“Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”

by bell hooks

1981 South End Press

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 civil rights/freedom movement, and the racist nature of the white feminist movement. It’s a good book for all of these reasons.

However, bell hooks has said that she doesn’t really like this book anymore, and it’s clear that there are some weaknesses here. For example, she makes an abundance of generalizations, and doesn’t provide enough specific stories or information, which would be a more compelling read. Another criticism I had was that some of the topics she discusses at length (like refuting the ‘matriarchal myth’ that black women supposedly dominate and feminize black males) seem less important than others which could have been expanded on more (like the way black women were silenced when involved in the 70s feminist movement). Perhaps her focus was a reaction to the issues that were important in the late 70s when she wrote the book though, I cannot say.

Overall, this is recommended, but I’m eager to read some of her later and more acclaimed books, like Feminism from Margin to Center.