Words by Alice Stevens
“In an ideal world we would all learn in childhood to love ourselves. We would grow, being secure in our worth and value, spreading love wherever we went, letting our light shine. If we did not learn self-love in our youth, there is still hope. The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame. It is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite, waiting for the heart to awaken and call us back to the first memory of being the life force inside a dark place waiting to be born – waiting to see the light” – bell hooks (2000)
With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, what better way to celebrate than reading a book literally all about love! Sadly passing away on the 15th of December 2021, bell hooks was one of the worlds most phenomenal intersectional feminists, activists and scholars. Writing over 40 books in her lifetime, hooks possessed a razor-sharp intellect with a formidable ability to articulate meanings and emotions through her use of language and critiques of our social world. As a cultural critic, hooks is known for her work surrounding intersectionality, race, gender and sexuality – challenging the beliefs, misconceptions and whitewashing of our social world, and All About Love is no exception. This book has risen to one of my favourite reads of all time as it is just so accessible. In essence, I could talk for hours about the lessons of love hooks provides, but alas, I must abide by the word limits.
Like the romantic princess movie’s most of us watched throughout our childhood, love seems to have one heteronormative narrative: girl meets boy (otherwise known as ‘the one’), girl falls in love with said boy, they live happily ever after – free from all conflict and pain – the end. As adults, not only does this leave us feeling robbed and disheartened, it is solely a false indoctrination of love itself. Internalising love in this manner only impacts how we connect with one another, ourselves and our spirituality. hooks defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” I absolutely adore this definition because of the power it wields.
An important aspect of the book is her stance on family bonds and childhood. For instance, we learn at an early age that love is either punitive or rewarding. Love is given by parents when you do something right, or it is taken away when you do something wrong. We find love difficult to conceptualise because our social world has constructed love through strict societal pressures and lies since childhood. Instead, we should teach children the importance of responsibility rather than punitive punishment. Punishment does not have to be punitive, i.e. if a child breaks a glass, instead of hitting the child, we should ask them to clean up the mess, and/or repair it, and try and replace it. This proactive method means that children begin to understand that they can make amends and restore things back to their natural order. Therefore, we can see a pattern — learning how to make amends instead of punitive forms of the punishment increases intimacy and forgiveness, thus reducing anger, isolation and fear.
“Parents who come from unloving homes have never learned how to love and cannot create loving home environments or see them as realistic when watching them on television. The reality they are most familiar with and trust is the one they knew intimately.”
Thus, my three main takeaways from this book are:
- There can be no love without justice
- Self-love cannot flourish in isolation
- Abuse irreparably undermines bonds
The premise of this book is essentially a question: What is love and how can we better understand it? hooks asserted that our everlasting search for emotional connection paired with our societies failure to provide an efficient model for learning love only misguides us. As a society, we are driven by the quest to find love, and although we are fixated on love, we are tragically still loveless beings. Instead, hook believes that we must reclaim love by viewing it as an ethic and a verb, where “love is an action never simply a feeling.” Love requires work, a combination of daily attention, care and responsibility that will allow us to improve our relationships with others, and ultimately, our wider social world.
If you have never read bell hooks before, I highly recommend this wise book as a first read. All About Love will change how you think about love, our social world and one another. It’s definitely a book that will stay with me for a lifetime.