Last year Councilwoman Barbara Sexton spoke at the Louisville Women’s Leadership Conference. The theme was “Readiness, Resilience, and Results,” echoing her keynote partner Karen Hough’s rhetorical question, “Are you resilient?” And no, most people are not. Resilience is a situation, a confluence of factors including internal ones like coping skills but also factors completely out of a person’s control. No amount of time management will resolve wage slavery, poor health, or an unmarketable skill set. Money makes people resilient. When people are evicted, changing their outlook on life won’t get their house back. Nevertheless, the presenters will have urged the audience to be resilient anyway.
The Leadership Conference, led by two female CEOs and marketed toward women, was expensive; this year a table for ten costs $2,700. If you are doing the math, it would take over a week for a person making minimum wage to pay their share and learn about “Outdated Presentation Tips”. This is the brand of feminism, if it is feminism, excludes more people than it advances by perpetuating the patriarchy– even if it fills its ranks with women. This approach doesn’t speak for all people subjugated by the patriarchy, it doesn’t even speak to the needs of most women.
Karen Hough’s insinuation that women need reminding to focus on results can be left for another day.
It is possible for a woman to benefit from the patriarchy, even if the patriarchy has been catastrophic for women in general. Contributions made by women aren’t given due respect in academics, business, or in conversation. Women have a hard time being taken seriously, this isn’t up for debate. Here is how women benefit from this dismissal– when women bring sexual assault charges to court, they are undermined; likewise, when sexual assault charges are brought against women, those charges aren’t taken seriously either. Feminist discourse should address this, women should be burning down the houses of female sexual abusers, but that doesn’t happen. When women commit these crimes, it’s to their advantage that they aren’t taken seriously, and the patriarchy protects them.
If caregiving like working at a daycare is undercompensated and generally performed by women, then supporting occupational caregivers should be as big a part of the conversation as maternity leave is.
The assumption that education necessarily leads to stability or wealth is never examined, but it should be. Last year a women’s group held a ten-week training for women interested in working construction, a job that doesn’t generally require formal training at all. This wasn’t a certificate program to become an electrician or something, there was no credential offered at the end of it. Construction jobs come through relationships with people already in the field, something men generally have more of because most construction work is done by men– formal training won’t replace that. For a woman looking for work, in 33 weeks, that same woman could be a police officer, and yet somebody thought a female-directed construction workshop was a good idea. This social contract, flimsy though it is, has informed a generation of career plans for workers now in erratic and unsubstantial employment.
Higher education and its individualistic trajectory to success– to earn through self improvement the right to make demands (which is also to say the ability to leave), has replaced the union and social networks as the safety net for the working class. Pell Grants, the grants given to low-income students, illustrate the focus on bringing low-income people to prosperity by cultivating into them the characteristics of the patriarchy. The glaring absence of support for low-income workers will stand in contrast. If a person can’t support themselves, and jobs with liveable wages require considerable education, the logic goes that they need considerable education. Class disdain prevents feminism from supporting women as workers where they are, and it oppresses men similarly.
Misogyny has never been limited to men. One aspect of the patriarchy is the overvaluing of male approval relative to female approval. Women can be, and are, completely capable of this. This is a “starvation economy,” no matter what anyone says; we’re all competing for limited resources in the form of other people’s time and energy. One woman will undermine another woman for no reason other than she is, generally speaking, the competition. This mindset is so insidious that it has made its way into feminism– the feminist who wants her head patted for being so approachable (find her in the “I’m not a feminazi, or anything” demographic). There are women who have benefitted from the patriarchy, and there are also women who represent the patriachy. Some of those women are also feminists.
Another way conventional feminism mirrors the patriarchy is its blindness to internal aggression. The patriarchy, which is distinct from but not unrelated to male dominance, put boys along with girls in highly exploitable situations. The abuses within the Catholic Church are a good example of this. Recently in a Louisville mentorship program there was a case of sexual abuse of a male minor by police officers. If the legal system is an extention of the patriarchy, then so are the status offenses that undermine the agency of minors in general. If the patriarchy is guilty of treating women unfairly, it is also it is also guilty of treating the powerless unfairly. And this is how the patriarchy works, not only by subordinating a gender but by enforcing and capitalizing upon weakness.