Oct 252011

It has been almost ten years since I founded the Feminist Peace Network as a safe a supportive place to discuss how militarism, violence and misogyny impacts women’s lives.  While FPN has thrived and expanded, I am depressed beyond words to see  those very same issues of safety, sexism, misogynist power structures and lack of gendered analysis  within the growing Occupy movement.  Just as there was an urgent need for spaces such as FPN as a response to the military attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, it is now crucial to respond to issues of misogyny in the Occupy movement.

While occupying Wall Street is important, taking a step back, we are reminded that Wall Street is a manifestation and tool of the much larger problem of patriarchal control and power which has been plaguing us for thousands of years and which depends in large part on the exploitation, subjugation and control of women.  Put bluntly, the harms experienced by women as a result of global economic policies are, in aggregate, different and often far worse than those experienced by men.

The majority of people living in poverty are female, in this country women are lucky to make 77 cents on the male dollar (women of color often earn far less than that).  Women are forced to do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work such as child and elder care and housework.  In times of economic instability, women are more vulnerable to intimate violence while at the same time social services that could help them are cut.  We are still paying more for health care and our access to reproductive health services is under siege. And throughout the world women are more likely to go hungry and poverty forces women into sexual slavery.

If we truly want to change the economic paradigm, these issues must be integral to the agenda, yet they are being marginalized and all but invisible in the Occupy movement.  When women dare to bring them up, we are met with the very tired and patriarchy preserving saws about looking at the whole and not being divisive. In a blog post that is sadly reminiscent of Robin Morgan’s description in her book, Demon Lover of the same problem in the early days of second wave feminism,  Angie Becker Stevens writes about the phenomenon for Ms Magazine,

On the other side of the coin, though, the ‘Occupy’ movement needs to embrace feminism as part of its cause. The folks I know personally who have been working tirelessly for the movement in New York are committed to a platform opposing all forms of oppression. But those views are not necessarily a reflection of all who are “occupying” New York and elsewhere. In the short time I’ve been involved with the developing Occupy Detroit movement, I have already met with resistance from some people when trying to bring gender—as well as race and sexual orientation—into the dialogue. The arguments given are probably familiar to any feminist activist who has engaged in broader-based movements: that we will only dilute our message if we start talking about all these different issues at once; that we need to focus on this one big issue that affects all of us; that we’ll deal with all these “social issues” later.

Many—typically straight white men—claim that talking about gender and race will only divide us, when what we need is to be standing together and focusing on how we’re all the same. But the reality is that we do not all experience oppression in the same ways. There is value in uniting–the ‘Occupy’ movement’s slogan that “we are the 99%” is a powerful one–but our experiences still differ based on race, class, gender and sexual orientation. It is perhaps a well-intentioned notion to imagine that we can unite in a way that transcends these categories, but it’s a notion that has no basis in the reality of our society. Because these categories, however artificially constructed they might be, still play a huge role in how and to what degree we are exploited, it is impossible to fight oppressive forces without acknowledging the reality of how they function. We can stand in solidarity with one another without pretending that our experiences are identical. In fact, I would argue that the only true solidarity is one in which we fully recognize and respect both how our struggles are alike and how they differ.

Not surprisingly, there have also been blatant episodes of sexist, misogynistic objectivity such as Steven Greenstreet’s Hot Chicks of Wall Street video and blog which purports to attract guys to Occupy because there are “smart hot chicks” there.  Then there is this horrific tidbit from Peter J. Reilly at Forbes,

What better way is there to “neutralize” a dissenter than by having her and especially him sexually assaulted or even merely threatened.  The humiliation is unbearable.

“Especially him”?  The implication would seem to be that women are used to sexual assault so it is no big deal.

It is critical that we not let such statements pass unnoticed for the supposed greater good of the cause and it is also crucial that we insist that the needs of the 99% not be reduced to a homogenous white male centric vision of what is needed. Real change on Wall Street will only come from addressing the root problem of patriarchy.

Towards this end, the Feminist Peace Network has started a new project called Occupy Patriarchy which will work towards bringing together those of us who are confronting and addressing the issue of patriarchy within the Occupy movement.  The project was conceived of in partnership with feminist scholar and activist Kathy Miriam who was one of first people to begin to articulate what has been happening and whose work has been a catalyst in my own thinking.  We have set up both a website and a Facebook page where we will be posting links to work being done throughout the country and the world as well as commentary and guest posts from other activists.  We invite you to become part of this effort.


