Is Patriarchy a Useful Term?

What’s the problem with the term “patriarchy”, if I may ask? I keep seeing all these posts on how this term doesn’t make sense because the majority of men never had access to power under this system.

So what, I ask? Does the word “capitalism” mean that everybody has access to capital? How many people do you know who have any capital at all? (Debts don’t count as capital, in case you are not aware.) Will you claim that this is not a capitalist country, then?

In feudal societies, most people were not feudal overlords. And during the Enlightened era, 90% of people were completely illiterate. So? Where are the posts disputing the terminology of capitalism, feudalism, and Enlightenment?

I just read a very long, rambling and stupid post (that I’m not going to link to because I don’t want to give hits to blabbering fools) that made this completely inane point about patriarchy as a useless term. And before you make comments about male chauvinists, the author of the post was a woman.

If there are intelligent objections to the use of the word, then feel free to share. But this kind of silliness makes me very annoyed.

70 thoughts on “Is Patriarchy a Useful Term?

  1. The majority of men have no access to power at the national level, but do have power in the workplace, which is where patriarchy is most evident. The common perception that a woman who acts the same way as a man is ‘shrill’, or worse ‘a bitch’, while the man is considered strong or firm, is an example. Although there are counter-examples where women are in positions of power in the workplace, they are far from parity. For this reason, I believe patriarchy is a useful term in analyzing these power relationships

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  2. In Western societies, patriarchy is linked to the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Judaism. So long as you are a woman who abides by the expectations placed on women in accordance with these faiths, you probably won’t encounter too much direct antagonism from any lurking beast that goes by the name of patriarchy. You have to be demure and basically in a reproductive mode and prone to obedience rather than questioning. If you’re not particularly adapted to this model, you will raise the ire of many males who will proclaim that you are not behaving according to your nature. They will set out to assist you to conform to your proper role, often by means of a great deal of psychological, physical and economic forms of violence.

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  3. “Patriarchy” is a good and useful term for the way gender tends to be hierarchized in this society. Sometimes you see it slung around in a context where it seems to connote “all men are tyrants who try to control the lives of all women”, which I think is where the objection comes from. The connotation and the objection are equally in error, but there you go.

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  4. ” You have to be demure and basically in a reproductive mode and prone to obedience rather than questioning.”

    – What on Earth does this have to do with Christianity??? Jesus’s closest female disciple was a very non-demure “woma of loose behavior.” Jesus specifically proclaimed freedom from gender roles and stereotypes.

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    1. (Not that this is all that relevant to the conversation, but there is no evidence anywhere, including the Bible, that Mary Magdalen was a “loose” woman at all; that was made up by some 4th century bishop…)

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  5. I’ve always been partial to the term “patriarchy” myself. It seems perfectly clear that it refers to “society largely controlled by men,” not “all men have power.” That people react so strongly to it tells me that it really strikes a chord, and they’re trying to find excuses. 🙂

    That said, I notice I’ve started using “kyriarchy” unless I’m referring very specifically to actions made directly by cis men. This might be bad; I feel like the term is often used to avoid offending men who are sensitive to “patriarchy,” but at the expense of honesty. (And as I wrote that sentence, I realized I personally picked it up from womanist writers who use it mostly to refer to “oppression by white people.” For whatever that’s worth.)

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  6. I guess if were trying to make a more equality based society, maybe its better to use terms that dont raise the “ire” of certain part of the populace. I see the word kyriarchy and feel it better describes the power imbalance that some of us experience. Even the term feminist may have outlived its usefulness. Egalitarian seems so much more apt. I guess the pertinent questions should be, “Do any of us think first of a woman being in power when we use the term patriarchy” or “Do any of us think first of a man when we use the term feminist.” I think for the average individual the answers are obvious, hence the reason they are very often gender specific rather than speaking of a structured systems that include both male and female.

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    1. So I should abandon terminology because other people get upset by it and can’t even explain logically why?

      I’m sorry, this does not convince me. I don’t believe in catering to irrational feelings of others.

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      1. The reaction (like trying to abandon the word patriarchy altogether) may be irrational but I don’t think the feelings themselves are (well most of the time).

