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The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, And Love (2004)

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (2004)

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4.27 of 5 Votes: 5
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0743456084 (ISBN13: 9780743456081)
washington square press

About book The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, And Love (2004)

I picked up Bell Hooks' book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love because Anita Sarkeesian, feminist media commentator and critic of video game culture, recommended it on twitter a midst a flurry of death threats from anonymous douchebags. She was talking about "toxic masculinity," which is becoming a buzzword in popular feminist conversations.The Will to Change is a feminist book about toxic masculinity, how the patriarchy creates it, and what men and women can do to put a stop to it. Her central ideas are as follows: "Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence." Patriarchy teaches men to be unfeeling, violent, to revel in death, and to dominate over all (cue *blastbeats*). Patriarchy thus blocks men from their own inner worlds by forcing them to deny their feelings. It prevents them from being whole, and prevents them as well from being able to love, which she defines as including action. It teaches them also that their 'reward' for submitting to patriarchy is sexual exploitation of women. And "what matters in patriarchal sex is the male need to fuck." "Even though not all men are misogynists, feminist thinkers were accurate when we stated that patriarchy in its most basic, unmediated form promotes fear and hatred of females." Women, and even feminists, also play a role in upholding patriarchal norms by expecting men to fit into certain roles and refusing to listen to them when they express their feelings. "Most women do not want to deal with male pain." There's a good bit more than that but I feel like that's the spine of it.I'm not sure what to make of this book because: while I know that a lot of the things she's saying are true just by my own experience (and that may be enough), she doesn't back it up with data. This is not a scientific book, nor a book based in theory. And that's fine, I'm okay with that, but I feel like the lack of scholastic rigor kind of explains why she repeats herself so much. Men are unable to feel, they are unfeeling, they don't know how to love.She makes a lot of good points, and there's even stuff in here that made me rethink how I live my own life. There's also some stuff that's kind of laughable, like: "Yet when men gather together at work, they rarely have meaningful conversations. They jeer, they grandstand, they joke, but they do not share feelings."While she admits that 'not all men' are so divided by patriarchy, I wish she would have acknowledged class or cultural distinctions. We're limited to her specific life experiences and excerpts from books that may be solely from the self-help genre: I wouldn't know, because there's no bibliography, at least on the kindle version.Still, many of the things she says ring true, about both men needing to explore their feelings and others needing to listen to them and not push them away. The dominator model of patriarchy makes sense, and her vision of feminist masculinity is a positive, fulfilling one.Ultimately I'd like to give this book 3.5 stars. It's the beginning of a conversation, but it's one that both men and women need to continue and keep exploring.I DO better understand the definition of Toxic Masculinity and think it's something worth exploring more, especially from the angle of what positive masculinity looks like.

I have profound respect for bell hooks. She is and will probably always be one of the most clear minded and insightful feminist theorists for years to come. Her works and lectures can be both mind blowing and humbling. And a book like this is important because men need a better understanding of their place in the movement as allies and we need to be reminded at times that they can and should be better. That being said, it was clear that this book was going to be far more likely to appeal to a male audience. I thus found it problematic that hooks did not use this golden opportunity to extrapolate on just why women would be hesitant to trust men, let alone let them into a feminist space (one that so many women before us have bled, died, and gone to jail for, I should add). Men might be harmed by patriarchy in that they lose their potential for self-actualization, mind and soul. It is indisputably a lower quality of life.But women will continue to lose their actual lives through the systemic violence that men perpetuate at the hands of male relatives, friends, and lovers. Being conditioned and socialized into the role of an abuser does not negate one's actions and the ensuing accountability. Men, should they be allies, are responsible for the actions of both themselves as individuals and themselves as an oppressive social class. hooks briefly hints at the importance of this in that men have to be open to criticism from women and to consistently check themselves. But I would add that they also have to criticize each other out and actively seek to disrupt the old boy system that allows so many men to get away with sexual violence and misogyny. It is one thing to choose never to buy sex or to consume pornography as an individual man. Or to never coerce his wife/partner/lover into sex. But it is another to actively stand against it and condemn any man (including friends and family members) who would. The crux of feminism is not to get along better with men. It is, and always will be, about us women learning to love each other; to defend and to affirm each other; to realize that the love we can have for each other can be just as, if not more profound than any relationship we can have with a man. I think we already empathize a lot with men, contrary to what hooks asserts. We have fallen into empathy traps and faced hard betrayal by alleged male allies in activist spaces. Time and time again we have believed that "genuine care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust" can "serve as the seductive catalyst for change" (p. 178). If we just loved him enough, he can change. Men need to change. Men can change. There are good men out there who live to testify that men can be better. But the first thing they need to understand is that women have all the reasons not to trust them. And they very much have every right to be angry.

