Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Start and finish your day with Laughter - Osho

Osho Laughing Buddha Meditation in Video

When a child is born, the first social activity that the child learns — or maybe it is not right to say learns, because he brings it with himself — is smiling. The first social activity. By smiling he becomes part of society. It seems very natural, spontaneous. Other things will come later on — that is his first spark of being in the world, when he smiles. When a mother sees her child smiling, she becomes tremendously happy...because that smile shows health, that smile shows intelligence, that smile shows that the child is not stupid, not retarded. That smile shows that the child is going to live, love, be happy. The mother is simply thrilled.

Smiling is the first social activity, and should remain the basic social activity. One should go on laughing the whole of one’s life.

If you can laugh in all sorts of situations, you will become so capable of encountering them — and that encounter will bring maturity to you.

I am not saying don’t weep. In fact, if you cannot laugh, you cannot weep. They go together; they are part of one phenomenon: of being true and authentic.

There are millions of people whose tears have dried; their eyes have lost luster, depth; their eyes have lost water — because they cannot weep, they cannot cry; tears cannot flow naturally. If laughter is crippled, tears are also crippled.

Only a person who laughs well can weep well.

And if you can weep and laugh well, you are alive. The dead man cannot laugh and cannot weep. The dead man can be serious. Watch: go and look at a corpse — the dead man can be serious in a more skillful way than you can be. Only an alive man can laugh and weep and cry.

These are moods of your inner being, these are climates — enriching. But, by and by, everybody forgets. That which was natural in the beginning becomes unnatural. You need somebody to poke you into laughter, tickle you into laughter; only then do you laugh. That’s why so many jokes exist in the world.

Laughter brings strength. Now, even medical science says that laughter is one of the most deep-going medicines nature has provided man with.

If you can laugh when you are ill you will get your health back sooner.

If you cannot laugh, even if you are healthy, sooner or later you will lose your health and you will become ill.

Laughter brings some energy from your inner source to your surface. Energy starts flowing, follows laughter like a shadow. Have you watched it?

When you really laugh, for those few moments you are in a deep meditative state.

Thinking stops. It is impossible to laugh and think together. They are diametrically opposite: either you can laugh or you can think. If you really laugh, thinking stops. If you are still thinking, laughter will be just so-so, it will be just so-so, lagging behind. It will be a crippled laughter.

When you really laugh, suddenly mind disappears. As far as I know, dancing and laughter are the best, natural, easily approachable doors. If you really dance, thinking stops. You go on and on, you whirl and whirl, and you become a whirlpool: all boundaries, all divisions are lost. You don’t even know where your body ends and where the existence begins. You melt into existence and the existence melts into you; there is an overlapping of boundaries. And if you are really dancing — not managing it but allowing it to manage you, allowing it to possess you — if you are possessed by dance, thinking stops.

The same happens with laughter. If you are possessed by laughter, thinking stops. And if you know a few moments of no-mind, those glimpses will promise you many more rewards that are going to come. You just have to become more and more of the sort, of the quality, of no-mind. More and more, thinking has to be dropped.

Laughter can be a beautiful introduction to a non-thinking state.

The moment you feel that sleep is gone, first start laughing, then open the eyes — and that will set a trend for the whole day.

If you can laugh early in the morning you will laugh the whole day.

You have created a chain effect; one thing leads to another. Laughter leads to more laughter.

Almost always I have seen people doing just the wrong thing. From the very early morning they get out of bed complaining, gloomy, sad, depressed, miserable. Then one thing leads to another...and for nothing. And they get is very bad because it will change your climate for the whole day, it will set a pattern for the whole day.

Try it! Start and finish your day with laughter, and you will see, by and by, in between these two more and more laughter starts happening.
OSHO:A Sudden Clash of Thunder


People laugh at others, but never laugh at themselves. It has to be learned. If you can laugh at yourself, seriousness is already gone. It cannot make its abode within you if you are capable of laughing at yourself.

In Zen monasteries every monk has to laugh. The first thing in the morning to do is to laugh, the very first thing. The moment the monk becomes aware that he is no longer asleep, he has to jump out of bed, stand in a posture like a buffoon, like a circus joker, and start laughing, laughing at himself. There cannot be any better beginning of the day.

Laughing at oneself kills the ego and you are more transparent, more light, when you move in the world. And if you have laughed at yourself, then others' laughter toward you won't disturb you. In fact they are simply cooperating, they are doing the same thing that you were doing. You will feel happy.

To laugh at others is egoistic; to laugh at oneself is very humble. Learn to laugh at yourself-about your seriousness and things like that. You can get serious about seriousness. Then instead of one, you have created two diseases. Then you can get serious about that also, and you can go on and on. There is no end to it; it can go on ad nauseam.

So take hold of it from the very beginning. The moment you feel you are serious, laugh about it and look for where the seriousness is. Laugh, give a good laugh, close the eyes and look for where it is. You will not find it. It exists only in a being who cannot laugh.

A more unfortunate situation cannot be conceived, a poorer being cannot be conceived of, than the man who cannot laugh at himself. So start the morning by laughing at yourself, and whenever you can find a moment in the day when you have nothing to do, have a good laugh. For no particular reason-just because the whole world is so absurd, just because the way you are is so absurd. There is no need to find any particular reason, The whole thing is so absurd that one has to laugh.

Let the laughter be a belly laughter, not a head-thing. One can laugh from the head: then it is dead. From the head everything is dead; the head is absolutely mechanical. You can laugh from the head: then your head will create the laughter, but it will not go deep in the belly to the hara. It will not go to your toes, it will not go to your whole body. A real laugh is just like a small child laughs. Watch his belly shaking, his whole body throbbing with it-he wants to roll on the floor. It is a question of totality. He laughs so much that he starts crying; he laughs so deeply that the laughter becomes tears, tears come out of him. A laughter should be deep and total. This is the medicine that I prescribe for seriousness.

A laughter should be deep and total. This is the medicine that I prescribe for seriousness. You would like me to give you some serious medicine. That won't help. You have to be a little foolish. In fact, the highest pinnacle of wisdom always carries foolishness in it, the greatest wise men of the world were also the greatest fools.

It will be hard to understand. You cannot think that they can be fools because your mind always divides: a wise man can never be a fool, and a fool can never be a wise man. Both attitudes are wrong. There have been great fools who were very wise.

In the old days, in every king's court, there was a great fool-the court fool. He was a balancing force because too much wisdom can be foolish, too much of anything can be foolish. Somebody was needed who could bring things back to earth. A fool was needed in the kings' courts who would help them to laugh, otherwise wise people tend to become serious, and seriousness is an illness. Out of seriousness you lose proportion, you lose perspective. So every king's court had a fool, a great fool, who would say things and do things and bring things back to earth.

I have heard that one emperor had a fool. One day the emperor was looking in the mirror. The fool came, jumped, and hit him with his feet in the back. The emperor fell against the mirror. He was, of course, very angry and he said, "Unless you can give some reason for your foolish act which is more criminal than the act itself, you will be sentenced to death."
The fool said, "My Lord, I never thought that you were here. I thought the queen was standing here."
He had to be pardoned because he had given a reason that was even more foolish. But to find such a reason, the fool must have been very wise.

Every great wise man-Lao Tzu, Jesus-they have a certain quality of sublime foolishness. This has to be so because a wise man otherwise will be a man without salt, he will taste awful. He has to be a little foolish also. Then things are balanced. Look at Jesus-riding on a donkey and saying to people, "I am the Son of God." Look at it! He must have been both. People must have laughed: "What are you saying? Saying such things, and behaving in such a way...."

But I know that's how perfect wisdom appears. Lao Tzu says, "Everybody is wise, except me. I seem to be foolish. Everybody's mind is clear; only my mind seems to be murky and muddled. Everybody knows what to do and what not to do: only I am confused." What does he mean? He is saying that "In me, wisdom and foolishness meet together." And when wisdom and foolishness meet together, there is a transcendence.

So don't be serious about seriousness. Laugh about it, be a little foolish. Don't condemn foolishness; it has its own beauties. If you can be both, you will have a quality of transcendence within you.

The world has become more and more serious. Hence so much cancer, so much heart disease, so much high blood pressure, so much madness. The world has been moved, forced, towards one extreme too much. Be a little foolish also. Laugh a little, be like a child. Enjoy a little, don't carry a serious face everywhere, and suddenly you will find a deeper health arising in you-deeper sources of your health become available.

Have you ever heard about any fool who went mad? It has never happened. I have always been searching for a report of any foolish man who went mad. I have not come across one. Of course a fool cannot go mad because to be mad you need to be very serious. I have also been searching to see if fools are in any way prone to be more healthy than the so-called wise. And it is so: fools are more healthy than the so-called wise. They live in the moment and they know that they are fools, so they are not worried about what others think about them. That worry becomes a cancerous phenomenon in the mind and body. They live long, and they have the last laugh.

Remember that life should be a deep balancing, a very deep balancing. Then, just in the middle, you escape. The energy surges high, you start moving upwards. And this should be so about all opposites. Don't be a man and don't be a woman: be both, so that you can be neither. Don't be wise, don't be a fool: be both, so you go beyond.

