WAYS OF THINKING about women and men usually stall in a 'maze of false dichotomies', poet Adrienne Rich said many years ago.[i] So let's delay entering the maze and remain here for as long as we can instead, in the open sunlit fields of dispassionate discussion.
One way is to, for the moment, take the labels off those emotionally charged categories, 'women' and 'men', and talk instead about two groups of roughly the same number, 'Q' and 'P', which together constitute the species 'QP'. Let's consider how three different groups of analysts – economic, environmental and security – might evaluate that species.
A broadly accepted tenet of contemporary economic theory is that markets in which there's an overwhelmingly dominant player produce worse outcomes for society than markets where power is more evenly distributed. This has shaped competition policy and trade practices law. Dealing with, or better still preventing, concentrations of ownership that lead to, or create the conditions for, what economists and lawyers call 'misuse of market power', is a central concern of both. That's why the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the UK Competition Commission bar players who already have too much power in a market from accumulating more assets in it. It's why the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the European Commission periodically go 'trust-busting': that is, breaking up companies with too much market share, or those which own too big a share of resources, into smaller ones less able to abuse their power.
So how would an economic analyst evaluate the QP world? A statistical snapshot of resource distribution (who owns the cash, property, diverse resources and income flows) would show that population P is vastly wealthier and more income-rich than population Q. A longitudinal analysis would show that this has been the case for as long as economic statistics have been collected. A trend analysis would show that just like compound interest, the trend is intensifying: even though Q's wealth and income is growing in nominal terms, it's declining in proportional terms as P's share of wealth and income geometrically grows. The situation is so asymmetrical, so obviously the setting for 'misuse of market power', that bodies like the ACCC, the Competition Commission and the DoJ would take steps to halt and reverse the extremely lopsided distribution of wealth and income between Q and P, which favours P so much that misuse of market power is inevitable.
How would an environmental analyst look at QP? As a species, QP would be seen to dominate the ecosystem, growing at the expense of other species (driving some even to the point of extinction), consuming an ever-vaster share of resources, and pursuing cultural practices and technologies (notably, nuclear) that threaten the survival of the ecosystem as a whole. If the species QP were not that to which the analyst also belonged – if QPs were cane toads or crickets or crows instead of humans – the analyst would probably recommend a global QP eradication program in the interests of planetary survival. On closer examination, the analyst traces most of the zeal for growth and resource consumption at unsustainable rates, and development of lethal cultural practices and technologies, to the Ps of the QP population. A global P culling program would take care of the problem; no need to eradicate Q as well.
How would a security analyst from the justice system or the defence force look at QP? They would examine intra- and intercommunal violence in the QP population: who initiates and commits it, and who is subject to that violence. They would find that while there are some Qs who initiate and commit violence, the vast and overwhelming share is initiated and committed by Ps, with a disproportionately large quantum of it directed against Qs. Criminal profilers would have 'P' as the first characteristic on their descriptions of typical perpetrators of violence at home. Defence analysts would conclude if Ps abroad could be neutralised, and Ps at home could be pacified, no defence force personnel would ever have to fire a shot in anger.
So taking just three analytic paradigms – we could choose endless more – the message about Ps forms a definite pattern.
From the standpoint of economic analysis, Ps have disproportionate market power; competition regulators would recommend that their further accumulation of resources be contained and trust-busting measures implemented to eliminate the conditions breeding misuse of market power.
From the standpoint of environmental analysis, Ps are an ecological plague meriting, on any measure of their net impact, a global eradication program; but since the analyst is also a member of the QP population, rather than eradication, neutering Ps with a small number preserved whole for breeding purposes would be recommended instead.
From a security analysis standpoint, Ps initiate and commit the overwhelming bulk of intra- and inter-communal violence, directed not exclusively but overwhelmingly against Qs; intra-communally, local crime plans, and inter-communally, strategic defence papers, would focus on how to disarm and 'civilise' Ps and, failing that, contain or eliminate violent Ps in the interest of overall QP security.
