In her next book, “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center,” hooks gave a crisp definition of feminism as “the struggle to end sexist oppression.” If she was critical of “white, bourgeois, hegemonic dominance of feminist movements,” she also warned against using such critiques to “trash, reject or dismiss” feminism itself.
In the late 1980s, hooks came to broader prominence in the heyday of a new generation of university-based Black public intellectuals, and she was the rare woman in a circle seemingly defined by male scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr., Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West (with whom she wrote “Breaking Bread” in 1991).
But while hooks, spent her entire career in the academy, teaching at Yale, Oberlin, Berea College in Kentucky and other institutions, she was not solely of it. For her, theory wasn’t an abstract exercise, but a tool for self-understanding and survival.
“I came to theory because I was hurting,” she wrote in her 1991 essay Theory as Liberatory Practice. “I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend — to grasp what was happening around and within me.”
She saw the university setting, which was dismissed by some as an elitist space, instead as a site of revolutionary possibility. But she also engaged with popular culture, in essays that could be as rhetorically blunt as they were intellectually serpentine.
In “Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister?,” included in her 1992 book “Black Looks: Race and Representation,” she unpacked the singer’s groin-grabbing appropriation of “phallic Black masculinity,” which she used to “taunt” white men with what they lack. (“Madonna may hate the phallus, but she longs to possess its power,” hooks wrote.)