Recently, a few real world interactions with women got me thinking about how oblivious we as Women can be to the reality that Patriarchy and Woman-Hating informs every move we make and every thought we have.
Hopefully, readers of this blog have already accepted that Patriarchy damages every last one of us, that this damage influences how we act and who we are, and that we should work to correct this damage, if only to live life as honestly as possible under Patriarchy.
Another way of coping with this damage is to pretend that the damage is avoidable or to neutralize/sanitize it. In other words, to lie to ourselves and pretend that we control how Patriarchy damages us.
If Patriarchy is avoidable, then wouldn’t it all behoove us to avoid it? If there was an anti-Patriarchy Spray we could use to sanitize woman-hating imagery, why wouldn’t we?
Well, some of us do, apparently.
So, I have a friend who is a Democrat and lives in the same city as I do, and is from the same city as I am. An ardent, passionate Democrat. I have much respect for this friend. While watching the Vice Presidential Debate last week, she said “Joe Biden is pimp slapping Paul Ryan.” Hearing this made me sigh – Pimp Slapping is violence by Men against Women that they exploit. There is a rich and sordid history attached to the expression, all of which is rooted in Male violence against Women.
This is the history of Male violence against Women.
I pointed this out to my friend, who quite defensively said that in her culture, the expression does not mean Male violence against Women. It simply means beating “someone” severely. So, a Woman can pimp slap a Man.
In Her Culture, Pimp Slapping Does Not Mean Male Violence Against Women.
No doubt, I said. Except that the expression itself is rooted in Male Violence against Women. And as a Democrat, rooting for Biden, she employed is favorably, as in, it’s good that Biden pimp slapped Ryan.
I have other friends who talk about “whiny Bitches” quite a lot. I wince and cringe and correct. They say “I’m reclaiming it.”
Reclamation! Liberation by Neutralizing One Word At A Time.
Another example stems from a workshop I recently attended. Much discussion at this workshop ensued about sexuality and feminism, and a Woman who attended took great umbrage at the idea that her pro-BDSM, pro-pornography views were rooted in misogyny and that her family would be influenced by these views.
“My family is raised in a patriarchy-free zone.”
A Patriarchy-Free Zone.
A Patriarchy-Free Zone.
A Patriarchy-Free Bubble!
She believed, passionately, that she has CONTROL over the effects of Patriarchy. That she, lone woman, is powerful enough to shield her family from the damaging effects of societal structures DESIGNED to be insidious and to negatively impact every aspect of Women.
WOW! That Woman should be President. That Woman should teach us what she knows so we ALL can live in our own individual Bubbles of Women-Loving Space.
And, of course, we have the “Feminist” Porn Consumers, who are similar to my Bubble friend, and the Feminist Porn Producers. Because Porn can occur in a bubble space that is “For Feminists, By Feminists.” Oh, and you can have Feminist Porn Awards, to recognize the great, liberating work done by Feminist Pornographers.
Except, of course, there is no Opt-In to, or Opt-Out of, Patriarchy.
In an Opt-In system, a Person must voluntarily decide to participate in an activity. So, for example, some states have laws that require consumers to affirmatively Opt-In to receiving telemarketing phone calls. If you don’t Opt-In, you CANNOT receive telemarketing calls.
Opt-In only works if you have an actual choice as to whether or not to participate in an activity. And even then, it doesn’t work well (although consumer advocates prefer Opt-Ins to Opt-Outs, because the Opt-In at least has the illusion of control).
Living in Patriarchy is not an Opt-In system. You cannot Opt-In to this thing that is so insidious, that we are born into, that many of us never even consider in our lives. If there is an Opt-In, it happens when you are born – and of course, no one “chooses” to be born. You just are born, soaking in Patriarchy.
So, no. There is no Opt-In.
So what about an Opt-Out? Can you really create a Patriarchy-Free Bubble?
In an Opt-Out system, you, the individual, need to take an affirmative action to remove yourself from an activity. So, by way of analogy, consumers can Opt-Out of receiving telemarketing calls by registering their telephone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. That is, the DEFAULT is that you WILL participate in an activity, and only through an affirmative act on your part can you (hopefully) decline participation (although anyone who had registered on the Do Not Call Registry probably knows how poorly it works).
So, is Patriarchy an Opt-Out System?
Well, for certain the default is that you WILL participate in Patriarchy. Patriarchy is all around us.
Can you make a choice to escape from Patriarchy?
No. You can pretend that Pimp Slap means something other than violence against Women by Men, and you can pretend that your home is a Patriarchy-Free Zone, but these are defense mechanisms, wishes, hopes, dreams. The fantasy of an Opt-Out – the escape hatch – is just a trick that allows you to believe that there is an escape if only, if only, if only.
“Porn isn’t bad when it’s made by Us. BDSM is feminist when we do it. Misogynystic language is ok when I say it because reasons.”
It is understandable that Women want to control, to manage, to decide what happens to us. I get it. Try to “reclaim” slurs like Whore, Bitch, Slut. It’s “empowering.” Sure. If you are getting objectified anyway, do it “on your own terms.” Feminist porn is not like “the really bad porn.”
Except it doesn’t work. Pretending words aren’t rooted in Male Violence against Women, pretending that you can create a Patriarchy-Free Bubble, making “feminist” porn – these are an individual coping strategies. They do not represent a path to liberation of the class of Women – because in order to “work,” we’d all have to lie to ourselves and all decide to believe the delusions (kind of like Gender Identity).