Of course, if we were anthropologists of the QP world we would observe other kinds of behaviours, too, including co-operation, rapport, empathy and ecstasy at various times and places, in various quantums and ratios. We would observe some Qs behaving badly and some Ps behaving well. We would observe different rhythms, paces and trends in social and economic development that slacken or intensify the dynamics just described within those economic, environmental and security paradigms. But the thing that would stand out overall is the incredible consistency – the systemic nature – of the tendencies identified in Qs and Ps.
THIS QP WORLD is, of course, the world of women and men. Reread the above and substitute the terms. Were the words 'women' and 'men' used instead of Q and P, most men and many women would have stopped reading within moments. This is because it is hard to have constructive, dispassionate discourse when the very categories are conditioned by, are drenched in, scores of centuries of blood, sweat, tears and semen. Already, reading that, your hackles are up.
So let us go back to the world of QP and consider a few of the ways Qs – even well-meaning ones – contribute to the perpetuation of the QP world as currently configured. Because there are good Qs who needlessly attack each other, and other good Qs working hard with good Ps to solve chronic problems, but they are applying bandaids when transplant surgery is required (efforts to get more women directors on corporate boards springs to mind).
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs (WMQEQ) #1:The Personal Extrapolator – draws universal conclusions from personal experience despite statistics on wealth and power (violence), inequalities that reveal a starkly different reality for most other Qs. Remarkably, they can be found even among the highly educated who should know better. Includes significant WMQEQ#1 subsets, the If I Did It, Anyone Can Do It, Achiever and The 'There's a Q on the Board (Me) So Everything's Fine' Director.
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs #2:The 'It's Their Culture' Apologist – dismisses violence practiced systematically against Qs on grounds of cultural difference, usually from a position of safety where they're unlikely to be subject to those practices. Child brides? 'It's their culture.' Clitoridectomy? 'It's their culture.' Widow burning? 'It's their culture.' Apologist giveaway? A shoulder shrug and smug look upon foreclosing the possibility of considering the question, whose culture?
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs #3:The Poledancing Delusionist – mistakes writhing like a dying swan on a meat hook, in a practice designed by (P) strip club owners to stimulate alcohol-soaked Ps to purchase prostitution services, with Q empowerment.
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs #4: The 'If It's Sex, It Must Be Liberated' Libertarian – has little insight into, or historical perspective on, QP power relations. Fails to recognise that sexual relations are socially constructed and that Ps have systemically constructed them in service of P interests. Buys the shonky 'what Qs want' bill of goods pumped out, continuously circulated and reinforced by Ps through P-owned influence channels, not infrequently through Q dupes.
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs #5:The 'Call Yourself a Qist' Excluder – acts as self-appointed arbiter of who is or isn't a Qist based on their own specific position, often reflexively, without seeking to understand different perspectives and constructively explore them to find common ground and build alliances. Lacks inter-generational insight. Keeps the Qist movement old and small.
Well Meaning Q Enemies of Qs #6:The 'If You Don't Get Post-Modernism, You Don't Get It' Rejector – deaf to Qs who haven't signed up to the Judith Butler[ii]-inspired 'performative gender' school of thought. Keeps the younger generation of Qs less historically informed than ideal, making Qism again vulnerable to discarding the hard learning of previous generations – something the next generation always has to do to an extent but not to the point of having to reinvent the wheel. (Ps don't – they keep building on, and reinforcing, their gender position generation after generation, underpinning vast accumulated advantage.)
The gully between the latter two, between the myopic, the self-appointed arbiters and the ideologically blinkered, is the dry gulch in which Qism is stuck. Meanwhile the forces of P storm ahead.
IT IS HARD to see up and out of a deep ravine. It's hard, in fact, to see any system from the inside, even on flat terrain. How many serfs got up and out of their own space to see feudalism for what it was? It is hard but it is possible. Guts, leadership, imagination and the nous to surge through the cracks opened up by disruptive, often only incidentally related, forces makes change possible. We know because we've already got some way down the road, but mostly in the rich, white world.
