Tag Archive: patriarchy

It is a tough thing, affecting some of us on the left and leading us to betrayal and “selling out”: whether to focus on the misery and discontent of the world—perhaps even extending to the question of whether life is truly worth living in such a world—or to ignore that “larger reality” picture and focus on our own, smaller, more manageable, more affectable world. In that smaller world, whatever is simpler, easier, whatever makes the means of living more accessible to us is what is right, or at least allows it to become that much more acceptable.

With a wide world view, one that focuses on all of the injustice and might even seek to correct it, and rejects all of its tools like patriarchy, gender binary, white privilege, rape culture, Islamophobia, and others, no amount of imperialism is acceptable: no sweatshop labor, no globalization, no corporatism, no finance capital, no collusion between elite classes for the enrichment of those classes to the financial detriment of everyone else. Also no imperialist war, no police state at home, no glamorization of international conflict or terrorism, no commoditization of rights of any kind (to be bought and sold), but the common ownership of such rights by the people.

But in what way is this struggle, save in the minds of its fighters who are few and far between? “A New World In Our Hearts,” is the name of one anarchist collective I have seen in New York. The idea of the struggle itself is invariably linked with ideology: communist, socialist, marxist, anarchist, whateverist. It is as though having a practical, pragmatic cause or quest in this world, that isn’t hugely dependent on complex and often old edifices, is dependent on accepting and indeed defending the status quo, and having no ideals that demand something fundamentally better. And to hold such ideas is to be “difficult.” To act on them can provoke all types of invective, not the last of which is “terrorist.”

Now let’s take a look at the smaller, more manageable, more “self-made” reality. All that matters is ahead of you, in theory, because society has been custom-made to produce those matters as life-goals: job, home, marriage, children, retirement.

All that you give up ideologically by focusing exclusively on the wide, pessimistic view is obversely included in this mode of living, the material and familial experiences that employment and marriage afford you: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview, seeing your child go to her first job interview, an echo of seeing her off on her first day of school.

Does it make you a bad person to focus on this reality? This one is smaller, softer, more fulfilling (because the limits are tighter and more defined), “fitter, happier, more productive,” to quote Radiohead.

This reality is more conventional, and yet it feels self-manifested (“self-made”) because it seems so natural: raising biological children with a life-partner, raising them to be good and responsible citizens who contribute to society, to pass through the gates of society: preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, employment, marriage, parenthood, promotion, retirement, death at a “ripe old age.” The always-present hope in any good parent: that the child will live better than I did, escaping, somehow, the raft of sacrifices I made, the ream of failures, of heartaches, of mistakes, and sail through life with 100% more boldness and success and ease.

“What’s wrong with wanting that?” anyone invested in this process, such as a parent or friend might say. There is a strange charm in it, to those of us who possess the privilege to witness it, let alone experience it. One such encounter:

I was sitting in Montclair, NJ, (where I lived from age 15 to age 26) eating falafel and drinking San Pellegrino in a churchyard where small children were playing, while church bells rang followed by a train whistle, and all of the myriad restaurants and cafe-type establishments were picking up that lunch buzz: the coffee was brewing, the french fries were sizzling, the air was hot, the sun was out. The little children waved to me and said hello before going back to their little children’s book on the green grass. lady stopped and asked me where she could get a good wrap. I replied, the little Greek place down the street. I sat fifteen minutes among the suburban bliss, and the church bells rang at the quarter of the hour.

Altogether, it was charming. And a little nauseating. These well-to-do people, drinking and eating and working and shopping at the Gap and voting Democrat, all while the CIA funds cannibal rebels in Syria and drones kill civilians in Yemen and Walmart sweatshops collapse in Bangladesh. And all of these people, including me, are benefiting from all of that, all of the benefits of imperialism and cultural hegemony and exploitation and murder.

It reminded me of how John Lennon was criticized for “quitting” activism and releasing “Double Fantasy” about obtaining domestic bliss. Other critics defended him, saying he’d done enough for the world and deserved his bit of happiness. I don’t know where I fall, but I understand both perspectives, I guess.

In the “small-reality” mode of living, where “family is everything,” the possibilities for material and familial experiences are almost endless: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview. They may not seem like it, but all of these are largely bodily pleasures, since they are based on emotions. Nothing else is accomplished with them besides the event itself and the emotions that accompany it.

The small-reality view at least gives you a chance at these pleasures.Focusing on the wide, pessimistic view—where all you see is the negative and the misery and the injustice and try to fight it somehow—takes these chances away, and replaces them with the chance to see something positive done in your lifetime to affect the millions of oppressed people in the world. One legislative victory, for example, among the larger-reality type of person can mean the difference between eating and not eating for hundred, thousands, millions of people. Yet, there’s a good chance that you won’t see all that much, at least not what you REALLY want to see: revolution. The potentials of a smaller-reality viewpoint are a lot to give up when one considers that the means by which to accomplish them already seem to exist in reality, whereas fulfilling the larger-reality potentials require society to be nearly the exact opposite of what it is.

