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by Mary

Taking another look at influential women in Kentucky: Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks)

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Social history

bell hooksGloria Jean Watkins better known as bell hooks (her pen name) is a very influential woman that has come from Kentucky.  She has written multiple books that bring light the injustice that women go through in our patriarchal society.  Some of her books are even used at the University of Kentucky in gender study classes.  Watkins is a social activist that ties in race and gender to get her message out about how women are treated as lesser individuals than men.  

Watkins was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952 to a working class African American family.  Watkins grew up in segregated schools but in high school was exposed to the integration of black and white schools in her region.  She has written about her accounts and the difficulty of going from an all black school to an integrated school where most of the children and teachers were white.  This is where she first saw the role that gender and race played into our society.

Her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism explores the historical impact of sexism and racism on black women.  She has published 30 books that explore the ideas of feminism, race, class and gender.  She discusses how we learn our gender roles from an early age so we are accustomed to women being treated unfairly and not equal to men.  Watkins has taught at Yale, but she now works for Berea College in Kentucky as Distinguished Professor in residence, she has expressed that she wanted to return to her home of Kentucky.


She speaks of how loving communities (see for example her articles in Shambhala Sun) can help to overcome the inequalities that race and gender have put into our society.  I think that she should be considered an influential woman of Kentucky because she puts limelight on the unfair treatment of women in society and incorporates race with these injustices.  Although it does not really have to do with the history of Kentucky she has everything to do with the treatment of women in history and how it affects women today in our patriarchal society.

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