[From Come Follow To You , Volume 1, #4]

Three types of Laughter -Osho

three types of laughter
It has to be understood that there are three types of laughter. The first is when you laugh at someone else. This is the meanest, the lowest, the most ordinary and vulgar when you laugh at the expense of somebody else. This is the violent, the aggressive, the insulting type Deep down this laughter there is always a feeling of revenge.

”The second type of laughter is when you laugh at yourself. This is worth achieving. This is cultured. And this man is valuable who can laugh at himself. He has risen above vulgarity. He has risen above lowly instincts – hatred, aggression, violence.

”And the third is the last – the highest. This is not about anybody – neither the other nor oneself. The third is just Cosmic. You laugh at the whole situation as it is. The whole situation, as it is, is absurd – no purpose in the future, no beginning in the beginning. The whole situation of Existence is such that if you can see the Whole – such a great infinite vastness moving toward no fixed purpose, no goal – laughter will arise. So much is going on without leading anywhere; nobody is there in the past to create it; nobody is there in the end to finish it.

Such is whole Cosmos – moving so beautifully, so systematically, so rationally. If you can see this whole Cosmos, then a laughter is inevitable. ”I have heard about three monks. No names are mentioned, because they never disclosed their names to anybody. They never answered anything.

In China, they are simply known as the three laughing monks. And they did only one thing: they would enter a village, stand in the market place and start laughing. They would laugh with their whole being and suddenly people would become aware. Then others would also get the infection and a crowd would gather. The whole crowd would start laughing just because of them. What was happening? The whole town would get involved. Then they would move to another town. ”They were loved very much. That was their only sermon, their only message; that laugh. And they would not teach; they would simply create a situation.

”Then it happened that they became famous all over the country. Three laughing monks. All of China loved them, respected them. Nobody had ever preached in such a way that life must be just a laughter and nothing else. They were not laughing at anyone in particular. They were simply laughing as if they had understood the Cosmic joke. And they spread so much joy all over China without using a single word. People would ask for their names, but they would simply laugh. So that became their name – the three laughing monks.

”Then they grew old. And while staying in one village. one of the three monks died. The whole village became very much expectant because they thought that when one of them had died, the other two would surely weep. This must be worth seeing because no one had ever seen these people weeping. The whole village gathered. But the two monks were standing beside the corpse of the third and laughing – such a belly laugh. So the villagers asked them to explain this.

”So for the first time, the two monks spoke and said, ’We are laughing because this man has won. We were always wondering as to who would die first and this man has defeated us. We are laughing at our defeat and his victory. Also he lived with us for many years and we laughed together and we enjoyed each other’s togetherness, presence. There can be no better way of giving him the last send off. We can only laugh.

”But the whole village was sad. And when the dead monk’s body was put on the funeral pyre, then the village realized that the remaining two monks were not the only ones who were joking, the third who was dead was also laughing. He had asked his companions not to change his clothes. It was conventional that when a man died they changed his dress and gave a bath to the body. So the third monk had said, ’Don’t give me a bath because I have never been unclean. So much laughter has been in my life that no impurity can accumulate, can come to me. I have not gathered any dust.

Laughter is always young and fresh. So don’t give me a bath and don’t change my clothes.’ ”So just to respect his wishes, they did not change his clothes. And when the body was put to fire, suddenly they became aware that he had hidden some Chinese fire-works under his clothes and they had started going off. So the whole village laughed and the other two monks said: ’You rascal, you are dead, but you have defeated us once again. Your laughter is the last.’

”There is a Cosmic laughter which comes into being when the whole joke of this Cosmos is understood. That is of the highest. And only a Buddha can laugh like that. These three monks must have been three Buddhas. But if you can laugh the second type of laughter, that is also worth trying. Avoid the first. Don’t laugh at anyone’s expense. That is ugly and violent. If you want to laugh, then laugh at yourself.

”That’s why Mulla Nasruddin, in all his jokes and stories, always proves himself the stupid one, never anybody else. He always laughs at himself and allows you to laugh at him. He never puts anybody else in the situation of being foolish. Sufis say that Mulla Nasrudin is the wise fool. Learn at least that much – the second laughter.

”If you can learn the second, then the third will not be far ahead. Soon you will reach the third. But leave the first type. That laughter is degrading. But almost ninety-nine percent of your laughter is of the first type. Much courage is needed to laugh at oneself. Much confidence is needed to laugh at oneself.

”For the spiritual seeker, even laughter should become a part of Sadhana. Remember to avoid the first type of laughter. Remember to laugh the second. And remember to reach the third.”

Laughter is eternal, life is eternal, celebration continues. Actors change but the drama continues. Waves change but the ocean continues. You laugh, you change--and somebody else laughs--but laughter continues. You celebrate, somebody else celebrates, but celebration continues.

Existence is continuous, it is a continuum. There is not a single moment's gap in it. No death is death, because every death opens a new door--it is a beginning. There is no end to life, there is always a new beginning, a resurrection.

If you change your sadness to celebration, then you will also be capable of changing your death into resurrection. So learn the art while there is still time.

I have heard about three Chinese mystics. Nobody knows their names now, and nobody ever knew their names. They were known only as the "Three Laughing Saints" because they never did anything else; they simply laughed.

These three people were really beautiful--laughing, and their bellies shaking. And then it would become an infection and others would start laughing. The whole marketplace would laugh. When just a few moments before, it was an ugly place where people were thinking only of money, suddenly these three mad people came and changed the quality of the whole marketplace. Now they had forgotten that they had come to purchase and sell. Nobody bothered about greed. For a few seconds a new world opened.

They moved all over China, from place to place, from village to village, just helping people to laugh. Sad people, angry people, greedy people, jealous people--they all started laughing with them. And many felt the key--you can be transformed.

Then, in one village it happened that one of the three died. Village people gathered and they said, "Now there will be trouble. Now we have to see how they laugh. Their friend has died; they must weep."

But when they came, the two were dancing, laughing and celebrating the death. The village people said, "Now this is too much. When a man is dead it is profane to laugh and dance."

They said, "The whole life we laughed with him. How can we give him the last send-off with anything else?--we have to laugh, we have to enjoy, we have to celebrate. This is the only farewell that is possible for a man who has laughed his whole life. We don't see that he is dead. How can laughter die, how can life die?"

Then the body was to be burned, and the village people said, "We will give him a bath as the ritual prescribes." But those two friends said, "No, our friend has said, 'Don't perform any ritual and don't change my clothes and don't give me a bath. You just put me as I am on the burning pyre.' So we have to follow his instructions."

And then, suddenly, there was a great happening. When the body was put on the fire, that old man had played the last trick. He had hidden many fireworks under his clothes, and suddenly there was a festival! Then the whole village started laughing. These two mad friends were dancing, then the whole village started dancing.

It was not a death, it was a new life.

Source: from Osho Book “Akshya Upanishad”

Osho - "202 Jokes of Mulla Nasrudin"


How laughter meditation can bring you peace and joy
-by Dhyan Sutorius, M.D.


by Dhyan Sutorius, M.D.

