hooks talking back

hooks talking back - relation to feminism, Kimiml gives us...

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Unformatted text preview: relation to feminism, Kimiml gives us another im of women’s studies for all students. In the next six selections, the value of a women’s studies \_ Chapter I: What [3 Women’s Studies? 15 women’s studies students and one instructor speak of education to their intellectual, political, and personal lives. Because the authors of each piece come from varied backgrounds, women’s studies took on different meaning for each of them. We end this section with an essay examining the history of women’s studies’ Spectacular growth within American colleges and universities within the last three decades. Marilyn Boxer’s essay celebrates this growth and calls for the continued integration of feminist research and teaching into institutions of higher learning. W mun .' Lithagw MWLJ _ when amt, I tmcynam, ‘1}; 1 “Acid Talking Back BELL HOOKS In the world of the southern black community I grew up in, “back talk” and “talking back” meant speak— ing as an equal to an authority figure. It meant dar— ing to disagree and sometimes it just meant having an opinion. In the “old school,” children were meant to be seen and not heard. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents were all from the old school. To make yourself heard if you were a child was to invite punishment, the back~hand lick, the slap acrOss the face that Would catch you unaware, or the feel of switches stinging your arms and legs. To speak then when one was not spoken to was a courageous act—an act of risk and daring. And yet it was hard not to Speak in warm rooms where heated discussions began at the crack of dawn, women’s voices filling the air, giving orders, making threats, fussing. Black men may have excelled in the art of poetic preaching in the male-dominated Church, but in the church of the home, where the everyday rules of how to live and how to act were es— tablished, it was black women who preached. There, black women spoke in a language so rich, so poetic, that it felt to me like being shut off from life, smoth- ered to death if one were not allowed to participate. It was in that world of woman talk (the men were often silent, often absent) that was born in me the craving to speak, to have a voice, and not just any voice but one that could be identified as belonging to me. To make my voice, I had to speak, to hear myself talk—and talk I did—darting in and out of grown folks’ conversations and dialogues, answer- ing questions that were not directed at me, endlessly asking questions, making speeches. Needle5s to say, the punishments for these acts of speech seemed endless. They were intended to silence me—the child—~and more particularly the girl child. Had I been a boy, they might have encouraged me to speak believing that I might someday be called to preach. There was no “calling” for talking girls, no legitimized rewarded speech. The punishments I received for “talking back” were intended to sup— press all possibility that I would create my own speech. That speech was to be suppressed so that the “right speech of womanhood” would emerge. Within feminist circles, silence is often seen as the sexist “right speech of womanhood”——the sign of woman’s submission to patriarchal authority. This emphasis on woman’s silence may be an accu— rate remembering of what has taken place in the households of women from WASP backgrounds in the United States, but in black communities (and diverse ethnic communities), women have not been silent. Their voices can be heard. Certainly for black women, our struggle has not been to emerge from silence into speech but to change the nature and 16 CHAPTER I: WHATIS WOr'l/IEN’S STUDIES? direction of our speech, to make a speech that com- pels listeners, one that is heard. Our speech, “the right speech of womanhood,” was often the soliloquy, the talking into thin air, the talking to ears that do not hear you—the talk that is simply not listened to. Unlike the black male preacher whose speech was to be heard, who was to be listened to, whose words were to be remembered, the voices of black women—giving orders, making threats, fussing——could be tuned out, could become a kind of background music, audible but not acknowledged as significant speech. Dialogue—the sharing of speech their speech—the satisfaction they received from talking to one another, the pleasure, the joy. It was in this world of woman speech, loud talk, angry words, women with tongues quick and sharp, tender sweet tongues, touching our world with their words, thatI made speech my birthright—and the right to voice, to authorship, a privilege I would not be denied. It was in that world and because of it that I came to dream of writing, to write. Writing was a way to capture speech, to hold onto it, keep it close. And so I wrote down bits and pieces of conversations, confessing in cheap diaries that soon fell apart from too much handling, ex— pressing the intensity of my sorrow, the anguish of speech—for I was always saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong questions. I could not confine my speech tothe necessary corners and concerns of found and read them, they ridiculed and mocked me——poking fun. I felt violated, ashamed, as if the secret parts of my self had been exposed, brought into the open, and hung like newly clean laundry, out in the air for everyone to see. The fear of expo- sure, the fear that one’s deepest emotions and in— nermost thoughts will be dismissed as mere non- sense, felt by so many young girls keeping diaries, holding and hiding speech, seems to me now one of the barriers that women have always needed and \ still need to destroy so that we are no longer pushed into secrecy or silence. Despite my feelings of violation, of exposure, I continued to speak and write, choosing my hiding places well, learning to destroy work when no safe place could be found. I was never taught absolute si- lence, I was taught'that it was important to speak but to talk a talk that was in itself a silence. Taught to speak and yet beware of the betrayal of too much heard speech, I experienced intense confusion and deep anxiety in my efforts to speak and Write. Recit- ing poems at Sunday afternoon church service ing issues that were not deemed appropriate subjects brought pain, punishments—like telling mama I wanted to die before her because I could not live without her——diat was crazy talk, crazy speech, the kind that would lead you to end up in a mental insti— tution. “Little girl,” I would be told, “if you don’t stop all this crazy talk and crazy acting you are going to end up right out there at Western State.” Madness, not just physical abuse, was the pun- ishment for too much talk if you were female. Yet even as this fear of madness haunted me, hanging over my writing like a monstrous shadow, I could