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  7. It CAN be a useful term in the way that some of the power relationships between men and women are currently and how they came to be.

    My problem with the word is that people tend to try to use it to explain everything from why Mary Winkler got away with cold blooded murder to why a random man got a job promotion over a random woman. In other words people try to use it as a catch all for everything bad that’s every happened.

    Also to me the word patriarchy ignores the damage that males suffer in under this system because they are male in an effort to highlight the power that they supposedly have. At best there’s the lip service line “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too”. I’m sorry but if the best you can do is “Too” then it sounds like you don’t care. And it really doesn’t sound like you care when you take this “patriarchy” and try to do other feats like show that there is no such thing as sexism against men.

    And also its a matter people of labeling a society after those who wield most of the power (a very small subset of men) but then going on to lump the ones that don’t (the numerical majority by many times) in with them with absolute statements like “men have power and women don’t” with only shared gender linking the two groups of men.

    It can be useful but to me the people that get shocked at the displeasure of folks who are aggravated by its misuse seem to want to get mad at the people that are aggravated instead of looking at the people that have misused it.

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  8. Danny :

    Also to me the word patriarchy ignores the damage that males suffer in under this system because they are male in an effort to highlight the power that they supposedly have. At best there’s the lip service line “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too”. I’m sorry but if the best you can do is “Too” then it sounds like you don’t care. And it really doesn’t sound like you care when you take this “patriarchy” and try to do other feats like show that there is no such thing as sexism against men.

    Well, it doesn’t actually ignore the damage males suffer — not if the term is used in its proper intellectual sense. But there is a powerful cultural backlash against the intellect and people prefer metaphysical binaries instead. Since those who are ignorant or have an ax to grind prefer to think in black and white terms, the concept of patriarchy will necessarily be offensive to them. Taken in an incorrect, metaphysical sense, it implies that all women are angels and all men are devils. How offensive! How dare anyone imply that!!

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    1. Well, it doesn’t actually ignore the damage males suffer — not if the term is used in its proper intellectual sense.
      If used correctly I’m sure you’re right.

      Since those who are ignorant or have an ax to grind prefer to think in black and white terms, the concept of patriarchy will necessarily be offensive to them.
      I suppose. I just wish the ignorance and ax grinding would quit…on both sides.

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  9. Curious that opening or holding a door became synonymous with an evil patriarchy. Where an intelligent and honest response in consideration of a concilliatory understanding of patriarchy would suggest a door be held open for man. There is no intellectual basis in which patriarchy has been discussed IMO. It has served as the tip of the spear for offensive rhetoric, binary priviledge to replace gender dialogue with gender monologue. Personally I think its time that patriarchy pull the plank in from the boat and start letting all the lottle animals swim for it two by two.

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    1. “Curious that opening or holding a door became synonymous with an evil patriarchy. ”

      – How do you explain the gender-based custom of door-opening?

      “to replace gender dialogue with gender monologue”

      – What culture and what time period do you associate this gender dialogue with?

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      1. I don’t explain it, I was raised to extend the curtesy after being admonished for it I don’t do it.

        I don’t attribute any culture or time period to gender dialogue, its an option that has yet to be explored.

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        1. “I don’t explain it, I was raised to extend the curtesy after being admonished for it I don’t do it.”

          – But if you tried to explain the reasoning behind it? Everything happens for some reason.

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      2. How do you explain the gender-based custom of door-opening?
        I myself see it as a matter of twofold. Its expected that men are supposed to take on the task of opening doors for women for sake of saving women the trouble.

        The problem here is the it puts women in a position of being presumed to be helpless little creatures that need a man to do something for her as well as put men in a position that he is the sole responsible party and is supposed to do things for women. Each one is expected to play their role.

        Problem is in most discussions of how this plays in into patriarchy the door issue here is usually stopped cold at, “…it puts women in a position of being presumed to be helpless little creatures that need a man to do something for her…” and the rest somehow is twisted around to say that its all for the benefit of men and men are not harmed by the expectations it carries (and mind you that the door opening thing is a small part of the larger body of chivalry).

