Description of the gender-specific relationship

Part One

A. Describe the gender-specific relationship between men, women and love. How is it different? Why? How does gender socialization contribute to these masculine and feminine roles in relationship to love and relationships in general?

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Pre-eminent feminist bell hooks addresses two issues simultaneously with regard to gender specific relationships between men and women. The first issue is gender norms and socialization, which restrict roles for men and women in their love relationships. Women are socialized as caregivers who place the needs of others before themselves: “she was also responsible for everyone else’s happiness,” (Communion 19). On the contrary, men are socialized to receive care, and to suppress deep and meaningful emotional responses as part of their construct of masculine identity—something that hooks describes in The Will to Change. Given the different ways females and males are socialized, their relationships with one another is mediated by gender norms and performativity.

Part of the socialization process creates a power dynamic in the family unit, whereby women’s work as caregivers is taken for granted, ignored, or undermined. As hooks puts it, “all her gifts were taken for granted,” including her financial contributions to the family (Communion 20). As feminism takes root in the culture and becomes inculcated into the public consciousness, gender roles and norms are changing. Women are able to redefine their roles in their love relationships, and carve out positions of power in their private and personal lives. In The Will to Change, hooks focuses more squarely on the unraveling of patriarchal norms for men in love relationships. Men have in some ways recognized the social impetus for changing the status of women overall in the society and in the household. Yet as hooks points out in The Will to Change, men have “believed themselves unable to change…in their emotional lives,” (2). Socialization of males prevents men from expanding their roles in intimate relationships, causing communication breakdowns and disappointments in all relationship dyads.

B. How does bell hooks define and describe love? How does her definition align with, contradict and/or expand cultural notions of love? Be specific.

Hooks defines and describes numerous types of love in her work. She defines love in terms of mutual respect and intimacy, of love of self as well as love of and for others. Love has often been constrained by patriarchal values, according to hook, who notes that “women have followed the path of love set for us by patriarchal pathfinders,” but also that “more women than ever before now know that love and domination do not go together,” (Communion 6). Love is liberating, love is empowering, and love is universal. For too long, love has been restricted to its heterosexual, patriarchal concept, one that plays into dominant narrative discourses of power, dominance, and subordination. Changing cultural notions of love have opened up new means of achieving self-fulfillment, social harmony, and genuine intimacy. Liberated from the patriarchal construct of relationship, both men and women are now more capable of ever of defining love as they want it to be defined, within each relationship they have as well as within their own relationship with self. Love, for hooks, is all-encompassing, a human social, psychological, and spiritual need—even a health-related need.

In The Will to Change, hooks talks about how the new paradigm focuses on the male willingness to love, but also on the overarching need to cease expecting men to conform to outmoded gender roles. As hooks puts it, “caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being,” (The Will to Change 11). Here, hooks asks all readers, men and women, straight and gay, to take responsibility for cultivating a socially conscious love, a love that is genuinely unconditional and empowering. For hooks love is about promoting the values of human dignity, autonomy, and inherent human value: of expressing gratitude verbally and in gesture, of being honest and emotionally intelligent, and being willing to undergo the pain, fear, and loss that all real love actually entails.

Part Two

Communion 1. What is the main point of the book? Why did bell hooks write this book?

Communion is about helping women—indeed, all readers—locate power within, rather than seeking love and approval from others. Yet far from being constructed as a self-help book, Communion is designed to illustrate the underlying causes of deep-rooted emotional pain and suffering that comes from the feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth that many women internalize due to patriarchal gender role socialization. Females are taught from a very early age, in some ways more subtle and in other ways overt, that they alone are insufficient. They are taught that on some level they are inadequate to meet their own needs and that they need approval from others, especially from men. Yet this distorted thinking also means that women experience dissatisfactory relationships with other women, and of course, with the self. Bell hooks writes Communion to inspire a consciousness change, and to encourage all readers to rethink their roles and relationships in the society. Drawing from the concept of communion that Susan Griffin provides, which situates communion as being a physical, emotional, and spiritual need, hooks offers advice and cognitive frameworks for a new paradigm of love. Through a deeper understanding of communion, a person discovers a more authentic self. The authentic self relates to others directly from the heart, with honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable. Communion comes from opening up, not from closing down, from being willing to take risks in relationships.

Another reason why hooks writes Communion is to specifically locate themes of love, gender, and relationship intimacy within the life cycle. Hooks opens Communion by discussing the different needs of women as they age, as the aging process is especially pernicious for women in a society that fetishizes youthful sexuality and aesthetics. Within the patriarchal construct, aging women are expected to be “sexless zombies,” (Communion1). Liberating the self from patriarchal expectations of eternal youth can be challenging and requires a complete redefinition of self, of femininity, and of love.

The Will to Change 6. What is the main point of the book? Why did bell hooks write this book?

Hooks writes The Will to Change mainly to draw attention to the ways feminism is for everyone and not just for women. The Will to Change is about reconfiguring power structures in society, which requires the participation of both men and women who are committed to change. Women can remain caring, nurturing, and loving within a feminist framework, while also enjoying power parity in all aspects of life. Men need to take a more active role in cultivating self-awareness and emotional intelligence, particularly when it comes to exploring the value of emotional vulnerability. The backlash against feminism is fueled in part by fears that “feminizing” society entails weakness, which is essentially a misogynistic attitude as it equates femininity with weakness. Hooks points out the particular problems with dysfunctional masculinity, the most important of which is violence: “masses of boys and men have been programmed from birth on to believe that at some point they must be violent, whether psychologically or physically, to prove that they are men,” (The Will to Change 60).

10. Why do boys and men need feminism? How have feminist men been portrayed in the past? Why is the “new men’s movement” not feminist? What does feminist masculinity look like?

In The Will to Change, hooks advocates for a wholesale change to society. Feminism is not just about what women need to do to compete for power in a patriarchal society, but about dismantling the underlying assumptions of patriarchy. Men and boys need feminism for several reasons, as hooks points out. Feminism provides a framework from wherein political problems can be resolved differently, and where men enjoy greater emotional freedom and liberation in their own lives. Backlash against feminism is fueled by misunderstandings about what feminism entails. For example, detractors claim “feminism is destroying family life,” or that feminism means “man-hating,” (The Will to Change 107). These misconceptions only deepen the problems entrenched in a violent society. A “new men’s movement” is problematic primarily because it resists change and entrenches the very same attitudes, beliefs, and biases that fuel patriarchy itself. Hooks rightfully advocates for a more radical transformation of social norms.

Feminist masculinity is basically about universal human rights and values. An ethical framework of respect guides all human interactions. On a more personal level, individuals are able to interact with one another with deep respect and authenticity, rather than through the filters of gender and performativity. Each person decides for himself or herself how to express fear, anger, love, and affection. Within a feminist framework, sexuality also becomes honest, as men who love men and women who love women can also be liberated from the confines of their pre-programmed attitudes towards gender. All persons, including boys and men, benefit from higher quality of life and social justice ideals; feminism provides the cognitive and normative framework for a new social order.




Works Cited


Hooks, Bell. Communion: The Female Search for Love. Harper Collins, 2002.

Hooks, Bell. The Will to Change. New York: Atria, 2003.

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