What is the patriarchy? It is, in part, a set of ruling class privileges reserved solely for the male of the species. Women in power roles do not share the inner sense of entitlement that goes with the supreme fiction of the “God-given rights” of males, which are the final extension of the moral abyss of might makes right. Patriarchy is not only a status but a license “to get what you can.” At one time that license was at least superficially restrained by so-called gentlemanly codes of honor. Sometimes it worked. But the privilege stayed the same.
In the wake of the news frenzy aroused by revelations of “sexual harassment” on the part of a Hollywood film producer last week, coming in the wake of a storm of other revelations of sexual bullying by bosses in the TV world, by Hollywood bigwigs of all stripes, and of course by the President of these United States, the existence of the murky depths of the patriarchy have been given a smelly and unseemly renewed tangibility.
But ruling class fictions that allow certain kind of men, who are enhanced in their own minds, so to speak, by the Kissingeresque “aphrodisiac of power,” to stink up their own inner lives, haunt victims, and keep the odium of the patriarchy in place, aren’t just smutty sex entitlements designed as an immature “manly” code of conduct.
Sexual bullying isn’t a “boys will be boys” prank. It’s about rape, the ruination of talent, the demeaning of inherent dignity, the destruction of careers, and most of all about the traumatic horrors of force and subjugation.
Ruling class fictions like the patriarchy’s are based on a power differential that socially makes room for such behavior. Some of those with power think they achieved that power by an extra superiority of their own. In the case of the patriarchy, it’s handed to men on a silver diaper at birth. And it’s the same “inherited” advantage that allows men to create pay scales in which women earn far less than men for doing the same work, the same advantage that allows men to create the architecture of patriarchy with its talent-proof glass ceilings.
Men who bully women — sexually or otherwise — because “they can” are no better than other kinds of supremacists, be they gender-based, or race-based. They work off the same principle — that they are better and as such can do what they like, if they can get away with it. And why not, they “reason,” they almost always do.
Patriarchy, like racism, class hierarchies, and all forms of sexism, is the opposite of one of the founding ideals of a liberal democracy — that everyone is created equal and can distinguish themselves by their best efforts while respecting the inherent equal rights and “human status” of all those around them.
Patriarchy, pure and simple, is the operable cause for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) failing to be ratified by the states in 1982, after a decade of struggle following the Congressional passage of the bill in 1972. Thirty-five of the necessary 38 states ratified the Amendment, and the ERA has been reintroduced into every Congress since. It’s one of those miserable ironies that the opposition to the ERA was led by conservative women who feared equality would take away the perks that patriarchy doles out to obedient women, perks that were reduced in the public eye to little more than bathroom amenities.
Sexual bullying built on “inherent” privilege, and the invention of gender role fictions by the patriarchy, infect certain kind of men with a kind of testosterone-charged power-greed. The patriarchy’s fictions about women is that they “like” being man-handled and abused, that Orwellian doublespeak is at the very nature of social and sexual relationships between men and women, that “no” really means “yes,” and that somehow everything a woman does and wears is meant to be a subtle come-on, as if everything in a woman’s life was designed to invite men to exhibit their worst behavior.
Sexual bullying as a means of expressing authority, with professors, say, or producers, is nothing less than the grossest kind of extortion, a sort of porno protection racket whereby the power broker extorts sex for advancement. There’s endless jokes about it, but nothing funny about it at all.
The great training grounds for sexual predators are social organizations like fraternities and athletic teams. Here the practice of date rape, even to the point of using drugs and alcohol, is taught by peer pressure with all the subtlety of hazing rituals.
It’s absurd to be shocked by such behavior, and grotesquely callous not to be outraged. Would the passage of the ERA stop “boys will be boys” brutality? Of course not. But the national focus that a renewed effort to ratify an amendment to the Constitution that reads “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” would help to shower the patriarchy with the shame it deserves.
At some universities around the country, women are still explicitly told they have second-class intellects, or implicitly treated as if they do. It’s still implied that there are not great women writers, painters, engineers, physicists, doctors or logicians and that there never will be because women are — and this is the ultimate fiction — inferior to men. This lie is still so pervasive that affirmative action for women in the workplace and in higher education is seen as giving women an unfair advantage over men, instead of righting the all-pervasive unearned advantage all men inherit at birth on the basis of sex alone.
What seems like pathetic and tacky behavior on the part of sexual bullies in Hollywood and Washington is not something to be written off as an expression of the failings of seedy and “dirty” old men. That is surely not the effect it has on the women it victimizes. Sexual harassment, and domestic violence, are the “muscle” behind all forms of patriarchal oppression that hovers over gender inequality like a thug making sure everyone knows he has a gun.
How does a culture unravel such a system and put it to rest? When it comes to sexual harassment, the ERA and the nuanced discourse it will take to ratify it could go a long way in pushing patriarchy off its pedestal one more time.
*Nullius in verba: take nobody’s word for it
(Image derived from wackystuff)