        This is why I said earlier that patriarchy ignores the damage males suffer under said system. As far as the discussion I’ve seen goes men do things for women as solely as a way to keep them in their place. That’s all.

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        1. Danny: this is a great analysis that I agree with completely. Now, this is what genuinely confuses me: why is it always men who get very very unhappy about the habit of door-opening dying out?

          Seriously, I am yet to find a woman who would bemoan it even a little. Yet, many men seem legitimately offended about the gradual disappearance of this habit.

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      3. To be honest I have always been baffled by it. I have always appreciated a door being held open for me. I really don’t much care for the reasons its petty.
        Example
        while installing millwork in a law office today several women stopped and admired the work but not one male did this. When I passed one of the women at her desk I admired her typing skills she got offended. Yes everything does happen for some reason. Should I really waste my time figuring it out I dont think so. Im not a therapist. Give me the specs and you can have anything you want and I dont even need to know the reason.

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        1. Danny explained the reasons behind the practice pretty well: “The problem here is the it puts women in a position of being presumed to be helpless little creatures that need a man to do something for her as well as put men in a position that he is the sole responsible party and is supposed to do things for women.” I think this makes it clear why some people might get offended by it, right?

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      4. Clarissa
        Im sure you can also understand that conversely an alternative is for women to express chivalry themselves which for the most part they dont. What if the reasons outlined by Danny are not my personal reasons for extending courtesy. I do get it and I have learned not to give it. How absurd that acknowleging the presence of another human by extending a courtesy could be redefined as oppressive if this is what passes for social evolution we really need to blow the gates off the trailer park

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        1. “How absurd that acknowleging the presence of another human by extending a courtesy could be redefined as oppressive”

          – Courtesy is fine. Gender-based courtesy is quite weird.

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      5. I totally agree gender based courtesy is weird and imposing . . . Now if people could just leave their genders at home with all the other fetish toys. I could never understand why after paying for a wonderful meal and entertainment my date wasn’t willing to come back to my place and help finish building my deck or do some landscaping. Where’s the appreciation, where’s the courtesy.

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        1. ” I could never understand why after paying for a wonderful meal and entertainment my date wasn’t willing to come back to my place and help finish building my deck or do some landscaping.”

          – Isn’t it easier just to hire somebody to landscape? 🙂 Or at least warn the date in advance that you pay for landscaping with food. 🙂

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  10. Keith :
    Personally I think its time that patriarchy pull the plank in from the boat and start letting all the lottle animals swim for it two by two.

    Yes, removal of paternalism is acceptable.

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    1. For my part I view paternalism as a more individual expression of masculinity and maleness. Somewhat less systemic and institutionalized. Patriarchy is altogether different more of a systemic threshold of micro economics and monetization of collabrative intimacy. Are you suggesting the removal of men entirely?

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      1. ” Patriarchy is altogether different more of a systemic threshold of micro economics and monetization of collabrative intimacy.”

        – Within a patriarchal system, neither collaboration nor intimacy between men and women is possible. Men experience true intimacy and collaborate with other men and women do it with other women.

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      2. Depends on how you conceptualize intimacy and collaboration. Once monetized they both become political systems and limited. Intimacy and collaboration become removed from the experiential a relationship becomes an expression of reciprocal expectation. Contract love LOL often referred to as marriage. A good read is Kalil Gibran on marriage.

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  11. Until people are willing to move past gendered terms to discuss power imbalances in society we will just continue the same old song and dance. Its either about equality and an egalitarian approach or its just ego’s jockeying for position.

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  12. Anonymous :
    Until people are willing to move past gendered terms to discuss power imbalances in society we will just continue the same old song and dance. Its either about equality and an egalitarian approach or its just ego’s jockeying for position.

    And the thing with egos jockeying for position is that they inevitably lose. The ego is such at thing that it is bound to be alone. The ego says, “Either I dominate or I will have to let you dominate!” — to which I reply, “Fine! YOU get to dominate, if that is what you choose, but consequently, you lose.”

    Domination of another is alienation and loss. In a significant way, it is also self-deception, since the true self craves intimacy, but the ego prevents this intimacy from occurring.

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    1. “Domination of another is alienation and loss. In a significant way, it is also self-deception, since the true self craves intimacy, but the ego prevents this intimacy from occurring.”

