Friday, May 09, 2008

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM


Pathological patriarchy in the post-feminist era
By Ellen Snortland [Pasadena Weekly 05/07/2008]

A NOW bumper sticker reads: “I’ll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” A collateral benefit of this contentious primary season is a renewed look behind the curtain of sexism, which is not “post” anything. People still suffer from pathological patriarchy. Violence against women is rampant. We continue to be underpaid and under-everything, ad nauseum.

The noble people who have sought to end patriarchy — especially those of color — continue to be grossly underrepresented in the public eye as elected officials, authors, columnists, reporters and even characters on screen. There is also a history of male feminists that’s largely forgotten. How is anyone supposed to know the history of sexism if it’s gone missing? Almost the only exposure feminism has gotten in the popular press and culture is negative.

People who have given their lives and passion for gender justice, who in any other social revolution would be honored, have been stereotyped into harridans or “henpecked” idiots. Anti-feminists — Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia, Phyllis Schlafly to name but a few — receive a huge portion of the paltry media space that the subject of misogyny gets with (conveniently!) no rebuttal space for feminists.

The disrespect that Hillary Rodham Clinton has hurled at her on a daily basis is proof we need a renaissance of consciousness about gender politics.

We need a rebirth of the women’s liberation Consciousness Raising (CR) groups, but this time with parallel groups for men.

For those who weren’t there as the ’60s and ’70s rolled out, many of us compared life “notes” about our experiences as females in CR meetings. While groups varied in size and style, basically a CR gathering provided the first opportunity for many of us to identify sexism in our private, public and daily lives — in our families, schools, institutions and society at large.

Prior to CR, we didn’t have a name for the pernicious, vicious set of behaviors, practices, attitudes and crimes against humanity that sexism is.

Many of us just thought we were fundamentally flawed because we weren’t born male. Entire fortunes rested on what kind of “junk” we had between our legs. Farmers practiced an agrarian form of primogeniture: the family farm automatically passed to the eldest boy.

The girls were simply ignored in the family inheritance scheme, with the pink-blanket assumption that she’d simply marry into another family; the same with city girls with family businesses. Given short shrift in education, we were raised to be dependent. Women couldn’t get loans without a male co-signer. We were relatively fortunate, however: there are still cultures where “It’s a girl” is a death sentence for the baby, especially in rural China and India.

We shared horror stories of death, unplanned pregnancies and dangerous abortions. We discovered that half of us had been raped or beaten up, most often by someone in our family, circle of friends or neighborhood, irrespective of our class or color. Few of us had any moral or legal recourse and when we complained we were told to shut up.

Our perpetrators practiced their violence and cruelty with impunity. Excuses were often offered by our own mothers, too cowed to stick up for herself or us. We were outraged on our own behalf and each others’. Why were we being sexually and physically assaulted? Because we were there and we were female.

We talked about money and ambition and that getting good at business had to be a priority. (Then we were slammed for becoming too male.) The upside of our freedom was we could actually marry for love, if we wanted to marry at all. These were all very radical and revolutionary notions and dangerous to society, we were to learn.

We went out of our CR groups into the world with a clarion call of liberty and justice. Many responded with, “Yes, this is an obvious, overdue and necessary next step in human progress,” but they rarely got media coverage. There were other powerful forces that proceeded to humiliate, minimize, marginalize and ignore us.

Gloria Steinem wrote in Ms. Magazine in spring 1972, “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke; that’s their natural and first weapon.”Feminism has sustained so much credibility damage that even young men and women who would otherwise respect “elders” in their own civil rights movement feel compelled — often unconsciously — to mock and distance themselves from the very people who pioneered on their behalf.

Who benefits from minimizing or deprecating feminists/feminism? Hmm. Just as the adage “Follow the money,” is informative, so too is, “Follow the ridicule.” With glaring exceptions proving the rule, the “deciders” in most governments, corporations, newsrooms, studios and publishing houses are — drum roll, please — patriarchs; i.e., white, straight men.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” said the Wizard in “The Wizard of Oz.” Of course the “wizards” (aka patriarchs) in our society don’t want us to look behind the curtain! Exposing sexism reveals unearned entitlement and privilege. Who benefits from ignoring sexism? Follow the money and the ridicule.

13 comments:

Mark Harris said...

Well, you did it again! Thanks.

In the first round of CR, Kathryn, companion of 41 years was in a CR group and out of that, and the community in which we lived, she and I ended up also being the first instructors in a course at the U of Delaware on Men and Masculinity, which was as close to a CR group for men (and some women willing to work with men on that) as we could get.

Then Bly and the drummers crowd got busy and CR for men got (I think) buried under the hope to find ritual life for men when they were no longer religious, or perhaps ritual possibilities in a mostly bleak world.

