Yesterday while reading this article about gender studies programs in the schools, I was struck once again by the phenomenon of women feeling they have to soft-pedal feminism to men by reassuring them that it will benefit them too. Some quotes from the article: “It [sexism] is no less complicated for men: Men are expected to be strong…it [feminism] is about making a change, not just for ourselves, but for society as a whole.”
There we go again, arguing feminism by asserting that “Sexism hurts men too”, as if women’s rights are only legitimate if there’s something in it for the men too, as if feminism’s not enough on its own merit.
News flash: No group in power cedes its power simply to be nice to those lower in status. Believe me: If sexism truly hurt men, they would’ve eradicated it themselves long ago! Like all liberation movements, feminism is legitimate in its own right; it’s not obligated to offer men the Crackerjack prize of “It will benefit you too.”
While gender stereotypes certainly oppress some men, mankind as a whole benefits from the patriarchal structure. And make no mistake about it: Patriarchy is alive and well. Just yesterday a neighbor told me that one recent night she came across two young women swinging on a park swingset. Three teenage boys stood watching them, arms crossed in an intimidating pose. My neighbor took in the scene immediately, approached the boys, and told them unceremoniously to knock it off. Most likely the young women sensed that the boys were out of line, but also likely couldn’t put their finger on why, not yet having a name for it.
Note that the incident took place at night. That’s because — again, it’s implicit — the boys somehow knew that their behavior would be unacceptable in broad daylight, that intimidating females must be done under cover of darkness. And they knew good and well that’s what they were doing: intimidating. Yet the girls, not having the language for it, couldn’t call them on it. After all, the boys weren’t doing anything: They were neither touching the girls nor disrupting their play. But the boys didn’t have to do anything explicit: Both sides know the “rules”.
So no, these girls weren’t suffering wage discrimination or being deprived of Title IX funding or Goddess forbid, being harrassed (although only a thin line separates intimidation and harassment — kudos to my neighbor for intervening); but they were experiencing patriarchy nonetheless.
Where did these girls and these boys learn the “rules”? Who taught the girls that the boys’ behavior made them uncomfortable, yet there was no outward cause therefor? Who taught the boys that girls are objects to stare at, ogle, intimidate, see how far they could push the boundaries before an adult intervenes, an adult who has the words, the language to name these phenomena? No problem: They’ve been learning it since they emerged into this world, this society — this patriarchy.
I’m not afraid of that word, patriarchy. If you thought it refers only to the Taliban, you’d be wrong. It’s easy to get smug when we read about Taliban-style patriarchy; after all, we’re civilized: We’re not like them. But the Taliban simply lies at the extreme end of the gender non-/parity spectrum. Our goal should be to eradicate all manifestations of patriarchy, including those such as the boys’ behavior in the park that can’t be legislated. And we need men to be our partners therein, but not because they’re going to get something out of it “too”, but rather because gender parity is The Right Thing To Do.
This post powered by the book that now heads my daughters’ Compulsory Reading Booklist: How To Be a Woman by Caitlan Moran