Category Archives: Feminism

The Choice Is Yours

[Content note: discussion of victim blaming]

Some discussion came up today on twitter that everyone agreed doesn’t really fit in 140 character blurbs, so the right thing to do seemed to be makin’ a blog about it and continuing the discussion in comments.

In my elementary school, we had the morning announcements every day, and each time they were ended with the platitude “Make it a great day—or not. The choice is yours.” This always bugged me at the time, and now that I have a few more clues than I did when I was 8, I think I can put my discomfort with it into words.

The message that I got from this boils down to “If you’re unhappy, it’s your own fault, no matter what other people have done to you,” which seems like a toxic message to be sending to kids. Something bad happened? Smile and move on, or else you’re a problem, and your unhappiness is your own fault. It’s victim blaming at its finest.

This isn’t to say that choosing to “get over” things (for lack of a better term) is the wrong choice. For some people, it’s what they need to do. But the whole point here is that word “choice”—people should be empowered to choose how they react when bad things happen, not pigeonholed into one response that’s been deemed the most appropriate by the rest of society. Sure, the “choice” is yours, but it’s a choice made under duress. Make it a great day or we’ll make it a worse one; don’t be a blemish on our perfect happy society.

What would be a better thing to say? Part of the problem with this is that it targets survivors* and makes them responsible for making things better, rather than targeting aggressors and attempting to prevent aggression. Of course, there  can and should be a healing process for victims, too, but the point is that it will differ from person to person. Unfortunately, “Respond to the shit life throws at you in whatever way you think is most healthy for yourself, also consider seeing a therapist, brains need doctors too” isn’t very catchy; neither is “Don’t make other people’s lives shitty—the choice is obvious!”, though at least that one’s shorter.

Maybe a better approach wouldn’t be to end the announcements with some kind of moral at all. Maybe the right approach is to create a culture within the school where people are treated well, malfeasance is discouraged, and sadness and anger are accepted as natural states of being that should not be unnaturally suppressed. I can’t help but wonder how many of my classmates heard those announcements (and other, similar messages that I’m sure were sent), took them to heart, and are now spreading victim-blaming and body policing on their own. Not to mention how many of us, despite our young cynicism, still managed to internalize some of it.

*I kind of want to say “victim” here, since “survivor” has very specific connotations to me, but I know some people don’t like the “victim” label, so I’m saying “survivor” instead. If someone has better terminology for this, please let me know.

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Why “kyriarchy” is a good word

“Patriarchy” is a word that gets thrown around a lot on the internet. Before I knew, well, anything about feminism, I used to scoff at people who would use it. “Oh, those crazy feminists”, I would think. “They think men are always out to get them! But that’s just silly, there’s no worldwide conspiracy of men whose sole goal is to subjugate women.” And, y’know, I was right.

But I was also kind of wrong.

Hear me out. Obviously (well, hopefully) there isn’t a conspiracy of mustache-twirling men who get together every week, discuss phallic symbols, and update each other on the progress of their woman-hating. But there are still societal pressures that favor men over women. I’m not going to list a bunch of stuff off; that’s not the point of this post. If you aren’t already familiar with the concept of (male) privilege, here’s a good starting point.

As I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong), the patriarchy is just another word for this system that systematically privileges men*. And that’s fine! It is a good term to have for when you are talking about misogyny and the systematic oppression of women and whatnot, which is certainly a topic that merits discussion.

However, it kind of breaks down when you talk about groups other than women who are oppressed. A good example of this is Tony Porter’s TED talk, which talks about how men are put in what he calls the “man box”. In the man box, men are supposed to be dominating, treat women as objects, not display emotion, etc. This is an interesting situation, though, because it’s obviously oppressing men, but it’s also contributing to the oppression of women. “Patriarchy” doesn’t quite work, since while the practices tend to favor men and oppress women, they also oppress men.

And of course, if you read the footnote (or have, y’know, a few brain cells), you’ll realize that women aren’t the only people who are being oppressed. Society is ever-creative in finding new ways to discriminate against people for arbitrary reasons (such as class, gender, race, sexuality, and probably many more things that I’m too privileged to be able to think of off the top of my head). For me**, the correct word to describe this system is “kyriarchy“.

I think this is a particularly useful word when discussing social social constructs that discriminate against men, such as Tony Porter’s man box. Calling the man box a patriarchal construct forgets some of the important structure of it; namely, it oppresses both men and women, but calling it a patriarchy doesn’t capture the former, only the latter. It’s an interestingly Newtonian system that only seems to come up (at least, as far as I’ve seen, which admittedly isn’t very far) when talking about sexism: for many misogynistic constructs, there is a corresponding misandristic construct (and vice-versa).

From my point of view, feminism (despite all its flaws) seems to be the leading anti-kyriarchy movement, or at least the most prominent (I need to look into womanism, too, and presumably there are many more causes). This is why I identify as a feminist. “Kyriarchy” is an excellent word to use when you want to emphasize that the society in question has a complicated structure of overlapping (and seemingly contradictory at times) privileges. One of my friends once argued that it was a useless word, equivalent to “society” in any situation in which one might use it. I don’t see it this way: our society is shitty, and the kyriarchy is why.

I am nowhere near qualified to point out the various flaws in feminism; I have too much privilege and too little education in the matter. But if people keep in mind that the kyriarchy is bad for everyone and hold that as a guiding principle, I think progress can be made. And of course, a big part of that is folks like me becoming aware of and checking our privilege. This is not something I’m very good at, but I think I’m getting better. Practice makes perfect, I suppose, which is kind of the point of my having this blog. Or at least one of the major points.

 

 

*I feel bad that I never incorporate the trans* community in this kind of thing. I think it would be reasonable to put cis- here, but I am really not sure, and I think that would get into matters of intersectionality that are beyond the scope of this specific section. If someone who is less ignorant than I am wants to educate me on how to be a reasonable human being (even though it is not your job!), I am willing to listen. After all, a significant part of the reason I created this blog was so I could ask questions.

**I am pretty sure this is nothing controversial; the point of this isn’t to be an original contribution to feminist literature, but to help me sort out some of my own thoughts and phrase things in a way that might convince some of my more skeptical friends.