Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The patriarchy?

by Josh Franklin

"Patriarchy" is one of the wonderfully trendy words that gets thrown around in most of what's posted here on EW. In fact, it makes a prominent appearance in the title of one of the "sites we love": I Blame the Patriarchy. The blog sells itself as a beacon of radical feminism, where its author rails angrily against patriarchy, "which invisibly persists as the world’s most popular social order..." Describing her blog, the author writes that she

"envisions a post-patriarchal order free of male privilege, rape, misogyny, theocracy, corporatocracy, gender, race, deity worship, marriage, discrimination, prostitution, exploitation, godbags, the nuclear family, reproduction, caste, violence, the oppression of children, the oppression of animals, poverty, pornography, and government interference with: private uteruses, non-abusive domestic arrangements, drug habits, lives, and deaths."

There is clearly a lot that author Twisty Faster is angry about. I was once talking to a friend about feminism, and he posed the question: if there's some huge conspiracy against women that all men are part of, then why didn't anybody tell me? The answer, clearly, is that a privileged class is not aware of its privilege; men don't understand all the ways in which society automatically gives them power and oppresses women. The power involved in gender violence in our society emerges in a complicated, diffuse way. That's why it makes me a little bit uncomfortable that the blog's title refers to the patriarchy.

If we blame the patriarchy, we conjure up the image of a vast conspiracy of men, which holds monthly meetings to discuss how to abuse women. While societies have varying degrees of male power built into their organization explicitly, the pervasive--and far more pernicious--form of male power is, as Twisty implies, the invisible kind. I think this distinction is one that's important to draw.

The more worrying--and personally insulting--thing about I Blame the Patriarchy is the little bits of misandry. I hesitate to point this out, because it's an unfair and widespread perception that feminism itself amounts to man-hating. After searching through guidelines for would-be commenters on the blog, I found two instructions for men (those who identify as men?) who want to post: "Male persons who wish to leave comments on this blog are strongly encouraged not to" and "But really, it would be better if men just didn’t post in the first place. Really."

I think this is counterproductive and a little bit upsetting. What do you think?


At March 26, 2009 at 5:32 AM , Blogger TommyD said...

Josh, didn't you ever get your free Patriarchy Membership Card when you turned 18? I thought all guys did. Mine came with my Selective Service registration--in the back of the envelope. If you need yours, I think I've got extras--or you can just ask your dad.

*wink wink nudge nudge*

At March 26, 2009 at 10:17 AM , Blogger LSG said...

I say "search your heart." Why do you find it so insulting when someone tells you that you're free to read and learn but that you should think twice before speaking up? Could it be because, like it or not, you've been steeped in a culture that says "as a man, your voice is always our top priority"? Why does it immediately seem "counterproductive" to you to cast men exclusively in a passive role? Perhaps because we've all been taught that no movement, even (especially) a movement about women, can succeed without men? Why do you interpret Twisty saying that smart-white-upperclass-liberal-dudes-in-their-20s can't fully comprehend the degree to which they're steeped in privilege and so maybe they should button it for a minute and listen as misandry?

Pilgrim Soul over at The Pursuit of Harpyness very recently wrote a post on this topic, Twisty and all:
The post and comments are excellent.

At March 26, 2009 at 11:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say that both Josh and LSG bring up good points. I think it's healthy for men as individuals and as a collective to take a break and just listen for a few minutes--really listen--to what women are saying. They could learn a lot. I also want to insert that if women had built and molded society, there might also be a higher value placed on such an activity. But I also have to agree with Josh's original point that singling men out, especially men who read and seek to contribute to a feminist blog, is not necessarily productive. In order to truly move forward, we need to put anger and generalized blame aside. I find that a lot of angry women get carried away, and can develop misandry (a friend of mine once said she had no problem with women hating men). I believe any kind of hate is harmful for the individual and their cause.
Emily Snyder

At March 26, 2009 at 1:46 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

I'm over the whole man-woman thing. We are all persons. Be the change you want to see, right? Well, I want to see everyone being equal. Listening to women does not preclude men talking. And, to be quite sincere, I do not think any movement can succeed without men. Neither can any movement succeed without women. I don't think Twisty hates men. I just think she hasn't fully thought out her arguments in an honest and academic way.

