideologies oppress and privilege us in myriad ways, poisoning the possibility for genuine human interaction/community and dehumanizing us all. Some reviewers have criticized the book for not having footnotes, or for certain hist...more
sydney
Inexcusable that it took me so long to read this book. Hooks is amazing and inspirational and everything she says makes sense. These essays are about black women's history in the United States and the historically problematic intersections between race and gender-- notably, that black women have either been asked to choose one of their identities as the "most important" or have felt doubly disempowered. Hooks explores the ways in which black women have been devalued and how feminism has failed t...more
Bondama
There were times while reading the books that bell hooks comes across as writing from such a tremendous store of anger until ones stops to realize that these things, (slavery, etc.) really did happen.

Then the harder part begins, when one is forced to face the fact that white women are not really interested in joining together with their black sisters. Hard, unpleasant, but impossible to hide, because it's true, and I hope it changes.

It's difficult to say that this is a book that one "enjoys" re...more
Carolyn Newton
Mar 25, 2014 Carolyn Newton rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
It wasn't until I read this book did I finally start understand as to what it's truly like to exist as a black woman in our society. I had always been a passionate and convicted feminist, as far back as Jr. High really. After outgrowing the boybands of the late 90' & early 00's, I moved on to metal, punk rock and emo music. Riot Grrrl and the principles that came with it with was just the next natural step, so I came of age within the realm of white feminism. Bell Hooks put into words every...more
Angela
Ain't I a Woman is a thorough and intriguing condemnation of sexism in the Civil Rights movement and racism in the second wave feminist movement. bell hooks makes a powerful case for reaching both of these conclusions and describing the issues important to Black feminist women (of 1980 when the book was written, at least, though a depressing amount is still relevant today).

Unfortunately, the book is marred by a lack of footnoting (ironically, the title page requests that readers quoting bits fr...more
Christy
Written at about the same time as Angela Davis's Women, Race and Class, bell hooks' Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism covers much of the same ground (the historical exclusion of black women from the feminist movement and the connections between racism and sexism) but with a couple of major differences.

The first difference can perhaps best be described as one of attitude, or tone. Davis presents her argument, radical and emotionally compelling as it is, in a fairly neutral tone. She is c...more
Tina
This should be required reading for all white people.

bell hooks is incredibly intelligent and articulate, and this book is really well researched. It's over 20 years old, so some of the stuff may now be considered Racism 101 for those of you who are intensely involved in anti-racist work, but even still, even if she was describing a situation I already knew about, her examples were often new to me. And there was lots of information in here that I didn't fully know, or hadn't heard articulated qu...more
Freya
For those interested in the implementation of intersectionality, this book makes every feminist book or study by white women utterly invalid and frankly, embarrassing. Bell Hooks explores the complex relationship between feminism and its inherent white supremacy, which still renders the movement racist, sexist, disablist and non inclusive, while at the same time dismantling patriarchal capitalist power structures.
A must read.
AJ Conroy
Oct 15, 2011 AJ Conroy marked it as to-read
No 9 on Ms. Magazine's Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction Countdown: Named after the famous speech by Sojourner Truth, this must-read by bell hooks discusses black women’s struggle with U.S. racism and sexism since the time of slavery and doesn’t shirk from how white middle- and upper-class feminists have at times failed poor and non-white women.
Carolyn
This is one of the most enlightened and enlightening books I've ever read. It grounded (and to some extent validated) my own feminist beliefs. bell hooks is a popular intellectual. She speaks to you - not at you, not above you - in a language you, an ordinary person, understand.
Bianca
I loved it. It is a wonderful perspective on the feminist movement and black women. Some of the information is dated but the sentiments reign true today. bell hooks has gained another fan. I am a baby black feminist and found this easy to understand and thoroughly enjoyable.
Tamara Winfrey Harris
When isn't bell hooks amazing? I can't believe it took me so long to read this book! EVERYONE--particularly every black woman and man--should read this.
Helene
Well where the fuck has this been all my life? I've dog-eared every page; a few slaps across the tits in every paragraph; DENSE - ASS - SHIT.
Allee
Aug 17, 2011 Allee added it
ETA: holy crap, after reading this book I read somewhere else that she originally wrote it as an undergrad when she was 19. Incredible.

