what is the patriarchy? thoughts on radical feminism – part 3

Patriarchy is the term used to describe the society in which we live today, characterised by current and historic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed. This takes place across almost every sphere of life but is particularly noticeable in women’s under-representation in key state institutions, in decision-making positions and in employment and industry. Male violence against women is also a key feature of patriarchy. Women in minority groups face multiple oppressions in this society, as race, class and sexuality intersect with sexism for example. (London Feminist Network)

This definition of the patriarchy is straight-forward and I would be surprised if anyone, anywhere, could find evidence to challenge any aspect of it.

I agree with all feminists that unjust and irrational gender bias continues to exert influence over human societies. Even in the countries where most progress has been made, women are still subject to violence, discrimination and chronic under-representation in key areas of life. But …

1. Sometimes I feel that in radical feminism things have been taken a little too far.

Under patriarchy, being male is the only thing one needs to gain access to the good things in life, including gainful employment, physical safety and comfort, and sexual access to women. (radfem101)

Radical feminists acknowledge that there are many other kinds of discrimination in society e.g. race, social/economic, but will still insist that gender discrimination takes precedence over everything. I disagree. A white, educated woman has many more doors open for ‘the good things in life’ than probably most of the men in the rest of world. Discrimination and disadvantage cut across so many areas, I feel uncomfortable with this sense that women have it worse than everyone, everywhere.

2. Sometimes I feel radical feminists have taken things really, really far from reality.

Under patriarchy, women as a class are targeted for extermination […] Why? Because…

Femicide supports male power. Males as a class are working very hard to destroy females as a class, and they are succeeding: globally, women are underrepresented due to “gendercide” against females, where female fetuses and babies are literally killed before or at the time of birth. (radfem101)

Of course in certain societies women have been singled out for whole-scale killing. I can’t deny that women were the chief focus of witch hunts, or that some societies have valued (and still do value) the superior economic significance within their cultural context of males, and have killed girl babies. But men are singled out just as much, if not more – what were the first and second world wars if not frenzied killing fields of millions of mainly men? The sense that women are exclusively targeted by men reeks of paranoia and narrow focus – men are more than happy to kill each other. And if this is identified as another feature of the patriarchal society, then address it alongside the deaths of women.

3. Sometimes I feel that instead of seeing the inevitable development patterns of a species, radical feminists see deliberate and malicious intention from all men.

The entire world would look different if women were not deliberately made vulnerable by men and male institutions; in other words, if the playing field were level. Men and male institutions make sure it’s not, because economically and physically vulnerable women are easy targets for male abuse and men like it that way. (radfem101)

‘Men’ do not like it that way. Some men, very few men, perhaps consciously like it that way. Loads of men are as appalled as the women who recognise it. Loads of men are completely oblivious to this a problem. People in general do not spend hours pondering injustice and inequality, the majority are simply getting in with the hand they are dealt.

I’ve been drafting this post in the background for a few days now, unsure of where to take it. The truth is, I’m not clear what my conclusion is. So, I’ll finish with a quote to ponder from Superslaviswife that’s just come through on my previous post. I don’t agree with her either, but I think the truth lies somewhere in between. There clearly is a gender issue, but we can’t focus on it to the neglect of other factors that bring shocking levels of inequality to our societies:

By wanting to be victimized, feminists who are in upper class, western, educated environments make a gender issue out of a class issue and deny any help to those lower class women and men who actually need it. It’s selfishness, pure and simple. (Superslaviswife)