Critics of “patriarchy” typically fail to make a crucial distinction: There is rationality and barbarism. Yes, they may seem to be opposed while actually going together. Nonetheless: There is a kind of authoritarianism that says “Do what I say because I am the boss, and if you don’t I will hurt you.” I call this barbaric authoritarianism. I think that American society, which is much less male-dominated than many (though it must be noted that patriarchy is not male domination let alone predominance; it is “rule of fathers”), has more of this than most.
Traditionally, patriarchies were bureaucratic and relied upon the rational judgment of those in authority. Feminism has done and can do (qua feminism) nothing to change this.
The problem I have with most women in authority is that they draw the line between the two in a way that suggests that they don’t even really know what “violence” is and isn’t. Although we supposedly know that women are not usually capable of it and never predisposed to it, while “male aggressivity” means nothing else.
In fact, I would suggest that anti-male radical feminism can be defined by the mistaken view that aggression is the same as violence. Perhaps because it portends it. Although it may take someone educated properly in radical social theory to identify this possibility in its latency for the evil it presumably is.
Because males are more aggressive, they not only are responsible for most of the violence (or at least for carrying it out), but are also more transgressive, and more effectively so, and so less conformist and obedient. This is the question: Do we want a society that has tacitly adopted a normative femininity, in conjunction with therapeutic spiritual and business management ideologies, with the functional rationale being that it renders the citizenry more docile and complaint (conforming and obedient)? Because that is exactly what happened. And most of liberalism is caught up in this, though its errors do not proceed from a mistaken gender politics so much as they have effectively made use of it. Some of what happened historically may not have had the intentions that would correspond to their functional effects; that this can be the case is a description of what goes by the name of History. And history and historical time are the best counter-argument to a politics of paranoia, which is one of management, Oedipalization, and spatializing panopticism, or simply, a regime of knowledge.
Women are naturally and usually more nurturing and caring. If they weren’t hard-wired for this, a lot of babies would just die. This does not mean that they cannot make great mathematicians; but it does mean that even those who do will also make better mommies than their male counterparts. The truth is, a woman can in principle do almost anything a man can do, and is clearly disadvantaged only in certain tasks requiring physical strength; while a man cannot do, quite, everything a woman can. Though I do believe that the distribution of traits is such that thinking abstractly and going against the crowd are two things most men find easier than most women, while understanding deeply the person one is with and how to communicate with him or her effectively in a way that is partly unconscious is something that by and large women will always do much better. The problem is this actually makes women typically rather more conservative in exactly one particular way: they are less disposed to transgression and novelty.
What is the name for a “women’s society”? Define this as a society that is ruled in the name and interest of women. Oddly enough, the name of that society is patriarchy. This is because patriarchy partly is a protection racket for women. It is a rule of fathers (and husbands), who define their role partly through the exchange of women between them (according to the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, in all societies, based as they are on the incest taboo, a man must refuse his sister (and mother) and marry someone else’s sister. He marries the daughter of the father of a young girl who will exchange her for a husband he approves of. The girl/woman is protected by a strong man (father or husband). Sons can rebel against fathers (daughters can rebel, as in Antigone, and when they do often do so against fathers, since it is they who rule, but most typically they do not), but sons only win by displacing the father and become a father (and husband) themselves. This means there is rule of fathers. That is what patriarchy is. From “Don’t mess with me, or my husband (or father) will beat you up!” to “Don’t transgress in my space, or I will call the cops!” there is not much passage or difference. Rape was always defined as a property crime, and it still is; the only difference is that now women are empowered legally and morally to act as protectors of their own property that they have in their bodies. This means: What a non-patriarchal and non-capitalist idea of what rape is and what its prevention involves is an interesting question and not a simple one.
