Skip to content

On Doing What You Want, And Whether The Patriarchy Made You Do It

February 25, 2010

So, last time I did a meta post, it was on the subject of being a “good” feminist. Which is a little difficult, since there’s no such thing.

This time, I’ve been gaining inspiration from Fannie of Fannie’s Room, who was writing yesterday about women’s choices, specifically within porn. That link has a trigger warning on it, by the way. Anyway, so it’s the perennial debate: do you actually have a choice, or do you just think you do, because the patriarchy has brainwashed you?

Find out, after the break!

Now, we live in a patriarchy. A huge, enveloping, unashamed patriarchy. Everything we do, we do within the mould of a patriarchy, because that’s all we’ve got. It’s a bit like the way that the Student’s Union is run to be just like a little version of the council, up to and including the bit where only the candidates standing for election and their friends care about who wins, and so the person who wins is the person with the most friends. They do it that way because that’s all they’ve got. And possibly because they want to prepare themselves for politics. But that would spoil my analogy.

Or, you might like to think about fish. Fish in the sea. I mean, do they swim because they want to, or because the water made them? Tricky, tricky. I mean, they could just evolve, right? Maybe we will, too, one day.

I suppose what I’m saying is this: the patriarchy, the way it’s meant here, is everywhere. It is, metaphorically, the water we swim in. There isn’t really any question of not being influenced by patriarchal modes of thought. You can’t help it. When I was a bastard small child, and sneered at girls who wore pink, and refused to wear pink myself – that wasn’t opting out. In fact, that was ever more firmly opting in. It was identifying a stereotype that exists in the patriarchy, and attempting to rectify it by doing the opposite. But I couldn’t have made that decision for that reason if the stereotype hadn’t existed. Oh, I might have decided that I didn’t want to wear pink anyway. Or I might not have cared. But we’ll never know, because I – like everybody else – existed, and continue to exist, in a patriarchy.

Nevertheless, when I said that I didn’t want to wear pink, I meant it. Never mind the reasoning. I really didn’t want to. Knowing that the patriarchy has something to do with what I wanted doesn’t make that desire any more or less valid. The desire simply is; the patriarchy is why. There’s a difference.

Back to here and now, if I chose to work in the porn industry, would that be my own choice? Well, yes, because I’m privileged enough that it’s not a need. The choice – for me, and I’m aware that this isn’t true for everybody – exists; it is. The reasons behind that choice will almost certainly be inextricably linked with the patriarchy. That is why. But it would still be a choice.

In fact, this isn’t just a woman thing. You know how there’s that oft-repeated phrase, that the patriarchy hurts men too? Well, this is one of those areas. Men live within a patriarchy just like women do, just like anybody who doesn’t opt in to the gender binary does. And everybody makes their choices within that framework. A boy chooses to enlist in the army. His choice, or one the patriarchy made for him? A genderqueer person decides to tick “female” on an equal opportunities form, one in which some people are more equal than others*. Their choice, or one the patriarchy made for them?

Oh, there are things that make things different, I know. The way women and women’s bodies are sexualized, in a way that men and men’s bodies are not, for a start. And these things are important, and should be talked about. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re all living in the patriarchy. The stereotypes will be different; the fact of its existance will be the same.

So, does the patriarchy influence your decision to do – well, just about anything? Probably. For instance, I chose to study maths at university, partly because that’s what I was good at, and partly, to be honest, because I liked the idea of being one of those shocking women who can count. The patriarchy sure as hell influenced that choice. I wouldn’t even bother wondering whether it did. It’s pretty fucking obvious.

We could speculate as to whether I’d have made that choice if the patriarchy hadn’t got involved, but, really, that’s ultimately pointless. Let’s work with what we’ve got: the patriarchy, and a choice. That one influences the other does not make it any less valid.

Paraphrasing Philip Pullman, “we are all subject to the Patriarchy. But we must all act as if we are not, or die of despair.”**

Shorter Rachel: do you actually have a choice, or do you just think you do, because the patriarchy has brainwashed you?

Yes, you have a choice. Perhaps it’s not the same one you would have made in happyland, and perhaps – no, probably – the patriarchy did make you do it, but whatever you choose is still a valid choice, and it’s still yours.

* original quote from Animal Farm;

For once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:



**original quote from Northern Lights;

“You speak of destiny,” he said, “as if it was fixed. And I ain’t sure I like that any more than a war I’m enlisted in without knowing about it. Where’s my free will, if you please? And this child seems to me to have more free will than anyone I ever met. Are you telling me that she’s just some kind of clockwork toy wound up and set going on a course she can’t change?”

“We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not,” said the witch, “or die of despair.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. lilyanneporter permalink
    March 1, 2010 9:52 pm

    I have to think about this more, but I like what you wrote.

  2. March 2, 2010 4:20 pm

    Thank you. That’s possibly the best comment I could’ve hoped for 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: