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The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

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From the New York Times bestselling author of All About Love , a brave and astonishing work that challenges patriarchal culture and encourages men to reclaim the best part of themselves.

Everyone needs to love and be loved—even men. But to know love, men must be able to look at the ways that patriarchal culture keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving.

In The Will to Change , bell hooks gets to the heart of the matter and shows men how to express the emotions that are a fundamental part of who they are—whatever their age, marital status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. But toxic masculinity punishes those fundamental emotions, and it’s so deeply ingrained in our society that it’s hard for men to not comply—but hooks wants to help change that.

With trademark candor and fierce intelligence, hooks addresses the most common concerns of men, such as fear of intimacy and loss of their patriarchal place in society, in new and challenging ways. She believes men can find the way to spiritual unity by getting back in touch with the emotionally open part of themselves—and lay claim to the rich and rewarding inner lives that have historically been the exclusive province of women.

208 pages, Kindle Edition

First published December 30, 2003

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About the author

bell hooks

139 books10.2k followers
bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) was an African-American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing focused on the interconnectivity of race, class, and gender and their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and domination. She published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. Primarily through a postmodern female perspective, she addressed race, class, and gender in education, art, history, sexuality, mass media and feminism.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,976 reviews
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,519 reviews8,985 followers
May 7, 2016
Every man, and everyone who loves a man, should read this book. The Will to Change carries a revolution in its pages. bell hooks argues with fierce eloquence about how we socialize men to numb their emotions, to only express anger and rage. She conveys honest compassion by contending that we must socialize everyone to honor male pain so that men will treat others with loving kindness, lest they forever repress their feelings to live up to the awful standards of toxic masculinity. One of the several quotes I loved from this book:

"The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, 'Please do not tell us what you feel.' ... If we cannot heal what we cannot feel, by supporting patriarchal culture that socializes men to deny feelings, we doom them to live in states of emotional numbness. We construct a culture where male pain can have no voice, where male hurt cannot be named or healed."

Though I feel confident in my maleness, I have never identified as masculine. Because of traumatic events in my childhood, I always swore off aggression - an emotion society forces most men to identify with. bell hooks hones in on so many uncomfortable truths about how patriarchy slaughters men's emotional vitality: how both men and women tell boys not to cry, how men use violent pornography as a way to cope with and visualize their rage, and how we accept male stoicism even when men are capable of so much more. She never positions men as the enemy, rather, she calls on readers to tear down the patriarchy that hurts us all. Another wonderful quote from the book that resonated with so many of my experiences with men:

"Being 'vulnerable' is an emotional state many men seek to avoid. Some men spend a lifetime in a state of avoidance and therefore never experience intimacy. Sadly, we have all colluded with the patriarchy by faking it with men, pretending levels of intimacy and closeness we do not feel. We tell men we love them when we feel we have absolutely no clue as to who they really are. We tell fathers we love them when we are terrified to share our perceptions of them, our fear that if we disagree, we will be cast out, excommunicated. In this way we all collude with patriarchal culture to make men feel they can have it all, that they can embrace patriarchal manhood and still hold their loved ones dear. In reality, the more patriarchal a man is, the more disconnected he must be from feeling. If he cannot feel, he cannot connect. If he cannot connect, he cannot be intimate."

Overall, a fantastic read. Yes, we should empower women, and we should empower men - by socializing them to love and to care. If I could have every high school student in the United States read one book right now, it would be The Will to Change. I hope that we can all carry forth hooks's vision, by conducting more research on masculinity and by aiding men in getting in touch with their emotions. I will end this review with one final, inspirational quote:

"The work of male relational recovery, of reconnection, of forming intimacy and making community can never be done alone. In a world where boys and men are daily losing their way we must create guides, signposts, new paths. A culture of healing that empowers males to change is in the making. Healing does not take place in isolation. Men who love and men who long to love know this. We need to stand by them, with open hearts and open arms. We need to stand ready to hold them, offering a love that can shelter their wounded spirits as they seek to find their way home, as they exercise the will to change."
Profile Image for Victoria.
84 reviews16 followers
April 14, 2015
I have profound respect for bell hooks. She is and will probably always be one of the most clear minded and insightful feminist theorists for years to come. Her works and lectures can be both mind blowing and humbling.
And a book like this is important because men need a better understanding of their place in the movement as allies and we need to be reminded at times that they can and should be better.
That being said, it was clear that this book was going to be far more likely to appeal to a male audience. I thus found it problematic that hooks did not use this golden opportunity to extrapolate on just why women would be hesitant to trust men, let alone let them into a feminist space (one that so many women before us have bled, died, and gone to jail for, I should add).
Men might be harmed by patriarchy in that they lose their potential for self-actualization, mind and soul. It is indisputably a lower quality of life.
But women will continue to lose their actual lives through the systemic violence that men perpetuate at the hands of male relatives, friends, and lovers. Being conditioned and socialized into the role of an abuser does not negate one's actions and the ensuing accountability. Men, should they be allies, are responsible for the actions of both themselves as individuals and themselves as an oppressive social class. hooks briefly hints at the importance of this in that men have to be open to criticism from women and to consistently check themselves. But I would add that they also have to criticize each other out and actively seek to disrupt the old boy system that allows so many men to get away with sexual violence and misogyny. It is one thing to choose never to buy sex or to consume pornography as an individual man. Or to never coerce his wife/partner/lover into sex. But it is another to actively stand against it and condemn any man (including friends and family members) who would.
The crux of feminism is not to get along better with men. It is, and always will be, about us women learning to love each other; to defend and to affirm each other; to realize that the love we can have for each other can be just as, if not more profound than any relationship we can have with a man.
I think we already empathize a lot with men, contrary to what hooks asserts. We have fallen into empathy traps and faced hard betrayal by alleged male allies in activist spaces. Time and time again we have believed that "genuine care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust" can "serve as the seductive catalyst for change" (p. 178). If we just loved him enough, he can change.
Men need to change. Men can change. There are good men out there who live to testify that men can be better.
But the first thing they need to understand is that women have all the reasons not to trust them. And they very much have every right to be angry.
Profile Image for Alex.
294 reviews5 followers
January 20, 2009
bell hooks defines this project as an attempt to love men enough to understand how patriarchy affects them, and understand how their pain can help them transform and challenge patriarchy. For me it was a profound experience reading this because it touched on so many aspects of my life as a male, from childhood, to school, to sex and relationships, to friendships, etc. It allowed me to see old memories in new ways, and understand that my feelings of pain, confusion and shame were a result of the violent circumstances that I was subjected to growing up in this culture.

In the past I had "understood" patriarchy as something that primarily only affected women, and saw my job mostly as limiting the damage done to the women in my life and organizing. bell hooks pushed me to look inside myself first and foremost and see how this system has terrorized me personally, and how challenging patriarchy is necessary for my own liberation, as well as the liberation of all men, and everybody.

What struck me most significantly was the idea that patriarchy is all the time enforced by violence, and that men are taught through violence to reject their emotions and become cold-blooded and distant, which allows them to commit violence on others.