What has done the most to change all this is two things: (1) the long history of the rise of romantic love beginning in the medieval Provencal (southern French) poetry and (northern) French narratives that championed it (with Dante and Petrarch popularizing it in the 14th century). Doubtless one reason this was possible was the background of Christianity, which probably was not only a progressive development in European history, but also a feminizing one and not only because of the cult of the Virgin Mary, which began around this time. Romantic love was against marriage. It tolerated adultery, and in fact typically was adulterous. It was therefore not a choice of the arranged marriage provided by the suitable daughter of a father who gives her away, having agreed to do so. So it is no longer a men’s club organized as a protection racket for vulnerable girls and women. (The virginity cult was its principle sign). The fact that romantic love opposes patriarchy is obvious enough in the English-speaking world because of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but was first made obvious in several of the 12the century legends, and in the story of Abelard and Heloise (which was passionate and sexual until Heloise’s angry father castrated Abelard, after which it remained passionate but could only be epistolary, a literary love affair). (2) The French Revolution was made in the name of the people who became citizens (citoyens and citoyennes, marking implicit gender equality, because the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen clearly referred by implication if not fact to all human beings, just as Jefferson’s Declaration founding this country did and does) and nominally children of the fatherland (“Allons enfants de la patrie,” the opening words of the revolutionary war anthem adopted as the national anthem as it remains). Patriarchy now has become a metaphor. Lacanians would call this appropriate. Fatherhood is now a function, not a matter of persons. The Revolution ended the rule of persons and replaced it with that of law, as it had done a few years earlier in what then became the United States. This means: Society belongs to all of us, who as men and women citizens are nonetheless as much sons and daughters (and brothers and sisters: the Revolution also proclaimed Fraternity as one of the principles defining it in its slogan) as fathers or mothers, and those roles are of course optional. The government is an imaginary and/or symbolic father, and it alone as far as public social life (and not the private family) is concerned. Catholicism held that the roles of father and mother, particularly mother, were mandatory, and still does, which is the real reason for its opposition to abortion, together with its concern to regulate sexuality, which it alone suspects of being capable of undermining love when marriage and the family are the institutions that most threaten that and always did, love being a revolutionary invention that, unlike the incest taboo and some “law of the father” at least as function, was not universal, as most marriages were arranged for economic reasons and it remains a legal institution based on a contract. The Revolution, however, dethroned the Church also. With it, it dethroned all traditionalisms, and all governance based on personal relationships, as in feudalism. Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” still provides the most lucid and accurate description of all that this, and the rise of capitalism more broadly, involves. And feminists would do well to read it. France is officially a secular republic. Modern feminism, though it had antecedents in Greek antiquity, in the 17th century “precieuses” movement of aristocratic women writers in France, in the rise of a literary genre, the novel, that privileged bourgeois women with leisure as readers and was everywhere open to women authors, and other developments, had its most decisive beginning during the Revolution. After that, for a long time it was associated largely with workers’ and socialist movements, because so many factory workers were women. In postwar America, it was a movement of housewives who wanted to enter the professions.
That movement succeeded. But it had the wrong ethos. It wound up facilitating enthusiastic adherence to various managerial ideologies that are designed for the university educated class of managers, professionals, and functionaries. Its various ideological variants are among those specific to and characteristic of this class.
I have lived for half a century in a post-feminist society where relationships are privileged and intellectual life, outside of the university environment, which I am no longer directly part of, largely disdained or ignored. I saw many women succeed in that environment as scholars, and I admired and learned from them as much as their male counterparts. I am sure I did approach my relationships with them a bit differently, and that is less than ideal, for women scholars, but as scholars and writers and lecturers their gender seemed irrelevant. Outside the world of scholars and artists, which I am still part of, I find that our society does seem to consist largely of intolerant and superficial people, and of men who think too much like women for my tastes, though of course their gregarious behavior amongst themselves and their great disposition to violence are masculine ways of reacting to what we must suppose their feminine or simply childish insecurities. Women surely find it easier to be functionaries, and beginning when I was at Berkeley in the 80s, most office functionaries were women, and the others often gay or strikingly effeminate men. My problem with gender was always with female bureaucrats, and I almost always found them horrible. In fact, they typically wielded what are obviously various gender prejudices, and you can imagine that I, son and grandson of professors, teachers, musicians, and doctors, could not easily appreciate being labelled “violent” just because I am argumentative. Or being mistreated because I am judged by female managers with their constitutive superior emotional intelligence as “wrongly feeling”: feeling either too much or not enough. Anger and nervousness are, especially in California, detected with extremely finely tuned meters so that none is tolerated. Now, if you do feel an emotional state that cannot be tolerated, should you express it or not? You are guilty and damned either way: either of concealing your emotion or of not recognizing and perhaps checking it. Further: If, in an encounter between a man and a woman, especially if she wields professional authority and he does not (maybe he is a student or client of the bureaucracy), the man is guilty if he feels a disagreeable emotion, and the man is guilty also if SHE feels a disagreeable emotion. If there is any unpleasantness or its possibility is sniffed out, and believe you me, they will sniff it out, this is a society of almost zero tolerance, where everyone has a hair trigger, for “prejudice” or any other putative impropriety. Worse, these female bureaucrats get a training in “communication skills” or something like it, and they think these are the new Halakhah, they are the rules of “how it is” in the world as a whole, as they describe what everyone everywhere is like, the Total Theory of People (and How to Manage Them, which is the hidden agenda of all such psychological theories). What I advocate is a return to old-fashioned (a) rational discourse and (b) freedom of speech, along with (c) limits to official power. The “liberal” ideology, which is not liberal, implicitly refuses, because it renders impossible, all of this.