There's the vote, that precious dividend of feminism's first wave. But note, the first wave was spent by the early twentieth century in the West and is still working its way through the rest of the world.
There is a series of fundamental, profoundly important human rights-based law reforms that are the dividend of feminism's second wave, legally liberating us from chattel status in many places. But again note, this remains a distant prospect for hundreds of millions of women around the globe where the second wave is still nascent. Women in one hundred and twenty-seven countries have no legal recourse against rape in marriage, for example, according to UN Women,[iii] which estimates that six hundred and three million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime.[iv]
As to the next wave, many stand on the shore looking out to sea for it. There's the odd swell here and there, and sometimes an impressive breaker, but mostly a lot of nebulous, inchoate disquiet among brave individual women and girls paddling about, often isolated and under siege, doing what they can.
Often, simply surviving is a triumph. This is hard for affluent, educated women on upward career paths to remember since they mostly live in enclaves with those of like mind and experience, unconscious of how tiny a minority they are among the three and a half billion women on the planet.
Every so often a veritable wave machine comes along like a Hillary Clinton who inflected the mighty US State Department into feminist fellow traveller status. Or a Christine LaGarde emerges, her ascension over Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the IMF suggesting that at least sometimes, transaction costs will be incurred for male bastardry. These things are great. They are necessary. They must be built on.
But they represent arithmetic momentum compared to the geometrically building tsunami of male power that remains the dominant force in the world today, adorned by unhelpful spray supplied by the Well Meaning Q Enemies of Q outlined earlier.
A third of a century ago, Adrienne Rich presented the hard task of seeking to stand outside our own situation and gain strategic rather than tactical insight into it. She described the need to try and grasp the system as whole, not just its constituent parts, not just the parts impinging on us as individuals. She took anthropologist Kathleen Gough's eight characteristics of male power in archaic and contemporary society from Gough's 1975 essay, The Origin of the Family.[v] Rich used Gough's categories (in italics) and elaborated on them.
Characteristics of male power include the power of men
1. to deny women [their own] sexuality – [by means of clitoridectomy and infibulation; chastity belts; punishment, including death, for female adultery; punishment, including death, for lesbian sexuality; psychoanalytic denial of the clitoris; strictures against masturbation; denial of maternal and post menopausal sensuality; unnecessary hysterectomy; pseudo-lesbian images in the media and literature; closing of archives and destruction of documents relating to lesbian existence]
2. or to force it [male sexuality] upon them – [by means of rape (including marital rape) and wife beating; father-daughter, brother-sister incest; the socialisation of women to feel that male sexual 'drive' amounts to a right; idealisation of heterosexual romance in art, literature, the media, advertising, etc.; child marriage; arranged marriage; prostitution; the harem; psychoanalytic doctrines of frigidity and vaginal orgasm; pornographic depictions of women responding pleasurably to sexual violence and humiliation (a subliminal message being that sadistic heterosexuality is more 'normal' than sensuality between women)]
3. to command or exploit their labor to control their produce – [by means of the institutions of marriage and motherhood as unpaid productions; the horizontal segregation of women in paid employment; the decoy of the upwardly mobile token woman; male control of abortion, contraception, sterilisation, and childbirth; pimping; female infanticide, which robs mothers of daughters and contributes to generalised devaluation of women]
4. to control or rob them of their children – [by means of father right and 'legal kidnapping'; enforced sterilisation; systematised infanticide; seizure of children from lesbian mothers by the courts; the malpractice of male obstetrics; use of the mother as the 'token torturer' in genital mutilation or in binding the daughter's feet (or mind) to fit her for marriage]
5. to confine them physically and prevent their movement – [by means of rape as terrorism, keeping women off the streets; purdah; foot binding; atrophying of women's athletic capabilities; high heels and 'feminine' dress codes in fashion; the veil; sexual harassment on the streets; horizontal segregation of women in employment; prescriptions for 'full-time' mothering at home; enforced economic dependence of wives]
6. to use them as objects in male transactions – [use of women as 'gifts'; bride price; pimping; arranged marriage; use of women as entertainers to facilitate male deals-e.g., wife-hostess, cocktail waitress required to dress for male sexual titillation, call girls, 'bunnies', geisha, kisaeng prostitutes, secretaries]
7. to cramp their creativeness – [witch persecutions as campaigns against midwives and female healers, and as pogroms against independent, 'unassimilated' women; definition of male pursuits as more valuable than female within any culture, so that cultural values become the embodiment of male subjectivity; restriction of female self-fulfilment to marriage and motherhood; sexual exploitation of women by male artists and teachers; the social and economic disruption of women's creative aspirations; erasure of female tradition]
8. to withhold from them large areas of the society's knowledge and cultural attainments – [by means of non-education of females; the 'Great Silence' regarding women and particularly lesbian existence in history and culture; sex-role tracking which deflects women from science, technology, and other 'masculine' pursuits; male social/professional bonding which excludes women; discrimination against women in the professions][vi]
The more things change, the more they stay the same, one might say reading this list in 2013. It might as easily have been written today as thirty-three years ago.