by Dhyan Sutorius, M.D.
Laughter is a very special phenomenon. Unfortunately its (psycho) therapeutic value
is underestimated and the incredible transforming force, hidden in laughter, is not
used to its full extent. Laughter is a very good anti-stressor and gives a profound
relaxation. I like to draw your attention to the laughing meditation, a structured
exercise of 15 minutes with 3 stages: 1. stretching all the muscles, 2. laughing
(and/or crying or laughing with the tears), 3. silence.
The laughing meditation is no therapy, but it can be - as laughter is so healthy –
sometimes very therapeutic! It can be used as adjuvans in all kinds of therapy and
also in other situations it can enhance the coping with all of life's woes.
In 1976 I learned from Osho - among other things - this laughing meditation, which I
conduct since 1978 at all kinds of medical or other congresses and meetings,
sometimes with more than 800 laughers, several times partly broadcasted on radio
and television in different countries. In 1985 I founded the CENTRE IN FAVOUR OF
LAUGHTER, and since then I conduct also "laughshops" = laughing meditation
workshops. Laughter brings you in no time in the moment, in the here and now. It
gives a deep relaxation at all levels. The "laughing muscles" are in general rather
rigid, but will get better trained if you laugh more often. And every day you will feel : it
is easier and easier to do! Meditation can be described as "awareness without
thinking" or to be in the NO-MIND. That is possible in many situations when you do
something totally with awareness. This can also happen when you are running,
dancing, or working in the garden.
The laughing meditation is a morning meditation, but it is also possible to do it later,
before lunch or dinner. Bladder and stomach should be almost empty. It can be done
alone or with "the other" in the mirror, or with any group of participants. Stay all the
time in the moment and be total in every second of this short meditation, without
Allow yourself to laugh without a reason. You may use any reason or situation, which
let you laugh and – if you wish, as a third point - use a first class trigger : make a top
ten of your favorite problems in such a way, that the heaviest problem you have right
now, is your favorite problem number 1, and so on so forth. Suddenly you look at it
from a totally different angle and more in perspective with all other things in life.
Laughter transforms and makes things lighter. Sometimes I feel it myself as if I dive
from the "hell" in my head, into the "paradise" in my belly!
It is better to "laugh with" than to "laugh about" someone or something, placing
yourself on the pedestal. To "laugh at" or to "laugh about” is cold and unpleasant, to
"laugh with" is warm and accepting. That is why it is so pleasant to laugh with your
partner, with children, with friends, with colleagues or with grandma. It is all heart
As laughter and crying are very close, it is possible that in the second stage your
laughter suddenly turns into crying. If that happens, enjoy the crying, cry with all your
energy from your belly, until the crying finishes by itself, and then start actively
laughing again. So you may also laugh with your tears or cry with your laughter.
1. Stretching, total stretching (5 minutes)
Use all your energy to stretch your muscles and, if possible, start yawning. While
stretching it is good to breathe out, without stretching inhale and continue the
stretching breathing out. In the last minute of this first stage stretch your fingers
backwards with your other hand and stretch your face muscles - without laughing –
by making strange faces, while putting out your tongue in different directions and
looking in the eyes of others.
2. Laughing and/or crying (5 minutes)
Smile and slowly, with a relaxed throat, start laughing without any force, until you
have a really heartfelt belly laugh. Focus all the time your awareness on what there
is for you in the moment, and whatever that is or whatever you feel in that very
moment laugh with that. It is more a matter of allowing and of letting go. Let-go is
the secret of meditation. Especially in the first minute let it built up slowly, just let it
happen. Without forcing at all, just laugh "allegro ma non troppo", without
screaming or yelling, only laughing and/or crying. Instead from the throat, relaxed
laughing from the belly. Just let bubble your belly, let it be a belly ballet!
If you have an other feeling or emotion, for instance when you get angry, then use
the total energy of that other emotion to laugh or to cry with it. In the last minute of
this stage close your eyes and continue laughing or crying.
3. Silence (5 minutes)
Suddenly stop laughing and keep your eyes closed. Let your whole body be still
without any movements. The slightest movement will change your state of
consciousness. Breathe in total silence without controlling the rhythm of your
breathing. Just let it happen. Every time when you find yourself thinking, feel a
"good bye!" for those thoughts and focus all your awareness on your body, on the
contact with Mother Earth and also on the feelings you have in that very moment,
whatever you feel, whatever it is, feel a "YES!" to that!
If you can cry and allow your total being to go into if and dissolve into it, you will have a totally
different quality of laughter arising in you Allow it. . It is beautiful!
One remark about the giggles and hysterical laughter (le fou rire, schlapp lachen).
Only if you totally, for 100 %, want to stop laughing, then you can. This sudden silence
in the third stage of the laughing meditation is the big difference with all the other
laughter. Your whole awareness is needed to be totally present in the moment.
THERE IS NOTHING TO BE REACHED and respect your limits !
The key of this meditation is always to focus your awareness on what there is for you
in that very moment. Whatever it is, stretch, laugh (or cry) with it of be silent!
Laughter has everything to do with ACCEPTANCE: the moment you accept totally the
situation, the other(s) or yourself you can laugh. If someone gets some insights in a
certain - sometimes difficult - situation, then quite often a roaring laughter emerges
from the belly. It is also possible to do this the other way around: starting with laughter,
......... and the insights follow as shadows!
Some responses of participants after having done a laughing meditation: a deep
relaxation / a feeling of being "whole" / a feeling of being unburdened / a feeling of
peace / the pain is gone or the pain is less / I feel my tears or I feel sad / I feel as if I
took a shower inside myself / a feeling of ACCEPTANCE: a huge "YES"' for what
there is NOW, what I have NOW, for what I am NOW!
With Dr. Wouter van der Schaar, a medical psychologist from the University of
Amsterdam, I did in 1985 a research about the effects of this laughing meditation done
by chronic pain patients, who could do this, after 3 weeks having done a daily
laughing meditation, they felt in general better , they laughed more during the day,
(their laughing muscles were more trained), the pain was often less, sometimes not,
but they could always handle their pain better. So in the process of accepting they
were more advanced.
Also people with high-pitch voices will get a voice coming more from a natural level.
Speaking, singing, crying and laughing come from the same centre in your belly.
When a child falls on the floor, anyone can hear if the crying comes straight from the
centre in the belly or a little bit higher, a little bit harder to let know the parents or the
caretaker to give a hand to help. Also with laughter, you can hear if the laughter is
forced, if the laughter is harder than the person feels it. The sound or the timbre of
the laughter or the crying reveals clearly if it is forced or not.
When you have a heartfelt belly laugh, all parts of your being - the physiological, the psychological,
the spiritual - they all vibrate in one single tune, they all vibrate in harmony!
Postpone your opinion about the effects of the laughing meditation on yourself until
you have done this every day for at least 3 weeks (or even better 6 weeks). And
every day as if it is for the very first time, be open to something new. To me - even
after many laughing meditations - it is every time new, fresh and mind-blowing!
Make your own LAUGHING MEDITATION DIARY: before and after the meditation it
is good to find one or two words, which are the closest to the feelings you have in
that moment. And if no words are coming up then perhaps you see – with closed
eyes - an image or a picture, that shows your feelings of that moment the best, keep
that in mind.
After the laughing meditation you can write down those words or images or pictures
and also - as a personal sharing or feedback -how the laughing meditation was that
time. Do it the next day again as if you have never done it before, and so on so forth.
After several weeks you will have a very interesting laughing meditation diary.
I can recommend this laughing meditation at all kinds of congresses or meetings, or
at work just in the first 15 minutes of the lunchbreak, only for those who want to do
this. It is a first class energizer.
As you have noticed, I am very fascinated by this phenomenon of laughter and I like
to collect as many different experiences with laughter. If you like to share with me
your experiences with laughter in general and with the laughing meditation in
particular, I invite you to write this down and to send it to me in a letter,
I wish you many good laughs,
TELEPHONE: +31 20 69 00 289
Dhyan Sutorius, M.D., has worked as a family doctor (G.P.) and as a ship’s
doctor and later as a dermatologist in his private practice in one of the
hospitals in Amsterdam. He conducts - since 1978 - this laughing meditation
at all kinds of medical or other congresses and meetings, sometimes with
more than 800 laughers, several times partly broadcasted on radio and
In 1985 he founded in Duivendrecht (NL) the CENTRE IN FAVOUR OF
LAUGHTER and is still conducting “LAUGHSHOPS “ = LAUGHING
MEDITATIONS WORKSHOPS for different groups and companies. When
people can laugh together, they can better work together!

THE FIVE SEXES. Why Male and Female Are Not Enough by ANNE FAUSTO-STERLING

THE FIVE SEXES. Why Male and Female Are Not Enough by ANNE FAUSTO-STERLING

fausto-sterling the five sexes revisited

Two Sexes Are Not Enough
by Anne Fausto-Sterling

In 1843 Levi Suydam, a 23-year-old resident of Salisbury, Connecticut, asked the town's board of selectmen to allow him to vote as a Whig in a hotly contested local election. The request raised a flurry of objections from the opposition party, for a reason that must be rare in the annals of American democracy: It was said that Suydam was "more female than male," and thus (since only men had the right to vote) should not be allowed to cast a ballot. The selectmen brought in a physician, one Dr. William Barry, to examine Suydam and settle the matter. Presumably, upon encountering a phallus and testicles, the good doctor declared the prospective voter male. With Suydam safely in their column, the Whigs won the election by a majority of one.

A few days later, however, Barry discovered that Suydam menstruated regularly and had a vaginal opening. Suydam had the narrow shoulders and broad hips characteristic of a female build, but occasionally "he" felt physical attractions to the "opposite" sex (by which "he" meant women). Furthermore, "his feminine propensities, such as fondness for gay colors, for pieces of calico, comparing and placing them together, and an aversion for bodily labor and an inability to perform the same, were remarked by many." (Note that this 19th-century doctor did not distinguish between "sex" and "gender." Thus he considered a fondness for piecing together swatches of calico just as telling as anatomy and physiology.) No one has yet discovered whether Suydam lost the right to vote. Whatever the outcome, the story conveys both the political weight our culture places on ascertaining a person's correct "sex" and the deep confusion that arises when it can't be easily determined.

European and American culture is deeply devoted to the idea that there are only two sexes. Even our language refuses other possibilities; thus to write about Levi Suydam I have had to invent conventions—s/he and h/er to denote individuals who are clearly neither/both male and female or who are, perhaps, both at once. Nor is the linguistic convenience an idle fancy. Whether one falls into the category of man or woman matters in concrete ways. For Suydam—and still today for women in some parts of the world—it meant the right to vote. It might mean being subject to the military draft and to various laws concerning the family and marriage. In many parts of the United States, for example, two individuals legally registered as men cannot have sexual relations without breaking antisodomy laws.

Male and female form the extremes of a biological continuum that features many types of intersex conditions.

