Tag Archives: patriarchy

Men Are Not Invading Women’s Spaces

One of the things the terfs/gender criticals are banging on about at the moment is the idea that trans women are men who want to invade women’s spaces. I’ve been trying to think of an example of cis men invading female spaces, and it isn’t easy, Boys running into the girl’s toilets on dares at school being the only example I’ve encountered.

In my experience, men who support women treat women in toilets and changing rooms respectfully. Men who are into the patriarchy and who are doing the toxic masculinity tend to have a horror of anything feminine. They don’t want to be seen as girly, or effeminate, so anything labelled ‘women’ is likely to make them flee.

The men who do not like women tend to deride women’s spaces. They won’t invade it, but they may try and get it defunded, or treat it as a joke. Look at what happens around sport. The worst of them have no interest in invading the space, but they may not want the space to exist. Protecting the rights of women to participate can mean defending spaces/activities, not from invasion but from destruction.

Patriarchal approaches have always denigrated women’s spaces. Any work that seems feminine is treated as lesser. And so the kitchen, the nursery and the sick room are places the more toxic men don’t want to go. By staying out of these spaces and designating them as ‘for women’ they also dodge a great deal of domestic and caring work, which tends to be tedious, and arduous stuff with a side-order of massive responsibility for keeping people alive.

The only men I’ve seen wanting to enter these ‘female’ spaces weren’t there as ‘invaders’ but to tackle the evils of gender stereotypes and to do something good. Men who go into nursing, and who undertake to teach children. Men who get into kitchens to do the everyday work of making a household viable. Men who don’t see a relationship between cleaning, and genitals.

We have longstanding problems with the devaluing of anything considered feminine. We have a history of treating some spaces as feminine in a way that harms women, and puts the burden of unpaid domestic labour onto the shoulders of women. Once again I think what we have here is ‘gender critical’ people focusing on a non-existent problem that allows them to attack trans women. It takes attention away from real issues, from actual sexism and from the kind of harm that sexism routinely causes.

As a female appearing person (I’m nonbinary, but you can’t tell by looking) I don’t want to be pushed into the limiting take on ‘female’ spaces. I’ve had those experiences. I don’t want to be sent off to look after the children, or make the tea, I want just as much right to be in the spaces where other things are happening as anyone male-presenting has. And while we’re at it, I want there to be male teachers of small children, and male nurses, and cleaners and all the rest of it. I want to dismantle the idea that certain kinds of spaces, and certain sorts of jobs should be for one gender only. The idea that we need to keep men out of ‘female spaces’ is more likely to disempower women than keep anyone safe. 

We all need safe spaces to pee, and to change for sports activities. I want cubicles. I find that lockable doors answer all my safety needs. I also want dads to be able to take their kids into changing rooms and toilets.

It Costs You Nothing

When people announce this, what they really mean is that it does not cost you money to do the thing. Invariably, that thing you could do will cost you time. It might cost in terms of emotional labour. It costs you zero money to leave a book review, but it does cost you time and mental effort and you might not have those resources to spare right now. It costs you no money to smile, but if you are exhausted, in pain or dealing with grief, it might also cost you far more than you can afford to pay.

The idea of the action that costs nothing is a key one in terms of patriarchy and capitalism. On the capitalism side, it keeps us focused on seeing money and payment as the only measure that matters. No great value should be put on anything non-economic. This encourages us to undervalue non-economic activity. However, that non-economic activity – domestic work, emotional labour etc is often what women are expected to provide. 

Saying ‘it costs you nothing’ creates emotional pressure to give, hides the very idea that a cost exists, and devalues the person doing the non-economic thing.

It’s also important to consider that costs are not the same for everyone. If I am in a good mood, a bit of performative smiling isn’t that expensive. Other times, it could break me, because of the overload, the emotional effort, the cost of masking and so forth. What it costs a happy, pain free, untroubled person who has plenty of resources is not what it costs someone in pain and in crisis to do the same thing. What any given thing costs you is not what it costs someone else and personal experience is not a fair measure.

Energy costs are a big deal for anyone who does not have enough energy to get through a regular day. Emotional costs are a big deal for anyone who is already overwhelmed and unwell. Masking costs are huge for people who are neurodiverse.

Anything that is worth something will also cost something – in time and effort, in care and attention, in what you won’t be able to do because you did this instead. Money is not a meaningful measure of cost. If you want someone to do something for you, perhaps the right place to start is in acknowledging the value of that thing, not downplaying it for emotional leverage.

