I read something in the New Yorker magazine yesterday that I really needed to read as an antidote to the interminable, depressing and infuriating news that keeps streaming into my reader about the assaults of the war on women. I almost — but not quite — begin to understand women who refuse to know, who want to keep it light. Just before reading the New Yorker article, in the actual paper magazine, I received an online post from weirdward in Dusk is Falling who referred to patriarchy as a “death cult”. It occurred to me that she’s right. In my early postings on this blog I referred to it as “POP culture” and then “POP Cult”. These were meant as black humour. Patriarchy means the leadership of the father, and Pop is an American slang word for father, right? Get it? I’m not sure that anybody did. But I also meant POP as an anagram for “People of Power”, because patriarchy can be defined as organization of a populace by gradations of power, and some patriarchs can be female. And I changed “culture” to “cult” because there’s nothing cultured about it. We are all brainwashed as thoroughly as the poor souls who drank the koolaid in Jonestown.
But I think “death cult” is more to the point, not only because it leads to all kinds of death including soul or spiritual death but because death was the original purpose for which patriarchy was instituted. Patriarchy spread across populations between 8000 and 5000 years ago, at exactly the same time as the greatest wars we know about were fought. As Marilyn French reported, the world suddenly exploded into mass violence, death and destruction. It seems that men all around the globe, from the middle east to south American, decided to start killing each other. Historians don’t yet know why. They speculate that populations might have grown to the point that various communities began impinging on each other.
Another possibility is that men had been developing team play and competitiveness through the hunt and killing of animals, particularly big animals, for long enough that they became drunk with the need for competition and for greater and greater hunting challenges. It has recently been discovered that as human populations spread across the earth, the largest animals disappeared, hunted to extinction. It’s not such a stretch to think that some hunting teams decided that men of another population group would be the perfect prey. At any rate, after they killed the neighbouring men, they enslaved the women and children. It’s also possible that access to those women and children was the point of the killing.
And so patriarchy, as a hierarchical system of power in which men were trained to kill, and women were enslaved, was slowly and painfully born. You’d think it would be out of date now. It’s not. What I see all around me here in North America is a population of men powerfully conditioned with the attributes that a killer needs, and a population of women still powerfully conditioned with the attributes that keep a slave alive.
That’s the only explanation for why men keep sexually harassing, stalking and killing women at a time and place where women are supposedly equal to men and supposedly free to enter the public world of work and politics alongside men. What the patriarchy gives with the right hand, it takes away with the left.
In patriarchy the whole ladder of competition, power and status is reserved for men. And men are placed on it whether they want to be or not. A man who refuses to compete finds himself at the bottom of the ladder. There is no way for him to remove himself from it. Women are never on the ladder, even when they work alongside men, even when they are better than men at the job, even when they are men’s superior officers. A man scores no points for beating a woman at work, but loses many points for being beaten by a woman. This is why men prefer to have male-only workplaces. They sexualize women in the workplace to remind women of their role, which is only one. Women are, first and last, men’s reward. They are the silver cup given to the winning team. That’s it.
And so many women provide the appropriate response. They smile. They compete to be the best trophy. They say “pick me! pick me!” The highest status male gets the best reward, whether that is the most beautiful wife, the best mother of his children, the best servant or the most elegant prostitute. And women compete in all those categories because being picked by the highest status male offers a better guarantee of continued life.
There have always been some men who don’t want the life of a master and who romanticize the life of the slave. The history of imperialism doesn’t say much about them except for the curious description of men who “turn native”. I suspect this includes men who wanted to outdo the slave in slavery, or who continued to dominate the enslaved class while pretending to be one of them. Is that what the trans movement is about? Is it men who have romanticized femininity and believe they are better women than women and want to teach women how to do it right while they continue to treat women just as men have always treated women in patriarchy — through domination and subjugation? I despair at all the women who welcome them and at all the men who must be laughing up their sleeves as they record male victories over women as if they were women’s victories.
My opinion of humanity has never been all that high, but it is sliding to new lows. Then I read Elif Batuman’s Letter from Tokyo about a booming business in renting family members and friends. It seems as Japanese society becomes more like western society, with more people than ever before living alone due to divorce and children leaving home, the Japanese have invented a service of renting people to replace missing friends and relatives. A man whose wife had died, and whose daughter had left home, hired a woman and daughter pair to have dinner with him occasionally. A woman no longer in contact with an abusive husband hired a man to play the role of father to her child. Some of these arrangements go on for years. The man who played the role of father read books and watched videos to prepare for the role, to learn how to be a good dad. There are services for middle-aged married woman, where men will romance them for a fee (no sex included or allowed). You can hire a young man to help you cry by showing you sad videos and crying with you. You can hire a groom for a false wedding. You can even hire an entire wedding party.
It struck me as I was reading that these are kindness services. The Japanese are hiring people of both sexes to be kind to them in one context or another, and the people they hire do what actors do by preparing for their role.
I wonder if such a service would be possible in North America. Would young women be willing to hire themselves out for an evening as “girlfriends” to a man without (no sex included or allowed). Would such a woman study up on how to be a good girlfriend so she could play the role well? And would men be willing to rent themselves out to be companions to lonely women, also preparing for their role through research? And what effect might such role-playing have on the customers and on the actors? If you’ve researched how to be a kind girlfriend or boyfriend, mother, father or grandchild would that learning carry over into your real life relationships?
There’s not much kindness between the sexes here in North America. Oh, people seem to learn to be “nice” at daycare and preschool, but “nice” is a tactic for avoiding conflict. Kindness, on the other hand, has a morality about it. One has to deliberately choose to be kind, often over easier options. I suspect that’s what “incels” really want from women, despite what they say. And I know that’s what women want from men. Could men and women choose kindness rather than the gendered stereotypical behaviours we’re accustomed to?
Psychologists know that role-playing can be a powerful force for change. We all know the phrase, “fake it til you make it”. If we started by giving kindness for a fee, might we not end up choosing it for its own sake?