But if the state and legal system has an interest in maintaining only two sexes, our collective biological bodies do not. While male and female stand on the extreme ends of a biological continuum, there are many other bodies, bodies such as Suydam's, that evidently mix together anatomical components conventionally attributed to both males and females. The implications of my argument for a sexual continuum are profound. If nature really offers us more than two sexes, then it follows that our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits. Reconceptualizing the category of "sex" challenges cherished aspects of European and American social organization.

Indeed, we have begun to insist on the male-female dichotomy at increasingly early stages, making the two-sex system more deeply a part of how we imagine human life and giving it the appearance of being both inborn and natural. Nowadays, months before the child leaves the comfort of the womb, amniocentesis and ultrasound identify a fetus's sex. Parents can decorate the baby's room in gender-appropriate style, sports wallpaper—in blue—for the little boy, flowered designs—in pink—for the little girl. Researchers have nearly completed development of technology that can choose the sex of a child at the moment of fertilization. Moreover, modern surgical techniques help maintain the two-sex system. Today children who are born "either/or—neither/both"—a fairly common phenomenon—usually disappear from view because doctors "correct" them right away with surgery. In the past, however, intersexuals (or hermaphrodites, as they were called until recently), were culturally acknowledged.

Within 24 hours of the birth of an intersex baby, doctors typically operate to assign the newborn a gender.

Hermaphroditic heresies
In 1993 I published a modest proposal suggesting that we replace our two-sex system with a five-sex one. In addition to males and females, I argued, we should also accept the categories herms (named after "true" hermaphrodites), merms (named after male "pseudohermaphrodites"), and ferms (named after female "pseudohermaphrodites"). [Editor's note: A "true" hermaphrodite bears an ovary and a testis, or a combined gonad called an ovo-testis. A "pseudohermaphrodite" has either an ovary or a testis, along with genitals from the "opposite" sex.] I'd intended to be provocative, but I had also been writing tongue in cheek and so was surprised by the extent of the controversy the article unleashed. Right-wing Christians somehow connected my idea of five sexes to the United Nations-sponsored Fourth World Conference on Women, to be held in Beijing two years later, apparently seeing some sort of global conspiracy at work. "It is maddening," says the text of a New York Times advertisement paid for by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, "to listen to discussions of 'five genders' when every sane person knows there are but two sexes, both of which are rooted in nature."

Sexologist John Money, who features largely in the NOVA program "Sex: Unknown," was "horrified" at Fausto-Sterling's proposal that there be five sexes.

[Sexologist] John Money was also horrified by my article, although for different reasons. In a new edition of his guide for those who counsel intersexual children and their families, he wrote: "In the 1970's nurturists ... became ... 'social constructionists.' They align themselves against biology and medicine ... They consider all sex differences as artifacts of social construction. In cases of birth defects of the sex organs, they attack all medical and surgical interventions as unjustified meddling designed to force babies into fixed social molds of male and female ... One writer has gone even to the extreme of proposing that there are five sexes ... (Fausto-Sterling)."

Meanwhile, those battling against the constraints of our sex/gender system were delighted by the article. The science fiction writer Melissa Scott wrote a novel entitled Shadow Man, which includes nine types of sexual preference and several genders, including fems (people with testes, XY chromosomes, and some aspects of female genitalia), herms (people with ovaries and testes), and mems (people with XX chromosomes and some aspects of male genitalia). Others used the idea of five sexes as a starting point for their own multi-gendered theories.

More and more intersexuals are speaking out about their experiences, including Max Beck, seen here with his daughter Alder (see My Life as an Intersexual).

Clearly I had struck a nerve. The fact that so many people could get riled up by my proposal to revamp our sex/gender system suggested that change (and resistance to it) might be in the offing. Indeed, a lot has changed since 1993, and I like to think that my article was one important stimulus. Intersexuals have materialized before our very eyes, like beings beamed up onto the Starship Enterprise. They have become political organizers lobbying physicians and politicians to change treatment practices. More generally, the debate over our cultural conceptions of gender has escalated, and the boundaries separating masculine and feminine seem harder than ever to define. Some find the changes under way deeply disturbing; others find them liberating.

I, of course, am committed to challenging ideas about the male/female divide. In chorus with a growing organization of adult intersexuals, a small group of scholars, and a small but growing cadre of medical practitioners, I argue that medical management of intersexual births needs to change. First, let there be no unnecessary infant surgery (by necessary I mean to save the infant's life or significantly improve h/er physical well-being). Second, let physicians assign a provisional sex (male or female) to the infant (based on existing knowledge of the probability of a particular gender identity formation—penis size be damned!). Third, let the medical care team provide full information and long-term counseling to the parents and to the child. However well-intentioned, the methods for managing intersexuality, so entrenched since the 1950s, have done serious harm.

Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling is a biologist and historian at Brown University. The passages above were excerpted from her book Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. ©1999 by Anne Fausto-Sterling. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books. All rights reserved.

A Carefully Crafted F**k You - Nathan Schneider interviews Judith Butler, March 2010

The gender-theorist-turned-philosopher-of-nonviolence discusses the choices that make people expendable, the violent foundation of nonviolent activism, and the role grief can play in setting a new course.

Judith Butler’s philosophy is an assault on common sense, on the atrophy of thinking. It untangles not only how ideas compel us to action, but how unexamined action leaves us with unexamined ideas—and, then, disastrous politics. Her work over the last few years has been devoted to challenging the Bush/Cheney-era torpor that came over would-be dissenters in the face of two wars and an acquiescent electorate. She does so not with policy prescriptions or electoral tactics, but with an analysis of the habits of thinking and doing that stand behind them. It is in response to the suffering of others, she insists, of innocent victims in particular, that we must come to terms with the world as it is and act in it.

Butler is, at University of California at Berkeley, Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature. Her reputation is secure as the most important theorist of gender in the last quarter century, thanks to books like Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993). The thrust of her contribution is to destabilize—to queer—identity by disentangling the fragile performances that give rise to it. Whether in gender politics or geopolitics, her analysis shows how failing to grasp these sources of identity blinds us to the common humanity of others.

Her latest book, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009), reflects on the past decade’s saga of needless war, photographed—even fetishized—torture, and routine horror. It treats these practices as issuing from a philosophical choice, one which considers certain human beings expendable and unworthy of being grieved. The concluding chapter confronts the paradoxical nature of any call for nonviolent resistance—paradoxical because the very identities that we claim and resist on behalf of were themselves formed by violence in the past. Butler does not mistake nonviolence for passivity, as so many critics do. At its best, she writes, nonviolent resistance becomes a “carefully crafted ‘fuck you,’” tougher to answer than a Howitzer.

Many of Frames of War’s reviewers comment about the difficulty of Butler’s prose. It certainly departs from the usual terms of debate about the subject—say, troop levels or international law—in order to point toward something more fundamental. Her books are notoriously dense, but the sensation of density stems from the very expectations we hold that she is trying to challenge. Butler has written about J.L. Austin, who taught philosophers in the deepest throes of the linguistic turn “how to do things with words,” and that is what she does. Reading her prose is a feat, an act. It is performative, in the sense that the text aspires to change us, not simply inform or explain. Apparently clear language can be more misleading than purposeful obfuscation; clarity sometimes depends on the assumptions and vocabulary that deliver us into war after war, or hate crime after hate crime, or refusal after refusal to admit the personhood of another.

Butler’s sentences are an invitation to refute those mistakes, to rethink, and to start again. Whether her particular performance, or philosophy in general, can make any dent in the war machine remains to be seen—though its influence may finally be too subtle to detect.

We had this exchange over a series of emails, during which she traveled to the West Bank and back on a research trip.

—Nathan Schneider for Guernica

Guernica: This book, you write, is a response to the policies under the Bush administration. How different would a book about the Obama administration be? Have we learned at all how to expand our circle of grief? Have we adjusted our frames?

Judith Butler: The fact is that the war in Afghanistan has escalated under the Obama administration, and though it seems as if there is a firmer policy against torture, and a clear condemnation of torture on the part of the administration, we still are responsible for an extraordinary number of brutal deaths by war. This administration was fully silent during the massacre on Gaza. And Obama himself has agreed not to disclose the full narrative and visual archive on U.S. torture—we have to ask why. I think we have to learn how to separate our impressions of Obama the man as both thoughtful and inspiring from the policies of the Obama administration. Perhaps then we can begin to see that the politics of the administration are very separate from the impression of the man. This is a painful lesson to learn, and I wonder whether the U.S. public and its European allies will actually learn it.

Perhaps we should cease to ask the question of what kind of person he really is and focus on what he does.
Guernica: That kind of distinction between the man—well, as you say, impressions of him—and the administration is something one hears disappointed progressives making a lot lately. But many still feel that, in Obama, they have an ally on the inside who is doing the best he can against political inertia. Can one afford to trust him? Not doing so could undermine his ability to undo that inertia.

