The topic of patriarchy and its influence on every aspect of our lives comes up frequently in my counselling sessions, not just with female and non-binary clients but with male clients too. While the negative impact of patriarchy on women is widely acknowledged, we’re only slowly starting to talk more about how it really affects everyone, including men. Today, I’d like to introduce you to a book that I frequently recommend to my online counselling clients, therapist colleagues and anyone interested in exploring issues related to gender and power dynamics. It offers a thought-provoking and insightful exploration of patriarchy and its impact on society: “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks.
Photo: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash
“The Will to Change” explores how patriarchy not only oppresses women but also perpetuates harmful and limiting gender roles for men by promoting toxic masculinity and suppressing emotional expression. The author advocates for a feminist movement that includes men in the fight for gender equality and encourages them to challenge and transform traditional gender roles.
“In patriarchal culture, males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture, males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.” (pp. 11-12)
bell hooks, who indeed spelled her name in lowercase in order to shift the focus from herself as an individual to her ideas and the issues she wrote about (you can read more about it here), was a renowned feminist author, cultural critic, and social activist. She has written numerous books on topics such as race, gender, power, and oppression. Across her works, hooks emphasised the importance of critical thinking, dialogue, and personal transformation to achieve social change. “The Will to Change” is a great example of how she used personal anecdotes, cultural examples, and scholarly research to support her arguments. She explores the ways in which dominant notions of masculinity contribute to violence and oppression against women and how they also limit men’s ability to form meaningful relationships and express their emotions. She makes a compelling case for the need for men to embrace a more feminist consciousness and to work towards dismantling patriarchal structures and systems.
One of the most captivating aspects of the book is hooks’ emphasis on the importance of love and connection in achieving social change. She argues that true transformation cannot occur without a willingness to engage in deep, meaningful relationships with others and that these relationships must be based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to justice.
hooks’ work validates the experiences of individuals who have been impacted by toxic masculinity and oppressive power structures. For those who have struggled with their own emotional expression or who have experienced emotional abuse, this validation can be a powerful step towards healing and growth. It can be a helpful read for men who are interested in exploring their own attitudes and behaviours towards masculinity and gender and who seek to challenge toxic masculinity. The book offers a striking analysis of the ways in which traditional notions of masculinity can be harmful and oppressive and encourages men to challenge these messages in order to create more meaningful and fulfilling lives. Women and non-binary individuals can also profit from reading the book, as it illuminates the ways in which dominant notions of masculinity impact their lives and relationships.
The book also offers a compelling argument for the importance of taking an intersectional approach to issues of oppression and inequality and can be a valuable tool for those seeking to create positive social change. The book’s intersectional analysis of gender and power dynamics can be particularly valuable for people from diverse backgrounds and identities and who are seeking to address the ways in which these intersecting identities impact their experiences.
In her broader work, hooks advocates for the dismantling of all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. She emphasises the need for individuals and communities to work together to create a more inclusive and compassionate world.
Overall, I believe that anyone who is interested in exploring issues related to gender and power dynamics, particularly as they relate to masculinity, will find value in reading bell hooks’ “The Will to Change”. It is an important and timely contribution to the ongoing conversation about gender and power in our society. hooks’ writing is both accessible and intellectually rigorous, making this book an excellent resource for anyone interested in the intersection of masculinity, feminism, and social change.
Do you discuss toxic masculinity in your social circle? In which ways do you feel affected by patriarchy in your daily life? If you are interested in receiving frequent information on psychological topics and more book recommendations, sign up for my monthly newsletter!