Painfully True Story The Bluest Eye

Review the reading by bell hooks “Feminist Politics: Where We Stand” (WVFV #5). hooks argues that “most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media” . This reading and the other introductory readings in the class seek to redress common misunderstandings about feminist politics. What is hooks’ definition of feminism and why does she like it? What are some other definitions of feminism that you specifically appreciate (and why)? (can use any source, but must cite; list at least 4). Do you agree with Valenti who argues that “You’re a Feminist, I Swear”? Why or why not?

hooks’ definition of feminism is straightforward, simple and easy to digest.

She states, in her book “Feminist Politics: Where We Stand” that “feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (hooks 1). This definition is inclusive in the sense that it does not paint men as the enemy, rather, names sexism as the central issue. This definition, which points to sexist thought and action as the main culprit, also recognizes that the perpetrators could be of any class, race, gender, or orientation.

This definition is, as hooks states, “broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism” (hooks 1). Therein lies the issue: to understand feminism one must understand sexism.

According to Anna Quindlen in her piece “Still Needing the F Word,” Feminism is the “belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes” (Quindlen 39). What I appreciate about this definition is that it understands the way in which sexism exists in the political, social, and economic arena.

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This definition is the furthest thing from exclusionary as it truly encourages the dismantling of sexist thought in all corners of life.

Alice Walker, a feminist of color, coined the term “Womanist,” which, according to Walker, criticizes sexism in the African American community and is “usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior…committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” As a black woman, she faces two forms of institutionalized oppression, which is why I appreciate the multi-faceted nature of her definition, addressing two forms of oppression that often coincide.

In an interview with Hillary Clinton, the politician was asked what feminism means to her. She stated, simply put, “a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights.” Clinton provides the standard feminist definition that was coined at the beginning of the feminist movement when people started to take action against female oppression. As a politician, she has to appeal to the largest audience possible; it is so broad that it is essentially impossible to contest.

Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, stated in an article she wrote for Medium that ‘a feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses. We will have arrived when every woman can decide for herself how to find and use her God-given gifts. A woman may choose to have five children and homeschool them. She may choose [to] become a CEO or run for president. I am conservative because I know we are all equal in the eyes of God—men and women.’ Here fiorina provides a strictly religious feminist theory, which is often viewed as contradictory to modern feminist stances. Notebly, she first brings up motherhood as a figure to instill religious in the household but also be able to join the workforce. The suggestion is still appealing to a patriarchal stance.

I would agree with Valenti when she argues “You’re a Feminist, I Swear”. This reminds me of Sara Ahmed’s Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects), in which she discusses how feminism has grasped a negative connotation in the Western world. Feminists are often described as “killjoys”: depicted as always being angry, not being able to laugh at jokes constructed to cause offense, or ruining the atmosphere by speaking up (Ahmed). Because of this negative image of feminism, several women refuse to associate with the word. Valenti argues that these women in opposition actually do have feminist values, but are unable to work towards these goals because being a feminist puts them at risk of being casted under the light of a killjoy. Ahmed’s attempt to reclaim the word “killjoy” and use it to emphasize that being a feminist “killjoy” is “to open a life, to make room for life, to make room for possibility, for chance” (Ahmed 20) provides growth for the movement and the women that often receive backlash before even speaking. In a society where women are expected and rewarded for playing the “happy housewife” scenario, it can be understandable why the movement has struggled in organization. I think it is important to recognize the common bond and goal that we share, rather than focus on the symbol that is painted over feminists.

2. Review “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us” by Allan Johnson (7 pages; posted on blackboard). Reflect upon it; let it soak in. Utilizing concepts from this essay, as well as class discussion and other readings (e.g., Frye, Collins), pretend that you are giving a mini-lecture aimed to teach a group of young people what “patriarchy” is. Then write out exactly what you would say. You are being asked to provide a “lesson” elucidating the concept of “patriarchy”—what it is, what it’s not. Your “Patriarchy 101 Concept Lesson” should be largely in your own words, but must draw from and refer to course readings (be sure to cite properly). If you utilize a particular author’s exact words, be sure to put them in quotation marks, etc. [1 page maximum, s/s]

