bell hooks (2000)
“Feminist Politics: Where We Stand”

Photo of a young bell hooks, Black feminist scholar. She looks into the camera. Her chin rests on her hand.

You will complete two short readings for this module and watch a documentary.  First, bell hooks’s “Feminist Politics: Where We Stand” defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”.  bell hooks is a Black feminist scholar from Kentucky. Born Gloria Jean Watkins, she uses the name bell hooks in honour of her maternal great grandmother. She rejects the use of capitalization because she wants the focus to be on her ideas — not her identity or her name. hooks writes about race, class, and sexism as structures of oppression, and remains an influential voice in feminist cultural criticism.

As you read:

  • Pay attention to how hooks differentiates between reformist (or liberal) and revolutionary (or radical) feminism and their distinct visions for equality and “gender justice”
  • Pay attention to how hooks characterizes the women’s movement as diverse
  • Think about what kind of feminist movement hooks envisions 
  • Note that bell hooks does not capitalize her name. As such, you should use a lowercase ‘b’ and ‘h’ whenever you type her name. 
  • Note that hooks uses the language of ‘male’ and ‘female’ — this is common in feminist literature. Yet, there is an increasing recognition among feminist scholars that these biological categories do not accurately describe people’s social and political identities. Using biological language can unintentionally exclude trans, intersex, and non-binary folks who do not associate their identity with their body parts. We will try to avoid biological language in favour of terms that get at social concepts including gender and gender identity.

“Status Quo: The Unfinished Business of Feminism”
1 h 27 minutes

Second, you will watch Status Quo: The Unfinished Business of Feminism by Karen Cho. This film is made available by the National Film Board of Canada.

As you read:

  • Focus on how the filmmaker describes the significance of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW). Why is the RCSW important for the women’s movement in Canada?
  • Note tensions, divisions, and exclusions in the women’s movement in Canada.
  • Which issues are unresolved? Have key priorities for the women’s movement in Canada changed? If so, how?

content warning: this film features discussions of intimate partner violence or domestic violence. Please exercise your discretion if you are a survivor of domestic violence.

Leslie Feinberg (1998),
“We are All Works in Progress”
A photo in black and white of Leslie Feinberg speaking to a crowd gathered in the rain.

Leslie Feinberg (1949-2014) was a white trans lesbian, an anti-racist, and a member of working-class and secular Jewish communities.  Feinberg, who embraced the feminine pronouns she/her and the gender neutral zie/hir (pronounced zee and here), was a revolutionary writer and activist. She confronted serious illness throughout hir life. In the essay you’ll read, “We are All Works in Progress”, Feinberg describes hir experience of discrimination while seeking medical care.  Feinberg’s novel, Stone Butch Blues, is a classic text in queer, trans, and feminist communities. According to hir website, Feinberg worked tirelessly at the end of her life to make Stone Butch Blues available online, for free. You can download a copy on Leslie Feinberg’s website.

In “We are All Works in Progress,” Feinberg argues that “trans liberation is for everyone”. By trans liberation, Feinberg means freedom from binary ideas about sex and gender that associate male bodies with masculinity, and female bodies with femininity. Calling attention to those who live outside sex/gender binaries, Feinberg writes: “Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps” (195). 

As you read:

  • Pay attention to how Feinberg describes the relationship between the trans liberation movement and the women’s movement. 
  • Reflect on how Feinberg describes trans liberation as a movement for everybody. Do you agree?