"Violence is boyhood socialization. The way we 'turn boys into men' is through injury... We take them away from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase 'be a man' means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection is masculinity."

I could think of hundreds or thousands of times that I've felt this threat of violence keeping me within the shallow emotionless world of patriarchal masculinity. Most often it looks like jokes, put-downs, humiliation, scorn, and exclusion, but violence is at the heart of the matter. In fact, middle school and high school in retrospect look like a 7 year-long gauntlet of violent social training.

Learning to express the pain I've felt without shame, and wield my anger not against myself (or others) but against patriarchal society, isn't something that can change overnight. But bell hooks' wisdom has opened up new possibilities for me and for all men, and it's up to us to take the initiative, educate ourselves, get in touch with our own emotions, our own human-ness and connection to others in a non-dominating way, and work together in love and resistance. We don't just owe it to women, trans and genderqueer folks, we owe it to ourselves.

"Communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness."
Profile Image for Prerna.
222 reviews1,427 followers
February 1, 2022
I honestly do not know how to talk about bell hooks. This is only the second book by her that I've read, and my reaction to the first one, Feminism is for Everybody, wasn't a favourable one. I was naive and approached it with all sorts of wrong expectations and honestly, the book wasn't palatable. But I've watched countless interviews of her over the years, because she has such a soothing voice, it's almost as if she is cooing even when she's taking someone down (like that one interview in which she defended Cornel West's critique of Ta-Nehisi Coates and then criticized Ta-Nehisi coates herself in way I can only call savage, and yet it's so eloquent.) It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that this book changed my perspective on many things.

Despite my several claims over the years of patriarchy being harmful to men and putting them in a box, I immediately shutdown when cis-men actually open up around me and bare their hearts. It's terrifying, it's new each time and I do not know how to react. And I've lost count of the number of times I've secretly wished harm on the men around me, because even though I put up a brave front, I'm perpetually terrified that they'll turn out to be violent. And with a lot of these men, I don't even have justifiable reasons for believing so. It's my own internalised stupid patriarchy-based distrust that stems from trauma. Yes, I'm such a hypocrite. I'm now determined to learn though. To trust and love men. While reading this book, I called some of my cis-male friends and apologized for being cold towards them or shutting them down whenever they tried to receive any emotional support from me. And that in itself was a revelation because they were so forgiving and so delighted. I probably need to make more calls that I feel way too awkward about now, but I'll get there.

I will be reading a lot more of bell hooks this year, and I'm certain it's going to be memorable, life-changing as well as life-affirming.
Profile Image for Eva.
27 reviews20 followers
March 5, 2023
I have mixed feelings about this book.

This is the second book I’ve read from bell hooks. The first, All About Love, felt like a revolution. I re-read it 3 times. I bought copies for friends. After seeing the title The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, I immediately purchased a copy, excited to absorb more of hooks’s wisdom.

Let’s begin with the good: hooks presents a scathing critique of patriarchy. She outlines the ways it harms men, from emotional repression to higher rates of suicide and depression and “soul death.” Many passages resonated with me:

“There is only one emotion that patriarchy values when expressed by men; that emotion is anger.” (p. 7)

“No male successfully measured up to patriarchal standards without engaging in an ongoing practice of self-betrayal.” (p. 12)

“Boys learn to cover up grief with anger; the more troubled the boy, the more intense the mask of indifference. Shutting down emotionally is the best defense when the longing for connection must be denied.” (p. 50)

“Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection *is* masculinity.” (p. 61)

“Workaholism is the most common addiction in men because it is usually rewarded and not taken seriously as detrimental to their emotional well-being.” (p. 158)

As someone assigned male at birth, I’ve often struggled to feel comfortable expressing my emotions. Much of the work I’ve done as an adult has been to reconnect with my body and allow myself to hear and express my own feelings. These quotes and many others resonated with me and encouraged me to continue that self work.

hooks eloquently explains how patriarchy harms us all: it spares no one, no matter their gender.

Now, onto the bad: past the first few chapters, the book is extremely repetitive. I did not learn much new. A book half this length could have twice the impact.

In attempting to counter the popular feminist narrative (of 2005) that men are all-powerful, hooks portrays men as eternally repressed and out of touch with their emotions, painting a picture at odds with my personal experience, which includes many loving, caring, emotionally-aware men.

Her view of parenting and dating is heteronormative. There is only brief reference to the impact of patriarchy in gay culture. No reference at all is made to trans people. Trans men lead very different lives from cis men and many trans men are uniquely poised to help further the dialogue about what positive masculinity can look like and how to manifest it. The book’s omissions result in centering cis, straight men yet again.

When discussing families, hooks most often assumes a monogamous, heterosexual couple. Some discussion is made of single-mother homes, usually in the context of women furthering patriarchy through abuse of their sons. Single-father homes are not discussed. Non-monogamous relationships, communal living, and other queer family arrangements are not discussed, again missing the chance to explore a radically different and less rigid vision of a post-patriarchal future.

Late in the book, she claims, “anyone who has a false self must be dishonest. People who learn to lie to themselves and others cannot love because they are crippled in their capacity to tell the truth and therefore unable to trust.” (p. 154) This completely ignores closeted trans and queer people who may not be able to be fully honest and transparent with people out of concern for their own safety, as well as people who have not reached a point where they feel comfortable coming out to themselves.

In many chapters, hooks presents bold claims without citing sources, leading me to repeatedly annotate, “is this true?” in the margins. Examples:

“Again and again children hear the message from mass media that when it comes to sex, ‘he’s gotta have it.’ Adults may know better, from their own experience, but children become true believers. They think that men will go mad if they cannot act sexually. This is the logic that produces what feminist thinkers call ‘a rape culture.’” (p. 78)

“For boys this issue of control begins with the mother’s response to his penis; usually she does not like it and she does not know what to do with it. Her discomfort with his penis communicates that there is something inherently wrong with it.” (p. 80)

“The popularization of gangsta rap, spearheaded by white male executives in the music industry, gave a public voice to patriarchy and women-hating.” (p. 129)

“If all men were in touch with primal positive passion, the categories of gay and straight would lose their charged significance.” (p. 183)

At a few points in the book, hooks blames pornography and ‘excessive’ (e.g. non-monogamous) sex for furthering and reinforcing patriarchy. This may often be true, but porn and sex can also act as liberatory tools for men who have been taught to feel ashamed of their bodies. Instead of exploring the potentially positive uses of porn and non-monogamous, consensual sex, hooks casts them as universally negative. She fails to imagine a world in which individuals can be fully loving and devoted to a partner and still explore fulfilling sexual relationships with others. Even her use of the phrase “dominator culture”, though apt, overlooks people who engage in consensual dom-sub play in BDSM. Her tone veers uncomfortably close to slut-shaming.

In fact, at many points in the book, bell hooks seems to take a tremendous leap from progressive leftism to conservative fundamentalism, railing against Harry Potter, The Incredible Hulk, Power Rangers, The Matrix, sex, pornography, rap music, and more.