Judith Butler: Those explanations that try to locate all the inertia outside of Obama don’t take into account his own unwillingness to speak and act in face of certain urgent issues. His inability to condemn the onslaught against Gaza was not a matter of some external constraint upon him. No one coerced him into escalating the war in Afghanistan, nor was it a matter of externally situated inertia when he abandoned stronger versions of universal healthcare. Perhaps we should cease to ask the question of what kind of person he really is and focus on what he does. He speaks, he acts, and he fails to act; he is explicitly thwarted by entrenched relations. But let us not make excuses for the man or his administration when his actions are weak or, indeed, when he fails to act at all.

Guernica: Obama has performed his presidency as a thinker, a reflecting person, perhaps most ironically when deciding how many tens of thousands more troops to send to Afghanistan. Do you find this heartening?

Judith Butler: With Obama, there is thinking. But it seems to me mainly strategic, if not wholly technical. He has surrounded himself with technocrats, especially on his economic team. So how do we understand the disconnect between the domain of principle and that of policy? What is the relation between the moral vision and principles he espouses and the kind of policy he implements?

All I really have to say about life is that for it to be regarded as valuable, it has to first be regarded as grievable.
Guernica: Let me turn that question back at you. In a world ever more specialized, should articulating a moral vision still be expected of politicians? Might mere bureaucratic competence at the service of their constituent’s interests be enough?

Judith Butler: A president is part of a team, and he chooses those with whom he will act in concert. Summers and Geithner were choices, and they were ones that clearly put technocratic free market thinking above questions of social justice and the kind of political thinking it would take to implement norms of justice. One has to be competent at implementing one policy or another. But there is always the question of which policy, and this is a matter of principle.

Guernica: In the book’s introduction, you set out a principled vision for how we might go about defining life—

Judith Butler: I am not at all sure that I define life, since I think that life tends to exceed the definitions of it we may offer. It always seems to have that characteristic, so the approach to life cannot be altogether successful if we start with definitions. All I really have to say about life is that for it to be regarded as valuable, it has to first be regarded as grievable. A life that is in some sense socially dead or already “lost” cannot be grieved when it is actually destroyed. And I think we can see that entire populations are regarded as negligible life by warring powers, and so when they are destroyed, there is no great sense that a heinous act and egregious loss have taken place. My question is: how do we understand this nefarious distinction that gets set up between grievable and ungrievable lives?

Guernica: How does your understanding of life differ, for example, from that of the pro-life movement?

Judith Butler: I distinguish my position from the so-called “pro-life” movement since they do not care about whether or not life is sustainable. For me, the argument in favor of a sustainable life can be made just as easily for a woman or girl who requires an abortion in order to live her life and maintain her livelihood. So my argument about life does not favor one side of that debate or another; indeed, I think that debate should be settled on separate grounds. The left needs to reclaim life, especially given how many urgent bio-political issues face us now.

I am trying to contest the notion that we can only value, shelter, and grieve lives that share a common language or cultural sameness with ourselves.
Guernica: What do you mean by “separate grounds”? Must we draw a line between death by abortion and death by war? As opposed, for example, to the “seamless garment” of life in Catholic social teaching?

Judith Butler: We cannot decide questions of reproductive technology or abortion by deciding in advance where life begins and ends. Technologies are already re-deciding those basic issues. We have to ask what kinds of choices are made possible by social configurations of life, and to locate our choices socially and politically. There is no way around the question, “What makes a life livable?” This is different from the question of what constitutes life. At what point in any life process does the question of rights emerge? We differ over how to answer that question.

Guernica: Your account of life depends on being intertwined with other lives; does it really then call on us to be more concerned for the lives of others in distant places and conflicts?

Judith Butler: Along with many other people, I am trying to contest the notion that we can only value, shelter, and grieve those lives that share a common language or cultural sameness with ourselves. The point is not so much to extend our capacity for compassion, but to understand that ethical relations have to cross both cultural and geographical distance. Given that there is global interdependency in relation to the environment, food supply and distribution, and war, do we not need to understand the bonds that we have to those we do not know or have never chosen? This takes us beyond communitarianism and nationalism alike. Or so I hope.

Guernica: Yes, but surely the lines of interdependency are much deeper and immediate between me and my friends, family, and local community than between me and the average Iraqi in Iraq. Can’t I be excused for at least grieving the Iraqi less, proportionate to my dependence?

Judith Butler: It is not a question of how much you or I feel—it is rather a question of whether a life is worth grieving, and no life is worth grieving unless it is regarded as grievable. In other words, when we subscribe to ideas such as, “no innocent life should be slaughtered,” we have to be able to include all kinds of populations within the notion of “innocent life”—and that means subscribing to an egalitarianism that would contest prevailing schemes of racism.

Guernica: What does the grief you call for consist of? How does it act upon us?

Judith Butler: If we were to start to grieve those against whom we wage war, we would have to stop. One saw this I think very keenly last year when Israel attacked Gaza. The population was considered in explicitly racist ways, and every life was considered an instrument of war. Thus, a unilateral attack on a trapped population became interpreted by those who waged war as an extended act of self-defense. It is clear that most people in the world rejected that construal of the situation, especially when they saw how many women and children were killed.

The vast majority of feminists oppose these contemporary wars, and object to the false construction of Muslim women “in need of being saved.”
Guernica: On your recent trip to the West Bank, did you observe any instances of grief at work?

Judith Butler: I certainly saw many commemorations on the walls of Nablus and Jenin. The question is whether the mainstream Israeli press and public can accept the fact that their army committed widespread slaughter in Gaza. I heard private confirmation of that among Israelis, but less in public. Some brave journalists and writers say it. The organization, Zochrot, that commemorates the deaths and expulsions of Palestinians in 1948—the Naqba—does some of this work, but so much of it remains partially muted within public discourse. There is now a resolution under consideration in Israel attempting to ban public funding for educational and arts projects that represent the Naqba—this is surely a state effort to regulate grieving.

Guernica: Forms of grief are deployed, through certain deplorable exemplars, to justify a military regime—the Holocaust, for example, and now 9/11. Why, then, can’t grief just as easily be used to justify more war?

Judith Butler: Well, I do worry about those instances in which public mourning is explicitly proscribed, and that invariably happens in the context of war. I think there were ways, for instance, of producing icons of those who were killed in the 9/11 attacks in such a way that the desire for revenge and vindication was stoked. So we have to distinguish between modes of mourning that actually extend our ideas about equality, and those that produce differentials, such as “this population is worth protecting” and “this population deserves to die.”

Guernica: The hawkish wing in the “war on terror” has quite effectively claimed the banner of feminism. Is feminism as it has been articulated in part to blame for this?

Judith Butler: No, I think that we have seen quite cynical uses of feminism for the waging of war. The vast majority of feminists oppose these contemporary wars, and object to the false construction of Muslim women “in need of being saved” as a cynical use of feminist concerns with equality. There are some very strong and interesting Muslim feminist movements, and casting Islam as anti-feminist not only disregards those movements, but displaces many of the persisting inequalities in the first world onto an imaginary elsewhere.

Guernica: After millions of protesters around the world could do nothing to prevent the Iraq War, what do you think is the most effective form of protest? Disobedience? Or even thinking?

Judith Butler: Let us remember that Marx thought of thinking as a kind of practice. Thinking can take place in and as embodied action. It is not necessarily a quiet or passive activity. Civil disobedience can be an act of thinking, of mindfully opposing police force, for instance. I continue to believe in demonstrations, but I think they have to be sustained. We see the continuing power of this in Iran right now. The real question is why people thought with the election of Obama that there was no reason to still be on the street? It is true that many people on the left will never have the animus against Obama that they have against Bush. But maybe we need to protest policies instead of individuals. After all, it takes many people and institutions to sustain a war.

Guernica: Anyone who went to an anti-war protest during the Bush administration surely saw the violence of the anger directed personally against the president. People have a need to personalize. It seems to me the strength of your book, though, is that it counter-personalizes, turning our focus not so much to policies or policy-makers as to victims and potential victims.

Judith Butler: It is personal, but it asks what our obligations are to those we do not know. So in this sense, it is about the bonds we must honor even when we do not know the others to whom we are bound.

Guernica: Your account of nonviolence revolves around recognizing sociality and interconnection as well. Does it also rely on the kind of inner spiritual work that was so important, for instance, to Gandhi?

Judith Butler: I am not sure that the work is “inner” in the way that Gandhi described. But I do think that one has to remain vigilant in relation to one’s own aggression, to craft and direct it in ways that are effective. This work on the self, though, takes place through certain practices, and by noticing where one is, how angry one is, and even comporting oneself differently over time. I think this has to be a social practice, one that we undertake with others. That support and solidarity are crucial to maintaining it. Otherwise, we think we should become heroic individuals, and that takes us away from effective collective action.

Guernica: What can philosophy, which so often looks like a kind of solitary heroism, offer against the military-industrial complexes and the cowboy self-image that keep driving us into wars? At what register can philosophy make a difference?