For Christ's sake, she calls religion dumb. I'm sorry, but when you call religion dumb you just completely forfeit any credibility. Plus, what irks me the most is that she is pushing socialist viewpoints under the guise of radical feminism. And, moreover, this is the reason why I find her site so distasteful, not because she is "un-ladylike". Basically, I would never continue reading her site, and I don't intend to, because it is intellectually bankrupt.

At March 26, 2009 at 2:32 PM , Blogger Courtny said...

I think anger can actually be extremely productive--it can motivate us, help us face up to injustices, and keep us from sinking into depression or apathy.

Blogging is a healthy way to vent anger and make fun of a system where you see yourself as the oppressed, and IBTP is a forum for Twisty and other angry women to vent their frustration and have a laugh together. Why shouldn't they have that space to do so, and keep it man-free if they choose? They're not claiming to speak for all women or all feminists.

At March 26, 2009 at 3:25 PM , Blogger LSG said...

You're OVER the man-woman thing? You're OVER it??? That's very nice for you. Less nice for the women who are being raped, harassed, beaten, mutilated, burned to death, degraded, and dismissed because they are women. It's asinine to say "we're all persons" as if that settles everything when certain classes of persons are brutally and systematically oppressed. That pesky "man-woman" thing is absolutely inescapable. To say you're "over" it is essentially to say "I'm okay with the status quo." Which benefits you, as a man. You will forgive me for not applauding this sentiment.

You say "listening to women doesn't preclude men talking." That's completely true. Men talking, however, unfortunately seems to preclude listening to women. Self-identified feminist dudes, marinated in privilege, often (not always, naturally) come stampeding into a conversation and assume that since they sincerely believe women are equal, they've got the whole male-female dynamic figured out and can therefore start informing the other participants what women's experience is like, how the dynamics of oppression work, how radical feminism is socialism in disguise, and so on -- and the whole conversation starts revolving around these dudes who just don't get it.

Incidentally, Twisty and her female (and transgendered) commentators are very welcoming to male commentators who do get it and understand or are seriously trying to understand the privilege they are marinated in and the power dynamics that saturate society.

Courtny, you're right on all counts. I will add that on IBTP there are AWESOME pictures of spiders. :)

At March 26, 2009 at 4:30 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

All right, a serious comment now. I have never quite known what to think about the Patriarchy bogeyman. I do think (and certainly hope) that IBTP has is written with a fair amount of irony. Otherwise, it's merely a forum for the author and like-minded individuals to vent--useful for them, but not particularly helpful to people who actually want to change minds and societies.

Personally, I think all societies have gender-specific memes, but that blaming the Patriarchy for them is like blaming the Zionist Conspiracy, or the Masons, or the Gay Mafia. It's an entity that's at once all-powerful yet impossible to define or delineate. Do I think that sometimes men have no idea what women are thinking? Sure. (And vice versa.) And it would be a good idea for everyone to be more receptive to others' viewpoints.

Still, I think that blogs like IBTP tend to underestimate just how much of a role women play in perpetuating this so-called patriarchy. (I see this every day in Africa.) And by getting the causes of sexist society wrong, they prescribe the wrong solutions. (I will discuss what I think are the best solutions in my posting next week. Stay tuned...)

Let's try replacing "patriarchy" with "society" or "traditional culture"--a set of values and memes that both sexes pass down to their children. Let's scrutinize these memes and hold all of them up to reasoned inquiry. No sacred cows here, and "tradition" doesn't justify anything. I think we'll find that a lot of things about society don't make sense or are blatantly unfair. I also think we'll find a lot of memes that are woman-instigated (like FGM in Africa) or that predominantly harm men (like wars).

Finally, if IBTP is truly serious about the goals it lists, there's only one thing that could ever make all of them happen: the total destruction of every human being on earth. Then there'd be no more patriarchy, no more society, no more culture, no more memes, and no more us to debate them.

At March 26, 2009 at 4:40 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Oh, I get it alright. And forgive me for stirring up such sentiments in you, I really do. While I think you misinterpreted my meaning, this isn't the time or place to rectify that. Suffice it to say that I'm sorry it came out the way it did.