I admire what bell hooks attempted to do in The Will to Change, but she paints with too broad a brush, ultimately reinforcing many of the harmful stereotypes and roles prescribed by patriarchy which she tries so dutifully to avoid.
Profile Image for Miri.
165 reviews83 followers
December 22, 2014
Important and original. I appreciate how much space hooks spends on quoting and citing other authors (especially psychotherapists, which made me happy); it's the mark of a great thinker who isn't afraid to give credit where credit is due. This is one of the rare books on masculinity that addresses the topic with sensitivity and also without blaming women or feminism for all of the problems.

My two main criticisms are:

1) hooks seems very gender-essentialist. She continually expresses her arguments as though there are only Men and Women, and Men have penises and Women have vaginas, and Men are Masculine and Women are Feminine. To this end, she calls for a better, "feminist" masculinity for men to aspire to, without ever really justifying what masculinity *is* (other than What Men Do), why we need it, and whether (and if so, why) men should aspire to something different than women. In her view, this feminist masculinity involves having integrity, self-love, relational skills, emotional awareness, etc. Obviously, these are all great traits, but why do we need to call them "masculinity" at all?

2) Although hooks is correct to note that many feminist women fail to acknowledge how deeply patriarchy hurts men (especially non-white, non-middle-/upper-class men), she does not caveat her proposed solution--that women actively work to help men overcome patriarchy--with the fact that many women who do this face immense verbal abuse (and worse) as a result. The reason many of us feminists don't want to engage with men isn't (just) because we see them as all-powerful and incapable of being as hurt as we are, but because when we try to engage with them, they make us regret it. That doesn't mean the solution is to disengage entirely, but hooks' argument would be stronger if she explicitly acknowledged this barrier.

She does at one point write, "Since emotional pain is the feeling that most males have covered up, numbed out, or closed off, the journey back to feeling is frequently through the portal of suffering. Much male rage covers up this place of suffering: this is the well-kept secret. Often when a female gets close to male pain, penetrating the male mask to see the emotional vulnerability beneath, she becomes a target for the rage." However, hooks does not connect this with her admonition that women engage with men to lead them through this process. How do we prevent or cope with becoming the targets of this rage?
Profile Image for Sagar Jethani.
Author 1 book16 followers
August 15, 2017
I am disappointed with this book-- not least because the author is one who many of my friends have admired for years. While I generally agree with her premise, she does not represent it well. Insightful criticism of white male patriarchy is quickly supplanted by ridiculous arguments which undermine her case.

Harry Potter as a prototypical example of white male warmongering?

Facile claims that all males harbor killing rage within them because they are all infected with patriarchical thinking?


These kind of arguments parody themselves, conforming to the worst caricatures of liberal hysteria. It's a pity, too, because in 2017 we could use a thoughtful critique of patriarchy and how it influences our lives.
Profile Image for Raymond.
352 reviews256 followers
February 28, 2022
I first heard of this book on an episode of the podcast Pass The Mic in 2020. One of the hosts Tyler Burns highly and passionately recommended that Black men read this book and a group of us did in the Black Men Read book club. bell hooks teaches us in this book that patriarchy is a problem. For men its starts when we are boys and are told to not express our emotions, "be a man", be tough, etc. What that teaches men is to bottle up our emotions, but hooks says that when boys/men do this the end result is always "acting out" and violence against each other and especially women and children, which continues to perpetuate the cycle into future generations.

There are alot of men walking around today who are not free and they don't even know it. The patriarchal dominator culture that hooks writes about affects men in every aspect of life from childhood, to work, to sexual relations, to platonic relations, to pop culture, and more. hooks teaches us that to become better men we have to learn how to feel again, we have to learn how to self-critique ourselves, we have to become more emotionally aware. Then and only then can we become whole, more loving, more present to our loved ones, more free. But none of this can happen without men beginning the process of changing how they relate to themselves and others.

This book is powerful, you will definitely see how patriarchy has impacted your life from an early age to now. Memories of experiences with family and friends who promoted patriarchal culture came flowing back to me as I read this book but so did examples of feminist masculinity. It is the feminist masculinity memories that I will harken back to from time to time and build upon to become a better man, a whole man, a loving man.
Profile Image for Sajani.
3 reviews5 followers
April 7, 2023
This book has answered almost every question I've ever had about men and why they are the way they are. It has helped restore my faith in men as a sex. Instead of just pointing out the injustices of patriarchy, Hooks explains, step by step, exactly how men are socialized to be violent, and given misguided notions about what it means to be 'male.' For the first time, I was introduced to the idea that men suffer from patriarchy even as they are privileged by it. Because of Hooks, I've been inspired to help men redefine masculinity. Because of her, I now try to understand men. Because of bell hooks, I'm ok with loving men again. This is a book I will most definitely come back to.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,111 reviews3,028 followers
June 8, 2023
bell hooks ist eine bekannte afro-amerikanische Feministin und Theoretikerin. Ihre Werke werden vielfach rezipiert und empfohlen. Nachdem mich vor einiger Zeit bereits ihr Einstiegswerk Feminismus für alle enttäuschte, hatte ich eigentlich nicht vor, zu einem weiteren Buch von ihr zu greifen. Da Männer, Männlichkeit und Liebe dann aber für kurze Zeit umsonst über die LfPB zu bekommen war, entschied ich mich dafür, hooks noch eine Chance zu geben.

Nach der Lektüre dieses Buches kann ich nun definitiv sagen, dass bell hooks' Bücher einfach nichts für mich sind. Die Bücher werden oft als akademische/wissenschaftliche Texte angepriesen und hooks selbst war als Hochschullehrerin tätig. Dabei ist hooks' Vorgehensweise sehr unwissenschaftlich. In ihren Büchern verkauft sie ihre eigene Meinung als Fakt, ihre eigenen Ideen/Ansätze als belegt. Es fehlen jegliche Quellen und Belege. hooks argumentiert sehr subjektiv, oft sind mir ihre Ansätze auch zu spirituell und abstrakt. Teilweise finden sich sogar Falschaussagen und krasse Verallgemeinerungen in ihren Thesen.

Grundsätzlich ist das Thema und die Idee hinter Männer, Männlichkeit und Liebe eine gute. hooks möchte aufzeigen, dass das Patriarchat nicht nur schlecht für Frauen, sondern eben auch für Männer ist. Diese Erkenntnis ist für die meisten von uns keine neue, aber da dieses Buch Anfang der 2000er erschien, kann man hooks schon zugestehen, dass solche Thesen damals noch keinen breiten gesellschaftlichen Konsens hatten.

