It seems rather questionable when white people* say America is a post-racial society, when rich people claim that class is non-existent, or when a wealthy, educated and otherwise privileged person claims that “the patriarchy is dead”.
I was disappointed to read those very words on Hanna Rosin’s Slate column, though I’m not sure how surprised I should be. Rosin’s book The End of Men never insisted that the “end” of men equated to the end of patriarchy. In fact, she didn’t talk overmuch about patriarchy. This was an oversight, I think. Her case studies and statistics did not so much translate as a transition away from patriarchal worldview– not in the least. But actually women can and are adopting and exerting patriarchal values to a much greater degree than ever before. The end of men is hardly the end of patriarchy, when women are adapting to a new environment of greater freedoms and more opportunities. If this sounds like a good thing, let’s clarify that patriarchy functions on principles of inequality and oppression. The really new thing that Rosin’s book captures is women’s transition from mainly the Oppressed to now being Oppressors, themselves.
If inequality and oppression ceased to exist, then we could declare, “patriarchy is dead!” And we could throw a big party.
This pronouncement from Rosin would imply that she doesn’t know what patriarchy is. But wait! “I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s,” she writes. Hmm, maybe she kind of gets it… “But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.” Oh boy. Seems like she’s not ready to admit that she is not conscious of her acculturation into a patriarchal worldview, a lifelong process. This would include her apparent belief that careers cannot or should not accommodate women (or men?) who want children/want to spend time with their children. She seems unconscious of the effects of the inequality induced by patriarchal values even as she reports on them:
“…many of those women who pick up [my] trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less.” Would they still feel that way if they made a living wage, got paid maternity leave– Rosin’s idea!–, had reasonable working hours and paid vacation?
This was a deflective response Rosin gave to someone who questioned her about the choices of the “woman who picks up your trash after you leave at five.” Rosin scoffed this off as an “irrational attachment to the concept of unfair”. She must have been asking herself the question, Isn’t this why some women desire the return of certain patriarchal values? when the question she should have asked was, Why doesn’t this woman have the opportunity to get a different, more self-fulfilling job? (Unless, by chance, that particular woman finds cleaning up the trash of others to be meaningful and fulfilling.) She could also have asked, Why is the woman’s husband out of work when he, too, could be picking up trash? Perhaps that job is beneath his perception of himself? But that couldn’t be possible, since patriarchy is dead…
And a word about this whole irrationally-attached-to-unfair bit: when the privileged, wealthy, highly “educated” career-mom with the supportive husband (who also happens to be her boss) tsk tsks someone for complaining that sociocultural realities that are so far removed from her own are unfair, is she really in a position to be like “Oh, stop obsessing already, would you?” (No. No she’s not.)
She also cites growing numbers of single mothers as evidence that women are less “beleaguered”. That seems quite simplistic, and she does say she isn’t sure if this should be taken as “feminist progress”. What does it say of a society that vast numbers of women would rather be on their own than attempt to negotiate a traditionally patriarchal institution like marriage? Could it imply that women are fed up with attempting to wrest control from husbands? This should not necessarily be seen as a step towards equality.
One could simply cite case studies and figures about women in government, gendered violence, the existence of practices like dieting to be ultra thin or getting cosmetic surgery done, double standards for women in academics, politics, the family, careers, and so on (and this is only with America in mind!). I have a feeling that Rosin would dismiss these, too, as “irrational”; are we just obsessed with the notion of our own oppression? Will feminists be out of a job if there is no oppression? Please, I invite you to put us out of a job.
What I think Rosin fails to understand is that the oppression doesn’t work unless the oppressed party believes, at least to some degree, in their own inferiority. Oppression is reinforced through education and socialization, and if that fails, social stigma, and if that fails, violence. Rinse, wash, repeat as needed. Over time, these practices become normalized.
Just because inequality, oppression, or violence are normalized does not make them right. This was Dickens’ argument against the Victorian idea that poor people were poor and rich people rich because God made them as such; poor people could not help their lazy, immoral, deviant nature. Similarly, just because the woman who picks up Rosin’s trash in her office at Slate has any job, at all, does not mean that she is fulfilled and satisfied as a human being, and doesn’t have the right to question or complain about the mechanisms that have landed her there.
Rosin seems to have discounted classism and racism in her assessment that Patriarchy is Dead. Er, sorry, “the Patriarchy.” She still seems to think that The Patriarchy is some identifiable, yet amorphous, entity, perhaps “the enemy” she mentioned before, whose sole goal is to Oppress Womyn. She detaches race and class dynamics by centering on gender. She doesn’t seem to understand that when she makes such remarks like u r so lame when u talk about unfair, she is patriarchy. And she benefits directly from it, even as she is a victim of it. Her oppression (such as having to choose between a fulfilling career and being close with her children) must be very normalized that she doesn’t see an alternative to it. Rather than believing societal norms could change to improve her life circumstances (providing daycare services at the workplace, for example, so she can spend extra time with them if she wants to), she seems to see as immutable truths some aspects of mainstream American [gendered] culture. On some level, perhaps she believes that she is undeserving, choosing not to confront what are for many American women questions of “conflicting” desires– which might serve as a basis for empathizing with all those she deems to be preoccupied with “unfair”.
I really want to like you, Hanna Rosin. Better be careful, before you go the way of Naomi Wolf.
*Really anybody, but especially the dominant ethnic group.