Matriarchy? No Thanks

A while ago when I wrote about my understanding of what patriarchy is as a system, Mr Bish asked me what I thought matriarchy would look like. It’s interesting that replacing patriarchy with matriarchy seems like an obvious choice. It’s similar to the idea that wanting to take down capitalism means you must be a communist. The idea that there are only two options is in many ways part of the problem.

I’m not interested in the idea of replacing male dominance with female dominance. This is because I don’t think ‘male’ is the biggest problem here – dominance is the problem. Assuming that a group of people are automatically better than another group of people is the problem. It doesn’t matter much to me who the default people who should be in charge are, I’m not going to agree.

No system is ever going to be perfect. My ideals around politics involve including as many people and as many views as possible. I think we need people whose job it is to speak for the land, the water, the unborn future generations and so forth. I believe in holding power at the lowest levels possible and with as much participation as possible. I believe in cooperation and working towards consensus wherever possible. I am deeply averse to work-shy scroungers living off the rest of us – and by this I mean rich people. 

I’d like ways of doing things that aren’t so gender oriented. Call something a matriarchy and you’ve brought gender straight back into the equation. As someone who doesn’t really identify with gender I get pretty tired of the way gender is part of politics. The assumption that being born with a penis and being comfortable with that is the major qualifier for being in charge is nonsense. As one of my psychology lecturers said, many years ago, it wasn’t literally the case in the past, that you had to whack your dick out on the way into parliament, but it might as well have been.

The most useful measures of people are the hardest to take. We’d benefit a lot more from being led by people who know what they’re doing. People who understand stuff. Also people with wisdom, compassion, listening skills, long term thinking, imagination and problem solving skills. As a species we’ve become unreasonably attached to whatever we can measure most easily. Having the culture defined by a gender, or the dominance of a gender makes as much sense as putting the tallest people in charge, or the ones who have proven they can stuff the most eggs up their bottoms. Just because you can count it, doesn’t make it good!

Compassion and wisdom are hard to measure. Unlike other kinds of expertise, we don’t even have exams for them. Compassion is not a female trait and wisdom is not a male trait, and any human system that doesn’t involve compassion and wisdom is going to be problematic.

What is Patriarchy?

I talk about it a lot, but have never had a serious pop at defining what the term means to me, so here we go. 

Patriarchy is about systems, not about individual people. It’s about beliefs, attitudes, social structures, habits of behaviour and the like. Almost everyone living in a patriarchal system is a victim of this system – very few people actually benefit from it. Patriarchy hurts most men just as much as it hurts most women, and all gender-non-conforming people.

Patriarchy is a system based on power. It assumes that hierarchy and authority are always good and necessary. Where it gets especially problematic is that it assumes certain people are naturally supposed to have dominance over other kinds of people. That men are superior to women has been one of its hallmark notions. White supremacy over other races is part of this world view. Rich people are better than poor people, is another. Giving people power and authority based on merit is reasonable, giving it on the assumption that they should have power is as dysfunctional as it is prejudiced.

In a patriarchal system, hierarchies are enforced by threat, violence and fear. We’re not taught why something is right, we’re taught that certain behaviour will result in us suffering. It shows most clearly in how we treat vulnerable people, and especially children. Patriarchal systems demand obedience and unquestioning loyalty. Alongside this such systems glorify war and seek to replicate military structures in other areas of life.

Patriarchy is competitive. You’re supposed to fight other people for a place in the sun. Manufactured scarcity contributes to it – capitalism is patriarchal. However, patriarchal systems deny the existence of unfair advantage and the way in which every competition is already biassed in favour of those already in positions of wealth and power. 

In a patriarchal system, all relationships are based on fear, control, ownership, power imbalance and the desire to get ahead. There’s no room for gentler emotions – which are treated as both weak and feminine. The patriarchal male is supposed to cut off all feelings to concentrate on competing with other men for money, influence and power. 

At heart, a patriarchal system is one that depends on inequality in order to function. There have to be winners and losers and there have to be people at the bottom of the social pile for whom life will be hellish. Fear of becoming one of those people is a key tool for keeping people engaged in perpetrating the system. Hope of becoming a winner is also a motivator, but that’s never a realistic option for most people.

If you don’t believe that might is right, it looks like a pretty grim way to live.

