20 years later, a legacy that goes far beyond the pages of a book.
When talking about feminist literature, it is impossible for the words of bell hooks to not be brought up.
bell hooks is an american author and cultural critic most accredited for works exploring the internationality of feminism, race, and class and its impacts of oppression upon society.
Some of her most popular work includes: All About Love: New Visions; Killing Rage: Ending Racism; and The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.
The latter of the three, published in 2004, celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year.
In her own words, “The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love is about our need to live in a world where women and men can belong together. Looking at the reasons patriarchy has maintains its power over men and their lives, I urge us to reclaim feminism for men, showing why feminist thinking and practise are the only way we can address the crisis of masculinity today.”
Over the course of eleven chapters, hooks explores how systems of patriarchy and the myths of masculinity deny men of the ability to achieve true love, emotional wellness, and fulfilment.
hooks describes patriarchy as “the single most life-threatening disease assaulting the male body and spirit”.
The book is designed to guide men in reclaiming their true selves outside of the constructs of patriarchy, by laying the case as to why men should want to embrace feminist thinking.
Success Stories is a California-based organisation dedicated to building safer communities by delivering transformative feminist programs to incarcerated people, with workshops being facilitated by people who are or have previously been incarcerated.
They currently deliver their programs to eleven prisons throughout California, as well as outside of the prison setting in community groups and schools. Roy Duran Jr, is a transformational coach and curriculum development manager at Success Stories.
Roy was first introduced to the programme in 2014 while incarcerated at Soledad State Prison in California, also known as the Correctional Training Facility. At the time he was unaware of the concepts of patriarchy and feminism.
“[Patriarchy] told me that I’m supposed to be tough, I’m supposed to be strong at all times, I’m not supposed to ever be vulnerable, I’m not supposed to ask for help. All these ideas centred around performative individualism, told me that my worth was determined by my ability to dominate people.”
Participating in these workshops himself inspired Roy to look deeper into the constructs of patriarchy: “I immersed myself in learning about patriarchy and its proposed solutions; integrity, love, authenticity. All these things are mechanisms for self love and connection which was the foundation that I needed to be able to effectively love others.”
As part of his research he began reading feminist literature, including The Will To Change, to help further his understanding. He would eventually begin leading workshops sessions himself.
“In my duties as a coach I introduce conversations, ideas and perspectives to participants. I do my best to get them talking so I can learn the specific ways they are relating to themselves and other people in the world, to essentially offer them new perspectives which are centred around feminism, love, and authenticity.”
Participants at Success Stories are given the opportunity to take part in various workshops including their twelve-week programme. One of the first exercises undertaken within the program is is what Success Stories refers to as the ‘Top Five’.
The exercise first asks for participants to create a personal list consisting of the most important relationships in their life and all of the goals that they wish to achieve in their lifetime. T
hey are then encouraged to whittle their list down to their top five goals and relationships that are of the upmost importance to them.
“The ‘Top Five’ is the foundation of the rest of the conversations we have. We keep bringing it back to the conversation of what are you committed to? Who are you committed to? And who are you committed to being?”, Roy explains.
“We help our participants to identify how those beliefs of what it means to be ‘a real man’ have hindered them from genuine authentic connection, and how it’s interfered with their ability to love the people that are on their ‘Top Five’.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions about what feminism is. I’ve been asked if I was gay because I identified as a feminist. These are extremely foreign ideas for a lot of our participants, and by the end of the twelve weeks oftentimes the guys that we work with are transformed in a way that they’re unable to revert back to those old beliefs.”
“We help people understand that a lot of the time we take on these beliefs and conform out of fear. And in prison a lot of guys do not want to admit to being afraid. But I can tell while we are having these conversations that they are very aware that their motivations were fear-based.
“Their body language reveals that they are deeply uncomfortable with that feeling. And a lot of times that is the catalyst for a lot of major breakthroughs and transformations.”
In 2018, The Feminist on Cellblock Y, directed by Contessa Gayles, was released – the documentary follows the work of Success Stories co-founder Richie Reseda, as well as the showcasing the stories of many program facilitators including Roy while incarcerated in Soledad.
Throughout the documentary we are given first-hand access the conversations that take place during the program sessions, as well as a behind the scenes look of the feminist theory that helped inspire the curriculum, including The Will To Change by bell hooks.
“We developed a workshop that was really inspired by bell hooks. Richie Reseda extrapolated a lot of the gems from the book, and developed a profound workshop that we use to facilitate these conversations,” Roy explains. “A lot of what we use to facilitate these conversations is bell hooks literature.”
“bell hooks took the courageous road, and that was inspirational to me, especially when I was incarcerated. Knowing that there was so many challenges to the work I was doing in there, and leading such radical conversations in such a radical place, in the most hyper-violent environment.
“Her courage inspired me to have courage of my own, to challenge these constructs in myself and to have conversations with other men who were incarcerated physiologically by these myths of masculinity.”
Roy was released from prison in 2021 but he continues his work with Success Stories, facilitating workshops with incarcerated men, including revisiting the prison he was released from to help continue the program there.
The work that takes place at Success Stories serves as a constant reminder that self-transformation can take place anywhere, that it’s never to late to open your mind to a new system of understanding.
So does Roy have any advice for men who are considering opening up themselves to learn about how the constructs of patriarchy have affected them.
“I would invite them to consider that they are worthy of being their whole self, they are worthy of integrity, they are worthy of an anti-patriarchal belief system, they are worthy of abolishing that harmful system of belief that tells them that they are not good enough to just be who they are authentically,” he replies.
“That they are worthy of that form of self-love, of uprooting harmful symptoms of belief that inhabits them from their potential. And that they are worthy of genuine connection.”
Featured Image by bell hooks via Flickr CC.