..Some rambling thoughts on a recent trip to New Orleans, and Spender’s “Man Made Language.”
It is my assertion that patriarchy, male dominance over women, is accomplished by the suppression of the female will. I make a distinction between the suppression of female will and the collection, appropriation/diversion of female/creative power, which is more akin to the fuel that patriarchy runs on. But for the creation and maintenance of this current system of human male dominance, it was and is necessary to suppress the female will.
Women live in a constant state of suppressed willpower. It is responsible for some, not all, cases of depression, eating disorders, shopping addiction, anger issues, horizontal and downward-directed vertical attacks (kids, other women, people further down the totem pole racially and class-wise). There is simply no way for the built up energy of existing as a female in patriarchy to be expressed because to express it directly would cause the end of patriarchy. As strong and spirited women know, there is also no way to exist without expressing it. We learn to express will/energy in outlets of all kinds, but the righteous rage that centers in the seat of our wills is never expressed directlyor fully because the suppression of it equals the suppression of righteous freedom necessary to create and maintain patriarchy. This patriarchal reality necessitates a cover up of natural-righteous tendency and flow to exist.
Take the City of New Orleans in Louisiana, which I want to use as a gut level example because the dynamic there is so striking. If a person set out to build a city and locate it in the worst possible location she could find, the crescent just north of where the Mississippi cuts down through the swamps to run into the Gulf of Mexico is the spot. The area is marsh and the entire city is set on an alluvial floodplain- essentially, loose mineral mud that is more or less constantly drenched by the seasonal rise and fall of the Mississippi’s banks. Additionally, the floodplain supersedes its past high levels at regular intervals and so the task of maintaining a civilization in New Orleans is one of living against everything one encounters there. The city is built over top of the Mississippi’s reality and in a constant and absolutely necessary, for its own maintenance, antagonism with that reality.
Patriarchy is exactly this to what is/femaleness. Patriarchy is a construction laid over top of (life, nature, females, balance, what is-pick your word). Patriarchy has built from a base of entitlement/enfranchisement of men and the goal of male satisfaction and happiness to the exclusion of all other interests, a system of distributing credibility from men to other men who support their agendas, a legitimization of knowledge based on that credibility, a codifying of knowledge, and a definition of reality based on that knowledge.
I don’t know what is wrong with dudes yet so I can’t put it into this writing, but what is right inside of women comes out from the inside, exuberant aliveness, statis, harmony even in natural cycles of death and destruction, cyclical and nourishing like the Mississippi flood waters.
So what if the residents of New Orleans succeeded in suppressing the Mississippi’s flood cycles so they could live on dry land with no fear of flooding or interruption of their lives? That water doesn’t just go away, because it doesn’t come from nowhere. Water would continue to be produced, even if its rise and spread over the Mississippi’s banks was suppressed. It would go other places. And if it was suppressed there, where would it go? what would happen if no water were allowed to drench the earth in any area because we, humans, had other things to do and we couldn’t afford to let the natural water cycles of earth complete?
I’m not going to go off because now everyone has a mental picture. It’s the same with patriarchal suppression of female will. Buried deep, that willpower turns some women to steel. It can make us inflexible, controlling, bitter and brittle, dry on the outside, dry without love, from the things we’ve experienced and not been able to process or express or even fully experience because our experience was already decided and defined, as was its acceptable expression, long before it happened to us. Our willpower should be the deciding factor in what we do with our lives, but instead it is buried. Choices are predecided, and enough has been written for us all to be able to understand the illusory nature of female choice within patriarchy.
But being embittered indicates a real violation unless women’s capacity to judge their experiences has already been stigmatized, making our own judgments and yes, impulses, already dead on arrival when we move through experiences in our lives, or they happen to us. We know that reality is defined at the expense of female credibility, but how does the stigmatization of female credibility negatively affect our desire to express our will?
