bell hooks

Gloria Jean Watkins (born September 25, 1952), better known by her pen name bell hooks,[1] is an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist. The name "bell hooks" is borrowed from her maternal great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.[2]

bell hooks
Bell hooks, October 2014.jpg
bell hooks in October 2014
Gloria Jean Watkins

(1952-09-25) September 25, 1952 (age 69)
Known forOppositional gaze
Contributions to critical pedagogy
Notable work
  • Veodis Watkins
  • Rosa Bell Watkins

The focus of hooks's writing has been the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She has published more than 30 books and numerous scholarly articles, appeared in documentary films, and participated in public lectures. She has addressed race, class, gender, art, history, sexuality, mass media, and feminism.[3] In 2014, she founded the bell hooks Institute at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.[4]


Early lifeEdit

Gloria Jean Watkins was born in 1952 in Hopkinsville, a small, segregated town in Kentucky, to a working-class African-American family. Watkins was one of six children born to Rosa Bell Watkins (née Oldham) and Veodis Watkins. Her father worked as a janitor and her mother worked as a maid in the homes of white families.[3] An avid reader, Watkins was educated in racially segregated public schools, later writing that this is where she had experienced education as the practice of freedom. She describes the great adversities she faced when making the transition to an integrated school, where teachers and students were predominantly white. She graduated from Hopkinsville High School before obtaining her BA in English from Stanford University in 1973, and her MA in English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976.[5] During this time at 19 Watkins was writing her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism which was officially published in 1981.[6]

In 1983, after several years of teaching and writing, she completed her doctorate in literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a dissertation on author Toni Morrison.


Her teaching career began in 1976 as an English professor and senior lecturer in Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California.[7] During her three years there, Golemics, a Los Angeles publisher, released her first published work, a chapbook of poems titled And There We Wept (1978), written under the name "bell hooks". She adopted her maternal great-grandmother's name as a pen name because her great-grandmother "was known for her snappy and bold tongue, which [she] greatly admired". She put the name in lowercase letters "to distinguish [herself from] her great-grandmother." She said that her unconventional lowercasing of her name signifies what is most important is her works: the "substance of books, not who I am."[8]

She taught at several post-secondary institutions in the early 1980s and 1990s, including the University of California, Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University, Yale, Oberlin College and City College of New York.[9] In 1981 South End Press published her first major work, Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, though it was written years earlier while she was an undergraduate student.[10] In the decades since its publication, Ain't I a Woman? has gained widespread recognition as an influential contribution to feminist thought.[11]

Ain't I a Woman? examines several recurring themes in her later work: the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women, devaluation of black womanhood, media roles and portrayal, the education system, the idea of a white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, the marginalization of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism. Since the publication of Ain't I a Woman?, she has become significant as a leftist and postmodern political thinker and cultural critic. She targets and appeals to a broad audience by presenting her work in a variety of media using various writing and speaking styles. In addition to having written books, she has published articles in numerous scholarly and mainstream magazines, lectured at widely accessible venues, and appeared in various documentaries.[citation needed]

bell hooks in 2009

She is frequently cited by feminists[12][13][14] as having provided a good definition of "feminism": "A movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression".[15]

She has published more than 30 books, ranging in topics from black men, patriarchy, and masculinity to self-help; engaged pedagogy to personal memoirs; and sexuality (in regards to feminism and politics of aesthetic/visual culture). A prevalent theme in her most recent writing is the community and communion, the ability of loving communities to overcome race, class, and gender inequalities. In three conventional books and four children's books, she suggests that communication and literacy (the ability to read, write, and think critically) are crucial to developing healthy communities and relationships that are not marred by race, class, or gender inequalities.[citation needed]

She has held positions as Professor of African-American Studies and English at Yale University, Associate Professor of Women's Studies and American Literature at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and as Distinguished Lecturer of English Literature at the City College of New York.

In 2002, hooks gave a commencement speech at Southwestern University. Eschewing the congratulatory mode of traditional commencement speeches, she spoke against what she saw as government-sanctioned violence and oppression, and admonished students who she believed went along with such practices. This was followed by a controversy described in the Austin Chronicle.[16][17] The newspaper reported that many in the audience booed the speech, though "several graduates passed over the provost to shake her hand or give her a hug".[16]

In 2004, she joined Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, as Distinguished Professor in Residence,[18] where she participated in a weekly feminist discussion group, "Monday Night Feminism"; a luncheon lecture series, "Peanut Butter and Gender"; and a seminar, "Building Beloved Community: The Practice of Impartial Love". Her 2008 book, belonging: a culture of place, includes an interview with author Wendell Berry as well as a discussion of her move back to Kentucky.[19] She has undertaken three scholar-in-residences at The New School. She did one for a week in October 2014, engaging in public dialogues with Gloria Steinem,[20] Laverne Cox,[21] and Cornel West.


