Saturday, 25 October 2008

Buzzwords and patriarchy - sheep and goats

Kim,, at Bastante Already, has written a fine piece about the unthinking use of buzzwords such as patriarchy and misogyny. I will not repeat her words here - it is better to go to her site and read them there. I will, however, like to say something about this. I may well, in the course of this, say things very similar to Kim but I will try not to.

Neither of those two words - and all other such - are bad in themselves. They are very useful words with describe very real and present phenomena. Patriarchy is the ruling ideology and at its base is misogyny. Where and how these two arose is a matter of debate - some would indeed maintain that they are part of human nature and as such can never be eliminated. I do not hold to this view for the evidence of ancient civilisations tells us that human society has not always been structured in this way. Even as recently as Celtic Europe, it is clear that the position of women was far higher than it was in later times until, arguably, the 20 Century. Iron Age society was certainly no Utopia, they were, for example, often headhunters and the economy was based on slavery, but it seems to have been better than the civilisation that followed it.

Prior to the Iron age, there is evidence that the position of women was even higher - one has only to read the rantings of the hebrew prophets to see this. It was in the Neolithic period and earlier, however, that I believe that an entirely different set of beliefs were dominant. I say "believe" because the evidence although convincing to me is by no means so to others.

For me, then, patriarchy originated around 5,000 years ago and has since colonised our thinking to such a degree that it is well-nigh impossible to see how people can think outside its patterns. They were imprinted in us while we were still in nappies and observing the interactions of others around us in order to learn how to survive. I have written about this before and will do so again because I think it is important to remember that it is the sea in which we swim and in which we can drown if we are not careful.

It is easy for me to point the finger at another and say "That is patriarchal thinking" and it is normally completely accurate - but the very act of finger-pointing and "othering" is of and by itself a patriarchal act. It is the separation of the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff. And, of course, only one of each of those binary pairs is (another buzzword) privileged. And the basic, if unpalatable, truth is that we are all privileged if we have enough food in our bellies, roofs over our heads, access to computers, and a chance at education. Which includes most, if not all, of the blogosphere. Within this there are, undoubtedly, levels of privilege and I, as a middle-class, white, english-speaking, heterosexual male, am clearly among the winners in this regard. But, as a man without a bank account, credit rating, regular income, or secure home I am also among the lesser privileged. Life ain't as simple as we would like it to be.

Neither is it dualistic. Good and evil are fine motifs in, say "Lord of the Rings" with its clear, and at times apparently racist, divisions between the opposing forces. Who cares if an Orc is hewn into many pieces? Because they are of the "enemy" and therefore incapable of salvation. Sheep and goats. Wheat and Chaff. Black and White. Woman and Man. The list goes ever on and on - down from the time when it began - and we must learn not to to follow - if we can. (Here I nod to Tolkien - a dualistic thinker and patriarch if ever there was one)

I believe that only by acknowledging that the basic pattern of our thoughts is thus tainted by patriarchy - including, all too often, our use of such demonising buzzwords - can we start to find a way out of the mess we are in now.

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