Judith Butler: Let’s remember that the so-called military-industrial complex has a philosophy, even if it is not readily published in journals. The contemporary cowboy also has, or exemplifies, a certain philosophical vision of power, masculinity, impermeability, and domination. So the question is how philosophy takes form as an embodied practice. Any action that is driven by principles, norms, or ideals is philosophically informed. So we might consider: what practices embody interdependency and equality in ways that might mitigate the practice of war waging? My wager is that there are many.

Guernica: Last year, for one, the Mellon Foundation awarded you $1.5 million which you are using to found a critical theory center devoted to scholarship about war. How is it progressing? What are your goals?

Judith Butler: I am trying to bring together people to think about new forms of war and war waging, the place of media in the waging of war, and ways of thinking about violence that can take account of new forms of conflict that do not comply with conventional definitions of war. This will involve considering traditional definitions of war in political science and international law, but also new forms of conflict, theories of violence, and humanistic inquiries into why people wage war as they do. I’m also interested in linking this with studies of ecology, toxic soil, and damaged life.

Guernica: Do you mean to say that the concept of war might be recovered, as William James proposes, for instance, in “The Moral Equivalent of War”? Is war’s ferocity of commitment possible without the bloodlust and the bloody victims?

Judith Butler: Perhaps the issue is to become less ferocious in our commitments, to question certain forms of blind enthusiasm, and to find forms of steadfastness that include reflective thought. Nonviolence is not so much about the suppression of feeling, but its transformation into forceful intelligence.
A Carefully Crafted F**k You - Nathan Schneider interviews Judith Butler, March 2010

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler

Extracts from Gender as Performance: An Interview with Judith Butler

Interview by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, London, 1993.

Full version originally published in Radical Philosophy 67 (summer 1994). © Radical Philosophy Ltd, 1994. These extracts are reprinted here with the kind permission of Radical Philosophy Ltd.

You can subscribe to Radical Philosophy and find other information about the journal by visiting the Radical Philosophy website.

Extracts of this interview are reproduced here for personal study purposes only. The extracts are necessarily short due to copyright regulations. Grateful acknowledgment is made to Radical Philosophy. In return, it would be excellent if you could get your local library, and/or philosophy, sociology and other departments to subscribe to Radical Philosophy.

Links: Judith Butler | Comms Theory | Module tutor.


RP: We'd like to begin by asking you where you place your work within the increasingly diverse field of gender studies. Most people associate your recent writings with what has become known as "queer theory". But the emergence of gay and lesbian studies as a discrete disciplinary phenomenon has problematised the relationship of some of this work to feminism. Do you see yourself primarily as a feminist of as a queer theorist, or do you refuse the choice?

Butler: I would say that I'm a feminist theorist before I'm a queer theorist or a gay and lesbian theorist. My commitments to feminism are probably my primary commitments. Gender Trouble was a critique of compulsory heterosexuality within feminism, and it was feminists that were my intended audience. At the time I wrote the text there was no gay and lesbian studies, as I understood it. When the book came out, the Second Annual Conference of Lesbian and Gay Studies was taking place in the USA, and it got taken up in a way that I could never have anticipated. I remember sitting next to someone at a dinner party, and he said that he was working on queer theory. And I said: What's queer theory? He looked at me like I was crazy, because he evidently thought that I was a part of this thing called queer theory. But all I knew was that Teresa de Lauretis had published an issue of the journal Differences called "Queer Theory". I thought it was something she had put together. It certainly never occurred to me that I was a part of queer theory.

I have some problems here, because I think there's some anti-feminism in queer theory. Also, insofar as some people in queer theory want to claim that the analysis of sexuality can be radically separated from the analysis of gender, I'm very much opposed to them. The new Gay and Lesbian Reader that Routledge have just published begins with a set of articles that make that claim. I think that separation is a big mistake. Catharine MacKinnon's work sets up such a reductive causal relationship between sexuality and gender that she came to stand for an extreme version of feminism that had to be combatted. But it seems to me that to combat it through a queer theory that dissociates itself from feminism altogether is a massive mistake.

RP: Could you say something more about the sex-gender distinction? Do you reject it or do you just reject a particular interpretation of it? Your position on this seems to have shifted recently.

Butler: One of the interpretations that has been made of Gender Trouble is that there is no sex, there is only gender, and gender is performative. People then go on to think that if gender is performative it must be radically free. And it has seemed to many that the materiality of the body is vacated or ignored or negated here - disavowed, even. (There's a symptomatic reading of this as somatophobia. It's interesting to have one's text pathologised.) So what became important to me in writing Bodies that Matter was to go back to the category of sex, and to the problem of materiality, and to ask how it is that sex itself might be construed as a norm. Now, I take it that's a presupposition of Lacanian psychoanalysis - that sex is a norm. But I didn't want to remain restricted within the Lacanian purview. I wanted to work out how a norm actually materialises a body, how we might understand the materiality of the body to be not only invested with a norm, but in some sense animated by a norm, or contoured by a norm. So I have shifted. I think that I overrode the category of sex too quickly in Gender Trouble. I try to reconsider it in Bodies That Matter, and to emphasise the place of constraint in the very production of sex.

RP: A lot of people like Gender Trouble because they liked the idea of gender as a kind of improvisational theatre, a space where different identities can be more or less freely adopted and explored at will. They wanted to get on with the work of enacting gender, in order to undermine its dominant forms. However, at the beginning of Bodies That Matter you say that, of course, one doesn't just voluntaristically construct or deconstruct identities. It's unclear to us to what extent you want to hold onto the possibilities opened up in Gender Trouble of being able to use transgressive performances such as drag to help decentre or destabilise gender categories, and to what extent you have become sceptical about this.

Butler: The problem with drag is that I offered it as an example of performativity, but it has been taken up as the paradigm for performativity. One ought always to be wary of one's examples. What's interesting is that this voluntarist interpretation, this desire for a kind of radical theatrical remaking of the body, is obviously out there in the public sphere. There's a desire for a fully phantasmatic transfiguration of the body. But no, I don't think that drag is a paradigm for the subversion of gender. I don't think that if we were all more dragged out gender life would become more expansive and less restrictive. There are restrictions in drag. In fact, I argued toward the end of the book that drag has its own melancholia.

It is important to understand performativity - which is distinct from performance - through the more limited notion of resignification. I'm still thinking about subversive repetition, which is a category in Gender Trouble, but in the place of something like parody I would now emphasise the complex ways in which resignification works in political discourse. I suspect there's going to be a less celebratory, and less popular, response to my new book. But I wanted to write against my popular image. I set out to make myself less popular, because I felt that the popularisation of Gender Trouble - even though it was interesting culturally to see what it tapped into, to see what was out there, longing to be tapped into - ended up being a terrible misrepresentation of what I wanted to say!

[...]It is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of the subject. The place where I try to clarify this is toward the beginning of my essay "Critically Queer", in Bodies that Matter, I begin with the Foucauldian premise that power works in part through discourse and it works in part to produce and destabilise subjects. But then, when one starts to think carefully about how discourse might be said to produce a subject, it's clear that one's already talking about a certain figure or trope of production. It is at this point that it's useful to turn to the notion of performativity, and performative speech acts in particular - understood as those speech acts that bring into being that which they name. This is the moment in which discourse becomes productive in a fairly specific way. So what I'm trying to do is think about the performativity as that aspect of discourse that has the capacity to produce what it names. Then I take a further step, through the Derridean rewriting of Austin, and suggest that this production actually always happens through a certain kind of repetition and recitation. So if you want the ontology of this, I guess performativity is the vehicle through which ontological effects are established. Performativity is the discursive mode by which ontological effects are installed. Something like that.

[. . .]

[Butler is then asked about the way in which she apparently ignores biological constraints on bodies, most obviously the fact that male bodies can't produce children whilst female bodies can]. Yes, there will be that exasperated response [to what I do there], but there is a good tactical reason to reproduce it. Take your example of impregnation. Somebody might well say: isn't it the case that certain bodies go to the gynaecologist for certain kinds of examination and certain bodies do not? And I would obviously affirm that. But the real question here is: to what extent does a body get defined by its capacity for pregnancy? Why is it pregnancy by which that body gets defined? One might say it's because somebody is of a given sex that they go to the gynaecologist to get an examination that establishes the possibility of pregnancy, or one might say that going to the gynaecologist is the very production of "sex" - but it is still the question of pregnancy that is centaring that whole institutional practice here.

Now, it seems to me that, although women's bodies generally speaking are understood as capable of impregnation, the fact of the matter is that there are female infants and children who cannot be impregnated, there are older women who cannot be impregnated, there are women of all ages who cannot be impregnated, and even if they could ideally, that is not necessarily the salient feature of their bodies or even of their being women. What the question does is try to make the problematic of reproduction central to the sexing of the body. But I am not sure that is, or ought to be, what is absolutely salient or primary in the sexing of the body. If it is, I think it's the imposition of a norm, not a neutral description of biological constraints.

I do not deny certain kinds of biological differences. But I always ask under what conditions, under what discursive and institutional conditions, do certain biological differences - and they're not necessary ones, given the anomalous state of bodies in the world - become the salient characteristics of sex. In that sense I'm still in sympathy with the critique of "sex" as a political category offered by Monique Wittig. I still very much believe in the critique of the category of sex and the ways in which it's been constrained by a tacit institution of compulsory reproduction.