A bell hooks quote graffiti (translated to Armenian) on a wall in Yerevan in the days leading up to Armenia's Velvet Revolution. The original quote is "To be oppressed means to be deprived of your ability to choose."

Those who have influenced hooks include African-American abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth (whose speech Ain't I a Woman? inspired her first major work), Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (whose perspectives on education she embraces in her theory of engaged pedagogy), Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, psychologist Erich Fromm, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, African-American writer James Baldwin, Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, African-American black nationalist leader Malcolm X, and African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (who addresses how the strength of love unites communities).[22][23] She says of Martin Luther King Jr.'s notion of a beloved community, "He had a profound awareness that the people involved in oppressive institutions will not change from the logics and practices of domination without engagement with those who are striving for a better way."[24]

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of FreedomEdit

In her 1994 book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, hooks writes about a transgressive approach in education where educators can teach students to "transgress" against what she sees as racial, sexual, and class boundaries.[25] She sees the classroom as a source of constraint but also a potential source of liberation. She argues that teachers' use of control and power over students dulls the students' enthusiasm and teaches obedience to authority, "confin[ing] each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning."[26] She advocates that universities should encourage students and teachers to transgress, and seeks ways to use collaboration to make learning more relaxing and exciting. She describes teaching as a performative act and teachers as catalysts that invite everyone to become more engaged and activated. According to hooks, the performative aspect of learning "offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom."[25] She dedicates a chapter of the book to Paulo Freire, written in a form of a dialogue between herself, Gloria Watkins, and her writing voice, bell hooks.[27] In the last chapter of the book, hooks raises the question of eros or the erotic in classroom environments. According to hooks, eros and the erotic do not need to be denied for learning to take place. She argues that one of the central tenets of feminist pedagogy has been to subvert the mind-body dualism and allow oneself as a teacher to be whole in the classroom, and as a consequence wholehearted.[28]

Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of HopeEdit

In 2004, 10 years after the success of Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks published Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. In this book, hooks offers advice about how to continue to make the classroom what she sees as a place that is life-sustaining and mind expanding, a place of liberating mutuality where teacher and student together work in partnership.[29] She writes that education as a practice of freedom enables us to confront feelings of loss and restore our sense of connections and consequently teaches us how to create community.[29]

Feminist TheoryEdit

In 1984, hooks published Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center . Here she argues that popular feminist theory has marginalized diverse voices, and states: "To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body."[30] She argues that it is impossible for feminism to make women equal to men because in Western society not all men are equal. She says, "Women in lower class and poor groups, particularly those who are non-white, would not have defined women's liberation as women gaining social equality with men since they are continually reminded in their everyday lives that all women do not share a common social status."[31]

She offers what she sees as a new, more inclusive feminist theory. Her theory encourages the long-standing idea of sisterhood, but advocates that women acknowledge their differences while accepting each other. She urges feminists to consider gender's relation to race, class, and sex, a concept which came to be known as intersectionality. She argues for the importance of male involvement in the movement toward equality, as necessary for change to occur. She calls for a restructuring of the cultural framework of power to one that does not find the oppression of others necessary.[32]

Part of this restructuring involves accepting men into the feminist movement, so that a separationist ideology is discouraged in favor of an inclusive one. Additionally, hooks wants feminism to move away from the predominant views of bourgeois white women and toward a movement of varied social classes, and both genders, for the raising up of women.[33]

Another part of restructuring the movement involves education: hooks observes that there is an anti-intellectual bias among the masses. Poor people do not want to hear from intellectuals, according to hooks, because they are different and have different ideas. This bias against intellectuals leads the poor to shun those people of poor backgrounds who have risen up to graduation from post-secondary education, because they are no longer like the rest of the masses. In order for society to achieve equality, hooks says people must be able to learn from those who have been able to break these stereotypes. This separation of the poor from their potential teachers leads to further inequality, according to hooks, and in order for the feminist movement to succeed, it must be able to bridge the education gap and relate to those in the lower end of the economic sphere. In the chapter "Rethinking The Nature of Work", hooks criticizes those in the feminist movement who "do not have radical political perspectives" and accept the existing economic structure, especially when they are successful within it.[34]

Media theoryEdit

In her book Reel to Real, hooks discusses the effect that movies have on the individual, with specific emphasis on the black female spectator. She argues that, although we know that movies are not real life, "no matter how sophisticated our strategies of critique and intervention, [we] are usually seduced, at least for a time, by the images we see on the screen. They have power over us, and we have no power over them."[35]