Why Terfs aren’t feminists

CW rape and domestic abuse

Trans-excluding ‘radical feminists’ are not feminist for a number of reasons. Their insistence on reducing femininity to the narrowest of biological definitions is harmful to women. Right now, the obsession with trans women as an imagined threat to female safety is distracting from some really big and genuine issues.

Abusive men don’t ‘pretend’ to be women to get access to women. If you wanted easier access, you might join the police force, or just pretend friendship or the desire for a relationship. Abuse is a common experience for women. Most of that abuse does not come from strangers in toilets – although that’s not what you’d think if you listen to the terfs.

We are all most likely to be abused or killed by someone we know. There’s no gender component to that statistic. 

In this last year we’ve seen a young woman raped and murdered in the UK, by a polic officer. At her vigil, the police were excessively aggressive towards women. Failure to take female safety seriously is a real problem, and it is a problem that needs a change of police culture to fix it. Prosecution rates for rapists are notoriously low. There are major questions to ask around what is presented in court as consent or invitation in the first place, the assumptions the courts, the media and the public make about women coming forward as victims, and the way in which we prioritise male reputations over female safety.

No group of people is free from abusers. There are women who abuse. There are non-binary folk and trans folk who abuse – it’s a people issue and no one is exempt or beyond criticism. However, there are cultural and systemic underpinnings to the ways in which men are able to abuse women. That men are also victims of male violence stems from the same cultural issues and it would take far more than one blog post to properly unpack all of that. Feminism is about taking down the patriarchal structures that support and enable male violence – for the benefit of women (cis and trans alike) for the benefit of male victims, and even for the benefit of male perpetrators. Systems of male violence do horrible things to everyone caught up in them. 

If your feminism is about making a group of people more vulnerable to violence – it’s not feminism. If your feminism doesn’t recognise that hatred towards trans-women makes all non-gender-conforming women more vulnerable, you aren’t any sort of feminist. If you think attacking trans-women is more likely to increase female safety than taking on the much more dangerous work of challenging the police… I’m not honestly sure what planet you’re living on right now.

If your feminism rests on the idea that men (or anyone who has ever had a penis) are the problem, and not that the systems of patriarchy are the problem, you’re not going to disrupt patriarchy. You may however end up co-opting it and supporting it and benefiting from it.

Stories we need to change

There are a lot of stories in popular culture that do far more harm than good. One of them goes as follows – and I’ve seen variations of it many times in films.

There are some men who have a job to do. A sexy lady person comes along and distracts them. The professional men suddenly become completely unable to do their job. They may be distracted enough that someone escapes, or plants a bomb, or otherwise thwarts what they were supposed to be doing. They may be so overwhelmed by the sexy lady person that they leave their post, hand over keys or otherwise actively mess up their job.

No one really benefits from this story. It tells men that they have no self control and will think with their balls at the slightest provocation. If there’s a sexy lady person in the room they may become unable to think or to act professionally. They may have no self control or integrity in face of a sexy lady person. This in turn supports narratives that when men experience desire they cannot be expected to control themselves or act responsibly, so it’s perpetuating rape culture.

Scenes like these tell women that sexuality is how women get things done. Sexy clothing, provocative behaviour and offering sex will allow you to manipulate men. Power for women thus becomes entangled with being young – because we don’t tend to present older women as sexually appealing. The accident of beauty is the only possible source of power and worth. Most women therefore will not have an option on being powerful on these terms. It tells women they should be glad when men focus on them sexually because this is the only kind of power they can have. Also sexy women tend to be ‘bad guys’. This is all very patriarchal.

There are stories in which the roles are reversed, but what tends to happen is that the women fall in love with the men, and may switch sides on the basis of this. The women are more likely to be persuaded by the righteous cause the man has, as well as his handsome face. Men are invariably able to use power in other ways alongside persuading key women to act on their behalf. Men using their sexy powers are more likely to be heroes than villains.

A single instance of a story like this doesn’t do much harm, but it’s such a frequently used plot device – and it is lazy as a plot device as well. We see it too often, we hear its messages too often. It’s a crappy story that may do more to shape how people think of themselves than it does to reflect how people really are.

The Walking Skirt

Skirts are not inherently impractical. For much of history, men have worn skirts – they may be called robes, or tunics, but they are basically a loose bit of fabric draped over the thighs. Longer, if you happen to be a Viking. However, all too often, modern skirts designed for the female body are inherently impractical. It encourages us to believe that being feminine also means being impractical.

