Who Is Interested in Holding Me Down?

David Bellamy sent me a very interesting article which is written in the form of a letter addressed to girls. Here are some excerpts from it [emphasis mine]:

You may not “naturally” be interested in domesticity, piety, purity and submission, and they rely on your commitment to those things to order their worlds. Their actions, from one end of the spectrum to the other, are designed to fill you with self-doubt and, ultimately, fear — either bodily or spiritual — because otherwise you, and the young boys around you, will be fully aware of your strength and potential.

Because of this, they single-mindedly focus their attention on you, your body, your clothes, your hair, your abilities, your physical freedom. When their “manners” and “morals” are not universally applicable, but different for boys and girls, you can be sure that this is why. They seek to teach you, subtly, through small slights and gendered expectations, that you are “different,” weak, unworthy, incapable. The sadness is that, in their perception, if you are none of these things, then they are not strong, worthy and capable.

In the article, “they” stand for religious men. However, when every single one of the things listed here was done to me, it was not done by religious men. It was done by women who had no knowledge of or interest in any religion. Nor was it done to please or serve any man like the article suggests.

I’m not denying that patriarchally minded men, whether religious or not (religion is as relevant here as is their hair color*), do a lot to keep the traditional gender structures in place. There is, however, the exact same number of women who benefit greatly from those patriarchal structures. Such women see any female who subverts the patriarchy with any aspect of her personality or behavior as an existential threat. I insist that I have not met a single man who has condemned me and vilified me nearly as much for my professional and financial success and sexual freedom as my female friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances. Contrary to what the article suggests, when men did that, it was always a half-hearted attempt to please women. Of course, other people have different stories. But this is my story, and I want it to count as much as anybody else’s.

I know that it is tempting to assign an easily identifiable enemy one can blame for one’s marginalization. Blame it all on religious men, what can be easier or more attractive?

Things are more complex than that, though. People who maintain and impose strictly defined, traditional gender roles are people who benefit from the patriarchal mode of existence. Those people can be male, female, religious, non-religious. The patriarchy is not a system that oppresses women. It is a system that oppresses people who can’t or won’t conform to traditional gender roles. The patriarchy is not a system that is upheld by men. It is upheld by people who benefit from the existence of traditional gender roles.

* I grew up in a fully atheist country where being a victim of rape was the most shameful thing you can be and got you shamed and vilified by everybody, where every other woman was a victim of sexual violence, where women who had sex outside of marriage were referred to as “damaged goods” and often brutalized by their family members, where raping a completely sexually ignorant woman on her wedding night was the most normal thing to do. So tell me once more how religion causes hateful attitudes towards women. Remember, we are talking about a society that had been atheist for generations and the real people whose stories I described here (as well as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents) never even saw the Bible, the Torah or the Koran or visited a religious service.

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11 comments on “Who Is Interested in Holding Me Down?

  1. Well it´s not religious men per se, it´s patriarchy which has all sorts of agents. But, the quotation is very good and worth committing to memory. Technically I know all of this but that does not mean I always recognize these things for what they are right away or every time.

  2. Everything you say is true, but the article you sent may have been just as true based on the author’s experience. As I read the excerpt, I wondered who the “they” was, and the first thing that came to mind was the Catholic Church. I grew up Catholic, and the Church was one of the stronger sources, but not the only one, in my upbringing that gave me those messages.

  3. I’ve had a similar problem with many women. They tend to start plotting your downfall if they think you haven’t suffered from the system to the same degree they have. This is called “paying your dues” and involves rituals of sado-masochistic humiliation, ostensibly designed to allow you to progress to the next level of success. If they think you haven’t paid your dues enough, they have to make sure you do.

  4. History has a stronger grip than many are willing to believe. Yes, the former USSR countries had 70 years of official positive atheism (as opposed to official non-establishmentarianism of the American variety). 70 years is the blink of an eye in cultural terms. Of course the belief in patriarchy, anti-Semitism, authoritarianism, and “Big Man” crony government is going to survive through a 70 year interval between the czars and the fall of the USSR. Religion is a symbol of The Good Old Days for a lot of people.

    Of course many women adapt to the existing system rather than challenge it. In the existing patriarchal system, individual women maintain their status by slut-shaming other women – and this happens world-wide, whether the local culture is religious or not.

    • Nevertheless, the anti-semitism in the USSR was completely wiped out in a few short years and was non-existent between the 1920s and 1947. The religious feelings were stamped out very fast and very easily. Most people hated the Church already, so that was easy.

      The reason why as many women as men support and promote the patriarchy is that it works for them. It benefits those who are willing to play the game hugely. Religion or no religion, that’s a simple reality. If you are not very smart, if you are kind of lazy, if you are not into working, if a career is not something that interests you, and if your libido is very dormant, patriarchy is quite a good little system for this kind of a woman. You agree not to do any of the things you don’t want to do anyways (working, getting an education, pursuing sexual fulfillment) in exchange for somebody else paying your way and keeping you for life. Not bad at all. We all know that the patriarchy deprives women of their full humanity. What we forget is that a full humanity is quite a burden. This is why there is and always will be a certain number of women who will defend their right not to be fully human and retain their patriarchal role of a kept, infantilized, stupidified object.

      I hope I don’t need to explain that the patriarchy deprives men of their full humanity, too, albeit in a different way, which is why there will always be men who will support it because for them, too, being fully human is a burden.

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