Recently my partner and I were discussing/arguing about the role patriarchy plays in our relationship. I had been letting some things he was saying slide despite my better feminist judgment, and it eventually built up and things got pretty heated.
Partially in jest, but also partially in seriousness, he often told me he wanted to “make an honest woman out of me”. At first it seemed so ridiculously archaic that I could only respond with hilarity. Being an enlightened boy, I figured being scoffed at was enough to make him reconsider this sentiment. Obviously it wasn’t, so I finally said something along the lines of “What the fuck is an honest woman anyway?” and “Do you really think I would let a man ‘make’ me into anything?”. Blah, blah, blah.
I expected his response to go something like, “I’m sorry, you’re right. I’m so lucky to have an awesome feminist partner who will call me out on all my misogynistic bullshit and patriarchal conditioning.”
No such luck. Instead he said, “But you wear makeup and like to be dominated in bed! I’m so confused!”
Poor boy and silly me. I suppose I should shave my head, wear a burlap sack, and give male lovers bloody noses to achieve orgasm so as not to confuse anyone about my status as a feminist. I understand that when I wear a cute little dress and let my leg and armpit hair hang out, it may seem a little inconsistent and look a little uncanny, but get over it for fuck’s sake.
The thing we all know and hate about patriarchy is that it’s fully formed and completely saturated condition. The former signs and symbols of male domination and female oppression don’t even matter in a fundamental sense anymore. There are no more Don Draper’s patting secretaries on the ass, or Betty Draper’s imprisoned in their home because there are so few options for even upper class women. Today our archetypes are a lot less cut and dry. Take the left’s theoretical sweetheart, Slavoj Zizek, admitting to being an anti-feminist, or Katy Perry singing about getting her kicks by kissing a girl, but still the whole time worrying about if herboyfriend will mind.
With both supposed radicals and liberated women consumed by the all encompassing facets of patriarchy, can there be a clear intellectual and aesthetic defense against it?
The fact that there’s no prescription for gender liberation is definitely terrifying and has left the feminists of the third wave bickering amongst ourselves for quite some time now. It’s impossible to say that feminists do this, anti-feminists do that, and everyone else is just somewhere in between. Like with capitalism, where all of us are forced to make certain sacrifices not necessarily congruent with our ideology just to get by, those of us experiencing gender oppression cannot always act perfectly in line with regards to what’s in our “best interest”.
That’s why so many of us get frustrated with the rhetoric of the left, and have long ago abandoned Marxism and even more innocuous forms of socialism. Thanks to post-structural and queer theorists, binaries like male/female and sex/gender do not define the framework for social revolution. Most of the dialectical tension around feminism occurs within feminists themselves. For instance, there’s a desire to say a big FUCK YOU to patriarchal and capitalist beauty standards, but also the deeply engrained feeling that receiving male validation based on looks is the ultimate prize. The place of this tension is ultimately where reconciliation and revolution against patriarchal oppression begins.
Unfortunately, as feminists, we spend way too much time answering to our partners and other radicals about our lifestyle and political choices. That’s right, I don’t shave my legs, but do wear makeup sometimes. So what? Makeup is less tedious and more fun than shaving. But who really gives a fuck anyway? Yeah, I like being “tossed around” in bed, and I’m sure you could psychoanalyze the shit out of all my sexual fantasies, but ultimately the majority of our likes and dislikes are informed by conditioning anyway, so let’s just move on to more important things.
Female identified people have enough odds stacked against us, and we need as much support from our allies as possible. We do not need to be wasting our time defending everything we do to, or with, our bodies.
So back up off it, boys, we know what’s best. As tough as it may be, just try to trust us and stand in solidarity.