Each week, our nation presents us with opportunities to examine the manifestations of sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination around us. Journalists write articles, actors and sports figures give interviews, hashtags trend—we share information and debate issues, sometimes with a feminist lens but often without one. Most of the time, our media examines the issues of patriarchy as if they are isolated, as if they arise only from the particular dysfunction of a specific person or small group of people. Rarely do we make connections between a particular issue and patriarchy, or the societal framework that supports and reinforces male domination and female submission.
What if we did make those connections? What if we understood that the framework that undergraduates receive in a women’s and gender studies class needs to be the bedrock for every discussion of the symptoms of patriarchy? If we held mainstream conversations under the light of a feminist lens, we’d discover information that is usually pushed to the sidelines. And revelation just might lead to revolution.
Here’s a quick rundown of this particular week—the symptoms of patriarchy seen within the framework that supports them:
Fox News and Fairfax Schools
The Fairfax County School Board has decided to add a discussion of gender identity to their Family Life Education curriculum, or sex ed. Todd Starnes of Fox News misrepresented the program by saying that gender identity posits that there is “no such thing as 100 percent boys or 100 percent girls” (meaning, I suppose, no heterosexuality—which is indeed one sexual identity) and that parents can’t opt out of the program (not true). The Fox article goes on to reinforce strict Christian (and patriarchal) ideas about biology and gender, beginning with a quote from Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council: “The larger picture is this is really an attack on nature itself–the created order.”
This quotation ignores the fact that the “created order” includes kids who are born intersex and kids who, as they enter puberty, begin to recognize internally that they identify with a gender that doesn’t correspond to their biology. These are the kids who are being bullied so badly in some schools that they end up committing suicide. A discussion of gender could save these kids by making them feel accepted and loved just as they are (also in news this week: the Girl Scouts figured that out four years ago). In addition, it would teach boys that bullying kids who seem “gay” to prove their masculinity is both unacceptable and unnecessary.
While teaching kids about sexual identity is all kinds of good for kids, it’s all kinds of bad for patriarchy.
Patriarchal Christianity and Sexual Abuse
Josh Duggar, it turns out, was molesting his sisters in their Christian home. Which meant he had to resign from The Family Research Council—that very same organization that believes the “created order” doesn’t include anything outside of its own narrow definition, despite the evidence of actual creation. The abuse occurred 12 years ago, and Josh’s apology recognized the impact his actions might have on his own future, with barely a nod to the impact it has undoubtedly had on his sisters. His actions, while they certainly go against the tenets of what most Christians would consider Christian behavior, fit right in with a view of Christianity in which woman is inferior and here to serve all of man’s needs, regardless of what she wants thinks or feels. Patriarchal Christianity encourages the subjugation of women, through abuse if necessary.
When you bring a feminist lens to this conversation, you discover the women (and men) who are survivors of this theologically-justified abuse, and who are speaking out:
- Our Stories Untold: A website begun by Rachael Halder in 2012 to provide a space for women to share their stories of sexual abuse within the Mennonite church.
- SNAP: The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. An advocacy and healing group.
- No Longer Quivering: A gathering place for women who are healing from spirtual (and sometimes sexual) abuse within the Quiverfull movement—a Christian movement that sees women as breeders for God’s army.
- Thank God for Sex: An online community of solidarity for those who have experienced religious sexual shame, including abuse.
Women in the Media
If you haven’t seen the skit by Amy Schumer, with Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, about Julia’s “last fuckable day,” go see it right now–it’s hilarious, timely, and spot-on. Because we all just witnessed Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “last fuckable day. “ My favorite thing about this story is Maggie’s reaction—she was shocked, and then angry, and then she laughed. I love her anger because it means she recognizes her treatment is unjust, and she will probably do something about it (like add her letter to the ones from the ACLU about discrimination in Hollywood). I love her laughter because it means she isn’t internalizing the message of her irrelevancy, sexual or otherwise. One of the keys to overcoming patriarchy—internally and externally—is to stop taking it so seriously. Not as a threat to external power—we must take it seriously there—but as a way of thinking and being.
Speaking of thinking and being, did you see the picture of Nicole Trunfio breastfeeding her son on the cover of Elle Australia? I am glad to see a picture of a breastfeeding woman featured on a major magazine, and the pic has started the hashtag #NormalizeBreastfeeding, which is fabulous. But the expression on Ms. Trufio’s face is no different than it would be if she were selling a product. This picture both reinforces patriarchy’s view of female sexuality (always ready and available, with desire externally, rather than internally, focused) and undermines it (breasts can feed babies in public). So, progress. But there is more to do—I’d love to see a picture of a breastfeeding mom on a major magazine just being, you know, a breastfeeding mom.
Here’s the truth you can always draw from a feminist lens, this week or any week—we don’t need patriarchy. It needs us.