She focuses on what she sees as problematic racial representations. She describes her experiences growing up watching mainstream movies and other media and believes that film's representations have largely negated the black female.[35] She states, "Representation is the 'hot' issue right now because it's a major realm of power for any system of domination. We keep coming back to the question of representation because identity is always about representation".[35]

"The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators"Edit

In her book Black Looks: Race and Representation, in the chapter "The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators", hooks discusses what she calls an "oppositional gaze". She describes it as a way for black people, especially black women, to develop a critical approach to mass media. Writing that for her this "gaze" had always been political, hooks says that the idea began when she thought about incidents of black slaves being punished merely for gazing at their white owners. She wondered how much such experience had been absorbed and carried through the generations to affect black spectatorship and black parenting.[36] hooks writes that because she remembered how she had dared to look at adults as a child, even though she was forbidden to, she knew that slaves had looked too.[37] Drawing on Michel Foucault's thoughts about power always coexisting with the possibility of resistance, hooks discusses this looking as a form of resistance, as a way of finding voice and declaring: "Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality."[38]

She writes that when black people started watching films and television in the United States, they realized that mass media was part of the system of white supremacy, and thus watching became a space for black people to develop a critical spectatorship; an oppositional gaze. Prior to racial integration, according to hooks, black viewers "... experienced visual pleasure in a context where looking was also about contestation and confrontation."[39] However, she avers that this spectatorship was quite different for black women than for black men. According to hooks, black men could renounce the racism of the screen images while also imagining "phallocentric" power by objectifying the white female cast as the object of male desire; privately rebelling against a reality in which black men were punished for publicly gazing at white women.[40]

For hooks, black women's spectatorship was more complicated. In a media environment that was both racist and sexist, black female bodies were largely absent from early motion pictures and, when present, were there in maidservant roles to "... enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze."[40][41] The response of many black women, according to hooks, was to turn away in alienation from such images..[42] Another was to evade conflict and be entertained by identifying with the white female object of desire.[43] A third possibility was the oppositional gaze, a willingness to stare critically at the on-screen images with the intent to change reality.[44]

According to hooks, the more black women are able to construct themselves as subjects rather than objects in daily life, the more they are likely to develop an oppositional gaze.[45] This process is affected in turn by the representation of black women in mass media. Thus, hooks stresses the importance of black female film makers such as Julie Dash, Ayoka Chenzira, and Zeinabu Davis among others.[46]


  • Black Is... Black Ain't (1994)
  • Give a Damn Again (1995)
  • Cultural Criticism and Transformation (1997)
  • My Feminism (1997)
  • Voices of Power (1999)
  • BaadAsssss Cinema (2002)
  • I Am a Man: Black Masculinity in America (2004)
  • Writing About a Revolution: A Talk (2004)
  • Happy to Be Nappy and Other Stories of Me (2004)
  • Is Feminism Dead? (2004)
  • Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action (2008)
  • Occupy Love (2012)
  • Hillbilly (2019)

Awards and nominationsEdit

  • Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics: The American Book Awards/ Before Columbus Foundation Award (1991)
  • Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism: "One of the twenty most influential women's books in the last 20 years" by Publishers Weekly (1992)
  • bell hooks: The Writer's Award from the Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest Fund (1994)
  • Happy to Be Nappy: NAACP Image Award nominee (2001)
  • Homemade Love: The Bank Street College Children's Book of the Year (2002)
  • Salvation: Black People and Love: Hurston Wright Legacy Award nominee (2002)
  • bell hooks: Utne Reader's "100 Visionaries Who Could Change Your Life"
  • bell hooks: The Atlantic Monthly's "One of our nation's leading public intellectuals"
  • PEN/Hemingway Award
  • National Book Award for Fiction
  • Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Select bibliographyEdit


  • And there we wept: poems. 1978. OCLC 6230231.
  • hooks, bell (1981). Ain't I a Woman?: Black women and feminism. ISBN 978-0-89608-129-1.
  • hooks, bell (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. ISBN 978-0-89608-613-5.
Throughout the book the author explores various manifestations of her central contentions that early feminist theory and practice was limited in scope, and that true feminist movement has the potential vastly to improve the lives of men and women alike.