My favorite passages, put here for posterity:

"...Scholars have argued further that by not allowing black men to assume their traditional patriarchal status, white men effectively emasculated them, reducing them to an effeminate state. Implicit in this assertion is the assumption that the worst that can happen to a man is that he be made to assume the social statu...more
Miriam
Wow. A lot of these ideas are floating around now, getting general treatment and continuing to be important. But what a revelation to read the ideas, not some book quoting the ideas. I felt attacked as a white, middle-class woman, and as a historian, which is exactly what I should feel. This book points out how vigilant people need to be, how precise in their language, and how consistent in examining their assumptions and motivations. I think it works better as a theory text and argument than as...more
Alex
bell hooks is brilliant, let me say that first. i saw her speak recently and she totally blew me away, one of the most inspiring speakers i've ever seen. this was her first-ever book, from 1981, so it's interesting for understanding where she started out, and as a kind of 'period piece' where you can tell she was really pushing against the boundaries and limitations of 1970s feminism. Ain't I A Woman examines the history of the black female in america, including the sexist nature of the black ci...more
Marthe
Titled after Sojourner Truths 1851 speech it's about the intersection of gender and race, and exposes one of the major shortcomings of modern feminist movement. Her hierarchy in terms of power kind of goes like this:


First, White men: can oppress all of the following.
Second, Black men – White women: Black men are oppressed by white men, but can in turn oppress black women. They can also oppress white women through gender, though it might be trickier. Rather, this is the most accepted form of inte...more
Natalie
I wish I could rate different chapters of this book separately. The first chapter, about the black female slave experience, is incredibly important and undoubtedly 5 stars. But I struggled through some of the later chapters. I think that what got to me most was that hooks speaks in generalities too much. "Black women want..." "White women think..." Generalizations are occasionally unavoidable, but sometimes the whole premise of her chapter was based on these generalizations - ie: that white femi...more
William Thomas
Although far better as an analysis than her newer works have been, this book falls short of something academic. although it reads like a college term-paper, as far as the history and the conclusions reached within the book, these too seem to be collegiate. they appear to be nothing more than rehashed and regurgitated feelings of professors and other authors, or when she is speaking in her own voice, nothing more than mere outrages and rhetorical questions. it is a fault of bell hooks that she se...more
Chrissy
hooks presents a slew of arguments about the structural shortcomings of black women in the feminist movement because they are combatting an institution of racism alongside the patriarchal apparatuses with their own culture. Making them second-class participants in a fight that they battle on a day-to-day basis. Far from a feminist, I found this book enlightening and her thorough research and history on the matter led me to begin to critically think about the ideological state apparatuses that gu...more
Alexa
bell hooks presents a powerful analysis here. Although the first half consists of quite painful subject matter, she ends with an amazingly positive analysis indicating that change is indeed possible. While I do wish she had done a better job of citing her sources with footnotes, she is very convincing. I particularly like the way she blames our ills on the way we have been socialized into our society, thus taking the individual blame off of our shoulders, while she simultaneously puts the respon...more
Anjali
Nov 08, 2013 Anjali added it
"Oftentimes I am asked by black women to explain why I would call myself feminist and by using that term ally myself with a movement that is racist. I say, 'the question we must ask again and again is how can racist women call themselves feminists.' It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement; but rather than resigning myself to this appropriation, I choose to re-appropriate the term...more
Krista
Oct 08, 2009 Krista added it Recommends it for: feminists generally, but also woc
Shelves: feministlit
Though this book is a bit dated and (fortunately) social circumstances have changed since it was published, this book shines light on the peculiarly oppressive experience of being a black woman in American society. bell hooks analyzes the historical position of black women in America, first as slaves, then during Jim Crow, and on. She points out how women of color have always been ignored in the move for social justice: "women" has always meant "white women" and "blacks" has always meant "black...more
Paddythemic
should be required reading. illuminates the fact that feminism that disregards black women is not feminism at all.
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The F-word: November NON-FICTION Group Read AIN'T I A WOMAN by bell hooks 11 38 Dec 16, 2013 11:28AM  
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  • Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
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  • Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty
  • When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America
  • Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
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  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose
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bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) is an African-American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in...more
More about Bell Hooks...
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom All About Love: New Visions (bell hooks Love Trilogy) Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood

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“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.” 102 likes
“It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement; but rather than resigning myself to this appropriation I choose to re-appropriate the term “feminism,” to focus on the fact that to be “feminist” in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.” 51 likes
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