Patriarchy is not an individualistic concept, but rather a broader societal system of patterns that shapes institutions in ways that affect individuals every day. A patriarchal system refers to power being placed in the hands of the man in every smaller system that is rooted within it like “family, religion, and the economy” (Johnson 25). When a man is the head of the family, this concept is paralleled onto every other aspect of life. A culture is developed on the basis of “men and women, the web of relationships that structure social life, and the unequal distribution of rewards and resources that underlies oppression” (Johnson 29). Everyday interactions, entertainment, and other symbols and images are controlled under the concept of manhood being superior. Patriarchy formats the roles of and within the family, education, workforce, and other social constructions; these institutions affect our life chances, opportunities, and experiences because we are conditioned to accept the patriarchal system as “normal” (Johnson 25-6). The existence of “normal” institutions, such as marriage, work to reinforce and uphold the patriarchy; traditionally, women are wedded off to a man, and are subsequently transferred under the male’s family name. Slavery was a patriarchal institution as well as it was controlled by “white male authority and white male property” (Collins 30).

Patriarchy has continued to be an institution in society, and therefore it is perpetuated and imbedded in our ways of life over time; better said, it is a traditional form of domination. Although it is something much bigger than the individual, it is preserved through the individual, so that gives society power in changing it (Johnson 29). However, often taken for granted, these patterns are built into and normalized in the operation of society, are extremely difficult to change because of their innate connotations, and thus, become a major cause of inequality. “Masculinity and maleness” becomes desirable, while “femininity and femaleness” is frowned upon (Johnson 29). Institutionalized sexism is a symptom of a patriarchal societal system.

Relatively stable norms, values, behaviors, and expectations of others based on gender, such as the role of a wife or mother and feminine markers of beauty are relevant in the institutionally, symbolically, and individually under patriarchy. The sex-difference perspective, which is largely imbedded in patriarchal society, acknowledges only that there are huge differences between the sexes, rather than focus on the similarities between genders as human beings. Patriarchy encourages us to separate the genders and use gender as a main form of organization and separation; single-sex schooling, athletics, fields of work and study are all aspects of life that are gender segregated. This idea of the genders being innately different is often backed by textbooks and scholars who emphasize large differences in female biology and male biology, when these differences are actually made under socially conditioned notions of what characterizes man and woman under the lens of patriarchy (Martin).

Drawing from the introductory chapter of WVFV, class lecture, and the article “Dear Sisters” by Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon (on Blackboard with these Exercise #1 Instructions), describe the “3 Historical Waves” of Feminism. (What is the 1st Wave? 2nd Wave? 3rd Wave?—supply time period, main players, key issues & characteristics of each.) This should be a concise but substantive 3-paragraph essay (one paragraph per wave)– you may use Bullet Points format in parts of your essay, if done effectively (successfully communicates material).

What, according to B&G’s essay and bell hooks (see selection posted on Blackboard with these Exercise 1 Instructions), is “consciousness-raising”? Drawing from WVFV pg.9, list at least 6 things that “women’s liberation” accomplished.

The women’s liberation movement can be traced as early as the late-eighteenth-century. Women’s activism began picking up speed at the beginning of the 19th century, noted as the first wave of feminism, when women had little to no legal identity. They were barred from voting or owning property (Shaw & Lee). Women, furious with their lack of legal and social independence, contested these man-made laws. Women of the time had two identities: daughters or wives. In addition, women of the time were not allowed to participate in higher education until the advent of women’s colleges during the mid-nineteenth century (Shaw & Lee).

Still, the access to higher education was limited to white, socioeconomically privileged women; african american women faced hurdles throughout the 19th and 20th century (Shaw & Lee). African American women like Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Anna Julia Cooper, resisted racial and gender based discrimination and offered strategies of defiance (Shaw & Lee). Female social activism began during the Abolition Movement, when activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and more fought to free the slaves (Shaw & Lee).

For many women, their participation in the abolitionist movement sparked their desire to fight for women’s rights. In 1792, philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft published one of the first comprehensive pieces of text that demanded gender equality, titled A Vindication of the Rights of Women (Shaw & Lee). While this text was monumental during the time, the true beginning of the women’s movement is typically thought to be the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 (Shaw & Lee). This convention served as a response to of Mott and Stanton who were refused seating and barred from voicing their opinions at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 (Shaw & Lee). At this convention, the women created the “Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions,” which mirrored the language used in U.S Declaration of Independence to outline an assortment of demands to improve the quality of life for women, including the right to vote (Shaw & Lee). Out of this document organizations such as the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA), formed in 1869, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), formed in 1890, came about (Shaw & Lee). The first wave fought for political and legal individuality and identity.