If you read it, instinctively recoiled and rejected it, take this challenge: draw up a list of practices by women regulating, oppressing, destroying men and see how long it is. I doubt there is even a single entry comparable to anything in this list.
THE CONFUSING THING about the tactical view, the view from the gully, is that one can only see bits and pieces, not the whole; one can't get a proportional sense of how the undeniable achievements of the second wave net out against the remorseless storming thrust of continuing male power. Without a strategic appreciation of the situation, how can we even know whether in net terms we are moving forward or backward, let alone work out what to do next?
The Iceni leader Boudicca's speech rallying followers to rise up against the Romans in the first century was recorded by Tacitus thus: 'We British are used to women commanders in war but I am not fighting for my kingdom or my wealth (but for) my lost freedom, my battered body and my violated daughters...'
Boudicca – brave, stirring, inspiring – is one of our best loved heroes but we must learn from her fate and apply the lesson if we are not to be doomed to keep winning signal battles while continuing to get smashed over time in the war overall. As Robin Cross and Rosalind Miles point out in Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism, Boudicca was a charismatic commander but had no battle plan.
She met Suetonius on an open plain. 'Suetonius, a veteran of mountain warfare, fought with a forest at his back, forcing the Celts to charge headlong up a slope to meet Roman javelins,' Cross and Miles write. 'When they had exhausted themselves, the Romans counterattacked, driving them back onto their wagons where their families waited, and all were killed. In the bloody melee of defeated warriors, women, children, pack animals and baggage, Tacitus estimated the British dead at 80,000 compared with four-hundred Romans.'[vii]
We have to have a strategy to win the war, not just tactics leading to the odd battle won here or there, no matter how good those wins might be. We have to respond to Adrienne Rich's challenge to see the system we are in as a whole, not just its constituent parts. We have to identify and welcome the men who show solidarity with the cause and get them, too, to see the bigger picture.
And that cause is a world where line by line, clause by clause, the depredations on the Gough/Rich list, big and small, are struck out forever. In this next wave we will have to learn to fight together like guerillas, not like mugs slaughtered standing on open plains. Let us escape the maze of false dichotomies, let's not be our own well-meaning enemies. Let us instead get smart, get strategic and get going.
[i] Adrienne Rich, 'Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence' (1980), reprinted in Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985, Norton, New York, 1986; reprinted in Journal of Women's History, 15, 3, Autumn 2003, 37
[ii] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, London,1990
[iii] UN Women, In Pursuit of Justice: Progress of the World's Women 2011-2012, New York, 2011, executive summary, 2
[iv] UN Women, "Justice is still out of reach for millions of women, UN Women says", press release, 6 July 2011, 2
[v] Julie Gough essay, "The Origin of the Family" in Rayna [Rapp] Reiter, ed.,Toward an Anthropology of Women, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1975
[vi] Rich, ibid., 18-19
[vii] Robin Cross & Rosalind Miles, Warrior Women: 3,000 Years of Courage and Heroism, Quercus, London, 2011, 34-5