In “The Origin of the Family” Kathleen Gough lists eight characteristics of male power in archaic and contemporary societies. What I wanted to do was evaluate these characteristics in the context of current American Politics. I am reading a piece that expands on the ideas of her list so I wanted to do my own similar thought experiment.
One thing that I want to explain before getting on to each number is that male control is used in this piece in the broadest sense. I do not use it to discuss individual control, that is a completely different much more complex conversation. I am speaking purely to the systemic level which includes individuals but it isn’t individuals that are choosing to oppress. That is something to keep in mind for this piece because individual men are not the problem but the system that gives men the power over women in these ways.
This post is fairly hetero and cis sexist. Just a warning but that is our culture. I may identify these issues more thoroughly in another post.
1. The power of men to deny women their own sexuality:The idea behind this is that men deny women a sexuality seperate from men. A sexuality which they control or make decisions about. This is a huge issue in legislation right now. The biggest way that men are denying women their own sexuality is through controlling access to birth. By limiting access to hormonal birth control they are limiting a woman’s ability to prevent her own pregnancy. If the only form of birth control becomes the condom it takes power away from the woman by making it a mutual decision if her body is protected from pregnancy. Obamacare led to a huge debate about companies being able to restrict women from getting birth control if they had religious reasoning. So of course the house created a panel to discuss this. Who was on the panel you ask? Five men.
The other big way is culture. In American culture female sexuality is treated like a commodity. This is most easily seen in the phenomena known as a purity ball. In a purity ball the daughter, usually 8-10 years old, pledges her virginity to her father. Her father then gives her a lock while he keeps the key. On the day of her marriage the father gives her husband the key to her sexuality. It is expected that until one man gives control of her sexuality to another she will not exercise her sexuality. This is one of the more extreme and obvious ways that our society controls female sexuality.
Another more subtle way are Halloween costumes. The sexiness of Halloween costumes is something that many a person has bitched about. I want to take that complaint a bit broader and say that there is a systemic lack of choice for women when it comes to costumes. I saw a sexy bacon costume and lost all hope. The issue here isn’t that women are expected to wear sexy costumes. It is that sexy is almost all that is available. There isn’t even an option for ‘kinda sexy’ it is ‘look like a box’ and ‘what will you do for 20 dollars?’. I went to a random section of a random costume store and looked only at female costumes. Under classics I found this. Out of 16, I would call 12 hooker wear. They are all sexy to an extent but a vast majority have either tits or ass hanging out. The male costumes didn’t have ‘classics’ so I went with ‘TV, movie’. Out of all of the costumes on the front page I would only say the one from ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ is sexy. The issue here is that there is a gender difference in how sexual expectations for men and women on Halloween. This is a societal pressure and a limiting of options that restrict women’s choices on how to showcase their sexuality.
2. Or to force sexuality upon women.
The most obvious way to approach this is through rape. That is the literal forcing of sex. I do not want to really spend time on this because it is such an obvious issue. I want to discuss the heterosexist culture that raises women to submit to male sexuality. A very obvious example is blue balls. Blue balls is the idea that men have certain needs and if these needs are not met it can result in ‘blue balls’, which is painful and results from women denying men sex. This is a link from extreme movie, but it shows what the average ‘script’ for teenage sexuality is. It makes the point for me really. The worst part about blue balls is that it can be used in order to guilt women into sex. They may not want it but they do not want the guy involved to not be able to have sex just because she doesn’t want to. Our society sets up heterosexual sexual interactions where the woman owes a man sexual release.
The second piece that I want to discuss is ‘friend zoning'. The idea is that women put men in the ‘friend zone’ and they want them as more than a friend but the woman does not. There is tons of advice on how men can escape the friend zone and how to prevent from getting into the friend zone. What is not discussed is that the fundamental idea to friend zoning is that friendship may be enough for women but it isn’t for men, that being ‘friends’ with a woman is pointless if you cannot have sex with her. That is the only difference between ‘the friend zone’ and ‘boyfriend’. By refusing to allow intimacy with a woman that doesn’t take place without sex is to force male sexuality on her. It is to say ‘you want someone to talk to? Lean on? Depend on? Then I better get sex out of it’. Mutual friendship is not enough. Sex is what matters.
