Jessica Mason McFadden writes, studies and mothers in Western Illinois, where she lives with her wife and daughters. She has a B.A. in English from Western Illinois University and plans to be a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program starting next Fall. Jess identifies as a queer feminist, and you can find out more about her at: www.masonismymiddlename.
I, like many of you, have read Ashley Judd’s feminist piece about the patriarchal objectification of the physical bodies of women and girls in The Daily Beast (as well as on her official blog). I am grateful that she used what was a frustrating and off-putting situation as an educational moment. She used her platform as a public figure to respond to a public conversation that is already taking place in the media, perpetuating stereotypes, mis-educating the public and contributing to what television journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell refers to as the “attack on women.”
In her directive and pointed article, Ms. Judd alluded to what I consider a Mentality of Patriarchy. She described patriarchy as an insipid system in which men and women operate to perpetuate its limiting heteronormative ideologies. I agree with her assertion, but I am puzzled as to how to actually change the system. Can the system be uprooted? And how? If it is a mentality, then how can that global mentality be changed? And is it a global mentality or are there communities within the global system of humanity that function without the presence of a patriarchal mentality?
A way of moving toward the next step in the process (beyond naming the problems, which Ashley Judd and feminists all over the world continue do vehemently) is by connecting or networking with other forms of feminism, especially grassroots forms. One of the issues that I see in the ongoing global feminist movement is the failure to translate conceptualizations into effective actions. Conceptualizing is certainly one form of feminist action – one that affects the mentality of the people it reaches; but what about the people for whom conceptualization and theory is not effective? People like my astute fellow-feminist Ashley Judd can engage in intellectual conversations with feminists like herself for years and years. I’m there – I’ve done it and I’m doing it. It’s gratifying to do and it’s important to do. It helps us to expand and refine our body (!) of ideas. But how do we translate our theoretical principles into effective action? I’m asking because I have not figured out the answer.
I consider the main form of activism that I bring to the table of feminist humanism to be my ability to creatively intellectualize in both abstract and concrete forms feminist and humanist ideas. One of the limitations of the activism of theory and intellectualism that I perceive is that it often forms a heteronormative, patriarchal system of hierarchy within the larger, global feminist community that prevents a bridge from being formed between theoretical (academic) feminist communities and other types of feminist communities.
Although there are common shared ideologies between feminists, there doesn’t exist one specific and uniform Culture of Feminism. There are many different varieties and manifestations of feminisms just as there are many different varieties and manifestations of feminists. A sort of elitism forms within feminism, just as it forms within other systems when a balanced exchange of the various cultures within that system does not exist. It’s easy to say we’re having a “conversation.” I know because I have said that. It’s harder to actually create a viable dialogue. And so I am here to help Ms. Judd actualize her dialogue by engaging in the conversation. I hope more of you, from all walks of life, will join in this emerging dialogue and make it a global conversation.
Feminism, as a system that formed out of and in response to another system, involves its fair share of categorization, labeling, judging and criticizing. It is not devoid of many of the hierarchical patterns that exist within patriarchy. And the mentality of feminism still exists within the mentality of patriarchy. It’s still a response-system to a larger system of oppression. The ideas inherent in feminism are not exclusive to feminism. The egalitarian-and-humanism-oriented ethics and values within feminism are actually ethics and values that exist outside of feminism. Some indigenous cultures in the Americas, prior to their transformation by the European system of patriarchal colonialist oppression, operated outside of, or beyond, the mentality of patriarchy.
We could start by studying lost indigenous earth-mother-based communities, supporting the sustenance and growth of similar communities that are patriarchy-resistant/distant today, becoming involved in the building of new communities that value equality and coexistence, and making efforts to do what we can to raise awareness within the patriarchal system and bridge the gap between the existing hierarchical divide within feminism. I, myself, would like to be part of a community in which the mentality of patriarchy is not present – but that is an ideal and likely will never be my reality. And so I do what I can to raise my own and others’ awareness within the mentality of patriarchy. Ashley’s article touches upon the quandary and struggle of fighting a system from within. It renders you susceptible to its influences and pitfalls, and it requires that you continually question and reevaluate.
It’s a struggle to remain, to live day-to-day within the system that you are working to change. I work from within the system in the hopes that some day, when I am dead and gone, the mental system of patriarchy will become so dismantled that a new form of higher living will begin to emerge – in which feminism is no longer necessary because patriarchy is no longer dominating the human psyche. I have my doubts. I see patriarchy as being strongly present throughout the animal kingdom, not simply in humans. The predator-prey relationship is a product of an earth psyche of patriarchy – of imperialism, of domination and submission. If that is the unchangeable nature of the animals that currently inhabit the earth, including humans, then it is likely that the dynamics of domination and submission will be present until most of the presently living creatures of earth are extinct.
When I consider this, then I think that if humans cannot transform their own psyche over the next few hundred years then perhaps the extinction of the species is the natural and acceptable next step in the evolutionary development of Earth. Maybe after humans are gone, Earth will be inhabitable by another kind of life form – one, again, of dominance and submission. Or, maybe earth will be inhabitable by a life form that I cannot even imagine – one that does not involve any traces of patriarchy, or traces of the animal kingdom, as we know it. Maybe earth will become uninhabitable due to forces beyond our control – in fact, that seems very, very likely. In that case, all of our stories of earth and of God and of the cosmos will be stardust. There, outside of the mentality – the storytelling psyche – of humanity, there will be neither good nor evil.
As long as there is life, then there will be death. The duality of life is always present within the system of life. The universe shows signs of life – the movement and alignment of the stars and planets are signs of life. Are signs of life evidence enough to assert, on the basis of their existence, that life will continue to exist beyond us? Are my philosophical beyond-feminist questions giving you a headache yet? They are starting to give me one, and I feel myself coming to the place where the questions end themselves. I’ve hit the wall of questioning, in which no answers and no questions exist – in which patriarchies are non-existent and the feminisms that arise to dismantle and transform them are non-existent.
I don’t believe I have seen any evidence of patriarchy in the universe beyond the earth. Not that I know anything about the universe beyond the earth. Perhaps a physicist can join in this feminist dialogue that has much less to do with puffy cheeks than it does with the stars (the ones in the atmosphere, not the ones that Ashley Judd waves hello to on her way to work). Feminist physicists, who will likely never read this, wherever you are, can you respond to the questions I raise about the presence or absence of patriarchal forms in space? Are there patriarchal planets and feminist planets? Are there planets dominating other planets?
Earth may be the only one we know of, but Earth hasn’t yet conquered or fulfilled its aspirations to colonize other planets. May the forces that be change the Mindset of Earth so that it only aims to learn about the rest of the universe in the name of coexistence and not in the name of conquering-ownership. And may I go through the rest of my day not only intellectualizing in the name of feminism but also acting in the way of feminism so that I may be not only a feminist thinker and a feminist activist but a feminist: an everyday, do whatever I am doing in a peaceful-coexisting way, feminist. That’s not a start and that’s not a finish – that’s a step outside of the path of patriarchy.
(public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)