All About Love: New visions by bell hooks

About bell hooks

bell hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins; September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021) was a contemporary feminist theorist who dealt with issues of race, gender, class, and sexual oppression. She took her pen name from her maternal great-grandmother as a way to honour her female ancestors and chose to use lowercase letters to get away from the ego associated with names. She has provided commentary on a wide range of topics from popular culture and writing to self-esteem and teaching. Her first published book was a collection of poetry, And There We Wept, in 1978.  In 1981, she published Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,which was perhaps her most significant scholarly work. (Source)

All About Love: A Summary

“To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients—care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication,’ writes hooks in chapter 1 of the book, titled ‘Clarity: Give Love Words’. In an age where this 4-letter word has become a popular subject of the self-help genre, All About Love is a powerful collection of 13 essays that invites the reader to find their way back to love. hooks urges moving away from thinking of love as a noun to a verb—making a shift from a culture of lovelessness that is pervasive to an ethic of love. Quoting from Erich Fromm’s work, who defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth […] Love is an act of will—namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

hooks moves away from a pared down understanding of love as one that is limited to the thrill of attraction or the tug of desire. Instead, she invites reflections on the role of love as community, whether it is through friendship, extended family or creative or political collaboration. Beginning from early childhood, she unpacks how notions of love have been shaped through parent-child bonds and the homes we have grown up in, whether they are happy or troubled, functional or dysfunctional. In the second chapter titled ‘Justice: Childhood Love Lessons’, she writes, “there can be no love with justice. Until we live in a culture that not only respects but also upholds basic civil rights for children, most children will not know love.” Writing about harsh or cruel punishment and how it leads to children questioning the meaning of love from a very young age, she instead explores how abuse and neglect negate love and its impact on a child’s psyche. “Love is as love does, and it is our responsibility to give children love. When we love children we acknowledge by our every action that they are not property, that they have rights – that we respect and uphold their rights. Without justice there can be no love.”

With these foundational chapters, hooks then goes on to explore different facets of love— honesty and commitment to truth telling. She explores how we have been socialised from a young age for boys to be silenced in a patriarchal world that did not want them to claim their feelings, and for girls to mold themselves into something in order to attract and please others. In the process, the ability to see and accept ourselves as we truly are has become blurred, confusing and challenging. ‘Since many of us were shamed in childhood either in our families of origin or in school settings, a learned pattern of going along with the program and not making a fuss is the course of action we most frequently choose as a way to avoid conflict […] Many of us learned that passivity lessened the possibility of attack,’ she says. To begin the journey towards self love and self esteem then means practicing personal integrity and self responsibility. She writes, ‘Living consciously means we think critically about ourselves and the world we live in. We dare to ask ourselves the basic questions who, what, when, where and why.’ These are reflections she invites not just for intimate relationships but in all spheres of life.

Writing about work and how much time it occupies in our lives, she describes her search for working in a loving environment—one shaped by an ethic of love that ‘enhances our spiritual well-being and strengthens our capacity to love.’ Sharing her experience, hooks says her friends thought she had lost her mind for where does love come into a conversation on work—something that is so driven by monetary goals and pursuits. Yet, she argues, so much of our sense of well-being is shaped by the work we do and nurturing that aspect of the self is itself an act of renewal.

The book also steps back to look at how we are all influenced by the larger social narratives we find ourselves part of and the role media has to play in defining what love is and where to ascribe value. For instance, she unpacks how advertising and consumer culture feeds off a sense of deep insecurity and telling us in multiple ways, what fulfillment looks like. ‘Bombarded with cultural propaganda ready to instill in all of us the notion that lies are more important, that truth does not matter, we are all potential victims. Consumer culture in particular encourages lies. Advertising is one of the cultural mediums that has most sanctioned lying. Keeping people in a constant state of lack, in perpetual desire, strengthens the marketplace economy. Lovelessness is a boon to consumerism. And lies strengthen the world of predatory advertising,’ she writes.

All About Love holds with care the different aspects and ingredients that make up love and invites contemplations of the self that is implicit in the search for love. Though personal experience and examinations of socio-political culture, she encourages critical reflection on the subject of love and ways in which to reignite our ability to love.

Further Reading and Listening:

  • Watch this an interview with bell hooks on the subject of love
  • Listen to this conversation between bell hooks and NPR’s Cheryl Corely

Discussion Themes and Questions:

  • What were your thoughts/expectations when you first read the title of the book?
  • How does hooks enhance or challenge your vision and idea of love?
  • hooks writes of how ‘Love is an act of will—namely both an intention and an action.’ What do you make of this statement of love being both intention and action?
  • Historically, how have the demands of love for women been different from those of men? What role do social norms and gendered roles have to play in this?
  • What are you taking away from this book that you would like to share or talk about with your community of family or friends?