bell hooks was an American author and social activist, working in the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender.
She is perhaps best known for Ain’t I a Woman?(1981).
I first came into contact with her work by way of Angry Women (1991), a book in the RE/Search series.
She also wrote on Paris Is Burning (1990) in a vocabulary typical of her corpus:
“Within white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy the experience of men dressing as women, appearing in drag, has always been regarded by the dominant heterosexist cultural gaze as a sign that one is symbolically crossing over from a realm of power into a realm of powerlessness.”
bell hooks on Paris is Burning in a piece published in Black Hooks (1992)
Each of these words, white, supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, hetero-sexist sounds as meaningful and portentous as vacuous and meaningless. It is a description of a state of affairs that betrays a desire for change. The form of this change, however, is not spelled out. Would bell hooks prefer communism instead of capitalism?
Nevertheless, looking at old interviews on Charlie Rose, bell hooks comes across as a gentle, well-read and smart woman.
“Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body.”
“I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help. But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago.”
Unlike Shere Hite, who passed away last September and became known worldwide after her 1976 “Hite Report”, few outside the United States knew the witty Betty Dodson.
Hite became known for assuring women worldwide that penetrative sex is not the way to orgasm for women. Before Hite, many women faked their orgasms. After Hite there was a little less faking. However, it was Dodson who taught American women how to masturbate.
Dodson started out as an artist, she debuted in the late 1960s with drawings of couples making love. That went well. For a second exhibition she decided to invite friends to her studio to masturbate and draw them. That exhibition was a flop and also marked the end of her career as an artist.
Dodson went on to become an orgasm evangelizer, working with the likes of Annie Sprinkle, and writing a number of top-selling books. She looked very young in old age. Perhaps because of all the masturbation she so passionately promoted? She loved the Hitachi Magic Wand, an vibrator called the Rolls-Royce of sex toys. She organized group sessions for ladies to masturbate together. Each with such a Hitachi (I read somewhere that these sessions were sometimes broadcast live on TV). Her dream was to orchestrate a simultaneous group orgasm, but it was precisely in that orchestration role that she saw objections.
Anyone in Europe who was a little curious – and you know what Zappa said about being curious: “the mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground” – saw Betty Dodson in the 1971 film WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) about the influence of Willem ‘orgasmatron’ Reich (1897-1957) on the hippie world. There she talked about her erotic drawings.
Betty Dodson belongs to a movement within feminism called sex-positive feminism. It is a movement that I became familiar with via the work of Camille Paglia, an American academic who made the world a smarter place in 1990 with her book Sexual Personae.
Sex-positive thinkers have a positive attitude towards, for example, porn, sex work and sexting.
In that sense I am also sex positive.
If you fully agree that sex is a good thing, you can only decide, as some feminists do, that rape is not about sex, for example.
They reason for this is, and I quote, The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1979) by Donald Symons, a fantastic book:
“The notion that rape is not sexually motivated” [may be due to the fact that] “part of the modernization of sex is the belief that sex is a good thing; yet almost everyone agrees that rape is a bad thing, and one way of eliminating the threat of cognitive dissonance is to deny that rape is sex.”
Sex can be a very beautiful thing indeed. But sex can also be very ugly.
Most of all, sex is often a bit disruptive. And having come to this point in a discourse like this, I like to say it with Schopenhauer who famously said that “sex is a malevolent demon.”
Shere Hite (1942 – 2020) was a American-born German sex educator and feminist. Her sexological work focused primarily on female sexuality.
She is best-known for her book The Hite Report on Female Sexuality (1976) which is in several ways a successor to Masters and Johnson’s Human Sexual Response (1966) and Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).
In this book, she permanently devaluated the coitus in favour of more attention for the clitoris.
She is the last great feminist. Perhaps only equalled by Camille Paglia (born 1947). Nancy Friday (1933 – 2017) is another famous feminist of that generation.
Everyone knows Peter Fonda from the film Easy Rider (1969) a cult film which is so well-known that it is actually a mainstream film.
I saw the film somewhere in the 1990s but hardly remember anything about it. Given the choice — knowing what I know now — between watching Easy Rider and its predecessor The Wild Angels (1966) I’d watch the latter, being that it is as hilarious as it is historiographical (in the sense that Wild Angels tells us more about the sixties zeitgeist than Easy Rider, I refer specifically to the speech featuring “We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man!”)
“[Peter Fonda] had nowhere near the talent of his father Henry Fonda or sister Jane Fonda, but he was popular with young audiences from the early sixties to early seventies because he was good-looking, knew how to ride a motorcycle, made “hip” pictures with drug-related themes, and, to hide his acting limitations, smartly played characters who were tight-lipped, unemotional, and often wore shades.” —Cult Movie Stars (1991) by Danny Peary
Now for the praise.
Upon the death of an actor or director, I check YouTube for films featuring the corpse in question. And so it happened that I stumbled upon The Hired Hand (1971). Never heard of it before. Started reading about it. Appeared to be a revisionist western. Interesting category. Started watching. Liked the music. The story is that of a man who is tired of drifting the Wild West and returns home to the wife and child he left seven years earlier. She accepts him, not as a husband, but as a hired hand.
That same Danny Peary who called Fonda not a good actor calls The Hired Hand a “feminist western”.
On two occasions Hannah (the abandoned wife) ruminates about her lust for sex. These dialogues are extremely interesting and the second scene, in which Oates touches the ankle of Bloom, is actually quite sexy.
The first conversation of her sex life is with returned husband (Fonda) who has heard rumors in town of her sexual escapades [47:00]:
“You hired men to sleep with,” says he.
“Sometimes I’d have him or he’d have me whatever suits you.”
And in a second scene she says to Arch Harris (Oates) [54:00]:
“You probably think I’m pretty hot … Well I am … don’t wannabe but I am … I don’t know how many nights I set on the porch … watching the shed … hoping whoever was in there would come out … hoping and terrified in case he did … wouldn’t really matter whether it was you or him tonight.”
The statement baffled me and I knew right away that I would not be able to find whether this was true or not, the only thing I could hope to discover is who first spread this piece of information.
After some googling I found this information cited in Take Back the Night (1980) by Laura Lederer. Some more googling and I discovered that it can be pinpointed to Pamela Hansford Johnson’s statement “when the Nazis took on the government of Poland, they flooded the Polish bookstalls with pornography” recorded in On Iniquity (1967), an attack on permissive society occasioned by the Moors murders.
I’ve previously mentioned why I like the rhetoric of censors so much but must write more about it, see in praise of censorship. This documentary is up here in its entirety but for how long considering the amount of explicit imagery?
PS 1. There is another explicit video on censorship, which has escaped the YouTube censor, I’ve written on it here and the video is still there.
PS 2. If you know where Pamela Hansford Johnson got her info from, I’d love to hear from you.