The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Making Peace with the Outcome: Remembering bell hooks

When I woke up last month to the news that bell hooks had passed away, my eyes filled with tears for the passing of a person who I only met once in my life, but who has critically influenced so very much of it.

The first bell hooks book that I read was for an undergraduate sociology class. The book was Where We Stand: Class Matters, and as I read her analysis of how class inequality and classism permeate our social experiences, I knew that I had found my new favorite author. Being a low-income white young mom, I had noticed class a lot in my own life, and bell hooks offered me the words and understanding that I needed to be able to articulate these experiences.

Throughout grad school, bell hooks remained among my favorite authors. I "ate up" “Eating the Other,” poured through Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, and resonated as I read Black Looks: Race & Representation. I read Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom as I was learning to teach as a graduate teaching assistant, and as a workshop leader in my community. Happy to be Nappy was among my kids' favorite bedtime stories. bell hooks helped me teach my working-class friends and family that Feminism is for Everybody, by acknowledging that class-privileged white feminism certainly hasn't been. There was even a participant in my dissertation whose pseudonym was chosen as a tribute to bell hooks.

Through bell hooks as my guide and gatekeeper, I dove head on into the works of other intersectional feminist queer authors exploring the complexities of intersectional oppression, truth seeking, and empowerment towards equity and justice. I filled my head with the writing of Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Simone de Beauvoir, Patricia Hill Collins, and Dorothy Roberts. I considered my early millennial intersectional feminist approach, through which I saw the classism and class oppression I experienced as a poor white young mama as better aligned with Black feminist critiques of liberal white feminism, and better resonated with the intersectional perspective that I was developing to understand my own identity and life experiences.

bell hooks’ words challenged me to become an even better teacher: to work with my students devotedly, to advocate for them, to guide them . . .

After finishing my doctorate and starting my first job, in which I was teaching classes for single mamas in college, bell hooks was again there to guide me. In Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, she told me the stories of her own early years as a professor in which she taught similar groups of young moms. She talked me through the dilemmas of justice-seeking pedagogy when teaching students for whom the world—including the institution of college itself—is complexly and intersectionally unjust. bell hooks’ words challenged me to become an even better teacher: to work with my students devotedly, to advocate for them, to guide them, to help them put forth their very best work, and then to "make peace with the outcome."

She also reassured me that it is often very hard to be able to make peace with the outcome. She challenged me to remember that educational accommodation is not educational justice if it means giving students credit for something that they haven't actually learned. How could I as a justice-seeking educator ensure equitable learning outcomes for my students, while reimagining my pedagogy to better accommodate them as learners? What I learned from bell hooks about teaching low-income college student moms is what challenged me to redesign teaching and learning by tapping into two-generational pedagogy.

Like I said, I only met bell hooks once. She came to speak at Boston College, where I got my Ph.D., and gave a guest seminar for our department. I'm not a person who's easily star struck, but it felt like there were so many things I wanted to ask and say to her, that it was too hard to figure out where to begin. I didn't want to bombard her either, so I tried to bite my tongue, opening my ears and listening instead. I remember listening to her as if wisdom was pouring from her like a fountain, and I was mentally scrambling to catalog and store it. She made me feel safe and reassured and appreciated for being me and for adding my voice and perspective to the conversation, and she was kind.

Through her writing, and influence on me across two decades, I consider bell hooks to be among my formative feminist foremothers. I mourn her passing in love, appreciation, respect, and gratitude to a great teacher who changed the lives and perspectives of so many other people, many of whom never got the privilege of meeting her even once. The only reassurance in the face of such a monumental loss to the world is that her words are still out in it, and will continue to be soaked up by many future generations to come.


Autumn GreenAutumn Green, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women studying higher education access for parenting students. Dr. Green is nationally recognized for her scholarship on the lives of parenting students and has worked to create two-generation programs on college and university campuses.

