BOOK REVIEW: Why HOOD Feminism Should Be Next on Your Reading List [and paired with wine]
Photo Courtesy of Mikki Kendall
HOOD Feminism by Mikki Kendall was just as validating as it was discouraging. Across 18 essays, Mikki brings her readers beyond familiar feminist concepts like wage gap economics, education equality, and sexism, and takes it two steps further. First, by revealing the shadowed side of these inequities experienced by women and non-gender conforming people of color --- the validating, and then, layering them with equity issues that have been denied as part of the feminist narrative --- the discouraging.
If this oscillating emotional cocktail isn't piquing your interest, that's my bad. But what's a girl to feel [or drink] when reading about the gross inequities of mainstream feminism through painful personal stories underscored by historical evidence? Stories that somehow make you want to laugh AND take off your earrings and grease up in vaseline?
Nevertheless, understanding systemic racism and the intersectionality that compounds these inequities seems to be Mikki's 101 class. In feminism 102, we are challenged to go beyond these concepts to confront a few things:
1) Today’s feminism is shaped by the dominant experience and as such focuses on the advancement of those that already have their basic needs met.
2) For those on the margin, feminism isn’t about advancement, it’s about survival.
3) Real feminism requires a complete conversation in which equity issues for basic needs are also claimed as feminist ones.
It’s almost like mainstream feminism is it’s own clique --- judging certain experiences as valid and accepting them into the prestigious circle known as “feminist discourse” while others don’t make the cut. For example, body positivity is in, but food insecurity is out. The wage gap is in, but poverty is out. Abortion rights are in, but equitable access to safe health care is out.
Mikki argues that things like hunger, poverty, gun violence, and voter suppression as experienced by people of color, not only have a place in this discourse but are all critical to a complete feminist movement. If [and since] we don’t include other realities, the fight that [most] white, cis-gender women are calling feminists, is just as confining as the patriarchal cage they themselves are trying to fly from. As Mikki says, the only difference is that “their cage is gilded while others are trapped in less decorative confines.”
Mikki organizes her book according to these themes but adds a heaping spoon of her personal story, a dash of comic relief, and for our benefit, mixes it all together with African American studies. Some of the most revealing sections of her book were those that dis-aggregated the experiences of indigenous women and non-gender conforming people of color. Mikki not only lifts up these realities but ties the veil that hides these experiences to specific biases.
For example, "being the right kind of victim" leads us away from acknowledging things like forced sterilizations, the ignorance, and bigotry in medical care for LBGTQIA and non-gender conforming patients, and that appropriation of other cultures contributes to the hyper-sexualization of women of color. In an example of fetishism, Mikki challenges us to see that sexy Pocahontas costumes for Halloween and nude Indian outfits at Coachella are not empowering “looks,” but instead, are harmful appropriations that simultaneously boost the perception of white women’s purity AND the availability of women of color while validating their exploitation with impunity. READ. mic drop.
HOOD Feminism has a way of re-positioning social problems that seem tangentially related to mainstream feminism and places them smack in the middle of its discourse. For example, Mikki talks about how soda taxes to curb obesity place more money in companies that exacerbate food deserts and make it harder for female heads of households to access healthy food for their families. Gun violence has been deadly for our black boys and men but also has disproportionate outcomes in school drop out and homicide rates for women of color.
In the section It’s Raining Patriarchy, Mikki challenges the reader to consider the effects of colonial patriarchy and mass incarceration in communities of color. For example, we know that the removal of men from communities of color due to incarceration left families to restructure themselves. We also know it also introduced a departure from the nuclear family and normalized black women in the workplace. But Mikki also argues a gender load placed on women to maintain their role as a provider and double down on traditional roles in order to build up the masculinity that was lost to oppression. Yes... you read that right... the masculinity that was lost to oppression. Mikki. did. not. come. to. play.
What we see today are two different things; the pick me! a phenomenon where some women “announce their willingness to adhere to these arbitrary standards” and the guilt women of color are made to feel to “uphold traditional values no matter how tired they may be from their own work.”
Both are intended to build up this lost masculinity, but society ignores how both of these standards carry the historical baggage of sexism and overlooks the current events of the women being subjected to them. In either case, Mikki attributes these outcomes as “a direct result of what has come to be a dearth of available options [for heterosexual men and women] on account of forces dating back to the excision of men from communities of color during and after slavery.”
While the difficulties in confronting gender roles is a painful experience for many women, Mikki argues that the “hipster” mommy guilt from leaving a child with a nanny while going to work is a narrative that dominates mainstream feminism while women of color are expected to bootstrap up and be the “strong, black woman.” Yes, there are a TON of layers to analyze here but we will need a book club and wine --- lots of wine for that.
While the book doesn’t offer the next 10 steps on dismantling the oppressive bars of patriarchy, it does introduce a critical conversation about the difference between an ally an accomplice and the positioning that’s appropriate for each. As Mikki describes, an ally will stand with the oppressed facing the same direction, while the accomplice will intentionally stand between the systems that are less likely to harm them and those in which the system is designed to cause harm. I should note that I literally put the book down and did a slow clap here.
As much as Mikki has declared inclusion throughout the book, I truly appreciate that she doesn’t ignore the fact that some places are not for everyone. Advocacy for marginalized communities from the outside means not intruding on the space of the internal work that outsiders cannot do. This means that solidarity may not be an option, but a partnership is. What Mikki suggests is for outside actors to realize that assistance should also include the internal work to address the “tropes within their own circles that perpetuate stereotypes.”
HOOD Feminism isn’t just about the experiences of women in the hood, but about everyone pushed to the margins of the movement. It’s a clear call to action that if we want a movement that is for all women, we need to do more than just accept and acknowledge different experiences, but center them as feminist ones too. As Mikki says, sometimes it’s as simple as that, step up, reach back and keep moving forward.
If my review didn't immediately motivate you to pick up this book, maybe you'll be inspired by Gabrielle Union who said HOOD Feminism is "A rousing call to action for today's feminists. It should be required reading for everyone." See --- even Gabrielle agrees that we need this book in our lives and more wine while we're at it...Cheers!