43 pages 1 hour read

bell hooks

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2003

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks explores the ways that patriarchal values damage and oppress both men and women. hooks, who intentionally utilizes a lowercase spelling of her name, was a prolific writer of feminist and antiracist literature and is considered one of the greatest feminist thinkers in American history. The Will to Change advocates for a new definition of masculinity that embraces tenderness and integrity. She argues that feminism must acknowledge the ways in which patriarchy victimizes men by denying them their vulnerability, forcing them to hide their true selves, and engaging them in a perpetual cycle of violence and domination. This guide utilizes the 2004 edition by Washington Square Press.

Content Warning: The source material features discussions about the effects of patriarchy, including abuse, violence, sexual assault, and anti-gay bias.

Plot Summary

At the core of hooks’s thesis is love. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love advocates for a new way of thinking about patriarchal culture and the influence it has on both men and women. hooks argues that while feminism has made great strides in advancing equality in the workplace, it fails to address systemic problems that damage the relationships between men and women. She believes that the only way to dismantle patriarchy is to recognize that it annihilates everything around it, including the very people it is intended to uplift. Regardless of sexual orientation, men need to love and be loved by women; at the same time, women need to love and be loved by men. hooks argues that ignoring this point leaves both men and women in the bondage of patriarchy. She outlines the ways that patriarchal values inhibit and damage men, leaving them isolated and emotionally stunted. Patriarchy becomes a cycle of domination that damages everyone. Her work focuses on three themes: Partnership Model and Feminist Masculinity, Impacts of Patriarchal Culture on Men, and Contributors to the Persistence of Patriarchy.

In the preface, hooks makes a bold statement: Women need to make space to love men. She admonishes the small subsect of feminist activists who project “man-hating” rhetoric, arguing that patriarchy will never be destroyed so long as men are left out of the conversation and written off as hopeless. Both men and women must commit to change.

In Chapters 1 and 2, hooks outlines what makes a patriarchy and how it persists. She shares personal experiences with patriarchy through her father’s domination and her past intimate relationships. hooks attempts to examine the patriarchal masculinity of the men in her life—and the violence and aggression directed toward her—through a lens of love. She explains the reason behind their actions and acknowledges their pain. hooks looks her abusers in the eye and sees them as co-victims in an oppressive social system.

In Chapters 3 through 5, hooks considers the impacts of patriarchal culture on men. She starts with boys, exploring the ways that male children are taught from an early age that they should repress their emotions and dominate women. The only emotion they are encouraged to express is rage, and all other emotions are internalized. hooks criticizes feminist theories that fail to offer alternative options for parents who want to raise their children outside patriarchal values. She then shows how those qualities that are instilled at a young age manifest in violence when boys grow into adult men. Internalized emotions seep out through aggression, which is often directed toward women and children. Destruction, domination, and violence become a vicious cycle in which everyone involved perpetuates patriarchal values. Mothers act out their pain by exerting power over their children, and children do the same with their peers.

Chapters 6 through 8 focus on adult men and the ways that they navigate their pain. Capitalistic patriarchy sells the idea that men should be providers for their families and feel satisfied in their employment. hooks argues that this ideology is important to the existence and maintenance of capitalism. Middle- and lower-class male workers buy into the notion that they will be satisfied and whole as long as they are constantly in pursuit of money. Meanwhile, the types of jobs available to these social classes are often demoralizing and dehumanizing. Men act out their aggression and powerlessness by dominating their families. Media affirm this approach, presenting models of patriarchal maleness that emphasize power, rage, strength, and control. hooks offers an alternative to patriarchy, expressed in the theme Partnership Model and Feminist Masculinity. She proposes a way for men to enter mutuality with women while still embracing their maleness.

The final three chapters emphasize this alternative to patriarchy. hooks shows that both men and women hurt, abuse, and instill fear. She proposes a male-focused component of feminism that centers on healing and self-awareness. Patriarchal culture leaves men disconnected from themselves and the world around them, but denial of the self means a denial of the soul. hooks proposes that the only way to destroy patriarchal culture is by bringing men into the fold of reciprocal love.

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