Lierre Keith Speaks on Patriarchy and Gender at the Radfem Reboot 2012 Conference
August 3, 2012 22 Comments
I just discovered this fabulous video from Lierre Keith’s reboot talk. I’ve linked the video at this particular section of her talk, and have transcribed as best as I can hear what she says on the topic. You may want to watch the whole thing, but I found this section particularly relevant.
I really encourage you to watch this or at least read the transcript. Many of us already know this stuff, but the way Keith explains that gender is a hierarchy– not a binary, and is a tool of oppression, may be helpful for those who aren’t familiar with thinking about gender in this way. TW for references to violence.
I can’t figure out how to link to just the time I want to share at, but start at 24 minutes and 14 seconds to match up with the transcription.
[EDIT: I see that Gallus Mag also has this video at her place. Hello cross posting. ]
Transcribed from video:
On to patriarchy. [laughter about slide] I thought you might need a laugh about now. So, as Mary Daly pointed out, um, I think in in 1978, patriarchy is the ruling religion of the planet. And I, I feel like Kathy Barry pretty well covered this this morning, so let’s skip three pages [turns pages, and begins to speak on patriarchy].
Patriarchy takes human beings who are biologically male, and creates a class of people called “men”. So men are made by socialization to this thing called masculinity. And that’s that process that turns a child into a boy and eventually into a man. And that requires a certain psychology. Masculinity, um, the psychology requires different things. Entitlement, emotional numbness, and a dichotomy of self and other. And of course that first despised other is girls. So, the worst thing you can call a boy is some version of “girl”, or some part of female anatomy– we all know the words they use. So once that process is in place, that category “icky female” has been created, you can then substitute that in a hierarchical society. Any group that needs to be subordinated can fill in for female.
And masculinity, of course, is essential to any militarized culture . That is the psychology necessary for soldiers. You’re only going to kill on command if that human impulse to care has been subdued or suppressed and that psychological process of othering is well entrenched.
Now central to masculinity is a violation imperative. Men become “real men” by breaking boundaries. The real brilliance of patriarchy is that it doesn’t just naturalize oppression. It sexualizes acts of oppression. It eroticizes domination and subordination, and then it takes that eroticized domination and subordination, and institutionalizes that into masculinity and femininity. So, it naturalizes, it eroticizes, and it institutionalizes.
The brilliance of feminism, is that we figured that out.
So femininity, well that’s just a set of behaviors that are in essence ritualized submission. So female socialization is a process of psychologically constraining and ultimately breaking girls, and that process is called grooming. And that creates a class of compliant victims. So across history, those practices have included foot binding, female genital mutilation, and of course the ever popular childhood sexual abuse. Femininity is really just the traumatized psyche displaying acquiescence. Now this is not natural; it is not created by god. It is a corrupt and brutal social order.
It’s become popular in some activist circles to embrace notions from postmodernism, and that includes the idea that gender is somehow a binary. Gender is not a binary. It is a hierarchy. It is global in its reach, it is sadistic in its practice, and it is murderous in its completion. Just like race, and just like class. Gender demarcates the geopolitical boundaries of the patriarchy—which is to say, it divides us in half. That half is not horizontal—it is vertical. And in case you missed this part, men are always on top.
Gender is not some cosmic yin/yang; it’s a fist, and the flesh that bruises. Okay? It is the mouth crushed shut, and the little girl who will never be the same. Gender is who gets to be human, and who gets hurt. And that has to be made very clear, because men know what they are capable of. They know. They know the sadism that they have built into their sex. So what they say to each other is “Do it to her. Not to me, the human being, but to her. The object. The thing”. So they have to make it very clear, both visually, and ideologically, who she is. So see, there she is, unable to walk. Or there she is, on display. Or there she is, um, you know, covered and secluded, for your eyes only.
And how much easier if you can say “God made her this way, to lie beneath me”. Or easier to say, “Nature made her this way, the thing with the hole”. Or, if you can say, “She made herself this way, the slut who asked for it”. Because we always ask for it. The rape, the battering, the poverty, the prostitution— even the murder. We asked for it.
Now, all of those practices in aggregate, those are what Andrea Dworkin named the barricade of sexual terrorism. And gender is what demarcates that boundary, very exactly. And this is really simple, people. Barricade. Women live inside the barricade of sexual terrorism. Men live outside the barricade of sexual terrorism. In fact, men built that barricade. Fist by fist, and f*ck by f*ck. It is exactly those violent violating practices that construct a class of people called “women”. That is what men do to break us, and to keep us broken. And that is what gender is: the breaking, and the broken.