not stop the words, making thought, writing speech. For this terrible madness which I feared, which I was sure was the destiny of daring women born to intense speech (after all, the authorities emphasized this point daily), was not as threatening as imposed silence, as suppressed speech. Safety and sanity were to be sacrificed if I was to experience defiant speech. Though I risked them both, deep—seated fears and anxieties characterized my childhood days. I would speak but I would not ride a bike, play hardball, or hold the gray kitten. Writing about the ways we are traumatized in our growing—up years, psychoanalyst Alice Miller makes the point in For Your Own Good that it is not clear why childhood wounds become for some folk an opportume to grow, to move forward rather than backward in the process of self-realization. Cer— tainly, when I reflect on the trials of my growing—up pressed individuals who do not speak or write, I contemplate the acts of persecution, torture-—the terrorism that breaks spirits, that makes creativity impossible. I write these words to bear witness to pecting a critical avalanche that had the power in its women, about women of color, who write and pub- lish (even when the work is quite successful) having any oppressed, colonized group who endeavors to speak. For us, true speaking is not solely an expres- sion of creative power; it is an act of resistance, a po- litical gesture that challenges politics of domination which is threatening must necessarily be wiped out, annihilated, silenced. Chapter]: [What Is women’s Studies? 17 body of feminist writing by black women, but by the paucity of available published material. Those of us who write and are published remain few in number. The context of silence is varied and multidimem stonal. Most obvious are the ways racism, sexism, would be told, “you are a writer,” I was not yet ready to fully afiirm this truth. Part of myself was One of the many reasons I chose to write using the pseudonym bell hooks, a family name (mother to Sarah Oldham, grandmother to Rosa Bell Oldham, great~grandmothcr to me), was to name bell hooks. Ihad just “talked back” to a groWn person. Even now I can recall the surprised look, the mocking tones that informed me I must be kin to bell hooks—-a sharp-tongued woman, a woman who spoke her mind, a woman who was not afraid to talk back. I claimed this legacy of defiance, of will, of courage, affirming my link to female ancestors who were bold and daring in their speech. Unlike my bold and daring mother and grandmother, who were not 18 CIMPTER I: WHATIS WOMEN’S STUDIES? That initial act of talking back outside the home was empowering. It was the first of many acts 'of defiant speech that would make it pOssible for me to emerge as an independent thinker and writer. In retrOSpect, “talking back” became for me a rite of initiation, testing my courage, strengthening my commitment, preparing me for the days ahead—— the days when writing, rejection notices, periods of silence, publication, ongoing development seem impossible but necessary. Movirig from silence into speech is for the op- pressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and-struggle side by side a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth pos— sible. It is that act of speech, of “talking back,” that is no mere'gesture of empty words, that is the ex- pression of our movement from object to subject—— the liberated voice. [1989} (12$ 2 Sins of Silence MAI KAO THAO My mother used to tell me that I should always be a good, obedient woman, and smile silently as I swal- low the bitterness that others give me. “Nod your head and say yes even if you don’t agree. It’s much easier. No trouble,” she would say. Through these words, I heard, “Silence is power! It is a woman’s strength.” I remember hearing my father criticize my mother, even about the smallest things. “The rice doesn’t taste good enough! Now the meat is too hard! You are a bad woman, a stupid woman! No good.” And all the while, my mother would go about fixing what she did “wrong” without uttering a word, just wearing her usual, invisible mask of sadness. Oh well. At least there was no trouble. I was trained to avoid conflict. When my brother lectured me, I’d reply “uh” and shake my head in agreement. I was punished with harsh reprimands and scorching displeasure if I talked back or offered an opinion, so I was silent. I was declared insolent if I spoke a little louder than I should have, so I learned to whisper. My voice was soft, sweet, and so deliciou to the ear of authority. Yes. I was a good girl. Word less. Humble. Obedient. A perfect Hmong womar. Sexism laid comfortably on top of my silent sub mission. I smiled politely when older men gave rn kisses on my check, more like wet, slow licks the made my innocent skin crawl. Hands grappled m body. Was that a bad touch or a good touch? Mus have been a good touch. Relieved. No one will sa that I was wrong in thinking that it was a bad toucl because it wasn’t, and no one will call the stupid gir There will be no trouble. Yes, it must be a goo touchl Racism grinned at my passivity, while I, th “damned Chink,” gave it my pride, tears, and f0] giveness. But no matter! I was stone. Silent. Hart Emotionless. Nothing was going to hurt me! In reality, I wasn’t stone. I was flesh and blood. was a cup, continuously filled, half with anger, dis satisfaction, and anxiety, and the other half wit emptiness. My silence had killed my Self, tl'. essence which holds and molds an individual tc gether in order to form one complete organisn Without it, I was but an empty shell, a bird withoi the courage to fly. I suppressed my ideas of indeper dence and ignored my innate disposition to feel an need. I had not learned to listen to the voice withil and so I did not know how to express these feeling or needs to others. Sadly, not only did I alone deprii my Self of its necessary nutrients, but I also allowe others to do it. And I wondered why no one unde stood me or gave me the respect I hungered for. With love, my mother gave me her legacy, shield of silence to protect me from pain and to pr- vent me from troubles. It gave me a source of ion strength, but it also barred inner peace from rcacl ing the premises of my soul. Although my mothei words are wise, they are in some cases unsuitable deal with problems which I faced in the conte of my experiences in this new country. Back Laos, my mother’s life consisted of devotion to of ers, her parents, her husband, her children, becau she was never expected to go beyond the role of t! traditional Hmong woman. Here in Americ opportunities are more plentiful. Education delive knowledge. Employment offers financial indepe dence. Women’s support groups give an identity n ...
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hooks talking back - relation to feminism, Kimiml gives us...

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