Friday, 2 October 2009

Patriarchy 101

It occurs to me when reading feminist blogs and comments to blog posts, that there is a lack of understanding about what patriarchy is and means. This is especially obvious in discussions of men's role in feminism, in society and in a feminist society. Many feminists start out with the caveat that they 'like men' or 'don't think all men are oppressors', but few feminist theorists would bother making that point, as 'men are all evil' is not actually what is meant when they refer to patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a social system which includes men and women (as well as people who don't easily define as either). The philosopher Bourdieu argues that power can be direct- such as when you force someone to do something through coercion, or physical violence- or indirect, exercised through culture, social values and institutions, and language. The exercise of power becomes a social system when power moves from being direct to indirect. Patriarchy is not exercised directly by men over women, but indirectly through our involvement in social structures- the way we talk to each other, what we mean when we think 'woman' or 'man' in our heads, our legal system and governance, social customs, traditions and formal institutions like education and religion. Patriarchy is a social system which is built on the concept of gender difference and that gender difference should determine how we think about each other, what our role is in society, and what people get to exercise power. While feminists are usually concerned with patriarchy's impact on gender relationships, it also incorporates other power structures seen in race, class, disability and sexuality politics (and more)- as these power structures all combine and inform each other.

Both men and women live within this system and it is the act of living in it that both creates patriarchy and reinforces it. Men gain from patriarchy, but not exclusively. Some men gain more than others; some women also gain. Furthermore, by the time power is a social system, everybody who is operating within it is participating in its continuation- even if you don't want to be. In this way, women are as responsible for the perpetuation of patriarchy as men. And, while men gain more from patriarchy, and so may be more reluctant to give it up, they are just as much 'victims' of patriarchy as women. They can no more choose to remove themselves from a patriarchal world than women.

When power is direct, it is easier (but not necessarily easy!) to address- you can fight back, you can remove yourself from the realm the individual exercises power in, you can resist. When power is a system, fighting back is a lot more overwhelming. First you have to decide what your goals are, but this means changing the way you understand the world. If you have been brought up your entire life to believe that women are lesser human beings than men, taking the conceptual leap to equality is actually a major breakthrough. Yet, we made that leap and we made tangible goals to make change- increased education, votes for women, access to the professions, equal pay, reproductive rights, rights to exercise our sexuality; rights to our own body. Some of those goals have been met; some we are working towards.

However, we are not complete in our dismantling of patriarchy, because we have not yet been able to conceptualise what a world looks like where gender means something different. We talk about getting rid of gender, but we do not know what to replace it with. We talk about rehabilitating gender (different but equal), but we can't get away from the fact that 'different' is used to deny people rights and opportunities. This problem is because patriarchy is not just about individual action- it is a state of mind. It is a state of mind that we all share and as such we are not encountering new ideas or ways of thinking that might allow us to change our state of mind. We don't even have the terms to start this conversation, as our basic descriptors are 'he' and 'she'. The exercise of power is written into the very structures of our language-the language that we use to think with.

This should not make people despair- the fact is we have made huge conceptual leaps in the past which have allowed us to shake the foundations of patriarchy. But, we have not yet dismantled it. And, this is why language, and how we use it, is important- because it shapes our world. It is also why feminism is not about women hating men; it is about challenging the very way we view the world and asking women and men to join us in that.

Illustrated by example: Last week, I pointed out the rather large discrepancy in sentencing between men and women who killed their children. So, how does this happen? Did the judge (male or female) just hate women and want to punish them? This is unlikely. In fact, s/he probably thought s/he was responding to the crime appropriately. But subconsicously, when confronted with a woman who killed her child s/he probably had a thought that went: women = mother> mothers protect, nurture children> this woman killed children =heinous. The judge sentencing the men thought: men + violence = normal masculinity > men killed children = within the boundaries of normal masculinity= standard sentencing. The gender of the criminal had a differential impact on how the same crime was viewed, resulting in different sentencing.

Thus, gender matters, patriarchy exists, women suffer, men suffer= time for change.


Saranga said...

Good post. I shall link.
Incidedntally, I studied Bourdieu's theories of body/social capital at uni. I very much enjoyed it and it's one of the few sociology subjects that have stuck with me. So it's nice to see you quoting him here.

Feminist Avatar said...

My pleasure.

Chameleon said...

I have been faithfully reading your blog for quite a long time now, but have not yet left a comment :)
I have nominated this post for the Britblog Roundup in an effort to introduce it to a wider readership.
I like the fresh new look of the site header - makes me long for spring and summer again...

Feminist Avatar said...

Thank you for the nomination and for the compliment!

L said...

This is exactly what I've been wanting to hit my 'Feminists hate men' housemate over the head with for a good long while now. Thank you!