Plenty of left-leaning people celebrate Christmas, drink Coca-Cola, and have children. Even Che Guevara, and the singer from Agnostic Front, and Leon Trosky, and Joseph Stalin (for that matter). They all had kids. An anti-capitalist understanding tells us that having children is a means of perpetuating capitalism, because ultimately children are where labor comes from, and capitalism is based on a steady stream of cheap labor and needy consumers, and the more the merrier (which is why right-leaning types are against gay marriage, gayness in general, contraception/BC, et cetera, any sex that doesn’t produce children. They don’t know that’s why, but that’s why.)

I guess I don’t know. I have no plans to marry or have children. I may adopt. I just don’t want to bring another poor, frightened, doubtful, soul- and dream-crushed little white person into this world, one to whom I’ll pass all of my failings and fears and bodily defects. I’m no one special. My child won’t be anyone special. She or he won’t be “the greatest little guy/girl in the world,” or “an angel,” or any crap like that. She or he will just be a little starving zombie, raised again into an ideology of need and patriarchy. Blech. I say no.

But someday, what if I say yes? Will that make me a bad person? The average liberal on the street of Montclair might not be a bad person, because she or he doesn’t fully know better, hasn’t studied these things, never formed a “larger-reality” understanding (I assume; maybe they’re all sellouts too). But I have, and to turn on it and ignore it and forget it and lose it and “sell out”….that really would be inexcusable, and unforgivable.

Existence precedes essence. I have no escape. Self-affirmation must come in another form than the conventional. That’s all there is to it. I guess I’m a little scared. Of what? Failure, to fulfill an abstract, while the people around me have concrete goals, concrete purposes.

I guess I just need direction, and for a long time.

note: Throughout this entry, I use the terms “woman,” “man,” and the like with the implication of self-identification.

Empowering people, women and men, to prevent sexual assault is important. Most of the of time, the assaulter is known by the victim prior to the assault. I learned this in my Writing Women Safe class at Montclair State University. It is important that both women and men learn how to identify possibly compromising situations and to avoid entering them. For despite all hope for the contrary, it is an irrefutable fact that such situations are a genuine and widespread problem, of epidemic proportions on college campuses, and to a greater extent among transgender women and women of Color. While we’re correcting the revolting misogynistic culture in which we live (filled with Todd Akins, Maxim magazine, Axe body spray, and many brands of shitty beer whose ads require women in bikinis next to chicken wings in order to get men to say “I want that”), women must be empowered to exercise prevention of unwanted advances, while men must be given the vocabulary and social permission to prevent becoming oblivious to either the word “NO” or its sentiment, and to understand that when a woman is incapable of making a decision, the answer is “no” automatically. In short, men must be taught that sex is a decision made by two people, not decided by circumstance or entitlement.

Many of these advances, the aftermaths, and the common victim-blaming that go with them, involve partying, outfits that catch the attention of the preferred sexual partner’s gender, and alcohol. I wish it were taught right along with the pressure-point self-defense training, that if a person feels he or she loses his or her sense of self-control or perspective when drinking at parties, then drinking shouldn’t be considered essential to “having fun” or to “fitting in,” and to hell with what people think. If dressing in certain outfits seems to contribute to misleading situations with horny impressionable men, then women shouldn’t wear them, nor should they feel compelled to wear them. They shouldn’t feel compelled to validate their own sense of self-worth based on whether men have sexual feelings towards them. AND, perhaps more importantly, men need to understand that ANY mode of dress is not in itself a form or even a sign of consent.

Hear me out, and then tell me if you think I’m misguided. It would be fantastic if we could all wear whatever we want all the time. In a way, that would be the ideal situation. However, the reason such problems as gender inequality, body image issues, fatphobia, blaming-the-victim, and others exist is that we base our judgments about ourselves on what society expects of us. What is considered “sexy,” “attractive,” “desirable,” “feminine,” or “masculine,” are concepts suggested by biological implications but shaped, marketed, and disseminated (an accurately masculine term) completely by patriarchal society. Until we overcome these expectations, we will see a distinct contradiction between our desire to be seen as “sexual beings” and our desire to own our sexuality.

We are taught that women dress one way and men dress another. Due to this sartorial gender convention, women were long prohibited from wearing pants. A woman who defied convention and wore trousers, like George Sand for example, chose not to be judged by her physical appearance. Or, if she was going to be judged, at least it would be on her own terms, and not by how attractive men found her. Of course, she WAS judged by her appearance anyway, but in the way that phenomena are so often judged when they completely defy our expectations, i.e. shock and revulsion. Rather than being “beautiful” and “fetching” and “ravishing,” as a socially acceptable woman should strive to be, Sand was judged to be against the natural order of society. Why? Because when a woman decides that being sexually attractive to men is unimportant to her, the “natural” order of female subjugation is threatened, since it is partly based on the power dynamic of sexual predator (male) versus sexual prey (female).