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Envisioning a World of Feminist Peace

Since 1981, the United Nations has observed International Day of Peace on September 21. In its resolution, the UN marked the day as a “globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace.” But how far along are we in this process? Terrorism, nuclear weapons, militarization, and other visible forms of violence are in plain sight. And if one considers the hidden and silenced forms of violence, it is difficult to be optimistic.

As a global and long term trend, some popular and academic publications would have us believe that violence in the world (from wars to homicide) is declining. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, the 2013 Human Security Report, or Joshua Goldstein’s Winning the War on War argue that the data at our disposal shows that, not only has the number of interstate and intrastate wars decreased, battle-related casualties have also been in a downward trend since the end of the Cold War. Pinker goes as far as saying that recorded violent deaths have been on the decline at least since 10,000 BCE.

As feminists, however, we know better than to trust just numbers as if they were the only data at our disposal. Feminist scholarship and advocacy shows that those numbers and statistics are misleading, particularly as they ignore and make invisible violence against women and girls (VAWG). Monash University Professor Jacqui True claims that if qualitative and quantitative data on VAWG are taken seriously, we are not witnessing a decline in violence, quite the opposite. Feminists have exposed the extent and gravity of political violence committed in the home (so commonly characterized as non-political, because ‘domestic’); the underreporting and ignoring of sexualized and gender-based violence; and the multiple forms of harm – psychological, physical or economic – suffered by women and girls as a consequence of unequal gendered power structures during armed conflicts as well as in so-called peace times.

Feminist insights compel us to make violence and threats of VAWG central to our definition of peace. If VAWG is increasing, we cannot really say that we, as a human species, are getting better at peace. The challenge is then to recognize and make visible VAWG, its causes and consequences, as a precondition to, but also as inextricably linked to achieving a more peaceful and just world. In the view of the world’s longest-operating international women’s peace organization – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), feminist peace is expansive and inclusive. It is about recognizing all forms of oppression and violence as interrelated; about questioning how systems of power and privilege – from neoliberal capitalism and patriarchy, to militarism and racism – underlie and sustain a violent world; about providing feminist visions and models for a different, more just and peaceful future.

WILPF has been one of many women’s peace organizations who successfully lobbied the UN Security Council to recognize, in Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), that peace and security are linked to gender equality. Specifically, UNSCR 1325 – and several follow-up resolutions in subsequent years – created obligations for UN member states and other parties in armed conflicts – i.e., non-state actors, militias, humanitarian agencies, etc. – to adopt a “gender perspective” in the prevention of war, in peace processes, and in relief and recovery efforts. Often criticized for, among other things, adopting a narrow view of gender, UNSCR 1325 nevertheless recognizes the particular ways in which women are victimized during war, as well as the ways in which they participate in armed conflicts and in subsequent peace efforts.

A 2015 report on the implementation of the resolution – authored in consultation with women’s groups across the world by Radhika Coomaraswamy – shows, however, the chasm between feminist peace activists’ goals and the political and financial support their agenda receives from international and state policymakers. For example, despite growing evidence that women’s participation in peace negotiations contributes to the durability of peace agreements, there continues to be a reluctance to include women in conflict resolution and peace-building processes. Despite strong links between women’s rights (such as the right to education, health, political participation and leadership, or property) and their security and bodily integrity, gender equality is yet to become a central organizing principle of post-conflict humanitarian assistance, development, or human rights work.

Coomaraswamy’s report offers unmistakable evidence of the connections between justice, peace, and gender equality. Commitment to “Peace above all differences” and to “building a Culture of Peace” commands us, then, to take seriously both the work of feminist peace advocates and feminism as a lens with which to approach questions of peace, justice, and security. Only then can we begin to establish the conditions and institutions that nurture and support non-violent and just human relations, and recognize the inherent worthiness and dignity of every human being.

Scholar and activist around issues of peace and gender, Catia Confortini, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Peace and Justice Studies at Wellesley College and a member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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