chapter  4
Diff erences among and within women
Pages 24

Ain’t I a Woman, the title of bell hooks’s 1981 exploration of “black women and feminism”, symbolizes one of the most urgent and worrisome problems that has shaped contemporary feminist thinking, and a problem that we have seen arise in various ways in previous chapters. Th is title, echoing the words of nineteenth-century black slave Sojourner Truth, hailed both white and black women: white feminists for their silence about the lives of black women, and black women for their complicity with black men’s accounts of racism. More generally, hooks makes the point that although feminist attention to the problems of oppression and embodiment has revolutionized analyses of gender roles, knowledge and understanding by showing up the biases of mainstream thinking, it has also oft en been misguided and exclusionary in its own right by neglecting the impact of the many diff erences – race, class, sexuality and ethnicity, and so on – among women. Talk about oppression and subordination, about the gendered divisions in labour, sexist language, bodily consciousness and assumptions about desire and sexuality, while taking the false generalizations of dominant masculinist understandings to task, has too oft en involved homogeneous conceptions of women and femininity. Unsurprisingly these conceptions have refl ected the situations of privileged white women: those with the power to have their voices heard.