 October 25, 2011  Posted by on October 25, 2011

  5 Responses to “Occupying Patriarchy”

  1. Thanks for your great article. I’d like to offer a different but complimentary viewpoint in the hope that it can enrich the clearly positive impact you are having in the #OWS movement. Actually it’s not so much a viewpoint as much as a collection of related and relevant opinions.
    1. Patriarchy is a symptom of our misunderstanding of our own identities. We are each of us deeply dependent on all living beings male and female, for our continued existence. We are one. The universe is one. While our direct experience of life as individual manifestations of divinity is clouded by our 5 senses which consume our attention, our egos invent a false picture of who we are which we tend to believe unquestioningly. It is this ignorance which is the true core or root problem. Patriarchy is a consequence of the belief we are seperate.
    2. You seem from your choice of words to have chosen an enemy, the enemy is men. I’m sure you will disagree this point, and I’m sure you have much evidence which would also support the view that they are somehow the enemy. But your seperation by gender lines actually creates divisiveness, just the thing you are fighting against. You are not modelling (in this one article which I have read) an inclusive and enriching emergent whole of humanity. The trick which I absolutely agree is not an easy one, is to balance the need to project an integrative whole with the need to communicate the needs of its components. When the balance is there and you are able to see “Men” with compassion, the message will be twice as powerful, and far more likely to hit home in the #OWS movement and elsewhere.
    3. The focus should not be on men or women as if they were 2 polar opposites and can each be treated as somehow an entity on their own. This is old world thinking, and leads to situations which create and perpetuate the problem. Why shouldn’t more men be feminists?
    4. When focussing on big issues such as institutional manifestation of patriarchy, there needs to be crystal clear thinking about what exactly is meant. Not all aspects of paternalism are negative, the majority are not.
    5. When those negative aspects have been clearly defined, we need to look at the causes of those aspects being manifested and perpetuated throughout the generations. When doing this there should be no assuptions made about one group of people being the enemy. Women play a critical role in the creation of the negative aspects of partiarchy and are very often the primary source of negative identity beliefs in both boys and girls.

    None of this is meant as any kind of attack on you, your website, or your beliefs so I hope you can see it for what it is, an honest attempt to enrich your worldview so that you can be more effective within the #OWS movement so that your vital message can be heard more clearly.

  2. 1. Patriarchy is a consequence of the [men’s] belief we are seperate [and that men are superior to women and children and whites are superior to all people of color….].

    I wonder, writer, what your background is? Are you financially stable? Do you feel safe in your home? Do you feel safe walking alone in the day? or in the night? Do you have healthcare? Do you have strong support networks of family and friends? Do you have an emergency fund? Do you have a job that you can depend on for financial security? Do you have to work?

    You sound like one of those ‘you create your own reality’ people from one of those you create your own reality churches. it’s easier to create material wealth, when you privilege–privilege is like money in the bank–privelege comes in different forms but some clues to privilege are–white/european-descent, male, christian, educated, financially stable.

    we are all one. but that doesn’t mean that we all have the same access to getting our basic needs met. we need men, and specifically white men, to acknowledge the systems of oppression that are in place, and work with women and people of color to create systems of equality.

  3. This is not a complete response to the original article and the first comment. That would take a book-length post.

    I think that some of the reason why issues of patriarchy, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. are not up-front in the various OWS actions is NOT because these issues are seen as irrelevant to a comprehensive analysis of the socio-economic situation we are in. I think that the narrower explicit focus of the activists on simple economic facts is an attempt to prevent scaring off the “couch potatoes” – who while sympathizing with the main message, would stay on their couches once they had sniffed a more complex, controversial, revolutionary subtexts lurking.

    This has been the tactic (though it may not be a sound strategy) of the Israeli protesters, who have chosen to focus on the economic symptoms in Israel, but have avoided bringing up the obvious influences of hyper-militarism, machismo, mafioso-oligarchy, racism, ethnic-religious exceptionalism and the like, that underlie the economic problems. In other words: If you talk about unaffordability of housing – everybody’s in; as soon as you utter the word “Palestinian” or “illegal settlements” – all solidarity evaporates.

    The root dynamics of social inequalities will have to be addressed little-by-little, but for most people, if they are slammed over the head with the message “The root of all Evil are old, white men!”, they just turn off.

    One other note; It’s too late, but “Liberate Wall Street” would have been a better moniker. “Occupy” has a negative connotation for most people, methinks.

  4. Dear Paul,

    I’m concerned about the tone and content of many of your comments above. I’m concerned first as a man struggling to confront my own and other men’s sexism.

    My read of your tone is one who is trying to portray himself as an enlightened male guru lecturing acolytes (primarily female?) as to the true meaning of the universe. That might not be your intention, but it is what I hear when you claim to “enrich” the “worldview” of the author. In particular, when you deny that patriarchy is a “root problem,” it sounds to me like you are denying the real pain of women suffering at the hands of male-dominated power structures (almost all power structures in our world are male dominated) and inflicted by far too many individual men.

