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The female elephant in the room
Pathological patriarchy in the post-feminist era

By Ellen Snortland

A NOW bumper sticker reads: "I'll be a post-feminist in the post-patriarchy." A collateral benefit of this contentious primary season is a renewed look behind the curtain of sexism, which is not "post" anything. People still suffer from pathological patriarchy. Violence against women is rampant. We continue to be underpaid and under-everything, ad nauseum.

The noble people who have sought to end patriarchy - especially those of color - continue to be grossly underrepresented in the public eye as elected officials, authors, columnists, reporters and even characters on screen. There is also a history of male feminists that's largely forgotten. How is anyone supposed to know the history of sexism if it's gone missing? Almost the only exposure feminism has gotten in the popular press and culture is negative. People who have given their lives and passion for gender justice, who in any other social revolution would be honored, have been stereotyped into harridans or "henpecked" idiots. Anti-feminists - Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia, Phyllis Schlafly to name but a few - receive a huge portion of the paltry media space that the subject of misogyny gets with (conveniently!) no rebuttal space for feminists.

The disrespect that Hillary Rodham Clinton has hurled at her on a daily basis is proof we need a renaissance of consciousness about gender politics.

We need a rebirth of the women's liberation Consciousness Raising (CR) groups, but this time with parallel groups for men.

For those who weren't there as the 60s and 70s rolled out, many of us compared life "notes" about our experiences as females in CR meetings. While groups varied in size and style, basically a CR gathering provided the first opportunity for many of us to identify sexism in our private, public and daily lives - in our families, schools, institutions and society at large.

Prior to CR, we didn't have a name for the pernicious, vicious set of behaviors, practices, attitudes and crimes against humanity that sexism is.

Many of us just thought we were fundamentally flawed because we weren't born male. Entire fortunes rested on what kind of "junk" we had between our legs. Farmers practiced an agrarian form of primogeniture: the family farm automatically passed to the eldest boy. The girls were simply ignored in the family inheritance scheme, with the pink-blanket assumption that she'd simply marry into another family; the same with city girls with family businesses. Given short shrift in education, we were raised to be dependent. Women couldn't get loans without a male co-signer. We were relatively fortunate, however: there are still cultures where "It's a girl" is a death sentence for the baby, especially in rural China and India.

We shared horror stories of death, unplanned pregnancies and dangerous abortions. We discovered that half of us had been raped or beaten up, most often by someone in our family, circle of friends or neighborhood, irrespective of our class or color. Few of us had any moral or legal recourse, and when we complained we were told to shut up. Our perpetrators practiced their violence and cruelty with impunity. Excuses were often offered by our own mothers, too cowed to stick up for herself or us. We were outraged on our own behalf and each others'. Why were we being sexually and physically assaulted? Because we were there and we were female.

We talked about money and ambition and that getting good at business had to be a priority. (Then we were slammed for becoming too male.) The upside of our freedom was we could actually marry for love, if we wanted to marry at all. These were all very radical and revolutionary notions and dangerous to society, we were to learn.

We went out of our CR groups into the world with a clarion call of liberty and justice. Many responded with, "Yes, this is an obvious, overdue and necessary next step in human progress," but they rarely got media coverage. There were other powerful forces that proceeded to humiliate, minimize, marginalize and ignore us. Gloria Steinem wrote in Ms. Magazine in spring 1972, "Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke; that's their natural and first weapon."

Feminism has sustained so much credibility damage that even young men and women who would otherwise respect "elders" in their own civil rights movement feel compelled - often unconsciously - to mock and distance themselves from the very people who pioneered on their behalf.

Who benefits from minimizing or deprecating feminists/feminism? Hmm. just as the adage "Follow the money," is informative, so too is, "Follow the ridicule." With glaring exceptions proving the rule, the "deciders" in most governments, corporations, newsrooms, studios and publishing houses are - drum roll, please - patriarchs; i.e., white, straight men.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" said the Wizard in "The Wizard of Oz." Of course the "wizards" (a.k.a. patriarchs) in our society don't want us to look behind the curtain! Exposing sexism reveals unearned entitlement and privilege. Who benefits from ignoring sexism? Follow the money and the ridicule.

Pasadena Weekly: 5/7/08

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