Sunday, August 19, 2012

Patriarchy: The Hands of Fate

My super-smart friend Ari and I have been going back and forth about the term "patriarchy," in terms of theoretical vs. literary device.  Ari is insanely well-read and versed on the subject, and I, having done two years at Bra-less MFA would, frankly, rather have something all be a dream in the end than even see the word patriarchy in a manuscript.

Patriarchy is a Big Bad.  It is predominantly used in memoir writing by rich white women complaining about why it sucks to be wealthy and white and privileged (see Eat. Pray. Love. Don't literally see it, because it's stupid, just click the link and read the Something Awful review of it).  I recently read a piece where a woman blamed the patriarchy in one paragraph and then got her panties all wet over her rich boyfriend's "manservant" (yes, she used "manservant" because I guess "Negro" was too polite) and how her rich boyfriend ordered dinner for her and how romantic the whole thing was.  I don't get too offended, but this made me so mad I was pacing around the room while I was trying to make notes and it took everything I had not to toss the whole thing in the fireplace and slap the woman who wrote it.

Memoir writers use The Patriarchy as a way to avoid blame or actual introspection on anything in their work.  It's much easier to blame the husband for the failure of your marriage than to admit that maybe you could have done some work too.  It's easier to blame some faceless white men for you not getting the keys to the Scrooge McDuck's vault than to say "Maybe I'm just a selfish bitch who thinks she's entitled to everything."  It's much easier to blame the chef than to say "Maybe I shouldn't have ordered that discount blowfish."

In my experience, the same writers who use The Patriarchy in this way generally are the first to strongly dictate how other women should behave.  Women who don't fit their narrow construct of feminism (wealthy, white, modest in dress albeit braless)  therefor fall into two categories:  In need of saving ("My Black Friend") or The Enemy.  I mean, thank goodness for Yale educated poets.  What would we do about our soul-crushing poverty without a bunch of women to teach us interpretive dance!  And of course, they deserve those $2K grants to teach us, after all, those dancing women work hard, and now that we all have the gift of interpretive dance, who needs food?

I tend to wear spike heels, short skirts, cut-up shirts and skinny jeans.  I think you can guess which category I fall into, despite the fact that I am economically disadvantaged and worked insanely hard to crawl my way up to where I am now.  But clearly, I'm not a feminist because I own thong underpants.

If we as writers want to something about The Patriarchy, which is back and badder than ever (trans-vaginal ultrasound, anyone?) we have to confront it head-on.  Name names.  Describe the men who've stood in your way.  Make them real, flesh and blood, make them accountable for their actions.  Simply lumping them together makes them little more than word too easily dismissed and lets them continue to get away with stripping us of our dignity and our hard-fought rights.

But more importantly, we, as women, need to solidify ourselves.  No more us vs. them.  No more feminists vs. sluts, working moms vs. stay-at-home.  It's too easy to divide ourselves, and divided, we will fall.

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