“Rave On” is the Page Turner series that asks feminist writers, artists, musicians, activists, leaders, and scholars to talk about a book that completely rocked their world. Today we feature musician and singer-songwriter Joan Wasser, of Joan as Police Woman, on Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, by bell hooks.
Outlaw Culture taught me to change the way I thought about everything. I first read it when it was released in 1994 because it had a chapter about Madonna and how she turned her back on her original, daring woman image and ultimately gave into the little-girl, sex-kitten status quo. I had written essays on Madonna when I was in high school, horrified because my ideas of empowered women were Siouxsie Sioux and Exene Cervenka. I was already a massive music fan and felt confused by Madonna’s brazenly sexual image (and unshaven underarms) in combination with her music, which I considered, at the time, totally useless fluff. I was thrilled to find someone else who shared my distaste for her, like hooks did, albeit in a completely different way.
What I found beyond that, though, was a book that considered many pop culture subjects and dissected each one with a fine tooth comb in terms of feminism, racism, misogyny, classism, and colonialism. I had read books on feminism and had grown up proud to be part of the feminist continuum, but reading hooks put the whole thing in perspective. She not only explained how misogyny, classism, and racism are linked, but explained the roots of much of our culture’s wrong thinking.
Outlaw Culture puts words to my confusion and anger. I love how hooks talks about the fact that no one ever mentions the change in Malcolm X’s thinking about women after he left the Nation. His move toward understanding his own misogyny does not fit the basic accepted idea of what it is to be “masculine” in our culture and is therefore downplayed. I also love how she very clearly shows how films and books—whether or not they are written by women or African Americans—behave like they are representing the way things really are, when they just continue to support racist, woman-hating, classist stereotypes.
bell hooks is not afraid to not be accepted. She just wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, and she breaks it down in a way that is clear and concise. I feel like I have more room to breathe when I read her books. I’ve never spoken with her, but when I am feeling depressed, I go to YouTube and watch her interviews. She is so calm, soft-spoken, and just laying it down like a badass. It is so inspiring! There is no way I can feel depressed after a run of bell hooks.
I feel so bombarded at every moment living in NYC with images that hurt my intellect, take shots at my self-worth, and confuse me in the way they subtly hate women—the way they are racist and judgmental of difference. The way that bell hooks so clearly gets to the source of each issue in Outlaw Culturehelped me form a template with which to use in my daily life. Feminism is about empowerment and acceptance for me, and Outlaw Culture really says it like i wanna hear it. It’s about everyone—women and men—learning to be nonjudgmental and to really see the stereotypes and cultural confines that keep us ALL less free.
To Survive is the latest release from Joan Wasser and her band, Joan as Police Woman.