Friday, July 15, 2016

Grieving Patriarchy

In my film class, we got to read "Wives and Concubines" by Su Tong, and see the movie, "Raise the Red Lantern". My professor related this story and movie to Confucianism, which is ultimately a patriarchy. From my class, I learned that patriarchy is designed to serve the interests of male members of society, and patriarchy does this through control and subjugation. The areas of culture my professor listed as subject to patriarchal control were religious, familial, political, economic, social, legal, and artistic.
I was struck by the story and how invisible the man was, and how the women competing for his favor, undermined each other. It made me sad to see how the women could have banded together to support each other, but patriarchy with its attending hierarchy naturally breeds competition and resentments. The movie is such a rich example of patriarchy and its self-limiting cruelties.
While my mind was connecting patriarchy to all forms of suffering in the world, and how patriarchy demeans men and women equally, I kept coming back to an area of my life where patriarchy has hit home, a personal patriarchy. It isn't just that cultures are set up to give privilege to certain males-in America it is white males-but that the family is a representative condensation of that structure, which means patriarchy can be the dominant structure of a marriage relationship. (See Terry Real and other therapists who work with this concept in personal relationships.)
I realized that I am in one area of our society that is unrelenting in its adherence to patriarchy, and that is court. I am not there by choice, which is an act of control in and of itself. The court system was created by men, and even if it is designed for fairness for all, we know from solid, repeated research that bias exists against black men and abused women, and women in general. Patriarchy relies on and breeds racism and sexism; even benevolent sexism is sexism. The goal is control and power, but it is an illusion because power is an addiction, meaning, that in order to maintain external power and control, you must have something to control. The alternative is controlling yourself and developing natural authority and leadership. Patriarchy discourages this development of courage, strength, self-respect, and leadership in a man.
But in our society today, the controlled are also given the illusion of choice. In a court situation, your choices are handed over to the judge. The other party's choices are ironically handed over to the judge, and in a strange twist, one party can fuel both forming a forced allegiance to patriarchy.
Today, I am sad. I was in a relationship that was essential patriarchy in all those areas listed above: religion, family, economics, politics, social, legal, and artistic. Every single aspect of my life was subject to approval, and if I stood up or spoke up for myself I was summarily squashed or punished in some way: silence, withdrawal, withholding, control. It feels awful to be the subjugated one, to try to reason with a person who demeans you and have your dreams, desires, and hopes for your life and the lives of your children so manipulated and controlled.  It doesn't matter if he hits you, and this, too has been hard, because at least if I'd been hit, there would have been some sort of honeymoon phase in the cycle. And it is STILL hard for women who have been repeatedly hit to get help and overcome bias. If in an extreme situation it is hard to get legal and practical help, how much less in a situation that is abusive dominance, but spit-shined to look like it's not and you are the crazy one?
And so there is a lot of pain, and isolation, and the rest of the world not having a grip on these things. Thank God for therapists who get it and for compassionate, honest friends.
But it makes me deeply sad. People who change policy and work for social justice have a hard row to hoe. Change happens so slowly and inevitably someone protests and great groups put up roadblocks to positive change and social justice. Naysayers to any social movement are a dime a dozen and some are more powerful than others. I am coming to clarity that my position is that we change the structure that allows for abuse, which is patriarchy, and many people put structures in place that help deal with the resulting problems. If the smallest act of dominance and bullying is allowed, it holds roadblocks for the most extreme abuse cases. But we need efforts on both ends-addressing patriarchal structures and creating places where woman-abuse via sexism and bias is not allowed, and helping women heal from abuses in the court, their families, or at the hands of angry exes.
It's not even a gender issue, it is a structural infusion of a dysfunctional paradigm. Women participate in holding up patriarchy as well, and can even be the dominant party who works to ultimately serve the interests of white maleness.
I'm sad. I wish it were easier to address this problem.
Part of me feels like giving up. It is all so overwhelming. It seems like it would be simple if people would just bring themselves to love, but love is not enough. The sense of powerlessness and being trapped and grief at having your choice of a healthy relationship with a person is completely taken away. But what does any of that matter? When one is unwillingly thrust into enemy position and hated so fully, what is there to be done but TRY to make some meaning of it? Be a contrast to the hate without getting completely railroaded...this is tricky, ungraceful business.
"To be human is to live within a hairbreadth of the unbearable." Sometimes, this feeling of powerlessness, of having no influence to make something better and good and right and fair is unbearable. This system that has betrayed me so many times, people who supposedly loved me who let me down over and over again, This system my daughter and son will have to make peace with somehow, and do their own stumbling through.
Patriarchy. It's what's for dinner.
As a woman growing up in this day and age, I was always told I could be anything I want to be. But that is a lie along the lines of "love is enough". Yes, a woman can be anything she wants to be but she is going to be lesser paid for it, have bigger obstacles, and fail if she does not learn how to play the game of looking like she is serving the system...the system that was designed by men and that they are loathe to let go of.

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