      – This makes a lot of sense to me. This is why so many people suck at teaching. They strive to dominate the students and suffer when some of the control slips away instead of adopting a collaborative model.

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  13. Clarissa:
    Danny: this is a great analysis that I agree with completely. Now, this is what genuinely confuses me: why is it always men who get very very unhappy about the habit of door-opening dying out?

    Seriously, I am yet to find a woman who would bemoan it even a little. Yet, many men seem legitimately offended about the gradual disappearance of this habit.
    My experience is different from yours then. Its always been women that get unhappy about it dying out. Most guys I know just want women to make up their minds on it. I know its not right to expect women to come together with a single monolithic answer but I agree its bit aggravating to have some women that will chime up about how a “real man” would do ____ where that blank is filled in with holding doors, giving up seats just because they’re a woman, standing up when they come in a room (yes I’ve had women complain about this before). I’m trying to figure out why talk about how strong and independent they are while at the same time getting mad because men don’t just do things for them anymore instead of asking first.

    While not a door I have a quick real life example that happened to me barely 2 months ago.
    (Setup: Myself and a woman work with in our department work in an inclosed office that’s connected to a large office space that’s fully of about 10 women. I had recently replaced my chair with a larger one that was being unused and the woman I worked with said she wanted to do the same. The door to our office has a raised floor so when going in or out you have to either drop or step up about a foot. She went to get said replacement chair and was trying to get it back into our office. I was standing nearby talking to some of the other women in the office. Go.)
    Me: You need help with that.
    Her: No, I got it.
    Me: Okay. (She carries the chair into the office.)
    Woman I was talking to: Why didn’t you get that for her?

    If you hear me offer a woman assistance and hear her turn down my offer would you turn around as ask me why I didn’t do the task for her?

    Now the ones that do get mad about it dying out its because just like the women that get mad about it they want the old system to stay in place because that’s what they know and they don’t want to have to put up with something as cumbersome as change.

    @Keith:
    For me its all about intent. If I see Clarissa carrying a heavy object and I want to help this could play out a few ways.

    1. I just take the object out of her hands and carry it for her. This will likely piss her off whether she wanted help or not because just taking it comes off as a presumption that she can’t do it herself.

    2. I just take the object from her and actually make some comment about how a “lady” shouldn’t be doing that stuff. Pretty sure that will piss her off on a count of not just thinking but outright saying that as a woman she can’t carry that object.

    3. I offer assistance she says no and I do take the object anyway. Pretty sure that will piss her off because I’m not acknowledging her assertion that she doesn’t need my help.

    4. I offer assistance and take her at her word. Meaning I help if she says she needs it or back off if she says she’s got it.

    There is a big difference between offering assistance in an effort to be nice and offering assistance because the gender roles (you being a man and she being a woman) say you’re supposed to.

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    1. “I know its not right to expect women to come together with a single monolithic answer but I agree its bit aggravating to have some women that will chime up about how a “real man” would do ____ where that blank is filled in with holding doors, giving up seats just because they’re a woman, standing up when they come in a room (yes I’ve had women complain about this before). I’m trying to figure out why talk about how strong and independent they are while at the same time getting mad because men don’t just do things for them anymore instead of asking first.”

      – Oh yes. Wanting to reap the benefits of feminism without accepting any of the attendant responsibilities is a huge issue. And what a great variety of options for manipulation this offers! One can drive a person nuts with this passive aggressive approach.

      “For me its all about intent. If I see Clarissa carrying a heavy object and I want to help this could play out a few ways.

      1. I just take the object out of her hands and carry it for her. This will likely piss her off whether she wanted help or not because just taking it comes off as a presumption that she can’t do it herself.

      2. I just take the object from her and actually make some comment about how a “lady” shouldn’t be doing that stuff. Pretty sure that will piss her off on a count of not just thinking but outright saying that as a woman she can’t carry that object.

      3. I offer assistance she says no and I do take the object anyway. Pretty sure that will piss her off because I’m not acknowledging her assertion that she doesn’t need my help.