At any rate, CR work is still needed, and I think you are on the case. As usual.

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

I agree that there is a disconnect and even, among some, a mind set that puts women in second place.
That said, Hillary Rodham Clinton is, has been, and always will be a highly polarizing figure.
I think it is only fair to acknowledge that some of her opposition is less about her gender and more about her maddeningly convenient pandering.
Her many positions on the war, her (and John McCain's) phony posturing on the gas tax holiday, her frustrating tendency to embellish (or lie) about things so easily checked (NAFTA) leave her open to being opposed for her ideas alone.
Yes, some may not like her because she is a woman, but there are plenty, and I'm among them, who think she is just a poor candidate for President.
When this whole political season started (well over a year ago and way, way too early) I offered my idea for a bumper sticker:
"No more Bushes, no more Clintons."
That is not a reflection on her gender, just a fatigue with two very mediocre political families controlling the destiny and future of this country for two decades.
It's time for a change. I'm not thrilled about Obama, but at least he's not the same thing we've had for 20 years.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim of Michigan

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

The point of the piece isn't that Obama is a better qualified candidate than Clinton.

The point of the piece is that systemic sexism means there is not yet a level playing field for voters to make that determination.

Bottom line: Sexism Sucks

Hiram said...

The article says, "We shared horror stories of death, unplanned pregnancies and dangerous abortions. We discovered that half of us had been raped or beaten up, most often by someone in our family, circle of friends or neighborhood, irrespective of our class or color. Few of us had any moral or legal recourse and when we complained we were told to shut up."

I am curious -- do you think that this means that half of all women have been raped or beaten up? Or does it mean that women who have been raped or beaten, along with perhaps an equal number who know women who have had such experiences are the ones most likely to join a CR group?

Any man who mistreats a woman should be shot. A rape or a beating is a vile thing. But I still wonder to what extent such experiences may have shaped the goals of the women's movement.

I do not know what to make of it, but that statistic is striking and it means something about the women's movement.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The vitriolic response from some quarters to the re-incarnation of the EWC Angel Project is a perfect example of the ongoing, virulent and persistent forms of sexism.

"What sexism? We have x# ordained women, a lay woman as president of the Standing Committee, X# women who are rectors . . ." Blah, blah, blah.

We're talking about changes, systemic changes, not just changing the faces at the top.

Sexism not only sucks, it kills the spirit - which you will recall is Ruach - the Divine Feminine - whose presence in the Trinity we celebrate at Pentecost tomorrow.

Sermon at 10.

DavidJustinLynch said...

This is not a problem I fully understand, and I pray that God may help me understand it better. Here is why. I am married to a woman with a very strong personality who makes more money than I do and who runs my life in every respect. My medical doctor is a woman, and in fact, when I was born in 1951, the doctor who delivered me was a woman. My law partner is a woman. My dentist is a woman. My banker is a woman. The owner of the office building I rent is a woman. My accountant is a woman. My tax preparer is a woman. My personal attorney is a woman. My psychotherapist is a woman. I live in a state where both Senators are women. My Congressional representative is a woman. My State Assembly member is a woman. Where I go to Church, the more dominant priest is a woman (even though she is not rector), the Senior Warden is a woman, and of course, the Presiding Bishop of my Church is a woman. In the most recent primary election, I voted for Hillary and sent her money. . The bottom line is that almost every significant person in my life is a woman. The person who manages the rental properties I own is a woman and the company for which she works is woman-owned. As far as I am concerned, women can run the whole world so I can just relax and I do what I enjoy, like praying, singing, going to Mass, writing essays, composing music, and sex with my wife, when she requests it.

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

And my point is that not liking or supporting Hillary Clinton is not necessarily a case of sexism, which does suck.
I believe that a woman can, and will be elected President in the near future.
Hillary's decline is not evidence to the contrary. My only point.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim of Michigan

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Jim ... and MY point was the point of the article was not Hillary's candidacy ... the point of the article was that the systemic sexism that her candidacy exposed "in the water" of our cultural context.

It's kind of like my friend Michael Battle -- who says "a fish doesn't know it's wet."

Well, it does now!

JTurner said...

hey, speaking as a woman who was a child in the 70's ("Free to be, You and Me!") and grew up in the 80's, and who has never felt like she can't do something because she's a woman--many many thanks to all of you who went before me, who fought for the ERA (even if it didn't succeed) and equal pay for equal work and maternal leave and legal changes in domestic violence law etc.

I am glad to say I don't know what it was like, just like stories from the '50s about separate bathrooms based on race make my mind boggle.