Is there any way to make this required reading for oh, everyone? Also, d'you think it would be unreasonably passive-aggressive of me to put this on my fridge?

Feminist Avatar said...

Hee. It might end up on that website where people take photos of the passive agressive notes people leave on their fridge/food/doors etc. On the other hand, it would get read that way.

Saranga said...

I don't think it would be unreasonably passive agressive. i think you should do it.

Or talk them through anti feminist bingo. I went through the comics version with my fella the other night. One square resulted in a row and then turned into a calm discussion. i believe he gets it now!

Red said...

I have a master's degree in sociology with an focus on social (in)justice issues. In one class about power and society, my answer to every question about discrimination due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, etc. was "Patriarchy!"

Saranga said...

Red: I believe I bore everyone to death with that being my answer to everything too!

Feminist Avatar said...

Ah well, you should read the book of my real life alter-ego (when it eventually makes it to press) if you want patriarchy as the answer to everything!

Anonymous said...

Ours is an envionment where evil is perceived to be rewarded while good is punished. As with everything the Gods have a reason for creating this perception::::
People who fall on the good side of the good/evil scale have more favor, and when they do something wrong the Gods punish them BECAUSE THEY WANT THEM TO LEARN. The Gods want them to receive this feedback in hope they make corrections and begin to behave appropriately. The Gods DON'T like evil and refuse to grant this feedback.
EVERYBODY pays for what they do wrong, only evil people must wait until their next life before they will experience the wrath of the Gods, manifested in their reincarnation as a lower form of life into environments with increased/enhanced temptations.
Sadly, this allows the Gods to position this perception of evil rewarded as temptation, one which they use as an EXTREMELY effective corruptor.

Both Africa and the Medittereanean are regions which have sexual issues. This is a sign of morbid disfavor once you understand that females are the God's favored gender. Muhammad's (Mohammed's) polygamy halfway through his life as a prophet was preditory. Now a huge percentage of Muslims believes in male superiority and that the abuse of women is God's will. Female genital mutilation is still practiced in Africa. Black misogyny is the most eggregious example in the recent past.
Black member size is temptation to a predisposed population.
The patriarchal cancer spread throughout Europe because of Christianity, of which the majority of policy makers were Italian men. Expect the largest landowner in Europe and the continent's original superpower also played a major role in African slavery.

Militancy in Africa is consistant with the Iraqi example, as was slavery and the KKK here in America:::Fear enforces proper behavior. Without it we see what happens as a result of gross/morbid disfavor:::::AIDS, crack babies, dead young men in gangland retaliation killings. This is the purpose behind many black's historical tendancy towards resistance.
The same principle was true in Europe and throughout the world for centuries:::People whom lived under iron fists were conditioned to think the right way. As a result they experienced higher numbers of children ascend into heaven because they were taught to think and behave appropriately, which they passed on to their children. Our preditory envionment of "freedom" was the primary purpose the Gods had when implimenting this strategy that is the United States, one which they used to spred the cancer of democracy and westernization throughout the world. And the Gods use this tool that is America to prey on the disfavored both at home and abroad:::Much like the ghetto, America in general experiences a heightened level of temptation due to the people's disfavor.

Even the Old Testiment is not to be taken literally, but the Gods do offer clues throughout to help the disfavored:::The apple is a tool of temptation used to corrupt Adam and Eve and cast them out of the Garden of Eden.
There is another lesson to be learned from this passage, and it is quite similar to the vailing issue and the discourse over women's attire which ultimately died in the 70s:::Women are responsible for and control the fate of mankind.

Think about what I say. Consider what I teach. Society is going to become disturbingly ugly as we approach the Apocalypse due to spiralling, runaway disfavor.
I do not know when this will occurr, but it is the God's way to grant some time before they end on Planet Earth.
Make the decision to always be good and never look back. Until you do this technology will employ tactics to test your resolve:::Ridicule, beligerance, doubt and refusal to abandon what people perceive to be their "investment".
Pray daily. Think appropriately. Too many are confident, unaware of the God's awesome powers or their status as antients. Others may fall prey to their positioning.
Be humbled, God-fearing and beware of the God's temptations, for everyone is tested to evaluate their worthiness.
Search rest

Feminist Avatar said...

With the weather we've been having over the last few days, I'm beginning to wonder this myself. Thinking its time to build an ark.

Unknown said...

This hit the nail on the head...literally.When you add race to the mix it's a bomb waiting to explode.I am a black female and it's been quite challenging to get on "equal" footing with my male counterparts.And they claim to be the most aware men in my culture...but they are not.This is a huge reason why I remain single...I am not willing to share my time with someone who thinks he has the auto rights to control the direction of any union we may be progressing towards. At the same time I understand he's been raised with that mentality his entire life and doesn't even know how not to be that way.