The second wave of feminism emerged in the late 1960s through the early 1980s (Shaw & Lee). This movement grew out of the stagnant, domestic, and controlled period between the end of World War II and the birth of the women’s movement in the 1960s (Baxandall & Gordon). American society saw the domestic roles assigned to women as freedom, demonstrating superiority of American institutions over society where women were assigned hard labor (Baxandall & Gordon).

The origin of women’s studies can be traced to the second wave of the feminist movement (Shaw & Lee). It was during this time where women “addressed formal and informal inequalities associated, for example, with the workplace, family, sexuality, and reproductive freedom” (Shaw & Lee 4). During this era, women demanded for access to higher education, worked against sexism in the workplace, contested their roles in the home, and fought to end violence against women (Shaw & Lee). The goal of the second wave was to improve the lives of women by raising their status in society.

The women’s movement fought alongside many of of the civil rights movements at the time, which fought against sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, xenophobia, etc. In this effort, many women and men tried to bring about laws and policies that would not only create tangible change, but change the attitude of Americans towards marginalized groups (Shaw & Lee). One of the first women’s liberation protests covered by mass media was the protest at the 1968 Miss America pageant, wherein they disputed the objectification of women (Shaw & Lee). There was a number of laws that were implemented during the second wave of feminism that brought about positive social change: passage of the Equal Pay Act (1963), which sought for equal pay, Title VII (1964), which made workplace discrimination illegal, creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision (1965), which enforced anti-discrimination laws, legislation like Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortion (Shaw & Lee). The creation of the National Organization for Women (1966) concentrated on lobbying government officials to end sex discrimination (Baxandall & Gordon). Despite all of the efforts and activity during this time, full equality for women was not achieved.

The third wave of feminism rose up during the 1990s and was influenced “ by postmodernism, queer theory, multiracial feminism” (Shaw & Lee 17). The activism during this time came about because of the seeds of change planted during the second wave. Globalization and the rise of technoculture influenced the perspectives held by individuals of the time. A new form of networking feminist activism came about in the form of consciousness-raising magazines called “zines” (Shaw & Lee). Third wave feminists are much younger than second wave feminists, and have a different style in their feminism. Third wave feminists tend to be much more pluralistic about sexuality and personal expression. Third wave feminism tends to be more alert than some second wave feminists were to issues of class and race. Third wave feminists know how to use power and the media to their advantage. Rebecca Walker, who is credited for creating the term third wave feminist, sought to bring up intersectionality and express that women face layers of oppression. Race was a central issue that was brought up during this wave, and hooks’ was one of the champions during this era.

“Consciousness-raising” is the active learning and listening to feminist theory. hooks explains that “feminists are made, not born”; being a feminist requires “choice and action” . Because society is conditioned to conform to patriarchal and sexist values, behaviors, and ideologies, feminism requires consciousness-raising in its members in order to perform any substantial social change and resistance to the values we were raised under. Every movement must begin as a movement within oneself; it is impossible to understand how one is exploited and disadvantaged from the viewpoint where it is normalized. Learning about the system of patriarchy and how our outcomes and life chances aren’t natural, allows for these ingrained ideas to be challenged. Baxandall and Gordon emphasize that consciousness-raising was not only necessary for the beginning of the feminist movement, but the only option after women were “expected to function as full economic, social, and political participants in the nation while still burdened with handicaps” (Baxandall, Gordon 28). Consciousness-raising groups that center around the building of knowledge and awareness were the only way for women to gain real mobility and have the ability to integrate themselves in society and challenge male-dominated spaces.

Women’s liberation has accomplished several legal changes like “the passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963…., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…., the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1965…., The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993…., Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972…., [and] the FACE Act of 1994” (WVFV 9).

What is Patricia Hill Collins’ “New Vision”? (What is wrong with the “additive” approach to understanding oppression and how does she recommend we re-conceptualize race, class and gender as categories of analysis)? (WVFV #10) What, according to Collins, are the 3 dimensions of oppression? (Explain and provide an example of each). Collins discusses some of the challenges involved in building relationships and coalitions for social change. Collins also provides some recommendations on how to approach such challenges. Explain 2 of these recommendations.

Patricia Hill Collins’ “New Vision” is a feminism that recognizes intersectional oppressions and the complexities of each personhood, rather than a feminism that only acknowledges the most privileged women and sets a clear binary of victim vs. oppressed. This vision delves deeper into the meaning of oppressions; it is not about who has more or less oppressions, but rather how different oppressions and identities work together, or intersect, to affect life chances, opportunities, and experiences of an individual.

