4 Yale J.L. & Feminism 1 (1991-1992)
Theory as Liberatory Practice

handle is hein.journals/yjfem4 and id is 7 raw text is: Theory as Liberatory Practice

bell hookst
Let me begin by saying that I came to theory because I was hurting-the
pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory
desperate, wanting to comprehend-to grasp what was happening around and
within me. Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away. I saw in
theory then a location for healing.
I came to theory young, when I was still a child. In The Significance of
Theory Terry Eagleton says:
Children make the best theorists, since they have not yet been educated
into accepting our routine social practices as natural, and so insist
on posing to those practices the most embarrassingly general and
fundamental questions, regarding them with a wondering estrangement
which we adults have long forgotten. Since they do not yet grasp our
social practices as inevitable, they do not see why we might not do
things differently.'
Whenever I tried in childhood to compel folks around me to do things
differently, to look at the world differently, using theory as intervention, as
a way to challenge the status quo, I was punished. I remember trying to
explain at a very young age to Mama why I thought it was highly inappropriate
for Daddy, this man who hardly spoke to me, to have the right to discipline
me, to punish me physically with whippings: her response was to suggest I was
losing my mind and in need of more frequent punishment.
Imagine if you will this young black couple struggling first and foremost
to realize the patriarchal norm (that is of the woman staying home, taking care
of household and children while the man worked) even though such an
arrangement meant that economically, they would always be living with less.
Try to imagine what it must have been like for them, each of them working
hard all day, struggling to maintain a family of seven children, then having
to cope with one bright-eyed child relentlessly questioning, daring to challenge
male authority, rebelling against the very patriarchal norm they were trying
t Gloria Watkins, who publishes under her pseudonym, bell hooks, has taught at Yale University
and is currently an Associate Professor of English and Women's Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio. Her
latest work is a collaboration with Cornel West, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life (1991).
This article is adapted from her keynote address at the Feminism in the 90s: Bridging the Gap between
Theory and Practice Conference.
1. TERRY EAGLETON, THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THEORY 34 (1990).
Copyright 0 1991 by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

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