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This book absolutely changed my life. How often do you get to say that? Even better, it was a gift from one of my daughters (who was then surprised that I read it!)It told me more about myself, my upbringing, and my place in the world than I could have imagined. If this were required reading for every member of modern society, the world would be a more habitable place. It could literally end war…It's not easy, but neither is life. Women and men will both gain new insight into how we are all perpetuating injustice and anger and disconnection in our world.
—Walter Briggs

The Will To Change presents itself as a solution for men to embrace change, love, intimacy, and authentic masculinity. I don't know that it will hit those targets for all, or even the majority of men who will read it. (Just because hooks doesn't see evidence of an empowering men's movement doesn't mean there isn't one: she just doesn't move in the same circles, by the same token that not many of those men will have been exposed to her writings.) But what it does function as is a primer for men on understanding patriarchy, what it is, and how it represses and victimises them (yes, patriarchy victimises men), and for that reason it is a vitally important work.There are many piercing observations of damaging or disempowering models of masculinity in popular culture, and a lot of deep and compassionate insight into male mental health issues that, among other things, illuminate male violence and abuse: "...the will to use violence is really not linked to biology but to a set of expectations about the nature of power in a dominator culture." Having said that, the book has a bit of a fixation on male rage which isn't representative of the range of emotional challenges men face.The book is packed with soundbites. Feminism is a complex movement with many factions, and hooks isn't afraid to skewer some of them. Speaking of antimale activists, she says "By placing the blame for the perpetuation of sexism solely on men, these women could maintain their own allegiance to patriarchy, their own lust for power. They masked their longing to be dominators by taking on the mantle of victimhood." On the flip side, hooks could have done more to conclusively dismiss the falsehood that feminism is to blame for the erosion of masculine identity in Western culture. She successfully argues this in several ways but doesn't crystallise these into a summary that drives home the point. It's a shame, because this is one of the book's most important messages.The book challenges men as a collective to do the work of forming a vision of authentic masculinity; just when you think she's going to leave it at that, hooks offers a compelling vision of her own, right at the end of the book. There is also something of a hidden gem in the way she reveals how women (even feminist women) close themselves off to men as the result of patriarchal conditioning. For men who have already engaged in the work of opening emotionally this will be of great interest, and bell hooks demonstrates the strength of her background, insight, and courage in presenting this information.Hooks does contradict her own assertions here and there, but it would be somewhat mean-spirited and unconstructive to highlight these. They don't undermine the book's main arguments.She asks, "Why haven't men responded to the series of betrayals in their own lives - to the failures of their fathers to make good on their promises - with something coequal to feminism?", and the answer is that many men are comfortable with their privilege and haven't yet made the connection with that privilege and the dehumanisation that it creates. Here is the book that bridges that gap.
—Austin Dunmore

Important and original. I appreciate how much space hooks spends on quoting and citing other authors (especially psychotherapists, which made me happy); it's the mark of a great thinker who isn't afraid to give credit where credit is due. This is one of the rare books on masculinity that addresses the topic with sensitivity and also without blaming women or feminism for all of the problems.My two main criticisms are:1) hooks seems very gender-essentialist. She continually expresses her arguments as though there are only Men and Women, and Men have penises and Women have vaginas, and Men are Masculine and Women are Feminine. To this end, she calls for a better, "feminist" masculinity for men to aspire to, without ever really justifying what masculinity *is* (other than What Men Do), why we need it, and whether (and if so, why) men should aspire to something different than women. In her view, this feminist masculinity involves having integrity, self-love, relational skills, emotional awareness, etc. Obviously, these are all great traits, but why do we need to call them "masculinity" at all?2) Although hooks is correct to note that many feminist women fail to acknowledge how deeply patriarchy hurts men (especially non-white, non-middle-/upper-class men), she does not caveat her proposed solution--that women actively work to help men overcome patriarchy--with the fact that many women who do this face immense verbal abuse (and worse) as a result. The reason many of us feminists don't want to engage with men isn't (just) because we see them as all-powerful and incapable of being as hurt as we are, but because when we try to engage with them, they make us regret it. That doesn't mean the solution is to disengage entirely, but hooks' argument would be stronger if she explicitly acknowledged this barrier. She does at one point write, "Since emotional pain is the feeling that most males have covered up, numbed out, or closed off, the journey back to feeling is frequently through the portal of suffering. Much male rage covers up this place of suffering: this is the well-kept secret. Often when a female gets close to male pain, penetrating the male mask to see the emotional vulnerability beneath, she becomes a target for the rage." However, hooks does not connect this with her admonition that women engage with men to lead them through this process. How do we prevent or cope with becoming the targets of this rage?

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