Sexism and Patriarchy, part 1
“Patriarchy (is a) system: An It, not a he, them or us.”
-Allan Johnson, author of The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy
It’s really not hard to find evidence that sexual equality has not been reached.
Just a few examples.
-Domestic abuse and rαpe are still commonplace. Both crimes are overwhelmingly male against female in nature.
-Abduction and murder by estranged husbands and boyfriends still occurs with frightening regularity (even among those who are committed to work against it),
-Women still are paid less for the same work (current stat is something like $0.85-$0.90 to the dollar, and the national average (not accounting for profession and experience) has women earning $0.75 to the dollar)
-Poverty rates are higher for working women than working men (nearly 40% of working, single mothers are below the poverty line compared to the fewer than 20% poverty rate among single working fathers). And yet, in spite of that, men’s rights activists are calling for men to be able to opt out of child support...
-We still haven't had a single woman president (and while I disagreed with some of Clinton's policies, she was still the target of a lot of misogynistic hatred)
-Reproductive rights for women are still being challenged (George Bush is allegedly working on trying to push legislation to classify IUDs as abortions)
-We STILL do not have any kind of Constitutional guarantee of sexual equality, let alone gender equality.
Remember that the United States was unable to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Let’s look at this incredibly controversial amendment:
Shock and horror. There’s no way we should pass that, America!Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
I will not be happy until I see something like NOW's Constitutional Equality Amendment pass, but I know that some major social rearrangement will be required first. But it still sickens me that it’s 2008 and in America, self-proclaimed leader of the free world, sexual equality is not constitutionally protected.
Sexism is alive and well in America.
A person or group may be sexist, but those views are a symptoms rather than the problem. Sexism can refer to aspects individual or group behavior, but it can also apply to broader attitudes and embedded societal expectations.
The dilemma for progressives is the balance between treating the victims of inequality and working to end the social institutions that support sexism. We must also consider that our experience varies vastly from the experience of others. Human experience, like oppression, is an intersectional affair.
Males are privileged because we live in a patriarchal society. Patriarchal society exists between men are privileged. It’s all very cyclical.
Recognizing privilege is a tricky thing. Progressives have made all kinds of lists as a basic starting point, but the thing is, privilege is not a universal constant.
As I mentioned in my quote, patriarchy is a systemic issue, not a he, us, or them problem. Patriarchal societies are defined to the extent that male-centeredness, male identification, and male dominance in society affirm male privilege. And yet, some, if not most men will not feel dominant. Indeed, women may even dominate men in certain situations. But across society, men hold the majority of the power. Masculinity is valued over femininity. And so on.
All men are the benefactors of male privilege. But that doesn't make men bad, because privilege is a product of society. The extent to which a man is the benefactor of male privilege varies in each person. Merely recognizing its existence requires a line of thought that is often painful and uncomfortable, and many men react poorly. They may feel guilt. They often feel blamed, as if they are somehow at fault for sexism.
But no rational feminist is going to blame a man for simply being the recipient of privilege. Even though a man may be ignorantly affirming patriarchy, it's important to remember that he was socialized in a patriarchal society. However, if a man becomes socially aware of patriarchy, it's important that he not be silent. Because patriarchy is a societal norm, even a refusal to challenge sexism is an affirmation of its normality.
And the same applies for racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, etc - in fact, because of the intersectionality of oppressive systems, it's impossible to accurately examine oppression without considering all the factors. For example, male privilege may be more difficult for men to accept in light of classist inequalities – because men can afford to be unconcerned by male privilege, they feel only the weight of the inequality which punishes them.
I’m feeling kind of tired at the moment and I'll no doubt write more, but I think this should be more than enough to spark some discussion.