Saturday, August 8, 2009

Whom Does Patriarchy Oppress?

Echidne's Blog just posted the following quote from Robin Morgan: "And let’s put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism—the lie that there can be such a thing as men’s liberation groups. Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a threatening characteristic shared by the latter group—skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed fucked up by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not oppressed. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism; the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women’s Liberation will of course free men—but in the short term it’s going to cost men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is not the fault of women. . . ."
There are so many things that, in my opinion, are profoundly wrong about this statement that I hardly know where to begin. There was a moment in the history of the Women's Liberation movement when this vision of "all men oppress all women" made sense and could be used in order to mobilize women to take the first steps towards political activism in favor of women's liberation. But today this rhetoric of "men are masters, women are slaves" is about as productive as the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" myth. The idea of men and women perennially at war for "privilege" (I swear, if I hear the word "privilege" one more time, I'm going to explode) is extremely simplistic and naive. The world is so much more complex than what this vision suggests.
Patriarchy hurts men and women because it presents us with a very limited set of roles that we have to fulfill with no room for our individual preferences. Morgan's statement is based on an equally limiting view of gender roles: men are always the oppressors, women are always the oppressed. I disagree that oppression is committed by men against women. Things are so much more complex than that. Oppression is committed against all of us by the patriarchy.
A question might be asked, if patriarchy is so oppressive to everybody, then why does it still exist? It exists because it offers us certain things in return. And when I say "us", I mean both men and women. Unless we recognize this painful, upsetting, offensive reality, there will be no moving forward. Only an honest discussion of what the patriarchy takes away from women and men and what it gives us back will allow us to dismantle the system.


Veronica said...

You have to take race into consideration as well- white men oppress other men, who then oppress women. Women are often our own worst enemies as well. The power flows go one way- down- so that it imposes from the top, because those at the bottom give it up by not fighting and being socially engineered not to fight.

Anonymous said...

OK, I am a white male. I did not ask to be born a white male. I am aware I have certain privileges in this society - potential employers are less prejudiced with respect to me than with respect to somebody else, for example... I am really sorry about that.
But how can I "divest" myself of such kind of a privilege? Quit my job? Change gender? Should I (or anybody else) politically-correctly force myself (oneself) into denial about the fact that above mentioned prejudices are shared by men and women alike? Or about the fact that gender stereotypes, or certain gender-specific behavioral traits, for example, are forced upon boys and girls by both men and women? To assume that all women are just victims and not in the same time carriers of patriarchy is a gross oversimplification.

Clarissa said...

That's exactly what I was trying to say, Veronica. Things are much more complicated than this quote allows for. Morgan's manichean vision is hardly adequate.

Clarissa said...

"I am really sorry about that."

-Soon people will feel necessary to apologize for existing. :-) And then we ask ourselves why feminism has become irrelevant to most people.

"To assume that all women are just victims"

-It's actually quite offensive to be presented as a constant vvictim of big, bad men. I don't need it and hate it when somebody claims it on my behalf.

Anonymous said...

Do not worry, I will not apologize for my existence, I just feel sorry some people do not have privileges I have (but did not ask for and cannot divest myself of)