Children's booksEdit

Book chaptersEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Dinitia Smith (September 28, 2006). "Tough arbiter on the web has guidance for writers". The New York Times. p. E3. But the Chicago Manual says it is not all right to capitalize the name of the writer bell hooks because she insists that it be lower case.
  2. ^ hooks, bell, "Inspired Eccentricity: Sarah and Gus Oldham" in Sharon Sloan Fiffer and Steve Fiffer (eds), Family: American Writers Remember Their Own, New York: Vintage Books, 1996, p. 152.

    hooks, bell, Talking Back, Routledge, 2014 [1989], p. 161.

  3. ^ a b "Bell Hooks Biography - life, childhood, children, name, school, mother, young, book, information, born". Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  4. ^ "About the bell hooks institute". bell hooks institute. Archived from the original on April 25, 2016. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  5. ^ Scanlon, Jennifer (1999). Significant Contemporary American Feminists: A Biographical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 125–132. ISBN 978-0313301254.
  6. ^ "bell hooks | Biography, Books, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
  7. ^ Anderson, Gary L.; Anderson, Kathryn G (2007). hooks, bell (1952– ) (vol. 2 ed.). SAGE Reference. pp. 704–706.
  8. ^ Heather Williams (March 26, 2013). "bell hooks Speaks Up". The Sandspur – via Issuu.
  9. ^ "bell hooks." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Accessed June 12, 2018.
  10. ^ Teaching to Transgress, p. 52.
  11. ^ Google Scholar shows 894 citations of Ain't I a Woman (as of August 30, 2006).
  12. ^ Adams, Lauren (February 7, 2012). "Book Review: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks". Underneath a Book. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  13. ^ "10 Years of "Feminism is for Everybody"". Ms. Magazine Blog. September 7, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  14. ^ "Feminism is for Everybody: Further Discussion". A Year of Feminist Classics. February 8, 2012. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  15. ^ bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Pluto Press, 2000.
  16. ^ a b Apple, Lauri (May 24, 2002). "bell hooks Digs In". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  17. ^ "Postmarks - Southwestern Graduation Debacle". The Austin Chronicle. May 24, 2002. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  18. ^ Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Hooks, bell (January 1, 2009). Belonging: a culture of place. ISBN 9780415968157. OCLC 228676700.
  20. ^ Vagianos, Alanna (October 7, 2014). "Gloria Steinem On The Great Part Of Feminism: 'We Have Each Other's Backs'". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  21. ^ Scherker, Amanda (October 10, 2014). "Laverne Cox And bell hooks Talk How To Survive The Patriarchy". Huffington Post. Retrieved October 11, 2014.
  22. ^ Notes on IAPL 2001 Keynote Speaker, bell hooks Archived January 31, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Building a Community of Love, bell hooks & Thich Nhat Hanh
  24. ^ Brosi, George; Hooks, Bell (January 1, 2012). "The Beloved Community: A Conversation between bell hooks and George Brosi". Appalachian Heritage. 40 (4): 76–86. doi:10.1353/aph.2012.0109. ISSN 1940-5081. S2CID 144664893.
  25. ^ a b 1952-, hooks, bell (March 18, 2014). Teaching to transgress : education as the practice of freedom. New York. p. 11. ISBN 9781135200015. OCLC 877868009.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  26. ^ hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p. 12.
  27. ^ 1952-, hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to transgress : education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge. pp. 45–59. ISBN 978-0415908085. OCLC 30668295.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ hooks (1994). Teaching to transgress. New York: Routledge. p. 193. ISBN 9780415908085.
  29. ^ a b hooks, bell (2003). Teaching community : a pedagogy of hope. Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. XV. ISBN 9781135457921. OCLC 846494699.
  30. ^ hooks (1984), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, p. xvi.
  31. ^ hooks (1984), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
  32. ^ hooks (1984), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, p. 92.
  33. ^ hooks (1984), Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, p. 74.
  34. ^ hooks, bell (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. London: Pluto Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-89608-614-2.
  35. ^ a b c hooks (1996).
  36. ^ hooks, bell (1992). Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press. p. 115.
  37. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. pp. 115–116.
  38. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 116.
  39. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 117.
  40. ^ a b hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 118.
  41. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 119.
  42. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 120.
  43. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. pp. 120-121.
  44. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 122.
  45. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. p. 127.
  46. ^ hooks (1992). Black Looks. pp. 128–131.
  47. ^ a b "bell hooks". Loyal Jones Appalachian Center. This may be a working title. See talk page.

Cited sourcesEdit

  • hooks, bell (2005). "Black women: shaping feminist theory". In Cudd, Ann E.; Andreasen, Robin O. (eds.). Feminist theory: a philosophical anthology. Oxford, UK; Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 60–68. ISBN 9781405116619.
  • hooks, bell (1992). Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press.
  • hooks, bell (1996). Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-91824-4.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit