Having reached the end of another year the feminist community is looking back on its successes and creating hopes and plans for the next twelve months. Will women finally gain equal representation in top jobs? Will we be able to provide safe spaces for victims of domestic abuse despite brutal cuts to services? Will at least one guy think twice before declaring that a girl is a number, rather than a human being? Will ‘make me a sandwich’ jokes go back to the 1950s where they came from, oh and the people that tell them too?

Can we stop at least a few young girls from looking at themselves in the mirror and hating what they see? Will more little girls play at being firefighters without being inundated with dolls this Christmas? Will more young boys be able to play with dolls without their parents snatching them away, for fear they may be gay? Can we stop thinking that being gay or a woman, or both at the same time, is some kind of flaw? Furthermore, will we stop telling young girls and women that they are to blame for abuse and harassment they experience, that the source of all that is bad in their lives comes from them being born with lady parts and that these parts are their hottest commodity, as well as being something to guard with their lives and the only measure by which we judge how much we respect them?

Various articles have popped up here and there discussing that 2013 was the best year for feminism, the worst year and everything in between. At one point, you’re convinced that no gender inequalities are going to stand in your way, that the world is on your side, then a few hours later revert to curling up on your bed, screaming into your pillow about everything in life that just seems to be out to get you. If nothing else, it was an educational year overshadowed in many cases by pure frustration.

So what have we learnt, or what has been reinforced, which we find so frustrating? If we haven’t learnt anything else about feminism and the fight against the patriarchy this year, we have revealed gaps in our own armour. The more we put up our own arms in defence against oppression, the more gaps we create between us until we end up squeezing our eyes tight, holding up our own shields and leaving space for our oppressors to get between us and strengthen our divides until we can hardly see or understand one another any more.

FEMEN

FEMEN protest outside the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Berlin. FEMEN have been very vocal about their opposition to Islam, viewing it as ‘equivalent to fascism’, resulting in backlash from Muslim feminists.

The patriarchy is a sneaky thing, it will ensure that we fight one another in order to do its own job. It is behind every rape, every sexist heckle, every ruler relegating women to second class citizens, every camp claiming to ‘cure’ members of the LGBT community, every film which puts great female characters in the shadows, every music video objectifying women of colour, every person telling people to ‘man up’ and every employer who gives a new father a mere couple of weeks to take care of a newborn while at the same time giving women more and ensuring that they are held down in their career as a result. Furthermore, it makes itself all the more powerful by making sure that we always have somebody else to blame.

Previously, when blatant, institutionalised sexism ran amok, it was clear what needed to be fought against. Blatant and institutionalised sexism, along with classism, racism, homophobia and transphobia, still run riot in society, yet so many who do champion equal rights, are left lost in a haze of discrimination coming from all sides, leaving those, who are not active feminists confused as to where they fit in and what they should be fighting against. We become our own enemies, we’re divided,  we doubt ourselves and take those who are on our side down, meanwhile the patriarchy looks on, licks its lips and says ‘all the better to kick you when you’re down my dear.’

The words of wisdom of the year, for me, come from the mouth of a drunk, who, in the film ‘Catching Fire’ tells Katniss, the heroine of the story to “remember who the real enemy is.” We know who our enemy is, much like the ‘Capitol’ in the film, our enemy pits us against one another, whilst still giving us the illusion that we need and benefit from it. There is no single group of people who we can call ‘the patriarchy’, and there is no town in which they all live in together, celebrating their continuing abuse of anybody who is not white, middle class, male, heterosexual, where the chink of their champagne glasses, simultaneous back-scratching and ego-rubbing drowns out the sounds of the real world outside. But we can at least learn to identify how the patriarchy works as a concept and where to find it. It works by pushing the majority of us down, whilst shoving its ideology down our throats and letting us churn it out time and time again. Delegation, with the purpose of allowing the majority to do the work whilst the minority reap the benefits. The capitalist dream!

So now that we have achieved a state in which many will admit they believe in gender equality, how and why are we still spreading inequality, perpetuating stereotypes and pushing against ourselves, whilst the patriarchy pulls the strings, which are bound tightly to us? ‘Why’ is easy, most of us do not realise, or even tell ourselves that what we are doing is furthering a just society. How we do so is evident in our reactions to the oppression of others. Rape survivors are asked what they were wearing or how much they were drinking, perpetuating the myth that a rapist is a sex manic stranger, who simply attacks based on the amount of skin shown rather than to dominate. The focus seems to always be on ‘crying rape’ rather than actual rape. No wonder so many are not prepared to report their trauma. Female celebrities attack one another for showing skin rather than question what lies behind their decisions. Every woman in the spotlight is expected to be a role model and pounced upon as soon as they make a very human mistake.

Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.

Sinead O'Connor to Miley Cyrus

We buy magazines which still focus on ‘how you can please your man’, the ‘women’s’ sections of papers scold celebrities for putting on a few pounds, whilst telling our children to be thinner and more attractive. A fellow writer for the Wessex Scene summarised and highlighted why feminism is still relevant and was called the ‘white face of imperialist feminism’ for doing so. We regard others with nothing but suspicion and criticism, turning so intelligent, useful and essential debates into slanging matches. In reaction to the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’ the first words to come out of some peoples’ mouths questioned how many of these instances are made up – as if making up stories of harassment serves us any purpose. When a woman wants to vent about an issue which truly concerns her, she is met with a tidal wave of “so you think this only happens to you? Don’t you know that this happens to men too? Why do you hate men so much?” We would rather believe that something is a lie than face up to the hard truth.

patriarchy

If there is anything that we should take away from this year, it is to recognise that we are all in the same boat – though of course we all experience varying degrees of oppression – we are still standing on that boat, throwing bits of sail and deck at one another. In the next year, we should be focussing that energy into recognising similarities, breaking down the barriers between us, rooting the patriarchy out of its cabin and throwing it overboard.

 

More articles in 21st Century Feminist
  1. Feminism Doesn’t Need A Rebrand
  2. Students Must Stand Up to Sexual Assault
  3. What does ‘Body Positivity’ really mean?
  4. Have You Seen Her? Where Are Women Going after University?
  5. Please, Don’t Mention the War
  6. I Clean, Therefore I Am
  7. 2014: The year of the feminist?
  8. Don’t ‘man up’, man your language
  9. White Feminism: Time to Ditch Our Prejudice When Faced With Our Privilege
  10. Rape Culture: Summed Up by Somebody Who Actually Has a Decent Insight into the Matter
  11. This Writer Believes That Sex Work Should Be Accepted by Society
  12. But What About The Men?
  13. Breaking Barriers: Women In The LGBT Community
  14. Opposition to Religion on a Feminist Basis – An Old, Tired and Plain Bad Joke

12 Comments »

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  • Simon
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    “We buy magazines which still focus on ‘how you can please your man’”

    This is not unique to women, there is plenty of material out there explaining ‘how to please your woman’. And why shouldn’t there be? Pleasing your partner is surely an important part of a relationship.

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  • Frenchy
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    there is a very annoying way of writing in this article which makes it very difficult to disagree without the author or people who agree with the article to shout “you’re just trying to perpetuate the patriarchy” and simply ignore a point. But i plan on voicing disagreement anyway.

    For a start, “the patriarchy is behind every rape” is simply incorrect. Behind every rape is a rapist. Said rapist is in the wrong, be they man or woman. Although it may be true that “patriarchy” has no right to question the victim’s conditions prior to the rape (i.e; scantily clad and the like), blaming the rape itself on patriarchy sounds way too much like you’re blaming all men for something one criminal lunatic did, and thus excusing him. Again for “being behind every sexist heckle”; male-dominated society is not behind every heckle, the heckler is. they (although I can probably say he) is a twat, and should be slapped accordingly. In fact, it applies for most if not all the things you’ve blamed on the patriarchy: an institution or person is actually doing the damage, and you’ve simply combined all of them and also all men who don’t suffer as “the patriarchy”, just like conspiracy theorists and hippies call “the man”. You will note that conspiracy theorists and hippies are made fun of for doing that, why do you think you doing that would have a different impact?

    AS for men describing girls as a number, it’s just a way to rationalise your looks for other men, because men happen to like good-looking women. I’m sure you like good-looking men (or women, the point still stands) too, and you tell your friends about some hot guy you saw in the library, at the club or in tesco. Men simply use a number to make the description easy. You don’t magically become no more than a number in every man’s eyes, you’ve just been rated on a scale, to make it simpler for us to communicate our appreciation of your looks. We’re just not subtle about it. I guess patriarchy made us that way

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    Christine
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    There is no part of this which equates patriarchy to all men so I’m not sure where you are getting that idea from. Men and women alike are guilty of spreading sexism values. Furthermore the purpose of the article is to highlight how feminists and those discussing feminist issues are focussing too much energy into blaming one another and fighting against each other when we all need to be fighting against gender equality. The reason the idea of the patriarchy is highlighted is due to the fact that it becomes more than just about the old ‘men oppress women ‘ idea but I use this to emphasise the fact that it is a complex issue where race, class, sexual orientation and so on come into it, which is why we can’t just say that only one group of people do the oppressing or are oppressed.
    Furthermore, judging women by numbers has occurred in my experience in a purely objectifying context. Thinking people are attractive is natural of course but beauty is too subjective to define in numbers

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    Frenchy
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    my idea that patriarchy equates all men comes from the name “patriarchy”, which means father figure, and instinctively brings people to assume it talks about men. This is a point I commented about in another article “should feminists need rebranding” (unrelated, but still pertinent) where just the name itself can have a strong impact on the view people have of it. The patriarchy used to be a correct term because it was powerful men belittling women, and feminism was the fight of women to free themselves from this oppression by men. This is, as you have mentioned, not the case. Still calling it patriarchy is in my opinion why feminists fight among themselves and are seen as “men-hating dykes”. Some of them are, but most of them aren’t. I assume you aren’t, by the intelligent and polite response. The fight you talk about is very much a public image issue. Change “patriarchy” to “oppression” and “feminism” to “gender equality” and i’m quite sure that you will suddenly seem much more open to the inequalities on both sides, leaving “feminism” to said men-hating dykes who employ it in the historical sense of the term (wanting women to rise in power, until men are simply eradicated).
    As for our disagreement on the number system, I think my point still stands. Although I agree that beauty is very subjective, I have never experienced giving a rational rating to be objectifying. I and all the people I know who use it do so simply to communicate our opinion of a woman’s looks in a fashion that all guys understand. If you can, please explain how you found it objectifying, because I genuinely don’t understand it. (In case this last sentence sounds sarcastic, it really isn’t. I don’t want it to be, and I think this is the most sensible way to word it)

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    Christine
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    Oops I wrote the comment below before I saw this, so it doesn’t follow on particularly well… but in response to this second comment of yours:
    People do struggle to get to grips with the labelling ‘feminism’ and ‘patriarchy’, but to be honest people do get very caught up in labels all too often, including labels and separate groups within feminism which I have found exclusionary and as I say, they fight more against each other than anything else at times.

    I think the number issue is because I have experienced people speaking of this (whether aimed at men or women) using it alongside comments which do objectify, but of course I appreciate any knowledge on how people do things other than how I have experienced them.

    Something I forgot with the ‘patriarchy is behind….xyz’ comment is also not to say that there is physically a little devil on each rapist’s shoulder saying ‘do this’ and so on, but rather rape culture as a whole displays gender stereotypes associated with who is the perpetrator and who is the victim (those who don’t believe that men can be raped for example), backwards views in terms of honour (such as those who blame the victim and expect them to fight more) and shaming of those who wear short skirts (claiming that men are nothing more than just animals who can’t help raping). A rape itself is an act of sexual power and dominance over another person, and it, and everything surrounding is, in my opinion anyway, seems to be a very complex issue which is if not begun, at least perpetuated by the patriarchy and its ideals. At least in cases of those who believe that no means ‘I’m playing hard to get’ and marital rape and ideas of ownership of a spouse and the idea that prostitutes can’t be raped and so on it seems clear.
    I think it’s so important to look not just at the acts but at everything that surrounds them and look at how we could be complicit in some ways of discriminating against others. This article was written in response to reading, in one day, people accusing thousands of stories of sexual harassment of lying, something about rape cases and at the same time looking at FEMEN vs Islam for part of my dissertation and feminist attitudes to prostitution and half naked celebs and so on!