At March 27, 2009 at 5:10 AM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Sigh, you're right, I didn't get it. Well, I got it, but I didn't want to accept it. But I guess accepting it is kinda what getting it is...I got it in a meta way? not like, well, whatever, you get what I mean.

My criticism still stands. I get what they're Twisty is trying to do, but it still tugs at my balls (I mean, I was gonna make it elegant, but I'm tired and it really does, yo, and not because it's the classic woman breaking my balls, but I just think the feeling of getting tugged in the balls really does best explain how excruciating this is) that they do that.

I'm still also over the whole man-woman thing, like in a personal, "way I view the world" way, and I don't like it when people make those distinctions...obviously gender and sex need to be discussed, but always keeping in mind that the only reason we are discussing them is because hateful people have forced us to do so.

At March 28, 2009 at 1:46 AM , Anonymous Nat said...

So here's a question: Let's imagine that we create an society de novo, in which men and women were all given equal opportunities to pursue whatever lifestyle they pleased, but due to innate preference, biological necessity (having kids), or what have you, not every profession is equally populated by men and women. Let's further say that some of the male-dominated professions happen to be traditionally positions of influence - politics, engineering - although women dominate other traditionally male fields with significant influence - say, medicine. Given that everyone chooses their life path freely, without the space for any cultural determinism arguments, is this society patriarchal?

In other words, is this particular feminist theory able to accept that there may be any innate differences between the sexes in preference and ability? Or is it predicated on a radical blank-slate orthodoxy in which all group differences must be the result of oppression, conscious or unconscious? Because if it is, it is a very fragile philosophy indeed, founded on a philosophical ideal rather than empirical observation or a serious doctrine or rights, and will crumble at the first shred of proof of innate differences between the sexes. (Of course the best part about "patriarchy" arguments is that they're pretty much unfalsifiable; if you deny that a patriarchy exists, then that means you're part of an even more "privileged class" that's unaware of its privilege! But since the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution we've learned to take unfalsifiable hypotheses with a iceberg-sized grain of salt.

My argument is not about imagining worlds, but rather about getting to the bottom of this ill-defined idea of "patriarchy". If this theory is based on blank-slate fundamentalism and is too weak to work in a world where there are innate differences between the sexes, then it is pretty near useless except as abstract philosophy, and we better be looking for a better way to locate, quantify, and eliminate sex-based discrimination.

At March 28, 2009 at 5:11 PM , Anonymous Chloe said...

"the classic woman breaking my balls"?
That's not the commentary of a person who's "over the whole man-woman thing," personally, politically or otherwise.

At March 28, 2009 at 5:57 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

Ya, I thought that might get misinterpreted. Ia m really bad at talking sometimes. By "classic woman breaking my balls" I didn't mean to imply that women break men's balls all the time and that it is a classic thing that happens. I meant it as the classic feminist response to any man being pissed off at a woman. A lot of times I get pissed off at radical feminists, but not because it's a "woman breaking my balls" but because I don't think her arguments make any rational sense. I don't care whether she is a woman or man, the argument is what is breaking my balls.

Thanks for pointing this out. If I did, in fact, intend it in the former way I should have been called out for it.

At March 28, 2009 at 6:10 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

As for the whole venting thing, I understand that people feel frustrated by their oppression. I mean, yes, I do and it's absolutely presumptuous to think that I don't have enough empathy to feel that or appreciate my privilege. But this isn't about me, nor is about them. This is about making a more equal society. If they are venting and just having a laugh at the nonsense they are spewing, fine, I'm sure it helps and has it's benefits, again, I understand that. But they go on to have some serious posts, and I can't help but to think that they actually believe some of the stuff they are saying, as evidenced by many of their posts. That's just horrible, I don't care what anyone says.

Look, venting for the purpose of getting people's attention to such oppression, as a way to de-stress, as a way to heal from trauma, etc. All these ways of viewing that site is completely fine, and if that is how that community is being used, then all the more power to them.

But venting for the purpose of changing people's minds and as a serious way of discourse is absolutely ridiculous. I do not hesitate to bash conspiracy theories of any kind, and I'm not going to limit calling out bullshit when I see it, I don't care if it's "Oh no, you're a woman and I'm a man from the patriarchy". I just don't care enough about their whining for it to affect my desire for equality.


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