3. The power of men to command or exploit their labor to control their produce
The wage gap comes into play here but it is still broader than that in our present society. Let’s unpack this video of the Presidential debates, the infamous binders full ofwomen. There are a bunch of problems here 1. Women have to be hunted down to be able to find them. The women in question were dependent on Romney finding them, looking for them. The only reason these women were hired was because Romney took it upon himself to find them. I am NOT saying that it is Romeny’s fault or that it is the women’s fault in this scenario. I am saying that it is a problem that women are portrayed in our culture as needing a helping hand. They need ‘affirmative action’ or need male candidates to be ignored to get them. 2. Romney says that women need a flexible work schedule. Since this is a pay equity question not only is he dodging the issue but he is also saying that women need more flexibility than men to pursue ‘other opportunities’. The opportunity of course is motherhood. This is less of an issue than it was in the past and the pay gap has improved of course. But to ignore it or to say that it is based on women’s choices so women need to make better choices is absurd and is exactly the point that I am trying to make. Conversations regarding equal pay and labor rights are ignored or trivialized. Though women make up 51% of the population their employment issues are not taken seriously in our culture and are used by politicians to pander to the ‘female vote’.
4. The power to control of rob them of their children.This is an issue that has gotten a lot better and I would argue that the power in this issue has switched. It is now much more easy for a woman to get a child custody or for a woman to get an approved adoption. Of course in general the person that is making this decision is a man so it is really men having power of other men. I would argue that there is still an issue with allowing women to control their ability to have children. In the House a bill was debated that would outlaw abortion for rape victims and invitro fertilization that allows women to have children (the house has 75 female members which shakes out to 5.8%, via wikipedia). Outlawing abortion completely was recently added to the republican platform which is notorious for being old, white and male (I was unable to find demographic statistics). Once again men are making choices that impact women’s bodies. Not in a personal manner because it effects them too, but without even giving them an equal voice in the discussion.
5. The power to confine them physically and prevent their movement
I feel fairly certain that doing this literally is a crime. This culture does restrict women’s movements when it comes to victim blaming and preventing rape.
This ad connects showing up to consenting to sex
This judge apologized after telling a sexual assault victim that if she hadn’t gone to the bar that night she wouldn’t have been assaulted
A tumblr devoted to victimblaming
Women’s council leader tells women to not go outside aloneOur culture beats the idea of not going out alone, not going into dark corners at night, how to even fuck walk around by yourself. “no headphones, shoulders back, walk at an average pace so as not to seem fearful, if someone attacks you call the police on your phone so that they can collect evidence” this was advice given to me and my friend by a police officer that was friends with her father and he asked him to talk to us so that we could ‘protect’ ourselves. My friend and I have had many conversations about this after we realized that we were fucking terrified of being out after dark, even together, because there were not too many people. We were having a physiological reaction to footsteps and were trying to figure out why we were so scared. I have not met a guy that is as terrified of being alone after dark or given advice like this. When society conditions women like this it allows men to be less afraid and to feel that women’s fear is irrational which both constricts women’s movements and disempowers them from even discussing the issue.
6. The power to use them as objects in male transactions.We do not have child marriage, arranged marriage, or bride price anymore. I will refer to an interesting piece that I read once though. A female reporter went undercover as a man just to see what it was like. One thing that she noticed was that cat calling wasn’t about the woman, but about being able to interact with other men. It was a way for men to discuss a neutral topic and actually talk to each other, such as sports or the weather. That was shocking to me because in this case the woman isn’t a person but is a vehicle for male discussion. This is something that disempowers men and women from being whole people but it is something that disempowers women more because the woman in this example is an object and is not even treated as partially human.
Another example is music videos this is Bon Bon by Pitbull and if you watch the video women are literally just eye candy. They are objects that are there to entertain the viewer . That is their only purpose.
7. The power to cramp their creativenessA woman’s ability to get an education and to work in a creative medium is much improved but the biggest issue that I see is disrespect. I see this the most in female comedians. The idea that a woman cannot be funny is very consistent in our culture.
8. The power to withhold from them large areas of the society’s knowledge and cultural attainmentsAccess to education has gone way up and I think that this was a huge accomplishment of second wave feminism. I think there are still issues with sex role stereotyping and conditioning of men and women to go into separate career paths. I think that this specific issue is not a way that men have control over women but a way that our culture affects all of our daily decisions. That is a separate issue to me.
In closing I really just wanted to do this as a thought experiment. This piece that I read was written in the 70s as the height of second wave feminism and I wanted to compare it to our culture now. How much have we accomplished? Do men still have control over women? What conversations should we be making? This is by no means complete and it doesn’t do everything to answer these questions but I thought it would be an interesting way to place feminist rhetoric into a present day landscape.