Saturday, March 16, 2013

squinting towards patriarchy

To misquote Thomas Jefferson, "I smell a rat. It squints toward patriarchy."

I think it's a common mistake for the products of an unjust system, particularly those in privileged categories in that system, to view the problems of the system as though they are outside observers looking in. We are not any of us outside observers looking in. We are knee-deep or chest-deep in the muck of the system, and its values have utterly permeated our beings.

Even those of us who disapprove of these systems carry many of the attitudes and beliefs of the system. Even those of us, and sometimes especially those of us, in oppressed classes in the system carry those attitudes and beliefs. Look at how little black children have already internalized our cultural beliefs to the point where they believe that white dolls are prettier, nicer, better, more well-behaved, smarter, etc, than black dolls.

I have always rather despised a particular trait in women, a sort of retiring invisibility coupled with a deep passivity and a horror of making waves. It has seemed to me that such women are weak-willed sell-outs, women who are colluding with their own one-down status.

It has recently come to my awareness that many, maybe most, of the women who are like this are abuse survivors. They are not weak-willed or sell-outs, rather they had the fight beaten out of them early and repeatedly.

At the same time, it has come to me how strongly this fear of male violence has shaped my own life, even though I have only been very lightly touched by it. That fear is always with me, influencing my choices, preventing me from stepping too far out of line.

In a similar way, my husband lightly carries the prerogative of his privileged male status. He does this without any awareness that he is doing it, without malice, without any thought of how his assertion of his male privilege affects those of us upon whose territory it encroaches. He can increase his awareness of his male privilege and how that has shaped his life, but he can no more change it than he can change his skin.

And so we find ourselves perpetuating the system, with slight modifications, over the generations. We can't get out of the system because it is within us.

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