The Problem with (Blaming) Patriarchy

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January 12, 2019 by lucieromarin

Don’t. Panic. This post isn’t going to end with a surrendered-wife assurance that all inherited social systems are actually okay. Anyone who’s read my backstory knows that I’d like our inherited systems to be scrutinised and improved sooner rather than later, for I certainly know what it’s like to be thrown under the proverbial bus in the interests of systemic power.

I’m sometimes asked why I’m not more feminist as a consequence of that story.  Feminism, like Protestantism, is infinitely various and lacking in a voice that can state with authority and finality what it actually is. But you’ve probably noticed that people who identity as feminist vary in their agenda from ‘don’t hit women’ to ‘patriarchy is to blame for everything and men suck – especially the white ones.’ At one end is the woman who, if pressed, would admit to disliking misogyny, but who otherwise rarely thinks about it and feels that life is much worse for women in other countries. In the middle are all those women who think the whole thing is kind of messy – I mean, the surrendered wife who votes for Trump could only read and vote in the first place because feminists won her the right to do both, but the reason that even the first wave feminists could march without fear of being murdered in cold blood was because the men around them were of Anglican persuasion rather than Taliban, which does rather say something for the Anglicans. Then, at the far end, are the woman who see patriarchy everywhere and blame it for everything – including ill deeds committed by women. And the blame is a great muddle. It’s sexist to offer your seat on a train to a woman, but it’s also sexist to take up too much of a shared space with your legs and/or the newspaper. Furthermore, when men and women are both raised from infancy in a patriarchal system, and are therefore equally innocent in their formation, men are still to blame for the results of that upbringing and for their collusion with the system, while women are not. (They only collude because patriarchy forced them to.)

Let’s call such the third group ‘anti-patriarchy’ rather than ‘feminist’, because they really only represent a sliver of the feminist pie. They do exist, though, and it is often they who wonder why I am not more feminist than I am.

The thing is, we already have a word for ‘that pervasive evil that is everywhere ruining everything.’ That word is ‘sin’. If patriarchy is the source and generator of all evil, then patriarchy is just another word for sin, which is odd if you’ve already rejected the concept of sin as patriarchal. The difference is, I suppose, that ‘sin’ is supposed to belong to all of us equally, whatever our gender is, and carries with it the concept of personal responsibility, whereas ‘patriarchy’ is about the all the problems being someone else’s fault. So, under ‘sin’, our first responsibility is to make an examination of conscience, whereas under ‘patriarchy’ our first right is to examine somebody else’s conscience and then tell everybody what we’ve worked out about how awful he is.

I’m not denying that the concept of sin can be used to manipulate and oppress. I’m also not denying the existence of a social power system that often favours men and is often used to oppress – cue my backstory again. But the concept of patriarchy as ‘always and everywhere bad and responsible for all the bad things’ carries with it its own dangers. For a start, it’s a hard fact that part of healing means taking responsibility for your actions. Certainly, the first step in healing is to learn to stop taking the blame for things that were never your fault. But this isn’t the last step, and there does come a point at which you cannot heal without acknowledging that there are some things about you that you cannot blame on anybody else. Worse, you have to accept that if you keep doing these things, you will be the reason that nothing improves.

There’s a danger, too, in any theory of vast evil that renders us all powerless and can only be destroyed by being angry all the time. A permanent enemy can be both exhausting and ridiculous – and, in any case, it isn’t true. Forget bishops and celebrity priests. Name three Carmelite monks. You can’t – because they’re invisible to the system. Every male Benedictine on the planet has renounced sex, money and power for life. Every Carthusian monk has, outwardly at least, vanished from the system – he will live in silence and obscurity and die in silence and obscurity, and if there is anything else to his story, we’ll only know it in the next life. What made them do this? What called them out of the system that favours sexuality, celebrity, property and power? True, they themselves represent only a sliver of the patriarchy pie, but how did that sliver get there at all? It seems to me that the real question, the one that really matters, is not ‘how did that bad bishop get so bad’ (we all know that power is addictive) but ‘why and how and by what other power did that young monk opt out of the system?’

The dedicated anti-patriarchy voice picks and chooses just as much as the religious voice does. There was no white male privilege in a Japanese POW camp or on the Kokoda track. To travel to Africa and tell people that they need to embrace contraception and abolish female genital mutilation is just as much a missionary imposition of one culture upon another as is the offer of a Sunday Mass. This is fine – but without some tough questions, it’s not authentic. Why do Western people like to travel about and make suggestions/issue orders anyway, and why do I, the feminist, deny that my work constitutes missionary work? What’s the origin of my authority? Why is it okay to change people because feminism says so and not because God says so? And why are there, in fact, issues that seem to matter more to me than the rights of women?

Because – and here is my last point – over and over again we find the anti-patriarchy voice silent just where you’d expect it to speak. To my mind, if you are going to ignore the plight of a woman condemned to death by male Muslims over a cup of water, then there’s something you care about more than you care about women – or, perhaps, there’s something you hate more than you hate patriarchy.

Where is the anti-patriarchy voice for Asia Bibi and the demand for her asylum? Terri Schiavo was not in pain and she was not a burden to her parents, who pleaded for the right to care for her. Her husband refused to surrender his power of attorney; he needed her dead so he could marry his mistress. Where was the critique of a situation in which a woman was powerless to protect her own daughter, and was forced to watch her daughter take seven days to die of thirst, thanks to legal and social protection of a man’s desire for another woman? Where is the anti-patriarchy investigation into Western responsibility for the Chinese gendercide? Which Irish pro-abortion feminist is willing to have the awkward conversation about how abortion wiped out women? Where, in any of these issues, were the voices of the witches who joined forces to curse Brett Kavanaugh, as well as “all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards and protects them”?

One witch (who, apparently, hasn’t read any of the books by witches advising against curses) said, “The harm we want to inflict on Kavanaugh and Trump is that they be exposed and shown for what they are and ousted or at least discredited.” Oddly enough, only a few weeks after this mass curse/prayer, one of Kavanaugh’s accusers (Judy Munro-Leighton) admitted that she had never met even him, and that her accusation of rape was entirely false. So, her patriarch-hating attempt to discredit a patriarch has only discredited female testimony.

I’ve experienced male charm that turned out to be sociopathic, and in-your-face male hostility that turned out to be (kind of) open to reasonable argument. I’ve experienced female friendliness and sisterly eye-rolling about the hierarchy that turned out to a lie to my face and female aggression that turned into fearless commitment to the truth. One thing that reality doesn’t have is a single, clear, definable cohort that is to blame for everything.

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