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

I know this may just end up in another circle. But I don't believe Hillary's candidacy exposed sexism. It only exposed her specific polarizing personality.
This is an honest question: Would anyone make the same argument that sexism was in play if it was Condy Rice who was running and not supported?
I wouldn't support her for the same reasons I wouldn't support Hillary, she does not represent my views.
I'm like the other poster higher up on this thread. I have been led by women bosses all of my career. I do not see this latent sexism of which the writer speaks.
I'm sure there is some, just as there is racism, anti-semitism, etc., but I just think her use of Hillary as the focal point of her article was not good.
I believe the CR movement, was important at its time, it served its purpose and we have seen the positive (and some negative) results of it over the years.
Most of the women in my life are pro-life, believe that it is better for children if Mom stays home while they are raised, but also believe that others have the right to believe otherwise.
I think the CR movement created an atmosphere where women who disagreed with the old standard were free to move beyond it. Bless them. But it should also mean that women who hold to the old standards should be free and celebrated for that. If it really is a matter of choice, we should celebrate those places where women are on opposite sides of the issue.
I know as many women in my life who oppose Hillary as I do men who opposed Hillary. Does that make them anti-feminist?

I'll stop now.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim from Michigan

Jim said...

Jim from Michigan,

There are ample reasons to not vote for a given candidate -- agreed. But no one makes jokes about Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain, Mr Paul, or any of the other candidates which hang on their gender. Sexism is so pervasive that we see it even as racism is in decline! Mr. Obama dose not have to contend with nearly as much crud.

Granted, Mrs. Clinton may do some damage to herself. Every politician does. Mr. Bush's stumbles over simple English are legendary; Mr. Clinton was the first president ever disbarred; Mr. Bush's dad was so isolated he was impressed by a grocery scanner. But none of those men had to deal with cheap shots about their sexuality. Even Mr. Clinton who had as you may recall some issues in that vicinity was not slammed the way the senator has been. In fact, Mrs. Clinton was slammed as an inadequate woman when the president was found 'wandering.'

I am no fan of Mrs. Clinton. As a socially liberal economic conservative, I have no candidate to like in this race. But(!) I know unfair when I see it, and the personal attacks on the Senator are indeed that.

Which leads to the whole CR idea. Maybe we need for a whole bunch of men to 'get it.' Sexism is a sin, it is our sin, and we are doing a {deleted} poor job of dealing with it.

At the end of the day, the issue is not the success of the Senator's campaign, it is the context men, not women, men, impose on the effort. It is not that she will loose, it is that many wont judge her on the merits. If she lost after fair judgement, that would be something else. But she is loosing in part because she is a woman. And that part is a problem

FWIW
jimB

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

I know I said I was done, but I will respond to JimB.
My whole problem with the piece is there is not one gender based example of disrespect that she offers.
Sure Hillary has been derided. Derided for her war votes, for her flip-flop on NAFTA and many others. Where is the gender disrespect in that?
Obama has been criticized as an elitist and McCain is joked about as being too old. Probably none of that is fair (Well, McCain is a little old) but it's part of the process.
It would have been more enlightening if the writer of the piece had offered a couple examples of this "gender" disrespect for Hillary.
Most of what I see is simple normal politics and as Hillary said herself in reference to Obama: "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."
Again, and I really don't want to belabor this, I simply don't see the anti-feminist bent in the opposition to Hillary, other than she is a woman who has not garnered the necessary votes and delegates to be elected.
I'm open to being proved wrong, but this piece offers none of the evidence. IMHO.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim of Michigan

irothe said...

In response to Jim of Michigan's question, here are some examples from Robin Morgan that may provide some insight. This is not a new article, however, so does not contain any very recent examples.

Robin Morgan has written an essay entitled "Goodbye to all that" about the continuing existance of sexism in the public and political spheres. Here are a few quotes:

Goodbye to the toxic viciousness . . .

Carl Bernstein’s disgust at Hillary’s “thick ankles.”
Nixon-trickster Roger Stone’s new Hillary-hating 527 group, “Citizens United Not Timid” (check the capital letters).
John McCain answering “How do we beat the bitch?” with “Excellent question!” Would he have dared reply similarly to “How do we beat the black bastard?” For shame.
Goodbye to the HRC nutcracker with metal spikes between splayed thighs.

If it was a tap-dancing blackface doll, we would be righteously outraged — and they would not be selling it in airports. Shame.

Goodbye to the most intimately violent T-shirts in election history, including one with the murderous slogan “If Only Hillary had married O.J. Instead!” Shame.

Goodbye to Comedy Central’s “Southpark” featuring a storyline in which terrorists secrete a bomb in HRC’s vagina. (End of quotes from Robin Morgan.)

This is not to say that Obama has not also been a victim of racist innuendo and slurs, but the frequency of sexist slurs against HRC and the fact they are treated as jokes is different. The slurs against HRC are excused as "boys will be boys" pranksterism. This is profoundly hurtful.