This is partly why men welcome women’s liberation insofar as it produces “women who love sex,” i.e. women who work to fulfill male expectations of sexiness. Many people fail to concretely identify or understand sexual liberation as a form of general self-determination because women are so little encouraged to self-determine their identities in other ways in our society. That is to say, being “sexually liberated” doesn’t appear to actually liberate women all that much. “Even though I’ll never make as much money as men, even though I won’t feel adequate or secure without a husband, even though I’ll leave college to marry, even though I’ll forever be dependent on men for fixing things and snaking drains, not to mention for giving me the purpose of selfless nurturer, even though my children will solidify the end of my ambition, even though I can’t feel safe from rape, at least I have sex because I enjoy it.” Enjoying sex becomes one way in which anyone with such sentiments of powerlessness might feel empowered (like Jane Fonda in “Klute”), regardless of gender, while other areas of self-determination remain unexplored and unrealized. In this way, “sexual liberation” in this extant form is still very much connected to dependence.

Everyone being able to “safely” wear whatever they want all the time would be an incredible step forward, and should probably be the next one. Men need to be INDOCTRINATED with the facts: that clothing is not consent in any form, or under any circumstances. Nor is conduct. Men need to be taught that rape has a broader definition than simply the absence of “no” or the presence of violent force, and that, based on the premise of mutual respect, a vocabulary exists with which the certainty of mutual consent can be established, with no loss of “manliness” and a substantive gain in relative strength of character. (I hope to expound upon this vocabulary in a future entry.) Similar to being too embarrassed to purchase condoms, a person who lacks the willingness to establish this certainty should be able to judge himself or herself not ready for sex. Period.

{And I completely reject all Roiphe-style victimology rhetoric suggesting that the majority of alleged rapes on college campuses are in fact the self-exculpating fabrications of women who merely had “bad sex” or felt bad about themselves having had consensual sex. This patently misogynistic idea asserts the foolishness and low character of those who made the accusations, and “rewards” women only with the agency to commit misdeeds while graciously denying the propensity of men to commit rape, despite a long and factual history of male domination not only over women but over one another.}

Yet I don’t think it contradictory to this goal to also inform all genders, matter-of-factly and from as early an age as possible, about the ideological agenda of our society: to emphasize and exaggerate the centrality of sex to our culture (“sex sells”) in order to maintain this dependence upon men for many aspects of the female cultural identity: i.e. “a woman’s place.” Society is more comfortable with “sexually liberated” women who wear revealing clothing than it would be with women who don’t care about APPEARING sexually liberated. Why? Because by fulfilling male-defined ideas of sexuality, women appearing as “sexual beings” in the expected manner—in form-fitting, colorful, revealing clothing, “living it up” “Sex-in-the-City”-style—may ultimately do more to reinforce “a woman’s place” than to challenge it. And that “place” involves, preferably, willful self-objectification to validate and enhance male objectification. The reacting male mentality is, “If she views herself as an object, I can too!” which is a central component of rape culture.

{It’s the ethical equivalent of, “If a man views himself as a provider, I can demand all the jewelry I want from him.” A common riposte to this state of affairs is, “yeah, so what’s WRONG with that?” which is the same as asking, “What’s wrong with people accepting societally reinforced gender roles, remaining dependent on them for self-identification, reinforcing them in others, and seeing each other purely in transactional terms?” Is there anything wrong with that? I think so. Such lives are unexamined, and as such contribute to complicity in other, less micro and more macro forms of exploitation, such as sweatshop labor, racial discrimination, pollution, the meat industry, the pharmaceutical industry, et cetera. The question then becomes, “so what’s wrong with ALL OF THIS?” Moral relativism to the rescue.}

{(What such men don’t realize is that they are also being objectified—by which I mean defined as an object, except as a dominant object rather than a submissive one—by a culture that exploits their hormonal impulses and implants in their brains a sense of ownership over society, which they don’t actually fully possess. This false consciousness facilitates a state of mutual exploitation [to varying degrees] of men and women, and highlights the underlying premise of my argument: all cultural stratification is maintained for the purpose of complete, full exploitation and the reproduction of cultural hierarchy, which is a characteristic of ruling class ideology. That is to say, it benefits capitalism to reinforce patriarchy, to make men as a whole think they automatically control society, so they can be exploited for their labor power. This will have to be the subject of another entry, though, at some point. I hope!) Much if not most of the remainder of female identification—particularly in terms of career and general place in society—remains dependent on or relative to a woman’s relationship to men: wife, mother, housekeeper, sex-provider, financially dependent or seeking financial dependence.}–remove or move