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    christine
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    And on top of this I would disagree with the ‘hippy’ comparison just because I would say the stereotype there is the idea of somebody who sits at home, lazy and can’t be bothered to work because ‘the man’ is behind everything whereas the patriarchy or let’s say gender oppression which we have begun to acknowledge can be linked to race and class oppression has existed for millennia and is still present, however other feminists and I , far from giving up and saying we don’t want to be involved in life, take an active part in understanding the structures which support and reinforce this type of oppression. This can be anything from protesting, campaigning for change in the law or policy , to thinking about the ways in which we ourselves discriminate to calling somebody out when they sexually harrass somebody

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  • GarbageMan
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    “The patriarchy is a sneaky thing… It is behind every rape” Is it behind male on male rape also??

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    Christine
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    Yes. There is nowhere in this article which states otherwise or suggests that only women suffer. The point of the whole article is to highlight the complexities of oppression. As I make clear in the article, feminists who campaign for equal rights are on the whole not claiming that men do not suffer too.

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    Christine
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    And as I say, it is not just men ‘oppressors’ and women ‘oppressed victims’

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    GarbageMan
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    was just clarifying is all!

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    christine
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    Sure thing :) I think I read comment slightly differently at ruder! But of course, and I have met women who don’t think men suffer at all and laugh at the idea that men can be raped which of course is incredibly damaging and exclusionary

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  • Shep
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    “Power feminism is just another scam in which women get to play patriarchs and pretend that the power we seek and gain liberates us.”
    -bell hooks

    Let’s talk about this quote for a second.

    I remember I attended a college lecture about what feminism means in America and how imperial politics and economic gaps between the West and East render what women want and consider pivotal to their feminsim as conflicting and even antagonistic to each other.

    My feminism, first and foremost, will always be anti-imperialism.

    Imperial politics are dangerous and the very essence of narcissism. Imperial politics demonstrated within a feminist frame usually goes as follows: the most privileged women, ie. those who have access to technology, representation, occupy a particular media-friendly image or ideology and have access to those in higher slots in society are allotted platforms to speak about their experiences as women and without question, this gets presumptuously labelled “women’s experiences”. Being that women who are globally bestowed the highest tier are usually allowed such room to speak, their minimal struggles are then homogenized as the quintessential female experience and misogyny is wholeheartedly announced a tangible issue that can be easily eradicated out of modern Western society.

    Its no accident that women of color, women in occupied regions and those who face mass political or economic repression and their words which don’t satisfy neoliberal, imperialist gaze are deemed anti-progressive, race baiters, backwards, terrorist apologists, etc. Our complex, multi-faceted struggles within a white supremacist empire tap into too many accepted status quos for the average American moderate. It forces those who legitimize the war on terror and view racism as an entity of the past to confront their own unsightly prejudices and the systematic brutality their nations enacts on various global societies, as well as within its borders. Its easier to find (and fabricate) any reason to demonize the likes of Trayvon Martin and his family for his own tragic demise or deem young Yemeni children necessary collateral damage for “the greater good” than to examine what other oppressions beyond misogyny exist that unquestionably burden the lives of otherized communities, including and especially the women in said communities.

    Power feminism expects women to unanimously rejoice in the presidential election of Hillary Clinton, while her administration carries out the same murderous policies as her predecessors. Power feminism labels any legitimate criticism of influential women as inherent egregious misogyny. Power feminism devalues the loss of women’s lives abroad, while infantizling their independent resistance and stripping their agency by shamelessly declaring intervention as saving them. Power feminism within an imperialistic frame needs the hyper-demonization of otherized communities to justify its occupation. Power feminism can be even more dangerous than ruthless misogyny because of its insidious nature and lack of culpability.

    Source: https://www.facebook.com/noblejesustree/posts/10152017965333941

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