the conspiracy in us

A while back, a blogger named emmawolf clicked the “like” button on one of my posts. As is my habit, I took a look at emmawolf’s blog and I saw this post about slut-shaming. I agree with the central premise that slut-shaming is bad regardless of the target, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. See the first comment on that page is by someone called ytakery, and it includes this paragraph:

Feminism also normally contains a belief that there’s some sort of patriarchy actively oppressing women. That’s normally the more controversial part, that all or most men worldwide are participating in a conspiracy to oppress and slut shame women.

I read that, and I thought to myself, “Maybe that’s the problem, maybe that’s what people think the fucking patriarchy is and that’s why they don’t get it.”

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written about the fucking patriarchy, so let’s discuss it a bit, and let’s discuss why that image of a conscious conspiracy of men is not only wrong, but counterproductive to equality. 

Notice the word “conscious” up there? I don’t know if the term “unconscious conspiracy” is strictly valid. I mean it seems that a proper conspiracy needs at least a little awareness of what’s going on. But the phrase is useful for illustration because the effect of the thing is much like a conspiracy, yet few people actively work towards it.

I’ve linked to this cartoon before because it think it’s an excellent way to look at it. Like the matrix, the fucking patriarchy is everywhere, we can’t usually see it, and ordinary people unwittingly work to sustain it, even as it enslaves them. But the comparison fails past that point, because nobody is “potentially” an agent of the fucking patriarchy, they are agents, albeit unwilling ones. And you can’t be unplugged from the fucking patriarchy, even people who actively fight against it are “colluders”. Everyone is.

We don’t do it on purpose, hell it’s unusual for us to even notice it. The damned thing is built into our culture. It’s in our language, our jokes, our archetypes. From authoritarian religions which openly advocate and exalt patriarchal bullshit because that’s how they say God wants it, to tiny day-to-day interactions that aren’t necessarily part of it individually, but together reinforce the social construct.

Wow, that’s a mouthful.

The fucking patriarchy isn’t a group of shadowy cabals working behind the scenes to oppress women, it’s a headless monster formed out of stereotypes and cultural habits. Blatant misogyny is a part of that, sure, but so is the total lack of pink toys marketed towards boys. For that matter, the entire marketing strategy of different toys for girls & boys is both a result of and a reinforcement of the fucking patriarchy. That’s also a good example of how the damned thing feeds itself.

This is not a battle between men & women, this is a struggle of our own culture against ourselves. Think of the fucking patriarchy as a parasite, not a war. There’s not a clear line between two camps, there’s a spectrum from those who actively cultivate it to those who, on average, generally manage to fight it back more than they strengthen it. Everyone makes concessions to it, it’s impossible not to, at least practically (perhaps literally). All we can do is pick our battles and try to do more good than harm.

We can’t simply cut it out, we have to gradually disentangle it from us. It’s a slow and painful process, nine decades since the 19th amendment acknowledged women’s right to vote and, well, this photo says it pretty well.

Women are the primary and most obvious victims of the fucking patriarchy, but it hurts everyone, though not equally. From the little boy being denied something in pink and then chastised for crying about it because “boys don’t cry“, to the little girl being raised with “housewife & mother” the only future her parents will accept for her, the fucking patriarchy tells us what we’re allowed to like, to wear, to act like. It defines speech patterns that are and are not acceptable, habits of movement, hobbies, quirks. And by doing so it denies us a part of ourselves, takes away our ability to define who we are and decide for ourselves who we want to be.

Perhaps the people hurt the worst are gay, trans, intersex, or genderqueer people, those who could never fit into the roles assigned to them. Sooner or later, refusal to conform to the fucking patriarchy will provoke violence, which is perhaps best illustrated by the terrifying estimate that one in twelve trans women is murdered.

It’s also a good illustration of how it stays invisible. Nobody ever says they killed someone for failing to conform to accepted gender roles. No, it’s “uppity bitch had it coming” or “God says they’re an abomination” or “slut” or “trans panic” or “honor killing” or “laughed at my penis”. You can’t point to any one incident and say the fucking patriarchy caused it, it’s usually only visible statistically. But it affects nearly everything, influences society at all levels.

Which brings us back to the matrix comparison, it’s everywhere and we don’t see it. It’s built into our language, not only the slang and the metaphors, but even the grammar. Try describing someone without giving away their sex and see how long it takes for the language to feel tortured.

Don’t look for cloak and dagger intrigues, look for the dismissive attitude. Look for the men being insulted by suggestions, subtle or overt, that they’re somehow like a woman. Look for the completely irrelevant comments on appearance, or the general attitude that a woman’s true worth is measuring by how much men want to fuck her. Look for the double standards, whether in victim-blaming, how seriously a man’s claim is treated compared to a woman’s, or just in fashion or grooming. Hell, compare the prices of some basic toiletries.

