Theory as Liberatory Practice

Philosopher Amanda Cawston’s essay Are Feminism and Competition Compatible? (2016) on competition and feminism resembles most to scholar bell hooks’ Theory as Liberatory Practice (1991) are the crucial points both authors make, including exclusory practices and lack of solidary in communal spaces. 

hooks empathize on how and why activist-scholars should communicate with laypersons through ideas that both parties can understand; for instance, hooks mention how men in prison sent her letters, thanking her for helping them to let go of patriarchal values (9). She realizes how conceptualizing a theory is a tool for healing, as she can see what is happening in her surroundings and herself. hooks mention a woman thanking her for giving her a voice, making her feel like she was heard, by hooks sharing her thoughts and feelings in ways people can understand, including the woman herself (10-11). Individuals feel they must surrender to speak up in social spaces that support oppressive ideas, like classism. These individuals want to avoid conflicts, stress, embarrassment, or ostracization, regardless of what the social space promises in debating issues. They feel like they cannot achieve what they desire, that is, to lessen the social restrictions. People choose silence in the public sphere by a social force. They sense restrictions throughout their lives, such as hooks did in childhood (1). The restrictions are visible and invisible barriers normalized through practices and communal beliefs, such as competitions.

Cawston’s essay best resembles hooks’ essay by critically examining competition as an obstacle for marginalized groups regarding feminism. She argues that both feminism and competitions are incompatible in their results, definitions, and attitudes (Cawston, 2016; 207-208, 216-217). Cawston even quotes hooks’ definition of feminism, in which Cawston highlights hooks’ argument on the intersectionality between marginalized groups’ oppressions (205-206). Cawston examines the complexity of competition regarding feminism, including what does competition means precisely and how can we conduct changes in improving life conditions? Cawston notes that competitions include examinations on activities in which we limit people by giving them prestige and advantages. Thus, people feel more hostile to striving for or preserving their privileges (209-210). Take competitiveness in academia for an example; liberal feminists have argued that women in fields like academia can achieve gender equality by establishing bourgeois titles and awards along with men. However, the issue also underlines how traits deemed masculine, including aggressiveness and selfishness, are more socially accepted than traits considered feminine, such as thoughtfulness or sympathy (206-207). Cawston, like hooks, argues that white women can gain access to institutional spaces by following the rules, thus more likely to win (218). The problem is that they can participate by having certain advantages, including being white and upper-class. Certain women have more advantages than others by their resources, including performing tasks in ways that institutions require. An example is white upper-class women’s academic abilities compared to lower-middle-class Women of Color. White upper-class women can enter by the given resources, including affording educational resources such as books, constructing norms and socialized behavior, such as how they speak and write, and how people, particularly white men, interpret their abilities. Marginalized groups cannot dominate the competition if the rules rely on Eurocentric, capitalistic, and paternal values, thus enabling social hierarchy and making feminism less available to the public.  


Cawston, A. (2016). Are Feminism and Competition Compatible? Hypatia, 31(1), 204–220.

hooks, b. (1991). “Theory as liberatory practice.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, 4(1)