    “The belief that we are separate,” as you write, is surely a problem, and one that Barbara Deming, a pacifist feminist, wrote about beautifully in “We Are All Part of One Another” (http://homepage.mac.com/deyestone/weareallpart.html – though she wrote this largely before she began writing about her feminism in print). However, I believe it is vital not to dismiss or elide the specific power dynamics of any particular form of oppression, in this case patriarchy, by conceptually chunking it into your “larger” framework, and by claiming that “patriarcy is a consequence” it sounds to me like that is what you are doing.

    I’m also concerned about your jumping to the conclusion that the author considers men the enemy. I see no evidence whatsoever in this article to indicate anything of the kind. In fact, the article clearly identifies its opposition to the, “patriarchal control and power which has been plaguing us for thousands of years and which depends in large part on the exploitation, subjugation and control of women.” If we, as men who are trying to be pro-feminist and trying to reject, transform, and end patriarchal power structures and all unjust privileges (and, Paul, I hope you include yourself in this description), don’t identify with patriarchy, than we have no reason to feel threatened by opposition to patriarchal control. I know many of us have been conditioned to feel that challenges to our privileges as men are an attack on us as men, but I hope we can learn to listen to such challenges as a gift, an opportunity to assess our privileges, how we use them, and to what extent we can change our behavior to use the privileges we have against gender injustices.

    But I also want to step back. If any woman did or does consider men as an enemy, at _least_ until each of us consistently demonstrates, through our words and actions, that we are committed to allying against sexism and patriarchy, wouldn’t this be a reasonable response to living under patriarchal occupation and all the violence that occupation entails? As the pro-feminist John Stoltenberg (see http://feministallies.blogspot.com/2007/11/men-doing-feminist-work-john.html) points out so incisively, each of us who are men are only one man away from betraying our putative pro-feminist principles. In other words, for those of us who are men, there will be times when we’re tired, or when we don’t want to confront a man who has power over us, or a man who seems threatening to us, or, for those of us who are white men, a man who is a person of color, because many of us who are white are afraid of being perceived as racist. (As to that last example, it’s important for those of us who are white to understand that we have power and privilege as white people in a racist power structure, so under that definition we are racist, it’s a question of how we use that knowledge to confront our own and other’s racism, including by initiating genuine dialogue with men of color about sexism.) So, given this reality, I think it’s important for men to stop “accusing” women of considering us the enemy, and start considering, empathetically, why some women might consider us an enemy of justice. If we can get beyond our defensiveness about our privileges being challenged, we might be able to use this knowledge as motivation to try to become better allies.

    I’m dismayed, Paul, by your accusation that in the blog post “your separation by gender lines actually creates divisiveness.” The author anticipated this objection by quoting Robin Morgan’s fantastic book, The Demon Lover. I’m a little afraid of explicating this further because I can’t say it better than she did, and I hope you re-read that selection. But I will add, that though racism and sexism aren’t the same, sometimes thinking analogically is useful. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/resources/article/annotated_letter_from_birmingham) makes a similar point. In it, King explains that confronting racism isn’t divisive, it’s the racism that divides us.

    Similarly, naming sexist behavior, as the author does above, isn’t divisive, it’s sexism that divides us. Challenging sexism gives us an opportunity to heal the wounds that patriarchy causes. We can’t heal those wounds without recognizing them, naming them, confronting them, and stopping the abuse. If we act to end the sexism, then and only then are we are striving to end the divisiveness caused by the oppression. I hope we can both help overcome these divides by confronting sexism, and other forms of oppression (without ignoring each one’s specifity), together.

    In Peace,
    Sam Diener

  5. Hey Paul and the rest ..think one time for real :

    it is about Justice and sharing…

    Nobody wants to share the misery or the exploitation, that is the base of the wealth of those privileged….you say so
    and it is the rule of dominion that you
    make visible by doing so.

    this extremely unjust system of privileges…..patriarchal capitalism..

    it needs to be ended…Which is only possible by ending the privileges as they function.

    It is not a matter of inner feeling, it is a matter of survival of the whole planet.

    awakening is not to help you deni reality, awakening is to help you
    dig the whole truth of it !

    You Paul are not awakened, you are
    just igoring most of the perspektives
    of the real whole situation.

    Earth: it is enough for all
    by sharing …………………
    …enought is full of joy
    when you share…
    when you share the work :
    it can be sweet and learning _
    most of the time, enought of it
    at least:
    to understand

    enought is hard….and
    you have to go,
    when no share is

    this is dead in the end:
    all yours allone.
    then you’ll be shared
    completely-away and
    the world rejoices
    with us

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