Book summary: The Will to Change

These are my notes and summary for the book “The Will to Change” by bell hooks. This first part presents the most important ideas presented by the book. I will publish my raw notes in a later post.

EDIT: You can read the first half of my raw notes and the second half of my raw notes now.


Characteristics of the patriarchy

  • Men’s value is always determined by what they do. They don’t have intrinsic value. Boys are not seen as lovable.
  • Sexist roles restrictions on identity formation are more damaging to boys because the roles are more rigid and because they are much more likely to receive severe punishment when they deviate.
  • Emotionally wounding boys is socially acceptable and even demanded. We encourage boys to bury their deepest selves and to mistrust closeness.
  • Boys learn in early childhood that they cannot speak their pain. Men usually learn not to go to other men to talk about feelings.
  • Boys agreed that to be truly manly, they must command respect, be tough, not talk about problems, and dominate females.
  • Most people would agree we should end male violence against women. But if you told them it can only be done by ending male domination, by eradicating patriarchy, they would begin to hesitate.

How patriarchy breaks men emotionally

  • It rewards men for being out of touch with their feelings. Men of feeling often find themselves isolated from other men.
  • Women living in countries or periods of extreme male dominance tend to be very controlling of their sons. Many mothers in patriarchal culture fear their sons will be weak.
  • Patriarchy convinces men that it is better to be feared than loved. This fear of maleness makes men be seen as unworthy of trust and estranges them from others.
  • Many males have low self-esteem because they are constantly performing the sexist male role.

Invisibility of male pain

  • Feminism’s focus on male power reinforced the notion that males had it all. It did not tell us about the deep inner misery of men, who are longing for love.
  • Patriarchy teaches a form of emotional stoicism that says it is more mainly not to feel, or stuff down negative feelings and forget about them.
  • The unhappiness of men in relationships often goes unnoticed precisely because patriarchal culture really does not care if men are unhappy.

Feminism and men

  • When feminism insists that men are powerful oppressors who victimise from the location of power, they forget that many victimise from the location of victimisation. Failure to examine the victimisation of men keeps us from understanding maleness.
  • Contemporary feminism created a space where girls can create a sense of self that is distinct from sexist definitions; the same freedom has not been extended to boys.
  • Even though boy children have more status than girls, status and even the rewards of privilege are not the same as being loved.
  • Teachers see gender equality mostly in terms of ensuring that girls get to have the same privileges and rights as boys; they do not see it in terms of granting boys the same rights as girls (eg. right to not engage in aggressive/violent play, to play with dolls or dress up, to wear costumes of any gender).
  • It was mostly white women with class privilege that pushed the idea that all men were powerful in the first place. These were the women for whom feminist liberation was more about getting their piece of the power pie. They were not mad at exploitation and oppression; they were mad that they were not being giving equal access to power.


  • Most contemporary films send the message that males cannot escape the beast within. Only pretend.
  • Boys are taught that it is their nature to kill, then teaches them that they can do nothing to change this nature—nothing, that is, that will leave their masculinity intact.
  • Mass media usually portrays the violent woman-hating man as aberrant and abnormal.

Separating maleness from patriarchy

  • The crisis facing men is not the crisis of masculinity, but of patriarchal masculinity. Until we make this distinction clear, men will continue to fear that any critique of patriarchy represents a threat.
  • Many males feel that their very existence is threatened if their privileges are taken away because they are taught to be dependent for self-definition on those very privileges.
  • Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity.
  • We need to separate patriarchal ideology from the powerful images of nurturing and loving kindness embodied in male religious figures. This image of loving fatherhood embodies feminist masculinity in its most divine form.

Sexual addiction

  • Men come to sex hoping that it will provide them with all the emotional satisfaction that would come from love (connection, closeness, intimacy), and more often than not sex simply does not deliver. This does not lead men to cease obsessing about sex; it intensifies their lust and their longing.
  • Little boys learn early in life that sexuality is the ultimate proving ground where their masculinity will be tested, and the more intense the pain of fear, unworthiness, and feeling unlovable, the more obsessive becomes the need to have a sexual interaction. But those boys must adjust to a world where they can rarely get it, or never get it as much as they want, or where they can get it only by coercing and manipulating someone who does not want it.
  • Due to this, many men feel powerless despite being in power and controlling virtually all institutions, and are often angry at women, who they perceive as having sexual power over them: the power to arouse them and to give or withhold sex.

A new masculinity

  • Feminist masculinity would be based on integrity, self-love, emotional awareness, assertiveness, and relational skill, including the capacity to be empathetic, autonomous, and connected. This is in opposition to patriarchal masculinity, which is based on avoiding femininity, restrictive emotionality, seeking achievement and status, self-reliance, aggression, homophobia, and nonrelational attitudes toward sexuality.
  • To end sexism and sexist oppression we must be willing to hear men speak their pain, to help them get the emotional awareness required to heal.
  • To create a culture in which males can love, we must see boyhood as a time when boys learn to glory in intimacy and the connection with others.
  • Feminist masculinity defines strength as one’s capacity to be responsible for self and others, rather than defining it as “power over”.


This is my summary for the book. The ideas presented here were either surprising/new to me, or things I knew but I hadn’t put words on, or things that I knew but made me think about them more, especially in the context of the rest.

I liked the book a lot, although I felt sometimes that it was a little repetitive, and I also initially wondered if it was a bit biased due to the author’s lived experiences (something I also felt when reading “Amateur”). However, I later realised that I still could see remnants of some of those things in me or people I know, and it was much easier to see how much these ideas apply when I thought of other countries.

Finally, note that there were a couple of transphobic/bioessentialist passages! I have rewritten them in this summary. I have also removed “in our nation” from many passages to make them shorter and because most of these things apply outside of the US.