The “additive” approach seems simple in context, but is problematic under the notion that it simplifies or broadens oppressions into mutually exclusive categories. The three dimensions of oppression are the institutional, the symbolic, and the individual. The institutional represents oppressions “structured through social institutions such as schools, businesses, hospitals, the work place, and government agencies” (Collins 29). Gender, racial, and class oppressions are all apparent in these institutions.

An example relevant to today would be black women not being prioritized in health centers. This is relevant in analyzing oppressions because not only is she taking a shot for her gender, but also for her race, and possibly her class. The systems of oppressions are not separate, but they intertwine in order to give “institutional protection” (30) to a white woman. Another example would be in the educational system. Typically, most college professors are white, even when teaching discourse on black, latinx, and asian experience. The symbolic dimension of oppression refers to the “images applied to different race, class and gender groups” and how they “interact in maintaining systems of domination and subordination” (33).

Society uses the stereotypical characteristics of masculinity and femininity and general markers or symbols for gender, however there are other factors that are relevant to gender as mentioned before. By using that gender binary as a lens ultimately erases and denies the “experiences of people of color and of non-privileged white women and men” (33).

In order to bring a movement forward is by recognizing that “everyone is affected differently by the same interlocking set of symbolic images” (33). An example of symbolic oppression is the notion of a black woman being sexually deviant and a white woman as polite and classy. The individual dimension of oppression refers to the complexities of each “personal biography” (35). The three dimensions come together in the sense that one’s individual structures of oppression affect the way they experience societal institutions as well as the symbols society paints onto an individual.

An example of a personal biography could be a woman of asian descent who is also visually impaired. How would this biography affect her life opportunities and the images that people place her under? A lot of our challenges in the organization of social change lies under the blatant fact that we are all complex and experience things differently from another. The western feminist movement is problematic under the sense that it focuses on a gender oppression that ignores the other factors that shape gender like race, class, religion and disability. To approach these challenges, we must find a common bond despite “differences in our personal biographies” (41).

In order to do so, we also must build empathy by taking space and making space. A way to find a common bond is to recognize that our experiences institutionally, symbolically, and individually are heavily influenced by race, class and gender. Allowing for “categories of connection” similarly allows for a sense of empathy. A way to develop empathy for a white woman, for example, would require her to recognize and understand how being white has privileged her. Men who are allies of feminism must undergo the process of realizing their privilege in order to build empathy and support the movement.

After working through the Reading Guide for The Bluest Eye, write an essay analyzing and responding to the book. In addition to particular themes you would like to address, answer the last question from the Reading Guide: What social and structural forces are at play in the book? (Be sure to draw from concepts we’ve learned about in this class; Be sure to provide specific support from the book– provide examples to draw out and analyze book’s themes). Is this a book about gender, race, &/or class, and why do you think so? (provide specific support). In concluding paragraph of your paper, address the following: Can you relate to the characters and experiences described in the book in any way? If so, how? If not, what have you learned from the book? [~3 pages, 1.5 spaced] Reminder: Using the exact wording from a text always requires quotation marks, followed by pg# of where it was found in parentheses. In-text citation is necessary, but No Bibliography is required for this essay.

Prolific author Toni Morrison has transported us into her world with The Bluest Eye, a painfully truthful story on internalized racism, abuse and neglect. Morrison has painted a thought-provoking picture of America that most are unaccustomed to witnessing, let alone experiencing. In this novel she presents a multitude of contemporary social issues that force readers to reexamine their respective contributions in either dismantling or contributing to racist ideologies. Upon first glance, the leading social issue that is baked into each storyline is that of racism; however, more important problems percolate below the surface and require decoding.

The protagonist of the story, Pecola, experiences a complete unravelling of her self-esteem from the damage and abandonment she deals with on a daily basis. As an audience, we are made to experience complete powerlessness as we witness this child break down because of societal forces acting upon and against her. During her youth, Pecola would spend hours sitting, “looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike’ (Morrison 45). Pecola’s self-destructive outlook can be attributed to her family’s lack of love, protection, security, and support.

The isolation and hostility she faces as a young child leaves her searching for a tangible reason as to why she is, in her eyes, abhorred by her family and community; she ultimately lands on the concept physical appearance. Her own mother, Paulene, has been indoctrinated to believe that whiteness and beauty are one in the same. While pregnant with Pecola, she turned to movies as an escape from her disappointing reality. The narrator writes that “she was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed in full from the silver screen’ (Morrison 122). The mother absorbs these values like a sponge to the fullest extent, where even her own daughter is ugly because of the color of her skin.