In short, a humanist liberal ideology, feminist and otherwise, has largely taken over our society (this happened in the 1970s, and is largely the result in this country of the protest and counterculture movements of the 1960s). Trump’s candidacy may be partly a reaction to this, and reactionary refusal of it. This was also said of Reagan, and some people said it of the punk rock movement that meant so much to me when I was young. I think that is true but punk tended towards the left, it simply was not “liberal.” No one believed that punk was liberal, and no punks that I have ever known or heard of were. It was a cliche then that every punk was “either fascist or communist,” though that is rather simplifying. For me, punk’s precursors were Brecht, Kafka, and Duchamp, and through Duchamp Warhol (and the Velvet Underground). The problem with Trump is only this: We need a better way to “just say no” to Hilary and everything her Democratic Party represents, or at least much of it. What I can say about my experiences at Berkeley outside the classroom (the anti-intellectual pseudo-left “liberals” with their agenda of promoting their ideas through safe spaces and speech codes was still only nascent then) is that those women functionaries in particular seemed to treat me, and make me feel, like a white (rock and roll?) nigger. Even my interest in Judaism was that of a kind of nigger. If Jews are not a kind of nigger, than I am prepared to say what the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor said of the “Eucharist” (communion) “if it’s just a symbol”: “Then to hell with it.” Make of this what you will, but I do not side, and cannot, it would betray all of my key life experiences, with the men an women in power, who legitimate the characteristic forms of domination of our society in the way that members of the elite of lawyers, doctors, executives, and bankers typically do. (And that, by the way, is my picture of Reform Judaism, which some long enough history of association with people in it has absolutely confirmed; it represents assimilation to society in terms of its dominant institutions and mores, when the assimilation everyone I admire (including Jews like Walter Benjamin, Susan Sontag, and Lou Reed) aspires to is not to society but to the artistic and intellectual culture that largely is nothing more nor less than a critique of that society.
A politics that appeals to women more than men will be one of a welfare state that is not necessary liberal in the old sense of liberty. There are good things about being nurturing, and good things about a society that has this as one of its goals. But it also needs to be limited, and today’s “liberals” only believe in total management, or big government, and not in limited government at all.
Women are more nurturing and caring, and less aggressive and transgressive. Antigone notwithstanding, this means that they are less political. I am not of course suggesting a private/public, family/society distinction on the basis of gender roles such as Hegel adopts in his political philosophy, other features of which may have some continuing utility; I think he understood the connection between freedom and reason that English and American political thought never grasps.
This is in fact why such phenomena as the movement of women in punk rock, including the “Riot Girls” of a generation ago and of course Pussy Riot, are so important. If our society is tacitly marketing conformism as feminine, then what we need maybe more than anything is some real female transgression. Fuck (with) your gender, play outside the box. A feminism worth the name rejects normative femininity as traditional bullshit and says instead, “Raise Boys and Girls the Same.” I think we should do that not in spite of the fact that they are different but because of it. We need men who cry and are gentle (ALSO) and women who get in your face and argue and disobey (also).
“Radical feminism” fell into a trap of its own unwitting creation, as it became a carceral/moralist anti-male ideology. This means it misidentifies many people who have really no power at all with some imaginary notion of how they (the social managers of minoritarian provenance) are being oppressed. I also think that many Black people do that, and the reason is that there is a broad liberal ideology that markets the nonsense idea that barbarism and domination are not social practices but the result of the Evil Will of the privileged thought to exercise domination by virtue of the kinds of persons they are (or bodies they have). And then you get the spectacle of people in (admittedly mostly low levels of) power pretending, and telling themselves, like Jeanne does at the end of “Last Tango in Paris” when, after shooting and killing Paul, who has just made an ironic joke about how he is not a hero, she ritually recites to herself what she plans to tell the police: that this man who followed her and (in the French sense) “penetrated” her apartment was a man she did not know who tried to rape her.
If you want to use violence, the rule for those in positions of power is always to claim that the victim tried to use violence against you. They may even say something idiotic like that you “raised your voice” (what does that mean? I think it means they have decided they can pretend that your manner of speaking is violence because your very voice, which indicates your ability to speak, and no doubt to say something contrary, is a weapon. Find rape everyday, everywhere: that way lies freedom, yes?
The omnipresence of liberation requires that of oppression. In fact, it requires that oppression and injustice are inevitable.