A couple of things happened this week that made me think about patriarchy and feminism. Wikipedia describes patriarchy as “a social system in which the male is the primary authority figure central to social organization and the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children” – on that definition I would suggest that western cultures have made much progress in dismantling patriarchal systems. The twentieth century ended with women able to hold authority over their families, own businesses and property, stand for political office, and do a great many things with their lives that their great great grandfathers would have thoroughly disapproved of. However, a woman running things (anything) is still seen as unusual. Men still hold all the cards, all the keys… all the privilege.
But we can’t stick our heads in the sand and hope that this is a problem that fixes itself. If Julie Bindel thinks that living in a 1970s lesbian utopia is what true feminists should be doing, then she’s living in a dream world. Because patriarchy exists, and simply yelling until you’re blue in the face that it shouldn’t benefits no one. Telling the world that you have decided to adopt a relationship style which requires the renegotiation of many of the norms of monogamy can be, and often is, a small way of showing others that they don’t have to let patriarchy dictate that very personal aspect of their lives. Just because Bindel thinks that widespread recognition of polyamory is a slippery slope towards patriarchal polygamy, doesn’t mean she’s right. Just because many poly women date men, doesn’t mean they’re “doin’ it wrong”.
I know that picking one of many pieces that Bindel has published on a vast number of topics where she pretty much says that everyone who doesn’t do/say what she does is wrong, is probably a bit of a pointless rant. After all, it does look like newspapers only publish her writing in order to get ‘outrage traffic’ these days. But shunning all men doesn’t actually fix anything. Living in a hippy commune doesn’t make the world a better place. It might make a handful of people’s lives better if that’s what they choose, but being preachy about it isn’t necessarily going to change anything. You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, after all.
An email popped into my inbox the other day from Spiked with the subject “Feminism wasn’t always this narrow and petty” and containing the line “three young women take turns to lay into what passes for contemporary feminism.” This also made my blood boil. Sitting around on your arse and saying that feminism is outdated and wrong is no different to saying that patriarchy is to blame for everything bad. If other people’s feminism doesn’t do it for you, make your own! Feminism is not a political party with a single mission statement, is a collection of movements and ideologies. If you believe in any way that women, anywhere in the world, sometimes get a raw deal simply because of their gender, then you can describe yourself as a feminist. You may not like everything that every single other feminist believes or says, but that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong or the movement ‘outdated’. For fuck’s sake, we’re all people! Can’t we just work together to make the world a less shit place for everyone?
Image by Laura Forest for her Who needs feminism? project.