Communion Describe the Gender-Specific Relationship Between Men  Essay

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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?

In Communion, Hooks discusses a plethora of sometimes conflicting and contradictory gender roles. Women are "prophetesses," "advisors," wives, homemakers, mothers, nurses, nurturers, and teachers. The differences between gender roles in intimate heterosexual relationships can be traced to social construction, social learning, and socialization. When the woman becomes the primary earner in a household, she subverts traditional gender norms and roles. Resentment might build within the man, who has no way of navigating his own role within the newly constructed and unconventional relationship. Hooks points out that males ascribing to traditional gender roles in relationships see themselves as patriarch; and that "power, not love" defines his role in the family (18).

Women are socialized to be supreme caregivers: "responsible for everyone else's happiness," (19). Therefore, women are not expected to do things only for themselves, lest they be labeled as selfish. Although hooks's perspective is slightly anachronistic in the sense that younger generations do not view career-driven women as being self-centered, there are still members of the older generations that do view women as needing always to carve out less space for themselves than for their families in their hearts. Thus, a working mother is chastised and criticized for pursing the same endeavors that her male parental counterpart deserves to do. Not only does the man "deserve" to pursue a life, career, and relationships outside of the home environment, he is expected to. Any man who chooses to fulfill a "house husband" role might be looked down upon, criticized, and chastised by his friends. His masculinity would be insulted just as would be the femininity of his money-earning wife.

Hooks addresses some deeper issues at stake in the relationships between men and women. For example, the author refers to notions like "emotional space," and real -- or socialized -- differences between the emotional and psychological natures of men and women (51). Individual differences aside, socialization has made it so that it is easier for men to get away with "shutting down," and for women to get away with bursting out in tears.

2. Explain hooks's statement on p.105, "Nothing belies the assumption that men and women are more loving than men as much as the negative feelings most females hold about our bodies."

In Chapter 8 of Communion, bell hooks focuses on body image and self-perception. Self-love is a cornerstone of altruistic love and romantic intimacy. Although hooks perhaps overestimates the self-love men have for their bodies, her assessments of female aesthetic norms in American society are correct and nearly universal. Accepting and loving the body is a first and natural step towards self-love, given the body is the most fundamental manifestation of the self. In Chapter 8, hooks claims, "Females endorse a mind-body split that lets us cultivate the false assumption that we can hate our bodies and still be loving," (105-106). Body-hatred has become a standard component of American femininity, to the point where women who are proud of their bodies might be ridiculed, teased, or taunted by other women or men. Hooks correctly points out the dichotomies between an ideal femininity that is unconditionally and archtypically loving, and the ideal of female body dysmorphia. Likewise, hooks does well to point out the paradoxes of parenting daughters who begin to show signs of body dysmorphia because that mentality is expected of them. Mothers will often tell their daughters to stop putting themselves down and to "accept yourself as you are," but turn around and model the inappropriate behavior of negative self-talk. Another dichotomy hooks exposes is that between a woman's need for unconditional acceptance "as she is" versus her inability to cultivate that very same within herself.

Young women in America and in a disturbingly great number of other countries come to believe that thinness determines worth. Thinness is construed as a necessary prerequisite for being loved. Instead, hooks tries to dismantle the dysfunctional thinking underlying the assumption that thinness represents the ideal state of personhood for anyone -- woman or man. The mass media is of course a primary culprit of perpetuating gender norms related to body image and negative self-talk. However, self-hatred is a cognitive pattern that females cultivate via socialization even prior to being exposed to the range of beauty magazines and other media.

To substantiate her claims, hooks also discusses the fear and shame of natural beauty -- the ability for women to go outside without makeup. The media certainly perpetuates the idea that a woman who goes outside without makeup or looking her prim and proper best might as well kill herself. Men are perfectly fine with walking the dog in their shorts and with no makeup; women need to empower themselves to do the same if they are to overcome self-hatred and the inability to love unconditionally.

3. bell hooks writes that "self-love is always risky for women with in patriarchy" Explain.

In Communion, one of hooks's main theses is that in spite of feminist politics and social progress, women remain "trapped in the arms of patriarchy," (xvi). Hooks even employs ironic turns of phrase like the "bosom of patriarchy" to underscore the power that patriarchy has over the way women think and behave. Within the patriarchal framework, female self-love is "always risky" because it sends the signal of self-empowerment. Women who think and act in ways that connote political and social power risk being labeled derogatory terms like "dyke" or "feminist," terms that have been misappropriated by the patriarchy to continue denigrating and oppressing women's genuine spiritual liberation. The woman who does choose to align herself with self-love, self-acceptance, and empowerment does so at the risk of isolating friends, family members, and coworkers.

As hooks puts it, "any desire for agency on her part was pathological. She should be fulfilled through her man. A woman who desired something more was a demon destroyer, crazy, and castrating," (21). Self-loathing is integral to patriarchy because it helps to substantiate it. Without woman's complicity, patriarchy would simply fall by the wayside.

Another reason why self-love is risky is because it is a personal challenge, much like bungee jumping. Women know inside that it is safe to be assertive and proud. Yet when it comes to making the massive move of expressing that pride and confidence, fear sets in. Everything that woman was raised to do is called into question. Her whole identity, her whole sense of self, stands on tenuous ground. She was taught to be demure, polite, and flirtatious among men. When she stands alone out of self-love, she must use cognitive and spiritual muscles that have not exercised themselves in the history of Western civilization. Finally, self-love connotes the love of other women. Lesbianism is also a risky form of self-love and self-expression because of homophobia and stigma related to homosexuality.

4. Pick any section/topic in the book and explain why you enjoyed it/found it interesting and insightful/could relate to it.

Most of what hooks writes about in Communion has been said before in one way or another. And yet, the book is powerful, well written, and compelling. All issues related to gender are expressed in ways both understandable and thought provoking. The overall theme of self-love being essential for other-love is especially notable. One of the most unique aspects of hook's Communion is her assessment of lesbianism. I have not before thought much about the ways hetero-normativity influences choices related to sexual relationships, intimacy, and self-image. Therefore, hook's assessment of the ways lesbianism is sometimes a mode of self-discovery is especially insightful and enjoyable. She dissects the multiple issues at stake: including the perception that radical feminists are somehow "man-haters." In fact, that stigma proves how powerful patriarchy is in the society. When the discourse assumes that self-empowerment for a woman is "man-hating," it shows that many people (men and women) are uncomfortable with changes to their social structures. Gender and gender roles are so ingrained, and so much a part of social identity, that it is a real threat to consider that a woman can be self-loving and self-empowered and still love all human beings. Patriarchy is more than just a social hierarchy, or institutionalized sexism. Hooks shows that patriarchy is a mindset, and one that is perpetuated by women as much as men. Women who belittle themselves, or refuse to listen to their inner voice of truth, are perpetuating patriarchy. Hooks is not saying that all women need to be lesbians, but that affirmations of self-love and empowerment are risky but rewarding maneuvers.

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

Hooks defines love both in terms of what it is, and what it is not. Love is not dominion, power, or domination. Patriarchy has tried to appropriate concepts of love,…

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