If a skirt is made of delicate fabric, you can’t go through a bramble patch in it. If the fabric is light, it won’t keep you warm for being active outside. If the skirt is tight, it won’t let you move – no climbing stiles or getting on bicycles in that! If the important thing about the skirt is that it looks pretty and you are to look pretty wearing it, you can’t risk accident or dirt. How many girls are told not to do things because keeping the skirt looking nice is deemed to be the most important thing?

When it comes to making skirts for women, clothes designers usually focus on what is attractive – especially what is sexually attractive to the male gaze. This does not result in practical or useful clothing, and there tend not to be pockets.

I find that in cold weather, a skirt over leggings or trousers is the warmest option. I can move the bulk out of the way if I need to. The fabric keeps my thighs warm, but if the skirt is about knee length, it doesn’t get caught on things and the hem doesn’t get muddy. If the skirt is made of a substantial, heavy fabric, it really helps. However, the right fabric and the right weight is hard to find. So I made a walking skirt out of dead hoodies. It is warm, and practical, and allows me to do stuff.

Skirts are not gender identity. Lots of men have, historically, worn skirts. Some still do. If you want to wear a skirt as an expression of femininity, the skirt does not have to be limiting, or useless, or make you vulnerable or fragile. The skirt can be your friend. Clothes have a huge impact on sense of self, and when they limit what we can do, that impact really isn’t helping. Interrogate your wardrobe. Ask who your clothes are really serving. Learn to sew as an act of revolution, and make the clothes that serve you! Or modify the clothes you buy so that they work for you. Put pretty decoration on the practical stuff if you fancy that. Sew on extra pockets. Cut out the patriarchal bullshit hiding in your wardrobe.

Heroic Romance

Last week while hanging out with Meredith Debonnaire, we got talking about the lack of pragmatism in love stories. Especially in terms of how this applies to women. I went away and pondered – as I like to do, and a thing struck me.

Western patriarchal societies have not given actual or fictional women much scope in their lives. Mostly, the role of women has been to be prizes to win, or defend, or capture or the harming of women has been a motivation for male characters to do stuff. There are odd exceptions – Lady Macbeth springs to mind, but mostly women in stories aren’t like her. Women in stories are passive. Their job is to be beautiful and to inspire the men to do things, one way or another.

Only when it comes to love are women reliably allowed to do more dramatic things. Women are allowed to die for love, like Juliet. They’re allowed to throw their lives away waiting years to see if the man comes back, like Penelope. They’re allowed to ruin their lives, like Isolde. The can be dramatically murdered by their menfolk, like Desdemona, and so on and so forth. When you look at the dramatic things women are allowed to do for love, it’s clear this doesn’t benefit the women much.

As I was pondering this, it struck me that we have the word ‘heroic’ to indicate the stand out stuff that heroes do. We have heroines, but there is no ‘heroinic’. Heroines just are, it’s not about what they do. If we want to talk about women doing dramatic, brave, important things, it can only be called heroic, because they’re doing guy stuff.

If wrecking your life for love is the only kind of heroism you’re offered, it’s easy to see why women keep telling these kinds of stories, too. But, if you think that taking damage in the name of love is the best and most noble thing you can do, it has consequences. It might make you more willing to put up with violence, jealousy and mistreatment. It might leave you feeling there’s something heroic about standing by your man, no matter what he does. It might encourage you to feel that your worth is defined by what big gestures you can make for the man in your life. It’s a very narrow field to operate in, and it props up ideas about women not having lives separate from the lives of their men.

How many famous historical stories do we have in which women save women? I’ve counted Goblin Market so far. How many historical female heroes do we know of who get to act dramatically and it not be for the sake of a man? There’s Boudicca. There are probably others that I’ve not remembered, but on the whole these kinds of stories are in short supply in terms of the back catalogue.  I can think of modern examples, but what we’re steeped in has a very different flavour.

What if we could be pragmatic about love? What if we didn’t tell each other that love is enough and will overcome all obstacles – because life demonstrates routinely that love does not in fact fix everything. What if we don’t celebrate putting your life on hold for a man or sacrificing yourself for a man? What if we stop telling stories that make romantic love the centre of women’s lives and the primary focus for any heroism we might go in for? What if we make it equally ok for male heroism to revolve around sacrifice for love, rather than violent responses to love thwarted?