It's a practical problem. If you are in your late twenties or your early thirties and you can't get pregnant for biological reasons, or maybe you don't want to, for social reasons - whatever it is - you are struggling with a norm that is regulating your sex. It takes a pretty vigorous (and politically informed) community around you to alleviate the possible sense of failure, or loss, or impoverishment, or inadequacy - a collective struggle to rethink a dominant norm. Why shouldn't it be that a woman who wants to have some part in child-rearing, but doesn't want to have a part in child-bearing, or who wants to have nothing to do with either, can inhabit her gender without an implicit sense of failure or inadequacy? When people ask the question "Aren't these biological differences?", they're not really asking a question about the materiality of the body. They're actually asking whether or not the social institution of reproduction is the most salient one for thinking about gender. |In that sense, there is a discursive enforcement of a norm.

[. . .]

It's not just the norm of heterosexuality that is tenuous. It's all sexual norms. I think that every sexual position is fundamentally comic. If you say "I can only desire X", what you've immediately done, in rendering desire exclusively, is created a whole set of positions which are unthinkable from the standpoint of your identity. Now, I take it that one of the essential aspects of comedy emerges when you end up actually occupying a position that you have just announced to be unthinkable. That is funny. There's a terrible self-subversion in it.

When they were debating gays in the military on television in the United States a senator got up and laughed, and he said, "I must say, I know very little about homosexuality. I think I know less about homosexuality than about anything else in the world." And it was a big announcement of his ignorance of homosexuality. Then he immediately launched into a homophobic diatribe which suggested that he thinks that homosexuals only have sex in public bathrooms, that they are all skinny, that they're all male, etc, etc. So what he actually has is a very aggressive and fairly obsessive relationship to the homosexuality that of course he knows nothing about. At that moment you realise that this person who claims to have nothing to do with homosexuality is in fact utterly preoccupied by it.

I do not think that these exclusions are indifferent. Some would disagree with me on this and say: "Look, some people are just indifferent. A heterosexual can have an indifferent relationship to homosexuality. It doesn't really matter what other people do. I haven't thought about it much, it neither turns me on nor turns me off. I'm just sexually neutral in that regard." I don't believe that. I think that crafting a sexual position, or reciting a sexual position, always involves becoming haunted by what's excluded. And the more rigid the position, the greater the ghost, and the more threatening it is in some way. I don't know if that's a Foucauldian point. It's probably a psychoanalytical point, but that's not finally important to me.

RP: Would it apply to homosexuals' relationship to heterosexuality?

Butler: Yes, absolutely.

RP: Although presumably not in the same way...

Butler: Yes, there's a different problem here, and it's a tricky one. When the woman in the audience at my talk said "I survived lesbian feminism and still desire women", I thought that was a really great line, because one of the problems has been the normative requirement that has emerged within some lesbian-feminist communities to come up with a radically specific lesbian sexuality. (Of course, not all lesbian feminism said this, but a strain of it did.)

[. . .]

Lesbians make themselves into a more frail political community by insisting on the radical irreducibility of their desire. I don't think any of us have irreducibly distinct desires.

[. . .]

The heterosexual matrix [in Gender Trouble] became a kind of totalising symbolic, and that's why I changed the term in Bodies That Matter to heterosexual hegemony. This opens the possibility that this is a matrix which is open to rearticulation, which has a kind of malleability. So I don't actually use the term heterosexual matrix in Bodies That Matter.

[. . .]

There's a very specific notion of gender involved in compulsory heterosexuality: a certain view of gender coherence whereby what a person feels, how a person acts, and how a person expresses herself sexually is the articulation and consummation of a gender. It's a particular causality and identity that gets established as gender coherence which is linked to compulsory heterosexuality. It's not any gender, or all gender, it's that specific kind of coherent gender.

[. . .]

One of the problems with homosexuality is that it does represent psychosis to some people. Many people feel that who they are as egos in the world, whatever imaginary centres they have, would be radically dissolved were they to engage in homosexual relations. They would rather die than engage in homosexual relations. For these people homosexuality represents the prospect of the psychotic dissolution of the subject. How are we to distinguish that phobic abjection of homosexuality from what Zizek calls the real - where the real is that which stands outside the symbolic pact and which threatens the subject within the symbolic pact with psychosis?

[. . .]

RP: Perhaps we could move on to the politics of queer theory, and in particular to the ideas of subversive repetition and transgressive reinscription, which we touched on earlier when we asked you about drag. Alan Sinfield has suggested that the problem with supposedly subversive representations of gender is that they're always recuperable. The dominant can always find a way of dismissing them and reaffirming itself. On the other hand, Jonathan Dollimore has argued that they're not always recuperable, but that any queer reading or subversive performance, any challenge to dominant representations of gender, can only be sustained as such collectively. It's only within critical subcultures that transgressive reinscriptions are going to make a difference. How do you respond to these views on the limits of a queer politics of representation?

Butler: I think that Sinfield is right to say that any attempt at subversion is potentially recuperable. There is no way to safeguard against that. You can't plan or calculate subversion. In fact, I would say that subversion is precisely an incalculable effect. That's what makes it subversive. As for the question of how a certain challenge becomes legible, and whether a rendering requires a certain collectivity, that seems right too. But I also think that subversive practices have to overwhelm the capacity to read, challenge conventions of reading, and demand new possibilities of reading.

For instance, when Act Up (the lesbian and gay activist group) first started performing Die-ins on the streets of New York, it was extremely dramatic. There had been street theatre, a tradition of demonstrations, and the tradition from the civil disobedience side of the civil rights movement of going limp and making policemen take you away: playing dead. Those precedents or conventions were taken up in the Die-in, where people "die" all at once. They went down on the street, all at once, and white lines were drawn around the bodies, as if they were police lines, marking the place of the dead. It was a shocking symbolisation. It was legible insofar as it was drawing on conventions that had been produced within previous protest cultures, but it was a renovation. It was a new adumbration of a certain kind of civil disobedience. And it was extremely graphic. It made people stop and have to read what was happening.

There was confusion. People didn't know at first, why these people were playing dead. Were they actually dying, were they actually people with AIDS? Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Maybe they were HIV positive, maybe they weren't. There were no ready answers to those questions. The act posed a set of questions without giving you the tools to read off the answers. What I worry about are those acts that are more immediately legible. Those are the ones that I think are most readily recuperable. But the ones that challenge our practices of reading, that make us uncertain about how to read, or make us think that we have to renegotiate the way in which we read public signs, these seem really important to me.

[. . .]

Some people would say that we need a ground from which to act. We need a shared collective ground for collective action. I think we need to pursue the moments of degrounding, when we're standing in two different places at once; or we don't know exactly where we're standing; or when we've produced an aesthetic practice that shakes the ground. That's where resistance to recuperation happens. It's like a breaking through to a new set of paradigms.

RP: What are the relations of this kind of symbolic politics to more traditional kinds of political practice? Presumably, its function is in some way tied to the role of mass media in the political systems of advanced capitalist societies, where representations play a role they don't necessarily have elsewhere.

Butler: Yes, I agree.

RP: Yet at the same time, it is a crucial part of this role that the domain of representation often remains completely cut off from effective political action. One might argue that the reason a politics of representation is so recuperable is precisely because it remains within the domain of representation - that it is only an adjunct to the business of transforming the relationship of society to the state, establishing new institutions, or changing the law. How would you respond to that?

Butler: First of all, I oppose the notion that the media is monolithic. It's neither monolithic nor does it act only and always to domesticate. Sometimes it ends up producing images that it has no control over. This kind of unpredictable effect can emerge right out of the centre of a conservative media without an awareness that it is happening. There are ways of exploiting the dominant media. The politics of aesthetic representation has an extremely important place. But it is not the same as struggling to change the law, or developing strong links with political officials, or amassing major lobbies, or the kinds of things needed by the grassroots movement to overturn anti-sodomy restrictions, for example.

I used to be part of a guerrilla theatre group called LIPS - it stood for nothing, which I loved - and now I'm contemplating joining the board of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. There is nothing to stop me from doing one rather than the other. For me, it does not have to be a choice. Other people are particularly adept working in the health care fields, doing AIDS activism - which includes sitting on the boards of major chemical corporations - doing lobbying work, phoning, or being on the street. The Foucauldian in me says there is no one site from which to struggle effectively. There have to be many, and they don't need to be reconciled with one another.

[. . .]

RP: We'd like to end by asking you how you see the future of feminism.

Butler: Catharine MacKinnon has become so powerful as the public spokesperson for feminism, internationally, that I think that feminism is going to have to start producing some powerful alternatives to what she's saying and doing - ones that can acknowledge her intellectual strength and not demonise her, because I do think there's an anti-feminist animus against her, which one should be careful not to encourage. Certainly, the paradigm of victimisation, the over-emphasis on pornography, the cultural insensitivity and the universalisation of "rights" - all of that has to be countered by strong feminist positions.