In dem Vorwort zum Buch gibt hooks zu, dass sie Angst vor Männern hat. Und ich denke, so geht es den meisten. Auch ich habe Angst vor Männer. (Nein, nicht vor allen Männern, und nein, nicht in jedem Kontext, aber dennoch würde ich diese Aussage in all ihrer Allgemeinheit unterschreiben.) hooks vertritt die These, dass Frauen durch das Patriarchat politische und wirtschaftliche Gleichberechtigung verweigert wird, während Männer der Liebe und anderer Gefühle beraubt werden. Das Patriarchat hindere Männer daran, zu lieben und mit ihrer Gefühlswelt in Einklang zu kommen. Junge werde beigebracht, ihre Gefühle zu unterdrücken, lediglich Wut und Gewalt seien akzeptabel, wenn nicht gar gefordert. Das Patriarchat lehre Männer, sich nach Gewalt und Sex zu sehnen, aber nicht nach Liebe. hooks meint, dass Männer sich ihrer Gefühle bewusst werden müssen, um heilen zu können – und Frauen müssen dies begrüßen und unterstützen.
Solange Männer über Frauen herrschen, kann es keine Liebe zwischen uns geben. Dass Liebe und Herrschaft nebeneinander existieren können, ist eine der mächtigsten Lügen, die uns das Patriarchat erzählt.
Männern wird beigebracht, dominant, gewalttätig und gefühllos zu sein. Diese gesellschaftliche Erwartung führt dazu, dass sie und die Menschen um sie herum leiden. hooks zeigt auf, dass es auch einen anderen Weg gibt. Männer können lernen, ihre Gefühle anzuerkennen und mitzuteilen, und so lernen, andere und sich selbst zu lieben.

Wie gesagt, für die meisten von uns stecken in diesen Thesen keine neuen Erkenntnisse. Sie sind das kleine Einmaleins des Feminismus. Trotzdem kann ich anerkennen, dass Menschen, die sich vielleicht weniger mit Sexismus und Patriarchat auseinandergesetzt haben, einiges aus diesem Buch mitnehmen können.

Auch ich fand einige Punkte spannend. Die Stellen, an denen hooks über ihr Aufwachsen und ihre Familie schreibt, waren für mich die stärksten: "In unserer Familie war Papa nicht ständig wütend, aber die intensiven emotionalen und körperlichen Misshandlungen, die er bei den seltenen Gelegenheiten, in denen er gewalttätig wurde, ausübte, hielten alle in Schach, wir lebten am Rande des Abgrunds un in Angst." Viele Menschen kennen diese Dynamik zwischen Vater (meistens ruhig, aber trotzdem die Respektsperson) und Mutter (regt sich ständig auf, Kinder tanzen ihr auf der Nase herum).

Zudem fand ich hooks' These zu Frauen, die arbeiten, sehr treffend: "Die meisten Frauen arbeiten, weil sie das Haus verlassen wollen und weil ihre Familien das Einkommen zum Überleben brauchen, nicht weil sie Feministinnen sind, die glauben, dass Arbeit ein Zeichen der Befreiung ist." Es ist einfach interessant, wie sich manche Diskurse verschieben. Es ist total wichtig, dass Frauen auf die Straße gegangen sind und sich für ihr Recht auf Arbeit und Lohn eingesetzt haben, trotzdem ist die Ausgangslage heute insofern eine andere, dass die kapitalistischen Strukturen in denen wir leben, uns diese Freiheit genommen haben. Wir müssen arbeiten, wenn wir leben wollen. Es gibt keine Wahl mehr (zumindest für den Großteil der Frauen auf dieser Welt).

Eine weiterer take von hooks, der mich überzeugte: "Einer der Gründe, warum die Kirche im Leben Schwarzer Männer so wichtig ist, besteht darin, dass sie einer der Orte ist, an dem sie ihre Gefühle ausdrücken und trauern können. […] In der Kirche meiner Kindheit habe ich zum ersten Mal Männer weinen sehen." Generell ist es erfrischend, dass hooks, als Afro-Amerikanerin und Schwarze Frau, oft auch die Perspektiven von Schwarzen Männern in Abgrenzung zu weißen Männer beleuchtet. Viele weiße Feministinnen machen diese Unterschiede nicht, bspw. Caroline Criado Pérez in Unsichtbare Frauen: Wie eine von Männern gemachte Welt die Hälfte der Bevölkerung ignoriert, was zu falschen Verallgemeinerungen und Rückschlüssen führt.

In meiner Rezension möchte ich dennoch etwas näher auf meine Kritikpunkte an diesem Buch eingehen:

1. Fehlende Quellen und Falschaussagen
Die fehlenden Quellen und Falschaussagen sind wohl das, was mich am meisten an diesem Buch gestört hat. Oft hat man das Gefühl, dass hooks einfach irgendwas raushaut, was ihr gerade gut in den Kram passt und ihr Narrativ fördert. Damit macht sie sich natürlich auch für Kritiker*innen angreifbar, die ihr genau dies vorwerfen können.

Es fängt bei einfachen/unverfänglichen Behauptungen an, wie bspw. "Männliche Babys schreien länger und lauter als weibliche". Da hooks keine Studie nennt, auf die sich diese Aussage stützt, können wir als Leser*innen nicht wissen, ob sie stimmt oder nicht.

Es gibt aber auch deutliche steilere und potentiell gefährlichere Thesen, die hooks unbelegt einfach so raushaut: "Bilder von männlicher Gewalt und Dominanz in den Massenmedien führen zu gewalttätigen Jungen, die wahllos morden." Das wage ich zu bezweifeln, da es vor allem im Zusammenhang mit Ego-Shootern und Amokläufen viele Studien gibt, die belegen, dass es keinen Zusammenhang zwischen medialen Darstellungen von Gewalt und dem realen Akt des Tötens gibt. Es ist einfach schade, dass hooks solche Aussagen macht und dann nicht weiter auf sie eingeht.

Ein weiteres Beispiel: "Homophobie ist der Grund für die Angst, dass Jungen durch das Zulassen von Gefühlen homosexuell werden könnten; diese Angst ist in Haushalten mit alleinerziehenden Frauen oft am stärksten ausgeprägt." SAYS WHO??? I guess we'll never know.

Noch ein Beispiel: "In vielen Fällen, in denen der Lohn einer Frau höher ist als der ihres männlichen Partners, rastet er aus, um sein Dominanzgefühl wiederherzustellen. Er kann ihren Gehaltsscheck einfach konfiszieren und ihn nach Belieben verwenden und sie so abhängig machen." Warum kann er ihren Gehaltsscheck einfach konfiszieren?? Ich bin maximal verwirrt.

Ein letztes Beispiel: "Sexistische Rollen Schränken die Identitätsbildung von männlichen und weiblichen Kindern ein, aber der Prozess ist für Jungen weitaus verheerender, weil die von ihnen geforderten Rollen nicht nur starrer und einschränkender sind, sondern sie auch viel eher schwer bestraft werden, wenn sie von diesen Rollenmustern abweichen." Das ist einfach falsch und wieder potentiell gefährlich. Sexistische Rollen sind für Jungen und Mädchen gleich toxisch. Ich wüsste nicht, warum das männliche Rollenbild "einschränkender" sein sollte als das weibliche? Auch hier haut hooks einfach diese Aussage raus und untermauert sie nicht weiter.

2. Nicht nachvollziehbare Interpretationen
Es gibt viele Aussagen in diesem Buch, die mich wirklich haben den Kopf schütteln lassen. Und ich bin nicht froh darüber, dass ich jetzt ausgerechnet die Harry Potter-Reihe verteidigen muss, aber in dem Kapitel über Medien, die Jungen in ihrer Kindheit rezipieren, haut hooks einfach den komischsten Take zu Harry Potter überhaupt raus.

hooks mahnt, dass der Charakter Harry Potter ein schlechtes Vorbild für Jungen sei, da Harry ein "Mini-Patriarch" und "weißes Genie" sei, "das über die ebenso schlauen Kinder herrscht". Zudem "verherrlichen die Bücher den Krieg, der als Töten im Namen des 'Guten'" dargestellt würde. Ehhh? Bestie babes, da bin ich raus. Es gibt vieles, was man an den Harry Potter-Büchern kritisieren kann. Sie sind an vielen Stellen aus der Zeit gefallen und verstärken teilweise gefährliche Stereotype und Narrative ... aber dass die Bücher kriegsverherrlichend seien, kann ich absolut nicht nachvollziehen?? Harry als "Mini-Patriarchen", der über die anderen Kinder "herrscht", sehe ich auch überhaupt nicht. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass hooks die Bücher nicht mal gelesen hat.

Ein weitere komische Aussage von hooks: "Auch wenn die Mehrheit der amerikanischen Jungen keine Gewaltverbrechen begehen wird, die zu Mord führen, ist die Wahrheit, die niemand benennen will, dass alle Jungen zu Mördern erzogen werden, auch wenn sie lernen, den Mörder in sich zu verbergen und sich als wohlwollende junge Patriarchen aufzuführen." Auch hier bin ich komplett raus. Meiner Erfahrung nach werden nicht ALLE Jungen "zu Mördern erzogen" (was soll das überhaupt heißen?) und nicht alle Männer "lernen, den Mörder in sich zu verbergen". Diese Thesen sind mir einfach zu steil und hooks gibt sich nicht mal die Mühe, diese zu unterfüttern oder zu belegen. Daher ist mir auch gar nicht so richtig klar, was sie damit meint.

Über Männer, die sich gegen Gewalt und für die Liebe entscheiden, schreibt hooks: "Diese Männer sind die wahren Helden, die Männer, deren Leben wir kennen, ehren und in Erinnerung behalten müssen." Auch das ist ein weirder take. Warum sind Männer, die das bare minimum erfüllen, HELDEN? Ist das Helden-Narrativ im allgemeinen nicht total patriarchal und überholt? Wie gesagt, kann man so sehen, ich sehe es aber anders.

hooks war ein sehr spiritueller Mensch, daher sind viele ihrer "Lösungsansätze" sehr abstrakt und spirituell. Ich konnte damit leider wenig anfangen und fand ihre Ideen auch nicht gut praktisch umsetzbar, bspw. "Männer müssen hören, dass ihre Seelen wichtig sind und dass die Pflege ihrer Seelen die wichtigste Aufgabe ihres Daseins ist." Okay? Dann fang' ich mal an, dass den Männern in meiner Umgebung zu erzählen ...

3. Auslassen von Transidentitäten
Ich verstehe, dass ein Buch über Männer, das 2003 entstand, keinen Fokus auf Transmänner legt. So schreckliche die Unsichtbarmachung von Transmenschen auch ist, ist sie nunmal ein Fakt, der sich durch unsere Vergangenheit (und Gegenwart) zieht. Dennoch ist das komplette Auslassen bzw. Nicht-Nennen/Anerkennen von Transmenschen in einem Buch, das sich explizit mit Gender und Geschlechterrollen auseinandersetzt, eine Lücke, die kritisiert werden muss. In dem Buch spricht hooks oft homosexuelle Männer an, Transmänner kommen jedoch überhaupt nicht vor.

hooks' Definition eines Mannes, die sie in diesem Buch angibt, ist zudem transfeindlich: "Wir müssen Männlichkeit als eine Zustand des Seins und nicht als Leistung definieren. Männliches Sein, Männlichkeit, Maskulinität müssen für die essentielle Grundgüte des Selbst stehen, für den männlichen Körper, der einen Penis hat."


Abschließend bleibt für mich festzuhalten, dass ich froh bin, einen kleinen Teil von hooks' Werk für mich erschlossen zu haben, ich nun aber genug habe. Sie ist einfach nicht die Theoretikerin für mich.
Profile Image for BookChampions.
1,185 reviews108 followers
May 23, 2011
When I developed my feminist sensibilities in the 1990s, it was bell hooks who was first to validate not only my place as a feminist man but to ardently argue for my space as a comrade in feminist work. It was going to take feminist women and feminist men collaborating together in order to do the work so desperately needed.

Ever since then, bell hooks has been a huge part in my growth as a feminist, teacher, and man. And since the publication of The Will to Change in 2004, I've probably returned to it a half dozen times, each time offering a bit of encouragement to continue to fight for gender equality and to do my part to interrupt the patriarchal narrative. Nearly all of my graduate study in English has been in some way informed by her vision.

bell hooks is a revelation; she is both brilliant and down-to-earth, revolutionary and full of love. She makes me think more than any other theorist, and I am forever indebted to her and her work.
Profile Image for Jesse Richards.
Author 2 books13 followers
May 31, 2016
This is a profound book that I will now list as one of the most life-changing I have ever read.

Its singular message is that patriarchy harms men almost as much as it harms women (though in different ways). Feminism is not women working against men, but women and men who value love working against men and women who value domination.

I haven't loved the previous hooks books I've read, even though I agreed with them, because I didn't find her writing style clear or elegant enough. But this one resonated deeply.

I now have intense grief that this book wasn't given to me when I was younger, that its lessons are not taught in schools, that copies are not given to boys and teenagers. It has shown me new insight that more parts of my personality are not innate but are a result of our culture, generating some serious existential wondering.

The book isn't perfect. There are few New Agey passages here and there, which I can be overly sensitive to. (But I think we don't have a language for some of these concepts that won't seem cheesy or New Age.) Also, some of her pop culture critiques seemed inaccurate and out of place.

But the book raises points that I just have never seen anywhere else, and I've read a lot of feminist writing. How can one of the biggest problems in human history be so ignored, so swept under the rug?

I plan to give this book to as many people as I can.
Profile Image for Pauline.
Author 7 books1,138 followers
April 6, 2022
Pfioulala. C’était long. Tout d’abord disclaimer : comme avec Tout le monde peut être féministe, traduit en 2020 chez Divergences, on a accès à ce texte avec (ici) 17 ans de retard. Et forcément ça change beaucoup de choses. Par exemple, hooks passe beaucoup de temps à dire qu’il n’y a aucune ressource pour éduquer les garçons à rester des êtres sensibles, et en 2022 c’est faux, même en France on trouve assez facilement quand on veut de la littérature jeunesse et des ressources qui vont dans ce sens.

Ensuite, bon, of course je suis piquée dès qu’elle s’attaque aux « féministes qui haïssent les hommes ». Je comprends le pourquoi du comment, mais comme c’est mêlé à un discours très binaire sur le genre, ça me hérisse un peu. Au final encore une fois, 17 ans plus tard on a des livres comme Sortir de l’hétérosexualité de Juliet Drouar qui questionnent la pertinence de la distinction de genre. Alors quand hooks dit qu’il faut aimer la masculinité et les hommes quand ils sont entiers et pas le produit du patriarcat, moi je dis : on peut aussi abandonner ce concept de masculinité et de genre et juste aimer les gens parce qu’iels sont des personnes décentes et aimables.

J’ai aimé quand même, ça a provoqué beaucoup de réflexions, de remous en moi, pas forcément uniquement par le prisme de mes relations avec les hommes d’ailleurs. Ça parle de sentiments, d’amour, d’intégrité, et ça m’a fait réfléchir à moi-même à plein d’endroits. Mais c’est un peu répétitif et un peu long. Et définitivement 17 ans trop tard.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews328 followers
February 27, 2022
Wow, the amount of times I started, stopped and restarted this book I didn’t think I’d ever finish it.

The first couple of chapters from 1-5 triggered me repeatedly. It’s not complicated to say why, but it is! There’s something about looking into and attempting to understand the fluctuating emotional state of men and patriarchy that is uncomfortable and yet simultaneously necessary.

I always turn to bell hooks when I’m looking for internal peace around certain topics and she always offers up the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes we’re able to deal and sometimes we’re not, hence the stopping and starting.

I appreciate the various lens that bell hooks applies to this topic. She delves deep into both nature and nurturing, as well as societal responsibility for the type of patriarchy we continue to live in. I really wish there was more about the individual responsibility because maybe it’s just me being triggered still, but I find that we are so quick to absolve… yeah it’s me being triggered still.

bell hooks gives us a lot to chew on and while some of the work and examples cited and discussed are sometimes very broad for my tastes, I think she offers up a lot of solutions and different aspects to consider when grappling with the ways that patriarchy exists in our lives and how it impacts how we connect with each other as humans.
Profile Image for Moriah Russo.
12 reviews9 followers
November 2, 2016
I love and respect bell hooks, but this book was a disappointment.

It takes a huge step away from From Margin to Center, in which hooks writes about male suffering under patriarchy that “Feminist activists should acknowledge that hurt… It does not erase or lesson male responsibility for supporting and perpetuating their power under patriarchy to exploit and oppress women in a manner far more grievous than the serious psychological stress and emotional pain caused by male conforming to rigid sexist role patterns” to “sexist roles restrict the identify formation of male and female children, but the process is far more damaging to boys because not only are the roles required of them more rigid and confining, but they are much more likely to receive severe punishment when they deviate from these roles” in The Will to Change. The process is not “far more damaging to boys”. They, of course, suffer a lesser quality of life under patriarchy, but women suffer loss of life.

Much of hooks' argument in this text is not only redundant but also careless and often untrue. There are no citations and the research is dated and imprecise. It successfully (but not exactly thoroughly) argues why men should find the will to change, but not how they might change.

It was also tough as female feminist reader to encounter the numerous inculpations of feminism for failing to provide for male need and to sit with the message that antipatriarchal women must “stand ready to hold” men who express the will to change. Who was there to hold us? I know that this is transactional thinking, but how about addressing feminist women from their hurt and trauma and helping them/us to learn how to forgive and to show love to men, also? We are hurt and angry and we have been systematically trained to not trust men. We cannot simply hold our arms open without sacrificing our safety, comfort, ourselves.

edit: To avoid a totally negative review, I should fairly add that the lucid explanation of the origin of rage exhibited by men I 'probe' out of interest for their wellbeing and hope for our intimacy was helpful and validating.
Profile Image for Moritz.
38 reviews4 followers
July 24, 2019
Many people write in the reviews: "all men should read this". Well, I am a man and I read it.

None of the advice given in the book is actionable. Even the author complains about the lack of advice for men in literature but provides none herself.

All you get from this book is a introduction into the authors feminist ideology and world view. She is never self critical and proofs her views only by anecdotal evidence. She never cites any study or scientific publication but only other authors opinions or experiences.

When it comes to her ideas and solutions she stays extremely vague: "Love your spouse", "Dont use violence", "Love your child", "Let your child develope freely", "Dont beat your wife", "Have compession" ... you get the point. Of course everyone would agree with that. But also everyone already knew that.

Also, her examples and generalizations did not really match any of my experiences and seem to not hold when looking at the men and women in my environment. This may be because her observations are wrong, or because my environment is different. Because I am not from the US, I give her the benefit of the doubt.

She condemns the partriarchical masculinity. This is something I can agree with when using her definition of partriarchical masculinity. As an alternative she proposes an "alternative masculinity". But unfortunately she never comes around defining it or describing it. It actually seems like her promoted "alternative masculinity" is just the way women behave.

Her world view is extremly simplistic (the root of all bad in the world is patriarchy). Her arguments are very lazy (anecdotes and "other people also think so"). And her solutions are common sense and way too vague.

I really wanted to change to the better using this book. Of course that is what I want from every book. Well, at least I know a little bit more about modern feminism now.
Profile Image for Brett.
50 reviews27 followers
January 2, 2019
This book changed my life. Everyone on Earth should read it. A feminist book about alleviating the burden of men seems inconceivable to feminism's many detractors but inside this book is an answer to all the loneliness, heartache and angry emotions that men feel. It provides a solution that isn't tamping them down in silence or being more rigorous with your rage. There is so much care and compassion inside that it truly transformed the way I think about myself and the choices I make. It strikes at the roots of the many problems with unbridled masculinity and has a lot of great answers to the angry dudes who are caught up in internet misogyny.
Profile Image for Tomasz.
446 reviews834 followers
July 12, 2022
Nie czytałem jeszcze chyba nic, co opowiadałoby o mężczyznach i męskości z punktu widzenia feminizmu, co było ciekawym odejściem od moich poprzednich doświadczeń. Książka bell hooks wydana została niemal 20 lat temu i z jednej strony w niektórych miejscach wyraźnie czuć ciężar jej wieku, ale z drugiej nadal jest w pewien sposób rewolucyjna- mnóstwo tu ciekawych przemyśleń z różnych punktów widzenia. Dałbym 5 gwiazdek, ale brakowało mi uwzględnienia chociażby osób transpłciowych- płeć czy tożsamość płciowa jest w książce utożsamiana często jednoznacznie z genitaliami, a autorka opisuje wyłącznie hetero- i homoseksualne osoby cispłciowe. Plus za przypisy tłumaczki, które również tę kwestię poruszają.
42 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2015
This book absolutely changed my life. How often do you get to say that? Even better, it was a gift from one of my daughters (who was then surprised that I read it!)

It told me more about myself, my upbringing, and my place in the world than I could have imagined. If this were required reading for every member of modern society, the world would be a more habitable place. It could literally end war…

It's not easy, but neither is life. Women and men will both gain new insight into how we are all perpetuating injustice and anger and disconnection in our world.
Profile Image for Susan Muehrcke.
1 review1 follower
April 15, 2022
A guy cited this book as his reason for ending things, so thought I should support him and read it. Turns out he was just hooking up with his ex, so I guess the only thing “willing to change” is my faith in men.
Profile Image for Sunny.
698 reviews3,686 followers
June 1, 2020
Can't really rate this book but bell hooks makes a lot of very interesting claims here, and I think men who consider themselves feminists or want the destruction of patriarchy would do good to read this book, as well as non-male feminists who grapple with the question of how challenging male identity and masculinity looks like in feminist thought. Bell hooks is pretty tough on the misandrist feminists in here and talks mostly about how patriarchy victimizes men via dehumanization and assigned gender roles and how feminist ideology and theory has largely been unable to talk about that. This was a very very interesting read that I will be thinking about for a while. Content warning for discussions of abuse and sexual assault though. Also note that bell hooks largely exclusively uses bioessentialist and gender binary language here.
Profile Image for Paya.
297 reviews263 followers
July 21, 2022
bell hooks pięknie, z pasją, zaangażowaniem i pewnością siebie pisze o mężczyznach w patriarchacie. Wszystkich nas patriarchat krzywdzi, a w tej pozycji autorka przygląda się temu, jak w patriarchacie cierpią mężczyźni, analizuje – odwołując się do różnych źródeł, czy to popkultury, czy literatury fachowej – męski ból, to, co ten ból z nimi robi, jak wywołuje agresję, wściekłość, przemoc i przede wszystkim oderwanie od ich prawdziwego ja. To bardzo uważna analiza toksycznej męskości i tego, jak o tej toksyczności cierpią nie tylko kobiety, ale też mężczyźni. Mimo że ksią��ka ukazała się dobrych parę lat temu, ciągle zachęca do przemyśleń. I chociaż jest osadzona w binarności i w dużej mierze w heteronormie, bardzo wiele można z niej wynieść, a mnie szczególnie zainteresowała analiza bell hooks strażniczek patriarchatu i tego, jak samotne matki często krzywdzą swoich synów. Jednak to, co mnie autentycznie zachwyca w bell hooks jest jej zdolność do empatii bez wybielania i negowania negatywnych skutków postępowań. Chciałabym być kiedyś tak dojrzała.
Profile Image for Ben Zimmerman.
964 reviews4 followers
April 26, 2017
I have complicated feelings about this book. I really strongly agreed with parts of it, but there were also parts that completely missed the mark for me. I wonder if some of the gap between myself and the author is generational. The men that have been present throughout my life are not nearly so callus or emotionally blocked off as the ones described in the book. It also emphasized spirituality and the soul too much for my taste, and I felt that those aspects strongly undermined the arguments in a few chapters. I agree that we condition most boys to be patriarchal men, and that there are many emotionally repressed men around us as a result. I also feel like healing will only be possible through compassion. I think I agree with both the underlying idea and the ultimate goal of the book, but I still found it frustrating and somewhat out of touch. I suspect I'm just not the target audience here.
Profile Image for Holly.
578 reviews
August 22, 2022
I found valuable insights in this work, but I also found significant flaws. For starters, I was irritated that there were no citations or bibliography for the works hooks quotes. I get that this is intended to be a popular work, but all that scholarly stuff is really easy to ignore in a book if you don't care about it--people do it all the time--and really hard to do without if you want it. I also found a few significant editing errors.

But mostly I was bugged at the frequency with which hooks makes grandiose, superlative statements that have no real support and don't actually withstand scrutiny. For instance, she writes, “Whether watching daytime soap operas, a porn channel, or X-rated movies, children in our nation are more aware of the body and of sexuality than ever before” (77).

Really? Seriously? What basis is there for making this claim? Plenty of children in the past grew up on farms and knew quite a bit about the sexual habits of a range of animals. Plenty of children grew up in one-room cabins or tenements; if anyone in the household had sex, everyone would have been in the room for it. People were born, got ill, convalesced, died, and were prepared for burial AT HOME, and kids would have seen bodies in such states.

hooks also writes, "Sexist roles restrict the identity formation of male and female children, but the process is far more damaging to boys because not only are the roles required of them more rigid and confining, but they are much more likely to receive severe punishment when they deviate from those roles" (154).

What? What evidence does she have for this claim? And is it even a competition? Do we need to label "the process" as "far more damaging" for boys than for girls?

There's all sorts of anecdotal evidence to suggest that hooks is wrong--for starters, the fact that boyish misbehavior is often brushed off with the adage that "boys will be boys," and no corresponding adage exists for girls. There is the expectation still common in conservative religious communities that girls will want nothing more than to grow up and be wives and mothers, and that in those roles, they will defer to men. Girls who refuse can be beaten, locked up, and, in really repressive situations, married to men three times their age. There is scholarly evidence about the extent to which girls' self-esteem plunges as they age, in ways boys don't experience. There is the body loathing girls experience at a higher rate than boys. There is the fact that girls are three times more likely than boys to self-harm. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahael...

There's even an article and video in today's NY Times about the way menstruating girls are treated as untouchable in Nepal. Girls on their periods aren't even allowed to look at boys or men, because it's believed that the glance of a menstruating girl is so defiling that it can kill males. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/op...

But even aside from all that evidence, you can look at those facts without saying that girls' gender socialization is more damaging than boys. You can just talk about how bad it is and not assume that girls' shitty lives means all boys are doing great, which is a claim I have never heard a feminist make, so I don't know why hooks needs to make the inverse claim for boys' greater harm.

It's sloppy and lazy and it means that "The Will to Change" is not, as the cover proclaims, actually a work of social science, because it doesn't even aspire to social scientific methodology. Instead, it's a sermon or moral philosophy, and not especially thoughtful or careful moral philosophy.

hooks also blames women more than men for the perpetuation of patriarchy for a variety of reasons: she asserts that "most of us learned patriarchal attitudes in our family of origin, and they were usually taught to us by our mothers" (23). So women have to be the ones to teach kids something else.

The catch is that when men have been educated about alternate ways of being, "Most men chose not to change” (127). hooks doesn't adequately deal with this fact; instead, she lists more ways that women don't fix men. For one thing, not enough feminists write feminist novels--because there's such a huge market for them?

It's not a terrible book, but it's not nearly as good as it could be, and I'm just so disappointed.
Profile Image for Eli.
159 reviews
September 5, 2021
A book that I feel really shows its age. This work is close to 20 years old, and reads like it.

The focus is essentually that men must do the transformative work of performing "feminist masculinity", which is meant to be a counterpoint to everything patriarchal. My main issue with this text is bell never seems to back up her assertions with quality evidence.

Often she makes blanket statements about men as a whole that seem to be heavily informed by her personal experiences with men. Additionally, her attempts to link her arguments to pop culture and media are clumsy and overwrought.

I will say, I appreciate her taking the time to point out ways men are hurt by patriarchal structures, as well as noting that the more militant arenas of feminism do not make space for men to share pain and grow. However, even this latter subject is treated with a slight air of condescension, sort of a "I'm-not-like-other-feminists" attitude.

As someone who marks themselves as a queer gender abolitionist of sorts, I found this book to be very heteronormative in how it describes relationships/family structures, as well as being completely focused on cis men.

Finally, the writing itself was just sorta bland and felt repetitive at times. Overall, bell tried and failed to present a few decent arguments without ever really setting out actual *steps* to assist men in their growth through love.
Profile Image for Helly.
201 reviews3,545 followers
April 13, 2020
hooks has a way of rejecting the ideas of what masculinity has meant over the millennia to encompass it in a domain that is much more realistic and humanly, enabling men and women alike to love and know men better, and in turn, love them better.
Profile Image for Z. F..
298 reviews93 followers
November 10, 2017
“Our work of love should be to reclaim masculinity and not allow it to be held hostage to patriarchal domination. There is a creative, life-sustaining, life-enhancing place for the masculine in a nondominator culture. And those of us committed to ending patriarchy can touch the hearts of real men where they live, not by demanding that they give up manhood or maleness, but by asking that they allow its meaning to be transformed, that they become disloyal to patriarchal masculinity in order to find a place for the masculine that does not make it synonymous with domination or the will to do violence.”
-ch. 7, “Feminist Manhood” (pg. 115)

Though feminist ideology is more widely-accepted and commonplace than ever in American society and concepts such as “patriarchy” and “toxic masculinity” are now acknowledged by a growing number of men as well as women, there’s often a bit of an elephant in the room when we talk about maleness today. It’s clear enough that the old models of masculinity are deeply and dangerously flawed, but how exactly should men (and the women who must, for better or worse, interact with them) move forward into the future?

On the one hand, it’s absolutely right and necessary that we reject harmful and repressive notions of manhood and call out those who enforce them; on the other, in a society where even the most sympathetic and “progressive” men have been inundated with those notions for most of their lives (to say nothing of those who proudly resist feminist doctrine and actively work to undermine it), it can be difficult even to believe that meaningful and lasting change is possible on a large scale. To many women--and even some men--it begins to feel at times as if the species would be better off just ditching men and their complexes altogether.

But since that’s not really an option (well, for that and many other reasons), we’re lucky to have bell hooks. Writing a decade and a half ago, when feminism’s third wave was on the wane and feminist-aligned men were still something of a rarity, hooks saw the need for a feminist literature which acknowledges the corrosive effects of patriarchy on all genders and speaks to men as potential co-revolutionaries rather than opponents. It’s something of a cliché now to say that feminism is good for men as well as women, but when The Will to Change was published that was far from a foregone conclusion. This was one of the first significant works not only to grapple with the emotional and psychological effects of patriarchal thinking on boys and men, but also to propose potential solutions and new models of behavior that would include and even celebrate maleness without degrading or sidelining women in the process.

Over the course of the book hooks traces patriarchal thinking through all the major spheres of male life--family, work, sex, etc.--and delineates the various ways in which men are taught to enact patriarchy in each of these settings. The prevailing idea is one of suppression: men are taught to disown or at least shove down their emotions (with the exception of anger, which is the easiest to channel into patriarchal pursuits), to avoid intimacy of all kinds, and to find whatever meaning they yearn for in their work or in the rigid and unfeeling ideals of masculine duty and honor. Men are taught that violence and domination are the only truly “manly” means to get what they want or to solve problems, and often resort to violence (be it physical or emotional) in domestic life because they have never learned to effectively communicate or take responsibility for their actions. In a sense, the patriarchal man is quite deliberately kept--and willfully keeps himself--in an infantile psychological state, lashing out or shutting down at the slightest provocation because he knows no better way of moving through the world. And the world (including, in many cases, the mother or female partner who loves him) rewards him for it.

While of course the primary--and intended--victims of patriarchy are women, hooks argues that it’s wrong to think of the system in purely binary, “oppressor vs. oppressed” terms. Though men do wield power over women in virtually all social contexts, it’s nonetheless true that the majority of men (men of color, working-class men, and LGBTQ men, to name a few examples) are still far from “powerful” in a broader sense. If the patriarchy values men only insofar as they are able to provide for themselves and their families, to wield power over others, and to command respect from their so-called “inferiors,” then men who can do none of these things are considered valueless and disposable. They may try to buckle down on those patriarchal behaviors they can control (violence, suppression of emotions, resistance to intimacy) in order to gain some modicum of (self-)respect, but it’s a vicious cycle that can only ever end in more pain and dissatisfaction for all involved. (And of course a life of stunted emotions and relationships will never really be satisfying or fulfilling to anyone, no matter their privilege--though we should not let our pity blind us to the more pressing needs of women, or lead us to believe that patriarchal men are not still culpable for the damage they do to others.)

The banner of social justice has progressed fairly significantly since 2004, and there are admittedly parts of hooks’ book that read as somewhat dated today. Trans issues are neglected completely, and she repeatedly refers to men in trans-exclusionary terms such as “the self that has a penis.” Some of her points are more obvious (though certainly no less true) now than they probably were when she was writing, and of course the whole idea of the feminist man working to unlearn and dismantle patriarchy is slightly less novel in 2017 than it was at the turn of the millennium. Nevertheless, given that American culture at large is only just now making its first faltering strides towards, for instance, exposing sexual abuse on a large scale or providing women of color a place at the feminist table, and considering our continued resistance towards equal pay, freedom of choice, and political/cultural representation for women (to name only a few key issues), hooks more often comes across as a imminently timely prophet than an artifact of another age.

In writing The Will to Change, hooks’ main objective is to diagnose the sickness and to catalog some of its lesser-known side effects; but, as the title suggests, she at least starts us on the way towards a prescription, too. Ultimately, she says, healing will come about as a result of radical love. Love by those men who are willing to transcend the suffocating limitations of patriarchal suppression and performance, and also love towards men, on the part of their parents, partners, and any who recognize the universal burden of patriarchy and are willing to do what they can to help remove it. Far from excusing the evils of patriarchal thinking or dismissing the accountability of men for their actions, hooks pleads for men and those responsible for indoctrinating them to acknowledge their own complicity in the problem, to make amends with a world wounded by patriarchy, and to choose consciously to defy a system designed solely to stifle and destroy. That’s the “will to change” of the title, and it’s the only way, hooks says, to bring about healing and initiate a new masculinity that is as freeing, affectionate, and constructive as the old model is not.

I think she’s right, and I’ll do whatever I can to bring about that vision in my own life and those of the men and women I love.
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39 reviews6 followers
October 5, 2021
Let me just count down my top "omg omg moments" from while reading this book (listed in a random order here):
1. bell hooks taking a strong stance for advocating feminism as the only way to dismantle patriarchy.
2. The examination of the role of maternal sadism in inciting adult male violence against women. I was totally knocked off by this portion of the book where bell hooks writes about how mothers/female figures within families timely intervening and protecting children from patriarchal violence - and providing them with the necessary emotional care - can shape the boys into the type of men they become.
3. The expert chapter-wise deconstructing of how patriarchy works, and how it destroys the emotional capacity of men to love and connect and grow.
4. The need for men to explore their identities and live integrated lives. (I've wildly highlighted many points from this part of the book.)
5. The analysis of the dominator model internalised by men.

Overall, I'd like to appreciate bell hooks for the kindness and compassion she communicated throughout the book, and her reaffirmation for change and the willingness to change.

I give this book four stars instead of five because I felt like bell hooks should have emphasized the importance of personal accountability when it comes to male violence/harm with the same, or at least enough, intensity with which she wrote about male pain. Also, the two chapters preceding the last one had points which were already discussed earlier in the book and weren't really necessary here.

Lastly, this is a book I'll surely find myself coming back to over and over, as I navigate my way through patriarchal systems of power.

Highly, highly recommended.
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