In Loraine, Ohio in 1941, Pecola is surrounded by implicit messages that whiteness is superior in all aspects of life, mainly beauty. Pecola’s story of loss depict, in a painful and poignant manner, the ways in which internalized beauty standards tear apart the lives of black girls everywhere. There are examples of white superiority scattered throughout the novel; Claudia, a black child who has not yet internalized white beauty standards, wanted Pecola to feel utterly loved “just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals.” (Morrison 190). Alas, it is not the white community that destroys Pecola directly, but her own black community that has internalized white standards and therefore othered pecola. In a sense, Pecola is the sacrificial lamb of the black community and stands as the perfect victim and dumping ground for the self-hatred of the community for which she is apart of. She takes on all the ugliness of others until she collapses underneath so much despair. Towards the end of the novel, Claudia reprimands herself and the community for their abuse of Pecola when she states, “…we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life’ (Morrison 205). Pecola’s life was destined for failure, as she was born into an oppressive environment, wherein Pecola’s few allies lay powerless.

Abuse is a force that underpins major moments throughout Pecola’s life as expressed in The Bluest Eye. Pecola experiences relentless psychological and physical abuse from her family and peers. From being physically abused by her mother after accidentally knocking over a pie, to the torment from her classmates, all leading up to the ultimate abuse: her own father raping her, she is left completely empty after enduring such intense rejection from everyone in her life. The most disgusting case of abuse is Cholly’s rape of his own daughter, Pecola. Pointendly, Morrison reveals that Cholly himself is a victim of sexual humiliation, perhaps as an attempt to humanize Pecola’s father and offer a glimpse as to how he could commit such an atrocious act. The recurring theme of sexual abuse throughout the novels alludes to the assumption that women’s bodies, namly women of color, are free to abuse without consequence.

The Bluest Eye uses the power of perspective to bring attention to a collection of issues that black individuals face in society. The story initially focuses on two young sisters, and at first believe the story is about them; however, it is quickly revealed that the story is about their friend, Pecola. Morrison pointedly chose to tell Pecola’s’ story through other people’s narratives to represent the lack of agency, power, and control Pecola has over her life. Unlike Pecola, these other young girls have the support of their families and there therefore privileged, in some degree, with enough self-esteem to tell her story.

Using narrative as a device is so impactful in depicting the helplessness of the community members in enacting positive change in Pecola’s life. When questioning who is to blame with regard to Pecola’s doomed fate, Claudia states that, “It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding” (5). This metaphor truly comes full circle when, at the end of the novel, the narrator says that “this soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.” The unyielding earth is representative of the realities that so many young black Americans faced. They were, essentially, born into a world that would work against them, where they stand powerless over the conditions that lead their belittlement. Morrison wanted readers to analyze and draw out what theme, be it race, class, or gender, played the most significant role in Pecola’s demise. As I see it, no one theme has more power over the other, for it is the layering of all these issues that congeal into one epic mess of oppression.

After thoughtful consideration, I would say that in Frieda MacTeer, Claudia’s older sister, I saw myself. In contrast to her boisterous, confrontation sister, Frieda is reserved, naturally empathetic, brave and, when needed, fearless. I feel akin to her protective spirit, as I have a twin brother that I would defend with my whole heart. Frieda, unlike Claudia, has internalized much of the black community’s fixation on white beauty. Growing up in Los Angeles, it is extremely difficult to not take in and absorb societal expectations of beauty. Surrounded by plastic surgery, wealth, and tossed into a culture where appearance is social currency, I have found myself comparing how I look to others more often than I’d like to be the case. A truly impactful moment in the novel for me was when Frieda protects Pecola from the boys who were harassing her. She, with style and grace, hits one of the boys over the head with her school books. She doesn’t hesitate at the sight of injustice, and rather acts in accordance to her moral compass. I am not only inspired by her dauntlessness, but by her hearts capacity to help and show kindness to others outside of herself.

Each life and each story encourages readers, not unlike myself, to examine their contributions, or lack thereof, towards ending oppression of every kind. Pieces of great literature often make us uncomfortable because they hold up a mirror and ask “who are you in this story and what role do you play in perpetuating harmful stereotypes.” Upon finishing The Bluest Eye, one of the greatest takeaway I got was to step back and withhold judgement of others because there is no knowing what life has thrown at them and what events occured to bring them to where they are in life. In understanding Pecola’s experiences, I’ve learned to engage with my humanity, understand the importance of compassion, and act against injustice rather than perpetuate it with complacency.

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Painfully True Story The Bluest Eye. (2022, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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