I get it; women—and people in general—just want to be free to “relax” and “socialize.” What does this mean, though? Does relaxing means drinking alcohol? Does socializing mean eliciting sexual interest from members of the desired sex? Alcohol and alluring attire are both aspects of our society that reflect man’s patriarchal dominion over what women should want, act, and look like in public. They both actively cultivate and reinforce a lack of personal confidence: drink alcohol to FEEL like a million bucks, show some skin to LOOK like a million bucks, (a money metaphor, as though we must make valuable commodities of ourselves in order to enjoy the company of others), to get ahead in life, to be noticed . And men, who are supposed to WANT and ASPIRE TO HAVING all the bucks in society, will necessarily see such women as part of an overall picture of what’s desirable. Why can’t men feel like a million bucks—or just good about ourselves—without them, though?

Alcohol is a “social lubricant,” meaning it makes people more confident talking to each other. It does this by limiting a person’s judgment, including judgments of right and wrong and of the self: of what I’m worth, what I deserve, what’s wrong with me. Ironically, by limiting judgments of what I’m worth, alcohol makes me more likely to place myself in unfavorable situations—with dangerous people, doing dangerous things, in dangerous places, perhaps—situations that are beneath me. Why doesn’t feminism do more to teach people to limit sober self-judgment—to stop finding fault with themselves—and to feel confident talking to members of the opposite sex without alcohol, IN ADDITION to emphasizing that women should feel free to have a good time and dress however they want?

As I’ve already said, sexy clothing is another way to meet societal (i.e. male) expectations. I understand that women should feel comfortable being sexual beings in public. Truly, that is a valid form of empowerment, since the denial of female sexuality is historically part and parcel with the denial of basic humanity. However, when ti comes to clothing, I don’t see an analytic connection between “freedom of sexuality” and “freedom of dressing.” Clothing companies are 99% of the time run by men. While of course there are female designers like Kate Spade, men are the ones whose names you hear the most (Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Yves St Laurent, John Galliano, Manolo Blahnik, Levi, Louis Vuitton, Lee, et cetera). Why do we teach women that it is important for them to express themselves as “sexual beings” when to do so means fulfilling male expectations of sexiness? We should be empowering them to feel like sexual, passionful people WITHOUT meeting those expectations. Men walk around in suits, virile and ambitious as the day is long, and looking like a million bucks. Why can’t women feel the same way?

Social pressure is very strong. Shame is very strong. If a woman appears prudish, she’s a bitch. If she “puts out” too much, she’s a slut. If she doesn’t like to socialize with “normal” people in normal ways and dress normally, there’s something wrong with her there, too. She’s puritanical, nun-like, self-righteous, et cetera. God forbid, if she’s Muslim and wears a hijab, she must be oppressed by men as well! Because women would NEVER actually choose NOT to show off their bodies to attract men and appear “confident” (which, again, is defined in male terms)! ONLY MEN HAVE THE POWER TO COVER WOMEN UP! NOT WOMEN! WOMEN WOULD NEVER DO THAT VOLUNTARILY! HOW WOULD THEY GET ANY RESPECT IN LIFE? HOW WOULD THEY GET ANYWHERE? WHY WOULD THEY LIMIT THEIR FREEDOM LIKE THAT?

I’m being sarcastic. Of course a woman could choose not to be judged by her appearance, or whether she drinks at parties, or whether she even GOES to parties. It’s all a matter of her having an understanding that her OWN definition of strength, confidence, empowerment, personhood, is the most important, not what Captain Morgan or Karl Lagerfeld or Beyonce, or literally ANYONE ELSE thinks about her. This demands a strict doctrine of discipline, whereby feminists of all genders reject all forms of patriarchal sexuality by CHOOSING not to satisfy them. DON’T feel the need to self-objectify to any degree, even though it’s what advertising expects of you. DON’T feel the need to wear makeup. DON’T feel the need to drink alcohol. DON’T feel the need to attend parties where people go to forget their principles, their thoughts, their healthful processes. DON’T accept the judgments of people who deride your commitment to self-determination. DON’T let yourself be exploited for any purpose. Find friends who accept this quality in you, and encourage it in them. MILITANTLY DEFY EXPECTATIONS.

A man who doesn’t respect a strong woman has a piece-of-shit mentality, although I pity him, because such a state of mind deprives him of the awe deserving of half the human race for surviving and overcoming an agelessly oppressive reign over the other half. Same goes for a so-called friend who doesn’t respect her friend’s decision to not drink, or to wear turtlenecks, or to not go to parties filled with idiots and simpletons. That “friend” can go fuck him/herself. A real friend, a real man, a real woman, a real person, will not only respect such a disciplined and self-contained person, but will admire her and put hope in her, and emulate her, and soon, join her in the quest to undo patriarchy and all of the forces that benefit from it.