Having a constructed reality that demoralizes women constantly is a major factor in creating depression and resistance to expression of the will at great personal cost by women. Many women feel resistant to expressing their emotional will because they realize or intrinsically grasp the fact that expressing discontent with the status quo a la male dominance is to those around them a signal for social correctives. This is built into patriarchy, and manifests as personal detriment and stigmatization to the women who dare to express it. Ridicule, shaming on various levels and from various angles, ostracization, judgment, diagnosis, and social isolation are a few of the results. At the very least, we have seen in the last 30 years that if a woman is really going to criticize patriarchy, she had better be socially adept, cute, feminine, happy, or have a capitalist agenda attached to her complaints. Or at least wear a skirt. When women’s wills truly diverge from the feminine appearance, behavior, and socialization mandates not only in word but in deed, our credibility and enfranchisement, our inclusion in reality, even in sanity, declines in direct proportion.
Levels of willpower expression move generally from subtle body language indicators to verbal expressions of pleasure/displeasure/intention/requests to physical and energetic movement towards goals and objectives. It is much more tolerable for a woman to speak out about things that she objects to regarding patriarchy than to actively stop participating in those things. Discharging aggression in speech and thought about feminist issues without taking the willpower to the level of action can actually be good for patriarchy. In an abusive relationship, as long as there is a dialogue going about the abuse, the abuse is likely to continue. It’s when the victim stops dialoguing and starts making behavior changes that the situation tends to escalate or the cycle be broken (depending).
from “Man-Made Language,” by Dale Spender:
“When modern feminists first began to be suspicious of the methods which had been used to construct knowledge, they were often cautiously critical. Reared in a culture which would have us believe in the absolute nature of “objective facts,” it was sometimes too much to comprehend in a short space of time the nature and the extent of the hoax which had been perpetrated…the patriarchal criteria of credibility, when placed under feminist scrutiny, began to emerge as yet another set of male meanings, another male encoded dogma no more or less credible than its religious predecessor.” (p.60)
We know that reality is defined by those in power. How is credibility related to reality, and to the right to define reality for ourselves and also for those around us or far away- those who coexist?
Credibility is defined as the quality of being believable or trustworthy. As the quality or capacity or power to elicit belief. Because the socio-human reality is a construction (i.e. we are doing things that go above and beyond our survival and stasis with our surroundings, we have created a constructed purpose and social/other environment for ourselves) it goes without saying that to elicit belief from other people is to garner the social resource to author future proceedings. Authoritative control over the future is the essence of constructing the social reality that humans live in= culture, “civilization,”…patriarchy. Being credible is a stake in controlling one’s experience.
Let’s take one of the subtleties of Spender’s above statement- that knowledge is a construction. I agree with this on such a gut level. Being a believer that “knowledge,” “rationality,” “logic,” are all thinly veiled synonyms for a constructed misogynist philisophical backdrop to the implementation of abuse of women in the pursuit of male satisfaction and pleasure, I am interested in how the construction of knowledge relates to the authority to define reality. It seems a fairly obvious statement that men dispense credibility in patriarchy, that credibility legitimates information as “knowledge,” and that those who “know” define reality.
“Michael Young defines knowledge as ‘available sets of meaning,’ and the knowledge which we have inherited has been constructed mostly by males in their attempt to provide meaning for their existence…if women are to have their own voice and not just to echo men, then new cerebration, a new way of knowing is required.” (p.59)
In thinking about the ways in which men have codified, commodified and put conditions on credibility, knowledge and reality, I have a few questions:
-How would/will women derive our knowledge?
-How will women define knowledge?
-How will women codify knowledge? Would we be interested in codifying the human experience in order to have a common language of experiental definition? Or would we be content with the diversity of individual experience?
-If women defined social reality as men now do, I wonder if our internal knowing would influence our will, and we could allow that will to influence our definition of knowledge, credibility, and reality?
-Would a female defined existence necessarily need to seek to codify credibility as men have? Or are women capable of the kind of respect that needs no standard to define a reality for everyone? Are we able to see the arrogance and inherent power-over that is present in that kind of existence?
-Further-would we be able to recognize the hubris in attempting to legitimate, socially or experientially, someone else’s credibility with regards to their own experience? Would we be able to see that there is no need to codify reality or knowledge unless there is a shared agenda that excludes certain experience to remain legitimate?
-What does the structure of patriarchal social criteria for credibility and its stigmatizing/corrective systems look like? I will probably pick up here in the next essay.