      4. I offer assistance and take her at her word. Meaning I help if she says she needs it or back off if she says she’s got it.”

      – You always break things down very clearly and precisely. I like that.

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    2. @Danny round of applause well laid out totally agree. I used to live by number 4 couldn’t conceive anything else. Now I live by number 5 want my help ask for it and thank me for it when Im done. Unfortunately only with women, men and children seem to understand that there is no intention beyond acknowledging their presence.

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      1. You are lumping people together here, based on their gender, which is what we want to avoid, isn’t it? You wouldn’t want people to assign characteristics to you based on a few bad experiences with men. Did you honestly compliment a woman on her typing skills? If someone did that to me, they’d just get an eyeroll. These days men keyboard as much as women. Did you stop to compliment a man on his keyboarding? What sort of reaction do you think that would get you from him?

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    3. You know, I think you nicely, if accidentally, illustrated your own point there about patriarchal gender expectations and how they influence thinking and impose both concious and unconscious burdens; you missed out the option of: do nothing unless said woman asks for assistance.

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  14. – This makes a lot of sense to me. This is why so many people suck at teaching. They strive to dominate the students and suffer when some of the control slips away instead of adopting a collaborative model.

    So, when you are teaching well are you the feminist or egalitarian??

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      1. Its amazing how so many feminists actually manage to not be egalitarian. I’m glad you seem to pull it off but it seems like that its not happening by this default you speak of.

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  15. bloggerclarissa :

    – This makes a lot of sense to me. This is why so many people suck at teaching. They strive to dominate the students and suffer when some of the control slips away instead of adopting a collaborative model.

    Western metaphysics, inculcated to Western cultural conditioning, does lend itself to this, unfortunately. I was totally at a loss as to how to teach because the students themselves seemed to have internalised this reasoning, whereby they sought to dominate the teacher, thus inviting a situation of the teacher turning the tables on them.

    Japanese culture taught me how to teach and now I am an excellent teacher, anticipating what people want to say and helping them to say it. There are a few cultural differences that facilitate effective teaching. The emphasis is on listening rather than speaking, in Japanese culture, which means students are highly receptive to being taught. Also, there is an emphasis on harmony and collaboration. One tries to put oneself emotionally in tune with the other, to work together towards a harmonious resolution. This beats the usual mode of power struggles.

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  16. bloggerclarissa :
    I see no contradiction between these terms. A feminist is, by default, for equality.

    Well, considering feminism is not a monolith then that by default is bullshit. I know many feminists who are definately not about an egalitarian system.

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    1. I didn’t say that people who call themselves feminists are by default egalitarian. I’m saying that if you are not egalitarian, then you can call yourself whatever you want. This will not make you a feminist.

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        1. “You remind me of the Christians who say to the other one’s, “They are not REAL followers of Christ””

          – Good example. Like, say, the Pope. Who, in their right mind, would claim that there is anything Christian about him? You need to live up to certain appellations. And if your lifestyle is radically different from the ideology you preach, that makes you a fake.

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  17. You might want to look in the mirror then, cause if you think gendered terms are based in equalitarian principles, then, well, I think your deluded at best………..

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    1. “You might want to look in the mirror then, cause if you think gendered terms are based in equalitarian principles”

      – I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “gendered terms.”

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  18. Where the flying fuck do you think patriarchy and feminism come from. If you honestly think those terms werent derived from gender then holy moly you need an exorcism or something. 😉

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    1. “Where the flying fuck do you think patriarchy and feminism come from. If you honestly think those terms werent derived from gender then holy moly you need an exorcism or something. ”

      – How are “terms derived from gender”? Sorry, I don’t get this at all. Feminism is a movement that recognizes that gender as a pernicious social construct exists and strives to demolish it. Do fire-fighters promote fire because they base the name of their profession on the word “fire”?

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      1. Feminism is as monolithic as christianity. I can reference at least 27 different kinds of feminism and never hear a feminist distinguish which they adhere to. Obviously this is to promote solidarity as a monlithic movement not unlike christianity. If feminists were fighting against the perniciuos gender of the female wouldnt they call themselves anti feminists. Like a fire fighter doesnt battle pernicious firisms

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        1. I don’t want to make this a thread about Christianity but when has it become monolithic? My patents’ Orthodox priest enjoys nothing more than making jokes and delivering angry rants about Catholics. In the meanwhile he never has a bad word to say about Jews or Muslims.

