Saturday, June 9, 2012

On Patriarchy, Hierarchies, and Capitalist Oppression

My Dad recommended that I read a piece in Alternet by Joan Walsh called The Root of the Conservative War on Contraception Comes From a Deep-seated Anxiety.

Its central premise seems to be the war on women is being waged by Republicans to put women back in their place and give men back their power, control, and authority which they are losing.

While I think she brings up some good points I don't think she goes far enough in her analysis...

So here goes mine:

I have studied this whole power and control over women's bodies thing. This is how I think about it... society has women thinking... I gotta be thin, I gotta look a certain way, I gotta buy name brands, I gotta wear makeup, I gotta have lighter skin or darker skin (depends on how light or dark yours skin is.. too light or too dark is considered undesirable), I gotta have big boobs, I gotta have less hair on my body, I gotta live up to all these expectations. The list goes on forever... of the socio-cultural expectations of appearance of people in order to fit standards of beauty and desirability-- and be desirable to men for the most part (or so women are told). They are very unrealistic and unreasonable, and quite unattainable, but that's the point. As women struggle for perfection, these socially-cultutally constructed ridiculous standards, they are bound up and trapped.

If a woman is all wrapped up in shame and trying, yet failing, at gaining control (even over her own life) and trying to get power... but never being able to reach it, this process keeps her inextricably locked into the oppressive system. Its a false paradigm, yet it is reinforced everywhere we turn. These harmful social constructions are often internalized as well so women carry them with them and struggle internally to strive to reach something impossible to reach.

Because she is made to feel insecure and like there is something wrong with her constantly and she can never be good enough... she invests time, energy, and money in trying to "fix" herself and doing whatever she's gotta do to make herself feel better and be externally validated because she cannot be internally valued.

At the same time the industries that count on her feeling insecure and having low self image such as the fitness, fashion, magazines, beauty, makeup, plastic surgery, pharmaceutical, etc. industries are rolling in the cash. They got her right where they want her-- she is an insecure mess who is easily controlled and manipulated. She is at the mercy of what society tells her she ought to be..and she always fall short. That's a great place to put people if you want them to never rebel.

Because the more shame and less empowered people feel the less likely they are to think enough of themselves to want a better life, better society, and better world. They don't feel they deserve it or are worthy of it or can even do it if they were-- they feel helpless, hopeless, incapable, and lack agency, self-activation, or efficacy. This means they are less likely to overthrow the hegemony that controls their lives. The system is built the way it is on purpose-- to lock people into it.

In addition, if a woman's body is controlled in any way this can further strip her of her power. This falls right in line with taking away her reproductive choice so she is forced to bend to the will of men. This props up the patriarchal system-- one that keeps men in power and in control over women.

I also have a theory on strict gender construction and patriarchy and why they exist. Men control women, some men control other men, and everyone is controlled by the system that keeps them shamed, alienated, exploited, oppressed, unequal, unconscious, and dis-empowered. This works out pretty well for capitalism.

Joan Walsh's piece limits the problem to the Republican's attempt at getting men back in power. Whereas the problem goes far beyond that.

For example there is a social justice organization in the SF Bay Area called Generation Five. Their purpose is to end child sexual abuse in five generations. You might wonder, what does sexual abuse have to do with this topic? Well, sexual abuse is just one manifestation of the hierarchical system we operate under in America and it has major consequences similar to those oppressing women. In fact, many of these consequences intersect as women have the highest rate of sexual abuse or sexual assault-- 1 in 3 females.

From Generation Five:

"We are living in a broader social context that teaches power-over relations, private ownership (parents/family) of children, a dismissal of children's accounts (legal), mixed messages and little education about human sexuality (it is bad, shame based, and it is used to sell us everything from cars to deodorant), and the ongoing mixing of sex and violence. We are not taught to address pain and trauma deeply, but rather mask symptoms or blame the individual for their distress. Child sexual abuse is about having power over another person and using that power sexually. The norms that allow for this behavior are sadly, ever-present in our society."

"Generation FIVE is unique amongst national anti-violence organizations in recognizing that our goal of ending child sexual abuse cannot be realized while other systems of oppression are allowed to continue. In fact, systems of oppression and child sexual abuse have an interdependent relationship: a power-over system that benefits some at the expense of others and uses violence, creates the conditions for child sexual abuse (i.e. gender inequality, class exploitation, racism, violence and threat for difference), while in turn the prevalence of child sexual abuse fosters behaviors (obedience to authority, silence, disempowerment, shame) that prevent people from organizing effectively to work for liberation, healing and change systemic forms of violence."