What's needed is a dynamic and more diffuse conception of power, one which is committed to the difficulty of cultural translation as well as the need to rearticulate "universality" in non-imperialist directions. This is difficult work and it's no longer viable to seek recourse to simple and paralysing models of structural oppression. But even her, in opposing a dominant conception of power in feminism, I am still "in" or "of" feminism. And it's this paradox that has to be worked, for there can be no pure opposition to power, only a recrafting of its terms from resources invariably impure.

Interview by Peter Osborne and Lynne Segal, London, 1993. © Radical Philosophy Ltd, 1994.

The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House - Audre Lorde

The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House

by Audre Lorde

From Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press Feminist Series (1984)

I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities
conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting
upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American
women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these
considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist
theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant
input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I
stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment
within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists
and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this
conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are
inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women
have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women's culture and
silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what
does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women
who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it
mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of
that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of
change are possible and allowable.

The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the
consciousness of Third World women leaves a serious gap within this
conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a paper on
material relationships between women, I was conscious of an either/or model
of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowledge as a Black lesbian. In
this paper there was no examination of mutuality between women, no systems
of shared support, no interdependence as exists between lesbians and
women-identified women. Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of
nurturance that women "who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too
high a price for the results," as this paper states.

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but
redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is
rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal
world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social
power open to women.

Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to
be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a
difference between the passive be and the active being.

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest
reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in
our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of
necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a
dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become
unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths,
acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world
generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that
security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return
with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect
those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw
and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.

As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view
them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for
change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable
and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But
community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic
pretense that these differences do not exist.

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of
acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of
difference -- those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who
are older -- know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how
to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common
cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to
define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to
take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will
never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat
him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine
change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define
the master's house as their only source of support.

Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily
manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our
daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not
deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our
oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean
your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist
theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the
theory behind racist feminism?

In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the
groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to
recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the
first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become
define and empower.

Why weren't other women of Color found to participate in this conference?
Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only
possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black
panelist's paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love
between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who
don't love each other?

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, "We
did not know who to ask." But that is the same evasion of responsibility,
the same cop-out, that keeps Black women's art out of women's exhibitions,
Black women's work out of most feminist publications except for the
occasional "Special Third World Women's Issue," and Black women's texts off
your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white
feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the
past ten years, how come you haven't also educated yourselves about Black
women and the differences between us -- white and Black -- when it is key to
our survival as a movement?

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male
ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an
old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with
the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to
educate white women -- in the face of tremendous resistance -- as to our
existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This
is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal

Simone de Beauvoir once said: "It is in the knowledge of the genuine
conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our
reasons for acting."

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and
time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of
knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any
difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as
the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What's more, it's a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well.
- Caliban, in Aime Cesaire's "The Tempest"

Feminism is for Everybody: bell hooks

Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. 2000

hooks, bell. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. 123 p., $12.60, paperback. ISBN: 0896086283.

"Everything we do in life is rooted in theory" (19).

Taking a decidedly radical feminist position, bell hooks, the writing voice of Gloria Watkins, promotes the learning of feminist theory and history as essential parts of the process of self-actualization and the practice of freedom. In Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, hooks provides an overview targeted to readers new to interdisciplinary feminism. Importantly, hooks argues in strong opposition to the anti-feminist public voice in contemporary culture. In particular, she speaks to young female readers who know little about feminism, many of whom falsely assume that sexism is no longer a problem or is "no longer relevant since women now have equality" (49). hooks also speaks to male readers, assuring them that we too can play a positive role in the feminist movement. The bottom line is that "feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression" (6). hooks argues that if people adopt her definition, and know more about feminism and feminist history, then they would no longer fear it.

Feminism is for Everybody provides an introduction to the work of bell hooks, a prolific writer about popular feminist theory and cultural criticism. hooks considers herself a social activist and a revolutionary feminist, though her work has had a significant impact in the academic world. This book’s initial interest stems from hooks’ argument that sexism, racism, classism, capitalism, and colonialism in America promote oppression by idealizing oppressive values and characteristics. In order to liberate, hooks interrogates cultural assumptions supported by oppression. She prompts readers to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of women, to raise awareness about the world in which they live; she respects and encourages readers to find their own voices, and helps them critically reflect on and analyze their place in society.

The historical background included in this book provides useful information about earlier days of the feminist movement, especially to readers new to feminism. While, at times, hooks’ tone may seem confrontational to some readers -- for example, when she demands alternatives to patriarchal, racist, and homophobic aspects of popular culture -- hooks asks readers to participate in what she calls true liberation. Some readers may feel shocked when she critiques the increased entry of bourgeois women into the workforce; she points out that this is not, in fact, a sign that women as a group are gaining economic power. Rather, this phenomenon is related to a process whereby women’s interests are divided along class and racial lines, and feminism itself -- when measured by corporate accomplishment -- is co-opted by capitalism.

In this regard, one particularly strong chapter is on feminist class struggle (chapter 7). This chapter links class and behavior -- how women are taught expectations about behavior, and how women understand and resolve problems. Drawing from work by Rita Mae Brown, Betty Friedan, Mary Barfoot, Charlotte Bunch, and Nancy Myron, as well as her own previously-published work (e.g., Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center), hooks critiques the notion that economic gains of affluent females is a positive sign for all women. Instead, hooks argues "that freedom of privileged-class women of all races has required the sustained subordination of working-class and poor women" (41). She asks readers to consider how "feminist liberation is linked to a vision of social change which challenges class elitism" (43). In this sense, she suggests that we rethink the meaning of work. "When women work to make money to consume more rather than to enhance the quality of our lives on all levels, work does not lead to economic self-sufficiency. More money does not mean more freedom if our finances are not used to facilitate well-being" (53).

hooks connects theory with practice and sees commitment to feminism as connected to political action. For example, she argues that "one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist" (6). She believes that when women do not have the right to choose what happens to their bodies, they risk relinquishing rights in other areas. Missing the organized, radical feminist, mass-based political movement, she calls for a renewed commitment to political solidarity.

Although hooks clearly argues for the notion of inclusion in feminism, what makes this book indeed valuable to readers more advanced in feminist thinking is her critique of power struggles within the women’s movement, struggles among highly literate, well-educated, and materially privileged white women and materially disadvantaged women who do not have access to class power. hooks does not shy away from pointing out that females can be sexist. She illustrates this point with a critique of "lifestyle feminism" and "power feminism," two contemporary co-optations of feminist thinking that, according to hooks, shape the feminist movement toward competitiveness and away from a clearly-defined goal of ending sexist oppression. hooks argues that the current feminist movement lacks a strong sense of sisterhood due to this focus on competition (sexually, economically, physically) concurrent with a lack of participation in consciousness raising groups. In making this argument, she discusses some of the differences between "reform" and "revolutionary" feminism, and explains why knowing about this distinction is so important for women today.

hooks realizes that learning about feminism takes place both inside and outside academic settings. She passionately argues for taking feminist theory from the academy and giving it back to the communities from which it sprang. She calls for feminism without divisive barriers but with rigorous, yet non-hierarchal, discussion and debate. She also argues that feminism cannot succeed without men’s participation in the movement, that men can exist as "worthy comrade[s] in struggle" because feminism is anti-sexism, not anti-male. The enemy, then, is sexist thought and behavior by men or women. She concludes that "enlightened" feminists see that men are not the problem, that the problems are patriarchy, sexism, and male domination (67).

Some critics contend that hooks’ work offers no practical suggestions regarding the feminist struggle. However, hooks does apply her philosophies and suggests specific solutions. For example, she argues for the creation of housing co-ops with feminist principles (43). She also suggests programs of job sharing, and an increase in pay for teachers and service workers. She argues for equal access to welfare for men, so that it would no longer carry the stigma of gender (52). In doing so, hooks asserts that we all live in chaos, because capitalism defines the ways in which we can care and love. But feminism can help society and individuals by creating a rhetoric of belief, to help us learn about and participate in the struggle of the marginalized. Only by doing this can humans celebrate life and love, working against dehumanization and domination. hooks espouses the belief that true revolutionaries must anchor their efforts in an act of love of people and of life.

hooks’ writing often includes personal stories, and her use of emotion and confessional tones often draws criticism from scholars for being non-academic. In Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, bell hooks uses a mere 123 pages to present some of her concepts and philosophies in a simple, readable way. Its language and tone are accessible and clear. The book consists of concise chapters (about 7 pages), each covering a specific topic such as consciousness-raising, education, neocolonialism, spirituality, anti-violence movements, male feminism, and marriage & child-rearing. Readers familiar with feminist theory, and especially hooks’ other work, may find this book to be a simplified, and perhaps even recycled, version of her other texts. Nevertheless, at a cost of just over $10, this book serves as an excellent introduction to feminism. I also find it to be an excellent gift to male friends who are just learning about feminisms or for "power feminists" to help them reflect on their "feminism" in relation to others. hooks has served as a professor at Yale University and Oberlin College, and currently is the Distinguished Professor of English at City College, CU-New York.