          “If feminists were fighting against the perniciuos gender of the female ”

          – But we aren’t. We fight against ANY gender as a social construct.

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      2. The moment any ideology religious or political justifies harm based on its own dogma it is monolithic. The moment that beliefs are held to be more valuable than life it is monolithic in its expression and intention. It becomes a delivery system for corruption which is itself monolithic.

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      3. But we aren’t. We fight against ANY gender as a social construct.(Clarissa)

        You mean “you”. The “we” you are talking about does not exist, unless its a monolith. The facts are clear, many feminists that make up feminism have clearly defined differences in how it should be applied. It is ludricrous for you to think that just because you use that label that only you express it the “right” way(whatever that is). I read(appreciate) your writings because I sense you are, in every sense of the word, an egalitarian. 🙂
        The way I see feminism expressed by numerous individuals does a disservice to individuals such as yourself. That is why I believe a better term is needed. If you feel the need(want) to have that define you then I guess you will probably always waste a certain amount of energy defending it. But feel free to dismiss my thoughts on it, afterall Im part of the Patriarchy. 😉

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  19. Feminism is a movement that implies that the feminine will get it right because the patriarchy(male) has gotten it wrong. You can blab all you want that its core isnt based on that, but tell you what, I think youre just fooling someone(thats where the mirror comes in handy)

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    1. “Feminism is a movement that implies that the feminine will get it right because the patriarchy(male) has gotten it wrong. ”

      – Can you provide me with the source where you found this definition of feminism? I find it very quaint.

      “the feminine will get it right because the patriarchy(male) has gotten it wrong”

      – What does “it” stand for here?

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      1. You can find these references under “womans studies” types of feminism, specifically “cultural feminism” and “ecofeminism” can be found also in separatist feminism, radical feminism and post modern feminism. Where women are considered biologically superior to men.

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      2. I am promoting you Im commenting at Clarissas house and dining on the exquisite buffet of thought integrity and honesty (without landscaping) think of it as political dim sum. To be honest I hold tremendous respect for you your integrity is seldom baited. I value your honesty and respect the liberty of your thoughts and ideas. I like the geometry of your thoughts and the thoughts of many of the commenters.

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        1. “I am promoting you Im commenting at Clarissas house and dining on the exquisite buffet of thought integrity and honesty (without landscaping) think of it as political dim sum.”

          – Yay! 🙂

          “To be honest I hold tremendous respect for you your integrity is seldom baited. I value your honesty and respect the liberty of your thoughts and ideas. I like the geometry of your thoughts and the thoughts of many of the commenters.”

          – Thank you, my friend! I really appreciate the kind words.

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    2. I believe you may have enjoyed a few of my poems, I will send you a short piece I recently wrote, you may enjoy it also, its short seldom considered and once realized should never be forgotten.Im not a writer so go easy on the critique. I hope you enjoy it.

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    3. “Feminism is a movement that implies that the feminine will get it right because the patriarchy(male) has gotten it wrong.”

      Feminism does not concern the establishment of a matriarchal society. Some feminist thinkers like the idea, but it’s not like one group of feminists define the entire movement.

      It’s like saying that Christianity is inherently racist because of racist, fundamentalist Christians. Obviously, that’s an absurd statement.

      “You can blab all you want that its core isnt based on that, but tell you what, I think youre just fooling someone(thats where the mirror comes in handy)”

      We can and we will, because feminism is indeed not what you say it is. Your appeal to her imagined insecurity is also incredibly silly and only reflects the unpleasant way you think of others.

      Poisoning the well is a silly fallacy indeed. Read about it before you make ridiculous conjecture about feminism.

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  20. Keith :
    The moment any ideology religious or political justifies harm based on its own dogma it is monolithic. The moment that beliefs are held to be more valuable than life it is monolithic in its expression and intention. It becomes a delivery system for corruption which is itself monolithic.

    The term you’re looking for is “dogmatic”.

    Like

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