Gods, feudalism and power over

It isn’t an accident that so much traditional spiritual language has a feudal tone to it. Lord and Lady are terms of nobility. Christianity is full of the language of kings, sovereignty and power over. Pagans use ‘Queen’ as a term for Goddess. For a good chunk of European history those who had taken power and wealth by force of arms were keen to create the impression of divine sanction for it. The King in his castle, sucking up the bounty, is God’s representative on Earth. God the Uber-King looks down on all from Heaven – a very literal expression of being over the top of the rest of us.

The stories modern Pagans turn to were recorded, for the greater part, by people who were part of that power-over arrangement. God the Uber-King in league with the physical monarch bestowed a lot of power on the church, giving the church every reason to support the logic of the system. Plus, in a less cynical way, we tend to make sense of things through the filters of our own experience. There are reasons to think that some mythology may have grown out of the deeds of actual people, actual Kings, Queens and rulers. It may be that much of Paganism itself is rooted in monarchic cultures.

The language of democracy doesn’t really work for religion. Any notion of elected to power seems a bit odd when talking about beings who have more power than us. Chairman of the Gods is funny, but lacks a certain swing. Perhaps this is in part because one of the key things we want from Gods, is that they be bigger and more powerful than us and therefore able to protect us from terrible things. Powerful enough to protect you from other things – ie other Kings, has always been part of the marketing for feudalism.

There are other languages out there although I can’t claim deep familiarity with them. From what I’ve read, a lot of indigenous people use the language of family to talk about the spirit powers they encounter. Grandfathers and grandmothers. Brothers and sisters. If you aren’t operating in a patriarchal/feudal structure to begin with, God the father has a very different feel to it.

The language of monarchy and feudalism tends to give humans a sense of power over the non-human world, which is doing us and the world no good at all. Perhaps it is time to start questioning our word choices and habits of thinking. I don’t have any suggestions for word replacements at the moment, except to acknowledge that I find the language of monarchy and feudalism really uncomfortable and I wish we didn’t use it.

Parenting without (much) authority

I’ve never liked arbitrary authority, and so I came to parenting determined that ‘because I said so’ wasn’t going to be part of my repertoire. Also, I had a theory that the more arbitrary authority there is in childhood, the less able parent and child are to adapt to the teenage years, or to relate to each other well beyond that point. I wanted to raise an autonomous human capable of thinking for themselves, and that doesn’t go with being their authority figure either.

I remember the point at which I finally realised that my parents didn’t know everything. It came as a shock, rocking my little world to its core. My trust in their authority had been founded in no small part on a belief in their infinite knowledge and insight. So as a parent I made sure my child was aware of my limits from early on. As a small chap interested in dinosaurs, he knew that he could pass me in dinosaur knowledge if he put in the time, and that it was fine to do so. As I’m not interested in power-over I’ve never felt any need to try and keep him smaller than me.

We’ve always negotiated. I’ve always explained my position and reasoning so that he could see why I thought a course of action was preferable. I’ve aimed to persuade rather than force. We have an understanding that if I do issue an order, it is to be followed without question or hesitation because I’ll only do that in an emergency. We can talk about it afterwards. Driving me round the bend does count as an emergency!

Alongside this, he’s always had the option that if he could make a case for something, I’d take him seriously. We talk about the implications, the responsibilities, the possible consequences. Now he’s a teen, we carry that on to talk about relationship dynamics, consent culture, the implications of drugs and porn and all the other things out there he might run into and need to deal with. I think we have a pattern that means he’s always going to feel able to ask for my advice, but never obliged to act on it.

This all makes my life easier. I have room to say ‘yeah, I cocked that up,’ and to be honest about getting things wrong, making bad calls – because I have no authority to undermine. As yet, there’s been no sign of teenage rebellion – occasional non-cooperation, but that’s fine. He doesn’t have to fight off my authority in order to establish himself as a person in his own right because he’s always been respected as a person in his own right.

For me, authoritarian models within the family are an aspect of patriarchal society that we can do without. Children who are taught to obey are taught that power is what gets things done. You can’t have consent culture and obedience. You can’t have equality if you raise people inside models based on hierarchy, power-over and authority. There is a power balance necessary and inherent in raising a child, but so long as the child has the right to express opinions, and be taken seriously, that power balance can gently fall away over the years, allowing them to stand in their own power in the context of the family.

(And yes, I did ask him if it was ok to write about this.)