Recently someone described me as an “intersectional feminist”. I wasn’t sure what I was being accused of, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s accurate. Intersectional feminists examine and critique all unequal power dynamics. I would suggest the term implies a view far bigger than that encompassed by the term “feminism”, but oddly, those who criticize other specific power imbalances don’t address the intersections of all of them. Marxists are famous for dismissing the need for strong women’s rights language. Those who fight racism don’t simultaneously challenge sexism. Why is it that of all disempowered groups, only women see all abuses of power as equally important?
I think it’s because all other groups fighting power imbalance are led by men, and they don’t see that the source of discrimination and oppression is patriarchy, or, as I like to call it, POP Cult. This means they refuse to see their own privilege – even when they are disadvantaged — and they are blind to the limitations of their own masculine perspectives. As long as the values of patriarchy underpin their challenges to the powerful, they will keep on recreating the same systems under different names.
The means don’t justify the end, they predict the end.
This week was the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I went to a concert, a “Requiem for Peace” that included “The Stupidity of War” by Victor Hugo. The poem ends with the question, “How to bring down an emperor without creating another?” When men use what they have learned under patriarchy to topple a regime, they cannot but recreate that regime. The means don’t justify the end, they predict the end. Use force and you will create a system that is upheld by force. India’s Mahatma Ghandi was probably the only man who recognized, to the degree that he did, that patriarchal tactics cannot destroy patriarchal power. He succeeded by adopting the “feminine” tactics of passivity, quietude, and contentment with little.
It’s a well-known adage that if POP (People of Power) can divide, they can conquer. In researching the definition of “intersectional feminist”, I came across this quote by Alice Walker:
“Part of the problem with Western feminists, I find, is that they take after their brothers and their fathers. And that’s a real problem.”
It is a problem, but I doubt that it’s confined to Western feminists.
Women attack other women. They are encouraged to do so by POP, but also by the kind of conditioning that everyone in an oppressive hierarchy is subject to. In a hierarchy, everyone wants to make it to the top. Women take many approaches to winning top spots and they’re not pretty. We may try to align ourselves with the men at the top, either through marriage or other means less honourable. We may try to align ourselves with men, period. We may act like men when in positions of power. What other models do we have?
This is a problem described and analyzed in literature about abused children. Any child whose weakness and helplessness is exploited learns to hate the weak and the powerless. It’s a way of deflecting the self-hatred the child feels for his/her failure to prevent the exploitation or abuse. Many abused children go further and identify with the perpetrators of abuse.
Have you heard of chick flicks? Of course, any movie about a woman.
In POP Cult, women are abused in multiple ways, starting with the demeaning of all things produced by and for women. Have you heard of chickflicks? Of course, any movie about a woman. (No one’s heard of a dickflick, right, though practically every Hollywood movie is one.) Chicklit? Any book about a woman. How about viclit? Any story about a woman’s courageous struggle to overcome the effects of abuse.
It’s commonplace to hear men whine about these works of art or entertainment, as if learning about women through women’s artistic production isn’t a worthwhile and possibly productive thing in itself. Having relationship problems, guys? How about heading to the bookstore and checking out the chicklit section? Might learn something that could help.
Chicklit? Any book about a woman.
Women on the other hand routinely watch films by and about men and read books by and about men. There’s currently a push to get women to stop reading books by male authors for a year. A year? For as long as I can remember I have read one book by a man for every ten I read by women. Why would I read books that express a masculine perspective about a masculine problem? Oh, right, because there’s no such thing – because when men write, they’re expressing a human perspective on a human problem. This is the great lie we’ve all been indoctrinated into believing.
Women act and react in the ways that abused children do. Some of us become lifelong victims, refusing to take responsibility for ourselves, and blaming others for our problems. Some of us pretend we’re not and never have been victims. These might be the ones claiming the system is just fine and women are privileged to stay at home minding babies – it’s a sacred task afterall – and should leave the workforce to the men. Some of us run around trying to force others to see their victimization and take immediate steps to end it.
This is one of the accusations non-Caucasian, non-western women make of first world feminists. Western women can be blind to both their own continued victimization, and to the relative power women may have in other patriarchal cultures. We in the west tend to think that middle eastern, African and Asian women are way more oppressed than we are. Meanwhile about 3000 women are murdered by spouses and ex-spouses in the U.S. per year (about 300 in Canada), a women in North American is raped every … can it still be counted in minutes, or is it now every 30 or 40 seconds? The rape of infants and very young girls by pedophile gangs is the black stain our culture refuses even to recognize, and that stain is growing. And we are now in the midst of a backlash that seems to insist that for every step up the ladder women are “allowed” to take, they have to remove clothing to show their continued sexual availability –as if life, for women, is some addled game of strip poker. When we win, we lose.
So, I don’t know, how can one compare suffering, and why would one? Well, maybe it’s about dividing and conquering.
If, in a Muslim country, a girl is sold into marriage at 10 or 12, that girl is oppressed, is deprived of choice and thus of spiritual life. I would say that’s the worst kind of oppression.
And if teenagers are lured out of Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia and Poland with promises of jobs, but instead are sex-trafficked in Vancouver and Los Angeles, I would say those girls are oppressed and deprived of spiritual life. I would say that’s the worst kind of oppression.
And if high school girls in North American schools are drugged and gang-raped by their male classmates, who then send videos of their crime out to the web, where they go viral, I would say that’s bad. I would say it’s the worst kind of oppression.
Western women often have many more choices about how they want to live than do women in other POP Cults, that’s true, and the reasons have as much to do with technological advance, industrialization and secularism than with Caucasians being somehow more “advanced”.
Egalitarianism is the opposite of patriarchy because it’s the opposite of hierarchy. We will not have an egalitarian society until we have one where people aren’t ranked by degrees of power, influence and priviledge.
Egalitarianism means, among other things, that we perceive all adults as equally capable of making choices. And it requires a lesser degree of judgement about choices than we’re used to. So how should western women react to Muslim immigrant women who wear the veil? It’s easy to say we need to tear it off of them because it’s a symbol of their particular POP Cult conditioning. This is a belief that emerges from the western idea that no free woman would cover her face, her hair, or her body.
We think we’re superior because we reveal pretty much as much of our bodies as we feel like, even though we are then subject to male abuse. Exactly why is this superior? Western women could choose to hide their beauty from men. That could be a reasonable choice, but we’re all thinking only of male perspectives. Men tell us simultaneously to cover up and to uncover. Under that kind of pressure, we seem incapable of making our own choice.
But aside from the fact that both western and Muslim women may be dressing according to patriarchal conditioning, there’s the question of how to instigate change. How many of us have chosen dictatorial fiat over persuasion at some point in our lives? Come on, be honest. Commanding someone to do something is so much faster and effective than taking the route of education and persuasion. I’m betting we’ve all done it at some time or other when we have felt we could. To command is to take the POP Cult route, the one that lets the powerful command the powerless. From that perspective, we really can’t force Muslim immigrant women to dress like western women.
Women everywhere suffer at the hands of men who have been taught indifference, contempt and even hatred for women. Who has taught them that? And why? Any bets that the more conflict there is between men and women, the more POP gains?