You can live your life in a bubble, if you choose. You can also develop a drinking problem. But please don’t expect the rest of us to go along with your delusions or pretend that you aren’t an alcoholic.
The least you can do for Women is to be honest.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: A feminist blogger recently wrote an excellent post about not lying to yourself as you can. Please read it.
This is brilliant!
”Living in Patriarchy is not an Opt-In system”
[…] There Is No Opt-In; You Cannot Opt-Out. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]
In the words of Pat Parker : I wanna resign, I want out.
Brilliant – too many women continue to delude themselves. Remember the three wise monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Just another delusion – because patriarchy and male domination over all women is real but it is invisible since men constantly proclaim ‘we men speak the default truth and you women must acknowledge our words of wisdom’ this in itself ensures male domination/patriarchy remains invisible but always, always present.
Why do we find ourselves speaking and pretending as though we have wrested some non-contingent control over our own lives? Yes, it is dishonest. But what causes us to act dishonestly? Why do we think fuzzily on purpose? The truth is right here, in our faces, after all.
The word “dignity” comes to mind. There is a constant painful humiliation as we go about our lives, if we consider ourselves fully-realized human beings while the world does not. It grates. It stings. It is a spirit-breaker. We know that we do not have the dignity of full humanity.
That leaves us the choice of lying to ourselves, telling ourselves that our contingent “independence” is real, wearing the blinders that are eagerly provided, OR living with the humiliation imposed on us, but with the dignity of someone aware of her oppression, who bears the burden of the oppression (and fights to change it personally and universally) without losing her dignified personhood.
Dignity is important to me. I deserve to be on this planet. I acknowledge the humiliation, the hypocrisy, of my position as a white woman in a developed country. I am willy-nilly part of a system that exploits women in less-developed countries and less-advantaged groups, makes them starve, leaves them helplessly exposed to male violence, takes their labor for a pittance. There is no opt-out, as Cathy says, nowhere to go.
So I recognize my “independence” is contingent and based on exploitation, but in the acceptance of that brutal truth, there is some dignity. In the struggle to change that, there is dignity. In the ways I conduct my daily life that, moment by moment, contradict that, there is dignity.
But there is no dignity unless there is first the honest and painful recognition of the cruel, humiliating existential situation we are born into.
You’ve said it better than I could have… I am not human, except in my own mind.
Thanks for this, Karmarad.
There is no opting out of this system, and women have varying degrees of consciousness about patriarchy and what it is doing. Even the word feminism seems to confuse a lot of women— the women’s liberation movement is a much more powerful term.
There is no patriarchy free zone, and no “feminist” pornography. It is simply porn, and if that is how you see women, you are opting into porn.
Pimp slap, bitch, even the word “hot” used by women to objectify other women is an issue.
And standing your ground against all of this causes a lot of push back. Where we are out in the world is a key to consciousness. But to use male words and male violent images and then say this is “reclaiming” is deluded.
If we looked at it from a racial stereotypical perspective, the whole thing would be absurd, but women often have a hard time really getting how evil daily patriarchal terms really are!
Okay as far as it goes.
The problem with counterculture discourse– and if anything is counterculture, a feminist naming and resisting patriarchy must be– is that it throws the baby out with the bathwater. It sets an impossibly high standard for liberation such that anything short of total overthrow of the oppressive system (here patriarchy) is a cop-out. It teaches us to be miserable in the present. As a feminist I was very inspired and very depressed by Mary Daly. I thought she was brilliant at seeing and naming patriarchy. At the same I felt abandoned halfway through the journey, especially because I am straight and living a mostly man-free life has never been an option for happiness.
I agree with you that we should not help explicitly women-hating language gain traction by using it ourselves. At the same time, we should allow ourselves to make jokes, the feminist equivalent of holocaust jokes if need be. I despise the terms “bitch”, “ho”, “pimp”. When I hear pop stars rap about being a “bad bitch” it makes me feel so many things. Half of me is “yeah!” and the other half is “what the we come to when being a bitch in the hip-hop sense is a point of pride”.
A true feminist is a “bad bitch” and then some. She defies every rule just by being consciously feminist. I think we should feel free to flout even rules suggested by thoughtful feminists– to break any rule, as long as we are fully conscious of what is being broken and why, and maybe wink to our sisters if there is any doubt about the way we use our words.
Why? If anything, it sets an impossibly low bar to decide not to use misogynistic words. It’s not *hard* to not use such language or, if you do accidentally or without thinking, to reflect on it.
It sounds like you are in a bubble. Don’t lie to sisters.
I do NOT use the word “bitch”, for myself or anyone else. I think “asshole” covers that. I am an asshole for truth. If I ever slip up and say the bword, I do reflect upon it and say to myself, “nope. NOT OK.”. I love women, all women, and when I catch myself saying those kinds of things I know it is a bad habit and the words are spoken without thought or reason. The last thing women should be doing is hating and denigrating each other. Right?
This is a topic I’ve been struggling with for the last few years. I’ve become acutely aware of just how much of the patriarchal message I’ve internalized. I catch myself ten times a day thinking, doing or saying something that is laced with a poisonous, misogynist tone. A good portion of which is directed at myself. I hate admitting this shit, I really do, but it’s true. All I can say is I’m trying to untangle this big fucking patriarchal knot in my psyche, because I know that it doesn’t serve me as a person.
You cannot protect your children from sexism, whatever your intentions.
I was lucky to have strong role models in my family, women and men who supported women’s power. I think it definitely helped, but it didn’t make the world treat me any differently.