This is the thing that feminism failed to account for, according to Kathleen Parker in the Chicago Tribune today as a response to Maureen Dowd’s Sunday NY Times piece. But while this seems like a reasonable oversight on feminism’s part, I have to disagree – again.
Nature is something feminism has always been aware of.
How could feminism not be aware of nature when Nature has been the stick used to beat women over the head? We could not work outside the home because our ‘natural’ state was in the home; we could not participate in politics because our ‘natural’ place was caregiving; we are ‘naturally’ retiring, our brains were ‘naturally’ less powerful than those of men so why should we be allowed to attend school, hold a job or even walk the streets alone – since we were so ‘naturally’ inspiring of sexual violence?
We know that none of this is ‘natural’. The rules governing female behavior back then and now are cultural constructs, meaning they aren’t intrinsic rules but are socially mandated (unconsciously and consciously) in order to support a larger social structure.
Like Dowd, Park is ignorant that behind Nature there is Patriarchy, and while Patriarchy might not always wear a male face, it is usually (one might say ‘naturally’) supported by men, who ‘naturally’ benefit from it. Quite simply, patriarchy is a way of looking at the world and understanding it; it is the dominant paradigm – it is what we assume to be ‘natural’, or common sense – conventional wisdom, almost. Patriarchy manifests itself through a system of ideas and practices that systematically disadvantage women and other subordinated groups; it is a system of ideas and practices that serve the interests of the dominant group. Who’s in the dominant group? Those who benefit from it.
The thing about Patriarchy is that it’s so damn invisible. It’s the foundation of our Western civilization so it’s completely absorbed into our culture – our icons, our literature, our government, our institutions. It’s almost second nature to us. (heh.) Because of the ‘invisible’ work of patriarchy, we take as natural that our relationship to the opposite sex is to be deferential and appreciative. I suppose that when such natural deference is absent it appears “hostile and demeaning to men”. I’d call it impatience, myself. Hostility is so…patriarchal. Impatience at the slowness of someone else’s progress is much more accurate. (Like walking behind two tourists on Michigan Avenue. Maddening.)
But not only is Patriarchy invisible, the effects of Patriarchy are invisible, too – until feminism came along, that is. Till feminism came along, unseen were the ways that Patriarchy disadvantaged women by:
(1) excluding us from inquiry,
(2) denying us epistemic authority,
(3) denigrating our “feminine” cognitive styles and modes of knowledge,
(4) producing theories of women that represent us as inferior, deviant, or significant only in the ways they serve male interests,
(5) producing theories of social phenomena that render women's activities and interests, or gendered power relations, invisible, and
(6) producing knowledge (science and technology) that is not useful for people in subordinate positions, or that reinforces gender and other social hierarchies.*
[*emphasis mine and a shout out to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for this and the above definition of patriarchy.]
Which brings us back to Nature. Feminists are very much aware of Nature; we just object to the use of Nature as an excuse to reinforce a bullshit, oppressive paradigm that fails to see women as people and only serves male interests. Let’s consider the conservative boycott of American Girl. Why do they protest a bunch of ahistorical dolls? Abortion and lesbianism, we all thought. That’s not the real reason at all.
In today’s Trib Dawn Turner Trice quotes Ann Scheidler, the Executive Director of Pro-Life Action League: "The reason we're protesting is that American Girl appeals to the wholesome image of girls, and the Girls Inc. web site is almost a recruitment for a feminist agenda. All they talk about is science and sports, nothing about homemaking and motherhood."
Homophobia and a lack of respect for a woman’s reproductive autonomy is certainly a part of Scheidler’s boycott but the fundamental thing that makes her twitch her apron is the way Girls, Inc. advocates for a girl to transcend ‘nature.’ For Scheidler, feminism is freakish because it isn’t wholesome, homemaking or motherhood. It’s sports and science – two fields that aren’t feminine because they aren’t ‘natural’ to a woman, while childbirth and caregiving is.
What’s Nature again? Patriarchy.
So to Park I say that feminism didn’t tell half a story; feminism knows the whole freaking story. It knows the Author, the Publisher, the Reader and the little bitty ISBN number inside the front page. It knows who the Distributor is and where the Bookstores are (tired of this metaphor, yet?). We know the story and we keep telling it. You just don’t like that story. That’s fair.
You don’t like the ending, either; that's ok, too. It’s hard being a feminist. It’s hard being 'unnatural' and knowing. It’s much easier to be naturally ignorant. I get that. It’s hard to look around and see you're the village idiot, or the crazy lady crying in the wilderness about something no one else wants to see. I get that. You don’t want to be the outlier.
But you are lying. Feminism didn't cheat women; it just didn’t account for the general chicken-heartedness of our sex in the face of patriarchal disapproval.
It thought we were braver than that.
[cross-posted at Screed - and edited to correct Parker's name...]