Lierre Keith Speaks on Patriarchy and Gender at the Radfem Reboot 2012 Conference

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.

About smash
Women's liberationist.

31 Responses to Lierre Keith Speaks on Patriarchy and Gender at the Radfem Reboot 2012 Conference

  1. Thanks for the transcript smash, I was struggling to hear the audio properly.

  2. Julia says:

    Thanks for this. Very true.

  3. doublevez says:

    Thank you so much for breaking it out like this Smash. I didn’t get to this part last night. And THIS is the part I want. xxxooo

  4. there is a special place in paradise for transcriptionists. thank you!

  5. smash says:

    Lierre has told me that she is having trouble with the wordpress commenting feature on this blog, so she asked me to post this comment from her:

    “I’m really sorry the audio is so bad. If you want a copy of the text, you can email me for it:”

    Thanks Lierre for stopping by!

  6. Bev Jo says:

    Thank you! I too have trouble hear Lierre. It’s so good for Lierre to be getting support instead of the death threats and physical attacks she’s gotten. She’s been a Radical Lesbian Feminist activist for years and is literally saving lives. Yet she has been attacked by “‘femininists.” She is also a very kind and caring friend. She is one of our champions! It’s great to be spreading her words when so many others want her censored.

  7. zeph says:

    Thank you Smash, that was an amazing display of crystal clear thinking, it was a pleasure to listen to her.

  8. WOW. She is AMAZING. This presentation was great; I wish I could’ve been there and met all o’ you wonderful women.

    Lierre talks fast like me! 😀

    Thanks for posting this.

  9. Liza says:

    That was one of the best talks I’ve ever heard connecting the dots on climate change. I had never thought about the agriculture part. Fascinating. Thanks for introducing me to Lierre Keith. What a thinker !! I’ve linked this at the DYKE A Quarterly Online Annotated Archive facebook page, which I invite Smashesthep readers to check out. Leirre Keith is exactly the kind of thinker we’d have invited to write for us. (hope you don’t mind the self promo, but the DAQ archive is part of our radical dyke herstory. xx©Liza

  10. tiamathydra says:

    She is awesome. Capitalism, industrialization and agriculture are the same ideology taken a step further each time. I didn’t realize this about agriculture either, I come from an ancient agrarian culture so I’ve been taught to revere agriculture as what makes survival possible (all my grandparents and ancestors were farmers). It’s not as woman-hating as industrialization or capitalism, but it is woman-hating in its first stage. She makes this so self-evident and logical that it becomes painfully obvious that most people are just crazy and irrational (especially men), and that humanity and the planet as a consequence, is sick.

  11. doublevez says:

    Thanks for transcribing Smash. I had difficulty hearing it. Also, will there be vid or transcription of your segment?

    • smash says:

      Hey! If you mean my participation in the panel discussion, there was no video. However, I may blog about the discussion we had if participants are okay with that.

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  24. Excelente, esto me servirá de mucho, la verdad que es bueno conseguir cosas asi, ahora mismo trataré de comenzar un trabajo que se relaciona bastante con esto.

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  27. genderiswar says:

    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.

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