Two documents comprised the reading for class on September 21st. The first was an essay by Marilyn Frye, entitled “Oppression”. In this piece, Frye begins with stating that this strong word is often used inappropriately, and is used so frequently that it has become meaningless in many occasions. The use of this word has also come to be associated with a feeling of insensitivity and prejudice for those that it is being used to describe. Since women often feel oppressed ourselves, and we are widely defined as sensitive beings… well, there is a difficult situation here; as Frye describes it “our situation has been drained of meaning and our guilt mechanisms tripped”. The double bind referred to here, where women must act a perfect mix of “sexually active” or “sexually inactive”, has clearly caused some perplexing and difficult feeling of always being on the losing end of things. Frye uses a metaphor of a bird in a cage, comparing viewing one individual bar on a cage as barring to a bird, to one reason why oppression can be so hurtful to women; it is not until one looks at the entire picture (cage, bird, etc.) that the problem can be seen. Finally, Frye discusses “gallant gestures”, and how they hold very little real meaning, and are only there to really show that women are insignificant and incapable. They similarly can show the “contempt” that men have for women in that they need the help that these gestures “give” them, when in reality, women are perfectly capable to open doors; it is almost a mocking gesture.
The other document, a chapter out of a novel by Allan G. Johnson, entitled “Patriarchy, the system: an it, not a he, a them, or an us”, begins with addressing the “common confusion” that people face when confronted with the word ‘patriarchy’. He mentions that patriarchy is a system, but not a system of individuals because such a system “ignores that we are all participating in something larger than ourselves or any collection of us”. Johnson states that it is the roots of society that has created and perpetuated the problems that we see in the world today, specifically with patriarchy. It is something that people don’t realize they are doing, but as members of society, we are all perpetuating it, just through being participants in society. As he says “It is a system, which means it can’t be reduced to the people who participate it. If you go to work in a corporation, for example, you know the minute you walk in the door that you’ve entered ‘something’ that shapes your experience and behavior, something that isn’t just you and the other people you work with”.
Many comparisons are made in this reading; between patriarchy and the popular board game Monopoly, capitalism, soldiers going into war, poverty, and even talks about the how the show Everybody Loves Raymond perpetuates this “system”. Defining the ‘path of least resistance’, Johnson takes his argument a step further in saying that our partaking in social systems forms the choices we make, conscious and unconscious. Since we all have grown up in some type of society, we will tend to “accept, identify with, and participate in it as ‘normal’ and unremarkable life”; more or less, since this is how we grew up, this is how we have been ingrained to act.
He makes a point in saying that, even though we don’t like taking money from other competitors when playing Monopoly, we do it anyway, because the game is about winning. Thus, we cannot explain individual behaviors, or individual people for the reason that patriarchy exists. Patriarchy exists, “because it I more than how people think, feel and behave… it is a way of organizing social life…” This social life is one in which mistreatment, disappointment, force and violence can be perpetuated.
It is not until at least halfway through the chapter that the author defines patriarchy, as a “system of inequality organized around gender categories”, and as such, society being comprised of genders, we are all involved. He also makes clear that words that were previously used to describe women as powerful or positive beings, such as bitch, witch, crone and virgin, have in current times taken on a negative connotation.
Johnson pushes his readers to examine “social relationships and the unequal distributions of power, rewards, opportunities, and resources, that appear in everyday life”. It is this unequal distribution of all of the above, and the ongoing nature of this ‘system’ that makes patriarchy and male opportunity in general, possible. It is a privilege because, some people have it and some people don’t.
While patriarchy as a subject is uncomfortable, to men often times, and occasionally even to women in powerful positions, the UN has even addressed men’s violence against women as “the most pervasive form of human rights abuse”.
In the end, empowerment is all that can be done to outlaw the “tradition” (you may say), of patriarchy, a system that we have come to be accustomed to in our society.