Guest post by Aaron McMurray
I’m definitely over people acting like it’s novel somehow to see a male who identifies with feminism. The moral failures of the status quo don’t stand up to any intelligent scrutiny whatsoever, regardless of one’s gender. I’m a heterosexual male who simply hates the idea of oligarchy—timocracy, plutocracy, any variety of –ocracy in which one group systematically controls and subjects all others—but most especially, patriarchy.
Of all the things that embarrass me about my country, my church, and humanity, high on the list is the awful chauvinist mess we’ve created and perpetuated for a few dozen centuries. I have no interest in a broken system that mechanically oppresses and demotes half of the world for no legitimate, defensible reason. But to be fair, plenty has been said and written about why the patriarchy, and really sexism in all its forms, is an atrocity. If someone is unaware of the arguments, it’s a combination of society’s efforts to shield itself from such dialogue, and apathetic laziness of the individual who lives in the information age but clearly hasn’t done their homework. The literature is there, usually articulated by more articulate and better-qualified writers than myself, so I don’t feel the need to re-state but rather just endorse those arguments. However, I do admittedly have a bone to pick, and feel strongly that there are too few voices willing to chime in on a long-overdue discussion.
The problem that has been bothering me recently is the demand by the privileged that “we not get carried away,” that “change has to be slow,” and that things will change “with time.”
Too often I hear people condemning poverty and inequality, for example, then in the next breath shy away from any talk of meaningful challenge to plutocratic and exploitative policies—we should really just focus on education, they tell me. Too often I hear people condemning democratic failures at a governmental level, then shy away from any talk of tackling our shoddy bipartisan system—the important thing is just to have faith in humanity and to vote, they tell me. I think education and voting are both fundamentally important and beautiful things, but I’m frankly pretty tired of people who are unwilling to discuss any real change, presumably just out of fear of the potential growing pains.
Yes, it’s going to be hard to eliminate poverty and fix our broken two-party mechanism, but playing along quietly and making milquetoast observations about how things would be in a perfect world is not only stupid, it’s self-condemning. Thoreau famously said that, “What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” There are still a lot of big questions without answers, but if there’s one thing history can teach us without reservation it’s that half-baked condemnations of injustice are not strides towards equality; rather they are the squeakings of guilty consciences too afraid to charge towards the light. I have been guilty of this many times in my life, and presumably we all have. But equality is not cheap and oppressive mechanisms don’t blow away in the wind. In the case of systemic sexism, “smashing the patriarchy” requires exactly that—smashing, not polite rejoinders or whispered observations.
I believe that the systematic oppression of women is one of humanity’s single greatest failures. My heart breaks regularly as I’ve read and even seen firsthand this filthy mechanism that we’ve all been tragically complicit in at some points in our lives. But it still astounds me how many people will express similar sentiments then demand that we not “get ahead of ourselves”. Is anybody really, legitimately concerned that after this many thousands of years of repressive, male-dominated rule, we’re going to accidentally achieve equality too fast??
I understand that many people associate feminism with radical change, and have made it just another F-word instead of promoting an intelligent conversation. I agree that change must be deliberate, carefully planned and executed, and that in a democracy it requires getting as many constituents on board as possible. While I do wish to be sensitive to the discomfort this dialogue presents to some people, it’s only fair to point out that the only negative byproduct such a discussion really produces for them is discomfort. On the other hand, it’s no secret that the consequences of sexism (and specifically when we drag our feet and delay badly needed conversations) are much more real and heartbreaking, ranging from rape, to educational bias, to genital mutilation, to human trafficking and sex trade. If people are protesting progress towards equality for women out of fear that their comfort zones will be invaded, I’m sorry, but it’s time they woke up to reality and stopped whining when their privilege is challenged. This can’t wait any longer, and it’s unethical to pretend to be victimized by something as petty as being “uncomfortable” with the dialogue, which pales in comparison to what less fortunate women are subjected to daily across the globe.
In a letter to a fellow abolitionist, Frederick Douglass wrote, “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.” This isn’t about a French revolution where women unleash the guillotine on anyone with a penis then take over the world; the idea is not to flip the tables to where women oppress men instead, and it certainly isn’t to instigate unnecessarily violent or abrupt reform. But it is a reality that the status quo is broken, and has been for a tragically long time. The power structure that allows males to mistreat females has been doing fine for several millennia—it’s unlikely if not impossible that such a system would change with just an occasional light push from concerned parties.
I suppose what bothers me is that people talk about the patriarchy as something objectively unethical and bad, but when it comes time to talk about tearing it down, their reaction isn’t to smash it, or burn it and rise from the ashes. Rather it’s just to redecorate it—to make it look slightly different but avoid the inconvenience and personal sacrifice associated with genuine change. There are undeniably men and women who self-identify with feminism but oppose radical change for no clear logical reason (even if they did have rational concerns, it would still only be an improvement to widen the dialogue and discuss their reservations openly—hiding the problem with watery rhetoric helps no one.) Rather than finding a new, slightly less offensive version of the status quo, what if we acknowledged the problems for what they are and tried to legitimately fix what’s broken? If we’re all in agreement that the patriarchy is absurd, why don’t we kick it in the teeth rather than giving it a facelift?
Perhaps this is “too radical”. Perhaps some readers will read this and just roll their eyes; they’ll conclude that I just need to cool my jets. But I still demand an answer why we would do anything but sprint towards equality for women, at least as fast as our pudgy, chauvinist global community will allow. There’s a lot to be discussed, researched, and experimented with—nobody has all the answers—but allowing fearful reservations to put the brakes on such a crucial dialogue seems useless.
We all have work and improvement to do, but if there’s one thing that I’ve observed and feel the need to contribute to the larger dialogue, it would be this: the patriarchy needs to be smashed, not redecorated.