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.