In fact let’s do that, check the google shopping results for “body wash for women”. Looking at just the front page, the first ten items. Average price per ounce, rounded to nearest cent: $2.80. Searching “body wash for men”, against just the first ten, average price: $0.42 per ounce.

That was actually a bigger difference than I expected. More than six times the price.

And that’s the trivial shit. Remember this story from a couple weeks ago with the woman who got lectured by the judge for being in a bar where an off-duty cop sexually assaulted her? There are a couple of points worth noting in that story, for example check out this paragraph:

The victim, a local Flagstaff professional, told the court that she had been harshly criticized by members of the community and even friends who accused her of ruining the defendant’s life by pursuing prosecution.

She ruined his life by pressing charges. All the bad stuff that’s happened to him? Losing his job, his hunting license, possibly his house? All her responsibility for demanding justice for his crime, not his for committing it.

[Coconino County Attorney David Rozema] said that more victims are now reporting sex crimes and called their courage “exemplary.”

“Victims need to feel safe to report and assist prosecution,” Rozema said. “They bear no responsibility for the actions of those who commit sex crimes against them. Offenders alone must be held accountable.”

That’s something you’ll see in almost any discussion of sex-crimes, that they’re so often unreported. And no wonder, look at the shit the victim has to put up with here, and then realize that it used to be worse. Conditioning of the fucking patriarchy, everyone, even the victim, tends to minimize the crime. It’s no big deal. Don’t cause a fuss. And someone always goes out of their way to make the victim feel guilty or ashamed somehow.

People abuse each other based on power. Abusive relationships seem to happen in gay couples in about the same rate as in straight ones, regardless of gender. Adult rape victims are overwhelmingly female, while child rape victims are much more even, though still mostly girls. The abuser always has some power over the victim, often the victim is dependent on them in some way. Nobody seems to abuse anyone who can realistically stand up to them.

The fucking patriarchy creates an environment where abuse thrives. It builds power structures ripe for abuse with every level of hierarchy, the more patriarchal the system, the worse the abuse. The Catholic church is an obvious example, famous for priests raping children in their care and nuns beating children in their care. Less well known is the high incidence of nuns being raped by priests, and so omnipresent that you usually don’t even see it is the overwhelming emotional abuse involved in the entire rotten structure, the concepts of original sin and eternal damnation being used to terrify people into blind obedience. That’s not even getting into the pope saying that condoms spread AIDS or the horrors of, say, the Magdalene laundries. Nor, as the pope suggests, is this a recent thing caused by the sexual revolution, there are surviving letters from the middle ages that suggest it’s been this bad for at least a thousand years.

You’ll find abuse like that in any power structure that offers no relief to the weak but the mercy of the strong. Any structure, religious or secular, large or small, rich or poor. Anywhere in the world. It’s one reason why the idea that nobody is above the law is so important, as soon as it’s possible to abuse power with impunity, abusive people flock to power.

Right down to the family unit led by the husband, master of the house.

I’ve spent way too much time on this, and yet now that I’ve started typing I feel I have so much more to say. There will probably be more posts on this subject in the near future. For now I’m stopping here and going to bed.

Goodnight everyone.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on September 18, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this post. It may be a mouthful, but it needed to be said.

    I’m pretty sure ytakery trolls feminist blogs. I’ve seen him a few times, and it’s a lot of “what about the men?!”

    • Yeah, I kind of got that impression from the conversation on your post. And that’s ok, ytakery wasn’t really my intended audience.

      Thank you for your comment, and for inspiring me to write this. I probably have another post just out of the things I didn’t get said here, and then two more related ones that sort of grew while I was thinking about this. Feels good to be writing again!

  2. this was such a pleasure to read, leo! tempuratures must be down a bit for you to rouse in such a stimulating and insightful manner. i also have spent a lot of time pondering these issues and used to speak to my children about these things as frequently as seemed appropriate. i wanted them to be “awake” to the insidious patriarchy and make their own choices about how to live within it.

    My kids used to come home from spending time at friends’ homes where there was a father in residence (we did not have one) and tell me how much they disliked being around these fathers because of the authoritarion attitudes and petty power abuse that went on as a normal part of the home life. my kids were vocallly grateful for being allowed to have a voice in the decisions we made in our family as opposed to many of their friends whose fathers dictated what would be or not be.

    one of the problems with having a title like “head of the household” is that many people tend to interpret that as power to force others to do one’s bidding and follow one’s directives. Many neglect to consider an interpretation which means being a living example for the better qualities of human excellence and raising up children into authentic beings.

    thank you once again for the excellent post and brain fodder!

    • It amuses me to no end that you can tell the weather here by my blog posting. You’re quite right, this week it’s finally been cooling off at night!

      Thank you for your comments, and also for highlighting how lucky I was with my dad.

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