In fact, recently it has been discovered that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are at an increased risk of abuse, including sexual abuse, and thus an increased risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which has major impacts on both physical and psychological well being of folks for life. More on the study here:

The only reason? Difference. Those who show difference from the socially and culturally constructed "norm" become a target. Either because someone is trying to force them to stop being different, or taking advantage of their perceived vulnerable position in our society.


I definitely think it is related to hierarchies. Hierarchies set up a system of those superior and inferior.... and that is created on purpose... because it is benefiting a system.... capitalism, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, etc. and those that perpetuate it in order to amass power and wealth through control. Not to mention how social control is used in all ways to do so, race comes to mind as one of the most pervasive next to sex/gender. Often these complex identities intersect and compound the oppression people face who have multiple identities.

Once these paradigms are put into society they are self-perpetuating and prey on human beings who then prey on other human beings. People in our society are so emotionally raw and stressed out from our capitalist system that they fall into these traps quite easily. People have to get their needs met one way or another... and when they cannot get them met healthfully and prosocially-- they will get them met in unhealthy and maladaptive ways.

As these systems work themselves into our everyday behavior, those powerless want power, those without control, want control, and those abused, often abuse. It is a system of maladaptive behaviors and people struggling to gain control in a stressed out world where they have very little options for connection or self-fulfillment.

Once abused, people have a very hard time getting what they need to heal from their trauma. In fact, I would propose almost all people have been traumatized in one way or another and did not get the help they needed. Our system is set up to keep people traumatized and take away their agency and self-determination. Once again, it is based on a hierarchical system that reinforces powerlessness and shame.

Furthermore, while women are more oppressed than men in our society, we should not forget that men are also oppressed. Men are told in our society they cannot be "weak" and thus cannot show any emotion other than anger or violence. Men are constantly policed by each other and if they do show emotion they are shamed and told they are not a man. If a man is gay, he is judged by society as weak and like a "woman" since our society sees women as weak and inferior. This is the system of patriarchy as it works to oppress men.

In fact, in that same study about abuse of LGBT children, gay boys were more likely to experience abuse. In our society it is much less acceptable for men to go outside of the society's imposed strict gender roles reinforced by the binary social construction of gender. These messages are also internalized and then perpetuated. These hierarchical systems work among men with each other who use a "one-up" mentality to display hypermasculinity in a game of domination as well as working internally to keep men locked in negative patterns. Yet at the same time this process works to keep men bound up in shame and insecurity it is working the same way that women's oppression works-- to maintain capitalist control and power.

So while Joan Walsh limits her analysis to Republicans.. the truth is the capitalist system perpetuates oppression and Democrats in their support of capitalism also prop up this system of exploitation. In addition, Democrats have supported measures that reduced women's reproductive rights and choice... the Hyde Amendment, is one of them. The Hyde Amendment makes it so the federal government does not have to cover poor women's abortions. In fact, no federal money is spent on abortions in the United States.

Poor women are in the worst place to have children as they cannot afford them and thus cannot properly take care of them. Poor women have often been traumatized and when forced to bring unwanted pregnancies to term have children they often cannot raise effectively. This leads to further traumatization of children, who often end up in the child welfare system, where they can become further traumatized. This also costs a lot of money and burdens our society when the cycle of abuse repeats itself. Whereas, if the government would have helped the woman in the first place and empowered her to make her own reproductive choices, it could have all been prevented.

In addition, Democrats help support banning "partial birth abortion" (dilation and extraction) which was only being used if the women's life was in danger. There have been other measures that chip away at abortion rights that Democrats have supported. Also there are measures that Democrats supported that hurt women, children, and families-- such as welfare reform. As long as Democrats support the capitalist system they are supporting hierarchies and patriarchal oppression that will continue to subjugate children.

True liberation comes when we rid ourselves of hierarchies, whether they be in our families, between men and women, between gays and straights, between different races, between adults and children, or between us and our government or us and our work places. If we want to end these problems we have to go after what conditions create them-- to the root causes. That is why we have to end the capitalist system.

We need to end the system of power that seeks domination and instead choose to seek mutual and shared power among all people-- and thus create healthy social, cultural, economic, and political relationships. We need nothing less than a transformative process. The change we need requires much more than merely empowering women....the future we need is socialist.